Year of Publication


Competition Category

Humanities: Critical Research


Arts and Sciences




The domestic slave trade in the United States was generally condemned as an evil business. Nonetheless, many documents pertaining to this trade do not reflect the negative aspects. The reason for this lies in the simple fact that many of the primary source documents studied are written by those who took part in the trade—not those who were forcibly traded. To view the trade from the eyes of those who were lost in the abominable trade, historians are faced with the dilemma mainly stemming from a lack of literacy from those who experienced this narrative. With the extreme bias in the documentation of those who controlled the domestic slave trade, and the dearth of written slave accounts, a different approach must be taken in order to fully understand the experience of the slave trade. A great resource for this is the locally recorded human property deeds. Most county courts in the South today have deed books that date back to the antebellum period. These deeds, when looked at from a historical, cultural, and institutional angle provides a dark perspective into the experience felt by those in the slave trade. In addition, these deeds help to correct and update many historical foundations build upon the faulty presentations of the abundant documents written by those who dealt in the trade.

Human property deeds identify the economic factors, but also help to identify cultural happenings that affected the Commonwealth on an institutional and cultural level. Furthermore, they help to demonstrate the interaction between the state, individuals, and the institution. Within this, the evolution of pro-slavery ideology is displayed as characteristics of the deeds transform around the constitution of 1850, which led to a stronger institutional hold on slavery. Academic research into slave deeds provides a new addition to the historiography of Kentucky slavery.


Andrew Johnson and Isabelle Martin won the first place (tie) in the Humanities: Critical Research category.