"with slavery for its cornerstone"

--Walt Whitman, Specimen days, 1882


Ambrotype of “Mammy Kitty,” [before 1865]
(MSS 2516-c)

Like most slave-holding Virginia families, the Ellis family of Richmond owned a black nursemaid, “Mammy Kitty,” who cared for the family’s white children. So important was Mammy Kitty to the household that she merited this photographic remembrance. A note accompanying the image reads, “The faithful servant of Charles and Mrs. K. Ellis … Our mother’s mammy.” She died before the war’s end, in 1864.


Muster and payroll of Company H, 27th United States Colored Troops, 30 June 1864.

Company H, 27th U.S. Colored Troops, eventually assigned to the XXV Corps (the Union Army’s all-black corps), was organized in Ohio and served with the Army of the Potomac in Virginia during the 1864-1865 Wilderness campaign and Petersburg siege. This document, prepared by Captain Alfred W. Pinney at Camp Casey, Va., lists 85 officers and privates, noting their names, dates and places of enlistment, and pay dates. The privates’ pay averaged $13.16 for two months; they acknowledged receipt either by signing their names or making their marks (“X”).

Escaped slave list, Bedford County, Va., June 1864.
Associates Endowment Fund (MSS 11820)

The presence of the Union Army in Confederate states offered slaves opportunities to seek their freedom. This document lists the slaves who escaped to Union lines on June 17-18, 1864, during skirmishes at Lynchburg between David Hunter's Union troops and Confederate forces led by Jubal Early. The details recorded include the names of the slave holders; whether the slaves were owned or hired; the number of slaves; their ages, names, and sex; and their date of escape.


List of slaves confined at Eastern District Military Prison, Richmond, Va., 30 November 1864.
(MSS 11339)

Slaves’ attempts to flee always carried the threat of recapture. This manuscript documents 29 runaways captured from Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, and Mississippi. The list records the runaways’ names, color, date committed, age, place of arrest, owners, and residence (the majority were from Virginia). Newspapers published this information so that owners could reclaim their property.

Confederate States of America. Congress. Senate, A bill to provide for the employment of free negroes and slaves to work upon fortifications and perform other labor connected with the defences of the country … December 6, 1864. [Richmond, 1864]
Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History (A 1864 .C642 B5 Dec. 6)

The Confederate war effort was in dire need of labor; this bill authorized the conscription of free and enslaved blacks. Conscripts prepared war materials; erected fortifications; built and repaired roads; and served as cooks, teamsters, stewards, and waiters in military hospitals. They received clothes, rations, and $18 per month.