Enslaved Ancestors’ Certificates of Freedom – An Unusual Place to Find Them

Finding proof that an enslaved ancestor was manumitted or emancipated before the Civil War is much like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Through the years, I have come across mentions that slaves were given their freedom in a number of records.

Occasionally, there is a notation in a family Bible.

More often, though, antebellum emancipation was carefully recorded in county records, the most common book being land deed volumes, as enslaved persons were viewed as property.

Another very common document that noted that freedom was to be given unconditionally was a will.

A couple of days ago, I mentioned browsing through a will book for Cumberland County, Kentucky. I was surprised to find not a will, but a Certificate of Freedom dated from 1790 to 1811, but not recorded until 1817.

It’s a genealogical gold mine for descendants of both John Baker and the persons he emancipated because it mentions that the indenture was recorded in Chesterfield County, (Virginia?) on 9 June 1790.

Therefore, even though John Baker is a very common name, we now know from whence he and the freed persons came. It seems likely that they, or at least some of them. migrated to Kentucky with him. Otherwise, he could have simply filed one document stating that person X had been emancipated by him on the said date.

Cumberland County, Kentucky WB B:47 (right page)
Source: FamilySearch

Know all men by these presents that I John Baker of Chesterfield County do believe that all men by nature are equally free and from a clear conviction of the Injustice & criminality of depriving my fellow creatures of their natural right do hereby Emancipate or set free the following men, women and children. To wit,

Bob & Daniel, December 25th 1790
Grace and Amy December 25th 1790
Barbara December 25th 1790
Tom to go out December 1793
Sally to go out October 1796
Betty & Patty to go out December 1802
Oliver to go out November 1805
Judy to go out September 1806
Hannah to go out January 1807
Nan to go out February 1808
Peter to go out December 1809
Nancy to go out March 1811

I do hereby relinquish all rights, title and Claim to the said people after they severly arrive to the dates above mentioned and not before, In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 9th day of June 1790.

Jn. Baker (seal)

Jno. Kobler
Martin Baker Jr.

At a Court held for Chesterfield County on the 9th day of September 1790. This Indenture was acknowledged by John Baker, a party thereto and ordered to be Recorded.

Thomas Watkins Clerk

Cumberland County Court to wit
At a Court held for the County aforesaid on the 14th day of April This indenture to which John Baker is a party was Exhibited in Court Examined and Ordered to be Recorded And I have recorded the same together with this Certificate i nmy office in Will Book B page 47 Entered under my hand this 9th day of May 1817

Jno. King clerk


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