A Bill of Sale

In a recent post, I described a research effort into when my slaveholding ancestors began the practice of owning slaves. Reviewing census and probate records, I was able to see evidence of which of my 19th-century antebellum ancestors owned slaves. In the post, I told of how I located a will of one of my seventh great grandmothers who died in the 1740s. I commented that I was searching for a bill of sale for either the purchase or sale of human property by one of my ancestors. It is not as though I was looking to prove or deny anything. I was primarily curious to understand just how the whole plantation/slavery system worked. So yesterday, when I did find a bill of sale, I was a little shocked by what I found. In admitting that, I know I probably sound a little bit like a certain Casablanca police captain, but I really am shocked. However, I am not shocked that I found a bill of sale, but that the bill of sale I saw appeared to treat the sale of human beings so casually and, at the same time with state-sanctioned formality. And on top of that, it was in triplicate!

In the South Carolina Archives – via the Fold3.com Library Edition – I discovered two documents related to the same transaction – the sale of a woman, Lucy, and her three children, Peter, Jack, and Charles, to my third great-grandfather, Evan Prothro. The images are of official printed forms from the state of South Carolina circa 1850s and are marked #145 and #146. Both documents are filled out and signed by witnesses, and both are dated August 15, 1852.

Purpose of the bill of sale

Evan Prothro (1788-1864), grandson of Evan “the Patriot” Prothro, sold timber and raised cotton on a large plantation in Barnwell County, South Carolina, not too far from the Savannah River. Of course, I knew that my third great-grandfather owned several slaves. In a previous post, I describe finding his will, which was probated in the final days of the Confederacy. Ironically the heirs of Evan’s estate were paid in near-worthless Confederate currency (see Dobbs v. Prothro).

The original bill of sale stipulates that Daniel Turner and Celia Turner of Barnwell District, South Carolina, sold to Evan Prothro of Aiken, South Carolina, for $1250, “one Negro woman named Lucy and her three children named Peter, Jack, and Charles.” It states that all four individuals are “warranted sound.”

The document was “signed, sealed, and delivered” in the presence of one B.J. Rogers.

On the lower portion of image #145 is a statement written in cursive declaring that Robert L. Wade, Daniel Turner, and Celia Turner appeared before B.J. Rogers, attesting that this is a true bill of sale, and the appendix is dated 30. March 1854.

It appears that the purpose of this “appendix” a year and a half after the original sale is to add this other man’s name to the document. It’s not clear from the record why this is being done.

The second bill of sale (image #146) is the same form that was used for image #145, but instead of saying “We, Daniel and Cecelia Turner…”, it states that “I, Robert L Wade, appears on behalf of Daniel Turner, wife and children.” It is a bill of sale for the same amount of $1250 paid by Evan Prothro of Aiken County, Georgia for, again, “one Negro woman named Lucy and her three children named Peter, Jack, and Charles.”

The second document does not state why it is necessary, but it could be that Daniel and his family owed a debt to Robert L Wade, and perhaps a portion of the proceeds of the sale should have gone to him. You will note that $1250 was a lot of money in 1852. It equates to about $40,000 in today’s money.

But Wait, There’s More…

There is one other oddity about this “peculiar transaction” as some extra information is written on the document. When turning the second document 90° clockwise, a third statement is revealed involving the bill of sale.

A third statement overlaying the second form

The third statement, written in a smaller hand, is difficult to read; nevertheless, it repeats the basic information that Daniel and Celia Turner sold to Evan Prothro, a woman, and her three children, for $1250. This is witnessed by Edward Wimberly and Martha Prothro (her name appears twice). This second witness must be Evan’s 20-year-old daughter and my great-great-grandmother – Martha Josephine Prothro (1834–1928).

Martha Prothro, as a witness.

Edward Wimberly was the husband of Martha’s older sister Lavina Prothro.

Robert L Wade might refer to Robert Lamarr Wade of Aiken, South Carolina, born in 1827 and died in 1899 in Williston, Barnwell County, South Carolina. He appears to be another planter living in the Barnwell County area. I could not locate records for Daniel and Celia Turner.

The documentation does not clarify why it was necessary to document the same transaction three times and have all of these witnesses, including Evan’s 20-year-old daughter, Martha. Interestingly, Evan does not appear as a witness on either of the two documents, despite being named the buyer. Perhaps, Martha’s father was not available at the time.

And as for Lucy, Peter, Jack, and Charles, I wonder what their fate was and whether they survived to be emancipated.

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