The Bullitt County History Museum

Slavery Made Personal

The following article by David Strange originally appeared in The Courier-Journal on 8 Aug 2012. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.

It is often true that "what you touch, touches you."

For example, I remember a few years ago, a reunion was held to celebrate the restoration of a family cemetery that we had done. Members of the family came, literally, from all corners of the continental U.S. The restoration and the reunion was quite an achievement, of which I was proud to be a part.

After the ceremony, the leader of that family effort came over to me. "See that man over there with his hand on the tombstone?"

I looked and saw a grown man leaning respectfully toward a tall old stone, his head bowed, his hand touching gingerly against it .... tears flowing from his eyes. "That is my son," the woman said. "He disagreed with this cemetery restoration work the whole time, thinking it to be just a silly waste of time about people long gone, whom he had never known."

"That tombstone is his great-grandfather, and he just told me, 'Now I get it, Mom. Now I get it.' "

That is how I feel about some old papers that I come across from time to time at the Bullitt County History Museum, where I have the joy of being Executive Director.

We had several such papers on loan a few years ago, for us to scan to our computer digital files.

But I came across another just recently, as I sorted through one of our collections.

Slave papers. Slave bill of sales.

Slave Bill of Sale

Now I "know" about slavery and I "understand" that it was wrong.

But to personally touch a paper that was hand-written out the same as if one was selling a cow, and touching the folds in the paper from when it was folded up and placed in the "owner's" pocket....

Now, I have to say, that touches me. It brings home, in simple terms, the reality of things.

The slave bill of sale we have at the museum describes "for a sum of seven hundred dollars.....a negro man named Harry" described as "sound in body and mind except the tip of a finger on the left hand."

It was dated 1859. With the Civil War and the end of slavery only a very few years in this man's future, I wonder if this real, living man ever saw freedom, and how he dealt with it if he did.

Other such papers I have seen describe women and children being bought and sold. One I remember in particular was a bill of sale for a mother and two children in 1811.

1811. More than half a century before slavery was ended in America. That bill of sale described each one as "slave for life," and I suppose they were. I wonder and fear what all might have happened to that family, so far from any hope of freedom.

Now, this might all seem trite and silly to some who have closer ties to such things. Silly to others because such things were so long ago.

But it is not silly to me.

And I doubt it is now silly to you.

If it is, come touch one of these papers sometime. Visit a grave site of a long-ago relative. Touch the tombstone, remember, and think seriously for a moment about real people of our past.

Real people with real lives to whom we are all somehow connected, somehow affected.

If you touch the past, it will touch you.

Copyright 2012 by David Strange, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 27 Jan 2021 . Page URL: