About the Project

Over the past several years, Princeton University Library (PUL) has collected several ledger books and related materials that document free African-American communities in the early 19th century and post-emancipation African-American communities from the Reconstruction period and into the late 19th century. Many of the ledgers also document Native Americans, women, and poor whites. They provide a window into the economic life of these hard-to-document communities and complement PUL’s focus on collecting documentation of African American economic life and entrepreneurship more widely. Scholars of social history often use such ledgers to trace individuals as well as to understand the social and economic connections within and between communities.

This emerging field of “subaltern prosopography” is exemplified by works such as Seth Rockman’s Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore and Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan’s Vagrants and Vagabands: Poverty and Mobility in the Early American Republic. Both use these types of materials to uncover the social and economic lives of the working poor and the history of wage labor in the early Republic.

New items will be digitized and added to this collection as they are acquired.

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