Visitors to the reading room at Hill Memorial Library can now view a selection of materials from several recently processed collections. These collections, while small, contain a wealth of information for researchers, and provide an example of the many new resources becoming more readily accessible at Special Collections. The display also places a spotlight on African-American history, from the antebellum period through the early 20th century. Selections include:
William Newton Mercer Inventory and Slave List, Mss. 5210
While slave lists are common to the antebellum plantation records in LSU Special Collections, less frequently seen are inventories that include slaves’ surnames. Many slaves did use surnames that were passed on through generations of families, and often retained if sold to a new owner. In most cases, these names were not recorded. At large plantations, however, the sheer number of slaves sometimes prompted their use in record keeping. One such inventory is found in a booklet entitled, “List of Negroes,” dating to 1846, which records slaves at three of William Newton Mercer’s plantations. A physician and native of Maryland, Mercer established a medical practice in Natchez, Mississippi, and owned numerous properties including Buckhurst, Ellis Cliffs, and Ormande plantations in Adams County. Alongside names, ages, and family relationships, the book lists surnames for some, mostly male, slaves.
Martin Morris Correspondence, Mss. 3699
Martin Morris, a native of Napoleonville, Louisiana, served as an army corporal in the 812th Pioneer Infantry during World War I. African-American soldiers were most often relegated to these types of service units, where individuals were trained in both regular infantry tactics as well as “pioneer” duties: performing construction and engineering work such as building fortifications, camps, and roads. The 812th was one of 16 Pioneer regiments with black enlisted personnel, formed as replacements for white units converting to regular infantry.
While in training at Camp Grant, near Rockford, Illinois, Morris wrote home to family members in Louisiana, expressing an ambivalence toward the army that was common among African-American soldiers. In a September 7, 1918 letter to his father, Morris describes his desire to “make a man” of himself, and comments that “this is a very fine place here, a man is a man. I mean a colord [sic] man is as much as a white one,” but “not as much in some respects.” Other letters describe military life, playing in the 812th Infantry band, and Morris’ health, as he addresses fears about frequent outbreaks of the pandemic “Spanish flu,” which led to a quarantine at Camp Grant.
Samuel Parkhurst Ward Papers, Mss. 3540, 3699
The Samuel Parkhurst Ward Papers consist primarily of account books belonging to Ward, a doctor, Indiana native, and resident of St. Landry Parish. Similar to customer accounts for store goods or merchandise, these ledgers track patients, medical visits, and records of medicine dispensed by Ward. Numerous entries mark medical visits to slaves, listed under overseers’ accounts. These brief descriptions give insight into medical care for slaves prior to and during the Civil War. Other materials in this collection, which range from 1859-1906, include clippings and notes on politics, local community news, and remedies for livestock diseases.
Fournier Family Photograph Album, Mss. 3540
In addition to these written inventories, a number of photographs are among newly processed collections adding visual depth to manuscript sources. The Fournier Family Photograph Album contains nearly three dozen photographs belonging to the Fourniers, an African-American family. Although little is known of the family’s history or photographs’ origins, the album, consisting mostly of tintype portraits from the later 19th century, gives us vivid images from this time in Louisiana’s past.