Recently, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, debuted its Ecclesiastical and Secular Sources for Slave Societies digital archive and website.
Under a grant program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Vanderbilt University researchers captured more than 150,000 images, comprising more than 750,000 ecclesiastical records of African and African descended individuals from Brazil, Cuba, and Spanish Florida. The Catholic Church required the baptism of African slaves across the Catholic Americas. As a result, baptismal records in local churches contain a wealth of historical information on slaves.
The diverse types of documents preserved include, among others, 16th century Black baptisms, marriages, and burials from the Cathedral of Havana, 18th century Black wills and testaments from the Diocese of Nova Iguaçu, Brazil, and 18th- and 19th-century Black brotherhood records from Brazil and Cuba.
Jane Landers, the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of History and director of the Ecclesiastical and Secular Sources for Slave Societies project, states, “Most of these records, held in religious archives or local churches, have been at risk due to climate, bug infestation, and other damage. Too often, parish priests or even lay persons are the records’ only guardians, and these well-meaning individuals might not be aware of the material’s historic significance.”
The research continues and additional records will be added to the archives.