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The Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

African-American Women

Online Archival Collections
Special Collections Library, Duke University

*Elizabeth Johnson Harris: Life Story

Elizabeth Johnson Harris was born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1867 to parents who had been slaves. Her 85 page handwritten memoir provides glimpses of her early childhood, of race relations, of her own ambivalence about her place as an African-American in society, and of the importance of religion and education in her life. This on-line collection includes full text of her memoirs as well as several of her poems and vignettes that were published in various newspapers during her lifetime.

*Hannah Valentine and Lethe Jackson: Slave Letters

Hannah Valentine and Lethe Jackson were house slaves at Montcalm, the family home of David and Mary Campbell, located in Abingdon, Virginia. During the years David Campbell served as Governor of Virginia (1847-1850), he and his family moved into the Governor's mansion in Richmond, taking several of their slaves with them but leaving Hannah and Lethe to care for the homestead. These letters were written by Hannah Valentine and Lethe Jackson to their mistresses and other slave family members during this time period. The letters provide a rare firsthand glimpse into the lives of slaves and the relationships they had with their owners.

*Vilet Lester Letter

Slave letters are very rare documents. This letter from Vilet Lester is one of less than a dozen such letters we have been able to identify among the vast amount of plantation records held at the Duke Special Collections Library. In this particular case, Vilet's letter stands alone with virtually no other documents - no slave lists, work records, or owner's letters - to give us further information about her. Although many of the facts of Vilet Lester's life may be elusive, she still gives us a rare and precious view into slave life through this letter.


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