Comments on the significance and context of the manumission documents
Note: The following comments are excerpted from E-Mail exchanged with Mr. David Diamond during his search for these documents. He has kindly granted us permission to use his comments to provide a historical context. At the time of this writing, Mr. Diamond is still searching for information in connection with the Lewelling/Luelling family and their role in this portion of history. Anyone who is able to supply more information may contact Mr. Diamond at email@example.com.
You may not know what these records represent, and I'll pass along a few comments. All of these manumissions are dated November 13, 1835, and they record the purchase of slaves in and around Perquamins County, North Carolina by a remarkable group of anti-slavery Quakers in that southern state.
Because of their historic rejection of slavery, most of the Quakers from that Piedmont Carolina county departed and moved north into Indiana, settling mainly in Wayne, Henry and other counties. Althea Coffin, one of this group, recorded 400 Quaker families who left that part of NC for your part of Indiana, roughly in the period 1820-1840. Considering that families were large and multi-generational, we may assume that some few thousands made the move. Before and during this exodus (which has been studied by Indiana historians and others), some of the Friends Meetings (the local Quaker congregations) actually purchased slaves from their owners and cared for them until they could be transported into a free state. David White, who signed all the certificates on your website, was an agent for the Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends in North Carolina, and he brought the black individuals and families named in the documents, filing certificates of manumission in an officially free state--Indiana. Note that by this time, freeing slaves was not legal in North Carolina.
I am researching one of those North Carolina families which left for Indiana about 1822. The familiy's informal history (I am not related) says that they brought slaves north and freed them. My original contact to you was to determine if records existed that might confirm or deny the claim. Their name does not appear in these records. You may note that on page 4, that the certificate that manumits Willis Perry, was witnessed by Levi Coffin and John Fellow. Levi Coffin has achieved everlasting fame for his work with the underground railroad, of which these emancipations may have been a part.
You can see by these documents that David White liberated 26 persons from slavery in North Carolina by these instruments of manumission. The date Nov. 13th 1835 that precedes each document probably represents the date each was recorded at the courthouse. The documents were executed on the 3rd and the 11th of October, 1835. We cannot conclude from these documents that all twenty six arrived in Indiana together (one baby was born after arrival in Indiana), but considering the distance and time of transit involved, it is likely that White led the group northward as a unit. Note also that the five transactions resulted in the reunion of three families which had been split apart by sales to different owners in North Carolina.
I should also add that it is likely that David White's stated personal purchase of Willis Perry and Job Felton--heads of two of the families--was probably accomplished with church (North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends) funds.
There is a bit of literature on these abolitionist North Carolina Friends. Cecil Eaton, some decades ago, concluded that their departure significantly depleted that state of a force for freedom of thought that led to the closing of the southern mind regarding slavery. But the fact is, the Quaker form of "liberation politics" was not aggressive and would not have altered the trend toward increasing inflexibility.
The value of slaves increased significantly after 1800 with the technological advances that made cotton king. States like Virginia and NC ended up exporting these poor workers into the deep South where the cotton industry especially flourished.
Indiana turned out not to be such a fine place for free blacks, for the state passed a law requiring they each post a $500 bond on entry. Other unfriendly laws were passed, and Quaker Meetings petitioned the state legislature to change them. Folks like Henderson Luelling, the subject of my study, left Indiana for freer territory. Many of those who remained did work in the underground railroad and it is my impression that less than a quarter of them are known to us today. They were not crusaders and they did their work with stealth and secrecy. Luelling moved on to Iowa (then part of Wisconsin Territory) in 1837 and became a public antislavery activist, assisting a branch of the underground railroad that bore new freemen out of Missouri--a much more violent state than North Carolina.
It is still my hope to uncover documentation that Henderson's father Mesheck Lewelling freed some slaves on his arrival in Indiana about 1822. If you run across anything or anyone that might illuminate this please pass the information on. Regarding Earlham College--the time will come when I shall have to visit there to examine Quaker records for your area for the period I am studying. Though I do not know him personally, I am acquainted with the work of Dr. Thomas Hamm, archivist there who has written several valuable studies on Quaker antislavery activities before the Civil War.
The Friends of Wayne County should be proud of their heritage, so much of which was built upon the principles of freedom and personal empowerment. The history of many religions is marked by conflict and battle. The Friends's faith emerged in the context of religious supression in Britain and they brought to North America a stubborn committment to the ideal of human brotherhood. If your area does not have a large monument of some sort to the life-and-death careers of these quiet champions of liberty, it may be time to awaken the region from over a century of sleep.
David Diamond August, 1998