Historic Wills Give 'Emotional' Insight Into How Fulton Slave owners Passed Down Slaves

Historic wills give 'emotional' insight into how Fulton slave owners passed down slaves

November 28, 2023

Fulton County Probate Court judge her staff were stunned when they decided to read wills in their record room that date back to before the Civil War. Fulton County Chief Judge Kenya Johnson says the documents show how slave owners passed their slaves and their slaves’ children to relatives after the owners died.

The Fulton County Probate Court handles records like wills, marriage licenses, estate planning, and other services.

Channel 2's Tom Jones got an inside look at the Fulton County record room at Probate Court where there are documents from the 1800s.

“Here, people came to leave their last wishes and where they wanted their properties to go,” Judge Johnson said.

That property included slaves. Johnson showed Jones wills that her office discovered from back then where slaveowners wrote what should happen to their slaves when the owners died.

“It is my will and I declare that negro slaves be divided into five lots,” Records Supervisor Candace Davis read from one will.

The well-worn documents show how slaves and their children were treated like cattle.

“I bequeath to my daughter Margaret Rebecca my Negro woman Gin. Of dark complexion and all of her children to her and her heirs forever,” Judge Johnson read.

Judge Johnson had her staff go through the wills to see what slave owners did with their slaves when she realized she had documents before the Civil War. She was shocked at what they uncovered.

“It is emotional to know that slaves were considered property,” she described.

Judge Johnson says it’s one thing to read about slavery in history books. It’s another to see and touch the actual records.

“This is not only Georgia history, It’s American history,” she said.

Her staff found one will that caught them by surprise. A slaveowner wanted his more than 30 slaves paid and sent back to Africa when he passed.

“When they start to Liberia, in the event I die, before they start to Liberia, 100 dollars each,” she read.

Johnson said accounts like this are not something we hear often.

“While slavery was a horrific institution, there were some compassionate slaveowners,” she pointed out.

Judge Johnson says she is working to restore and preserve these records. She’d like to partner with a museum or archival organization to help with that.

She also says the public is invited to see these documents after making an appointment.

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