Courtesy of Georgtown University
Explore American history with the click of your mouse
Georgetown University’s latest acquisition provides a sobering look into the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and it’s now available to view online.
Last month, the institution unveiled an 18th-century logbook documenting the route of an 18th-century slave ship. The logbook came to the attention of Georgetown alumnus Jack Pelose, after a friend in California reached out about possessing the document. Due to its fragile condition, the 225-year-old logbook was shipped in a custom-built crate to the school in 2017. Now it’s been digitized so people worldwide can explore its pages.
“Logbooks give a daily record of the routine business dealings, and experiences that took place on board a slave ship, including episodes of resistance and trauma,” said Georgetown history professor Adam Rothman in a press release from the school.
Between 1795 and 1796, the Mary transported 142 enslaved people from West Africa where they were brought to Savannah, Georgia. The trip resulted in the deaths of 38 people, with factors like punishment and disease contributing to the death toll.
Despite the document’s meticulous records, no information is provided regarding the lives of those enslaved—not even their names.
“We don’t know their names,” Rothman said. “We don’t know their biographies. We don’t know where they came from. We don’t know anything about their families. All we know is what’s recorded in this journal.”
The Mary is not an obscure ship by any means—its travels have been included in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, with the logbook briefly transcribed in the 1930s, but it’s one of the few texts in existence to offer extensive insight into the slave trade between Africa and North America, which is rare compared to other countries who perpetuated slavery.
The university has become a valuable resource for the topic of slavery, particularly the library’s Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation collection, which furthers research efforts into the study of slavery in the United States.
Currently the text is being carefully transcribed by historian Hillary MacKinlay, as well as university students completing additional transcripts as part of graduate-level projects.
“Georgetown has become an important site for the memory of the history of slavery, and the more dimensions we can add to that, the richer that site of memory will become.”
In addition to putting the artifact on display for his students to view, Rothman has plans to incorporate it into a visual project outlining the ship’s route on a map. You can view the document here.
What do you think of Georgetown University’s latest acquisition? Have you witnessed a historical document like this before? Join the discussion in the comments!