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Henry P. Slaughter collection

 Collection — Box: 1-52
Identifier: 0000-0000-0000-0054

Scope and contents

The Henry P. Slaughter collection consists of materials collected by Henry P. Slaughter which emphasize the early history of African Americans in the United States. It contains materials which date from 1667 to 1964, however, the bulk of the material spans from 1792 to 1959. The collection is composed mainly of slave papers and correspondence of African American leaders, abolitionists, and political figures of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The materials include pamphlets, sermons, speeches, reports, correspondence, and legal documents.

The Collected historical documents are divided into eight subseries. These include People, Legal documents, Broadsides, Masonic organizations, Music, Photographs and political cartoons, Unemployed citizens' organizations, and Henry P. Slaughter, divided into Catalogs, Correspondence, and Personal items.

The People subseries includes the correspondence and autographs of a wide variety of historical figures. Most of the files contain only one or a few letters of the person, however a few names have a significant amount of correspondencee. Letters to and from John W. Phelps, Brigadier General of the 12th Connecticut Volunteers, document his efforts to organize and train Black regiments for the Union forces. Correspondence while Phelps was camped at Camp Parapet, Louisiana following the fall of New Orleans explain the plight of a large number of Blacks, many of them freedmen, coming into camp seeking food and shelter or protection from vengeful whites. This series also contains letters between Phelps and Thomas Webster, member of the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments (Philadelphia), detailing the Committee's efforts including fund raising for schools for Black children in Louisiana, and the establishment of a training school for officers to command the Black regiments. Several letters from the late 1860s and 1870s indicate that Phelps carried his concern and activities on behalf of the Black man into the Reconstruction era.

The Haiti Papers relate to the Haitian revolution from circa 1791-1804. Includes correspondence of Toussaint L'Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Henri Christophe, Alexandre Petion, Jean Pierre Boyer, which generally concern military details or safe-conduct for individuals. Of particular note is a letter by L'Ouverture of his feelings for Saint Dominque, for France, and for the coming negotiations with the French agent Philippe Roume; and a letter from a Haitian agent sent by L'Ouverture to the United States to reestablish trade following the conquest of Saint Dominque.

The correspondence of Frederick Douglass, Sr. reflects his activities as a lecturer against slavery, his feeling that employment open to African Americans was rooted in servility, Douglass's political associations and appointments, and his selection as Minister to Haiti (1889).

The correspondence of Frederick Douglass, Jr. is addressed to Magnus L. Robinson and discusses the two men's financial problems, the progress of African Americans, Frederick Douglass, Sr.'s return from Haiti, and the 28th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

William Lloyd Garrison's early letters to Samuel J. May and Franklin B. Sanborn, discuss the American Anti-Slavery Society, the Liberator, an anti-slavery newspaper, and other figures associated with the anti-slavery movement. Post Civil War letters refer to a biography of Garrison and histories of the anti-slavery movement.

The correspondence of Wendell Phillips primarily discusses his lecture schedule with some references to his political philosophy, the annexation of Texas, the slavery question, and Judge Joseph Story of the United States Supreme Court.

The papers of Gerrit Smith document Smith's concern with the temperance and abolition movements, the Liberty Party, his theory of compensation for slave owners, and his antipathy to land monopoly. Also included in the collection are broadsides and printed circulars.

The Legal documents subseries, also known as the slavery papers, consists of records pertaining to slavery in the United States from 1667 to 1867. They include indentures, slave bills of sale, manumission papers, and contracts. Slave bills of sale mainly represent Bibb County, Georgia, with some from Florida, Kentucky, Missouri and Virginia. Additional materials include contracts for slave rentals during the antebellum years, and indenture or apprenticeship papers for freedmen.

Also of note is the extensive collection of sheet music, most of which is composed or arranged by Harry T. Burleigh and J. Rosamond Johnson. The publications of Masonic organizations, especially the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, reflect Slaughter's own participation in the fraternal world. The catalogs from and correspondence with book dealers document the market at the time Slaughter was avidly building his collection.


  • Creation: 1667-1964
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1792 - 1959


Biographical note

Henry Proctor Slaughter was born September 17, 1871, in Louisville, Kentucky, one of three children of Sarah Jane Smith and Charles Henry Slaughter. He graduated salutatorian from Louisville's Central High School and later attended Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina. He received a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1899 and a Master of Laws Degree in 1900 from Howard University, Washington, D.C., however, he never practiced law. His occupations were journalism and printing, his avocation book collecting.

Slaughter began working at an early age to help support his widowed mother and younger siblings. His father died when Henry was six years old. He sold newpapers as he worked his way through school. After high school he served an apprenticeship as a printer on the Louisville Champion, where he became associate editor. By 1893 he was foreman of Champion Publishing Co. In 1894 he became associate editor of the Lexington Standard. While attending Livingstone College Slaughter instructed a printing class and became manager-foreman of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Publishing House. As a journalist, Slaughter wrote articles for several daily newspapers. He was a staff correspondent for the Kentucky Standard in Louisville, and special contributor to the Philadelphia Tribune, American Baptist, and A.M.E. Church Review. Slaughter was one of the first African-Americans to take the examination for the position of compositor at the Government Printing Office. In 1896 he accepted an appointment at the Government Printing Office and worked there until 1937.

Slaughter was a Thirty-third Degree Mason and a long-time member of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, serving as a member of the board of directors, and as presiding officer and permanent secretary of his local lodge. He was editor of the Oddfellows Journal from 1910 until it discontinued publication in 1937. Slaughter was active in politics, serving as secretary of the Kentucky Republican Club for several years. He also was a committeeman at the inauguration of Presidents McKinley, Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson.

A religious man, Slaughter was active in the church and was for many years superintendent of St. Luke's Episcopal Sunday School in Washington, D.C. and vestryman of the church. In addition, he was secretary of the St. Luke's chapter of the Brotherhood of St. Andrews.

Henry Slaughter is most known as a bibliophile and collector, an avocation to which he devoted most of his adult life and a considerable amount of his income. Slaughter was a contemporary of a cadre of Black bibliophiles, including Arthur Schomburg, John Bruce, Charles Douglass Martin, Daniel Alexander Murray, and John Cromwell, leaders in the American Negro Academy. During a meeting of the Academy in 1915, these men established the Negro Book Collectors Exchange. Slaughter was named president.

Slaughter's collection was highly regarded as one of the best and largest libraries of materials by and about Black people. Upon recommendations from staff at the Library of Congress and Howard University, Slaughter would permit researchers to visit his home to use his collection. The collection numbered over 10,000 volumes and filled three floors and the basement of his townhouse on Columbia Road in Washington, D.C. Concerned for the safety and preservation of his collection, Slaughter decided to sell it in 1945. It was sold in high acclaim to Atlanta University for $25,000 in 1946. The collection documents a wide range of subject areas including slavery, the Civil War, religion, music, art, theater, secret societies, folklore, poetry, fiction, biographies, Africa, Carbbean, South America, and a large number of items on Abraham Lincoln.

Slaughter married twice in 1904 and again in 1925. His first wife, Ella M. Russell of Jonesboro, Tennessee died in 1914. His second marriage to Alma R. Level of Chicago ended in divorce. Henry P. Slaughter died in Washington, D.C. February 14, 1958.


24.5 Linear feet

Language of Materials



The collection is divided into two series: Pamphlets and Collected historical documents.

The Collected historical documents are divided into eight subseries. These include People, Legal documents, Broadsides, Masonic organizations, Music, Photographs and political cartoons, Unemployed citizens' organizations, and Henry P. Slaughter, divided into Catalogs, Correspondence, and Personal items.

The Slaughter collection on microfilm

In the early 1970s, many of the pamphlets and books of the Henry P. Slaughter collection were microfilmed by Bell & Howell. The Black Culture Collection consists of 652 reels of microfilm divided into four sections: Africa; the Black Experience in America Since the 17th Century; the Black Experience in South America and the West Indies; and Slavery in History.

Indexes to The Black Culture Collection, organized by title, author, and subject, are available in the Atlanta University Center Archives Research Center. For preservation purposes, researchers may be asked to use the microfilm copy of a fragile item.


The processing of this collection was made possible through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Andrew Mellon Foundation. The staff wishes to acknowledge their generous support and takes great pleasure in presenting the Henry P. Slaughter Collection to the world community of scholars for examination.

Henry P. Slaughter collection, 1667-1964
Finding aid prepared by Jill Swiecichowski.
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Repository Details

Part of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc. Repository


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