A Kentucky Slave Gains His Freedom

On March 7, 1861, a 22-year-old Kentucky slave, Ambrose Beauford, gained his freedom. He was manumitted in the will of his owner, Susan R. Brent. To see Beauford’s freedom papers, please <click here>.

As Beauford’s case demonstrates for some fortunate slaves freedom came before the Civil War. Some escaped to the northern states or Canada, managed to buy their freedom, or like Ambrose Beauford were lucky enough to have it given them. Yet manumission was becoming legally harder in the late antebellum years. Increasingly, slave states required newly emancipation slaves to leave the state forever or risk arrest and re-enslavement. Beauford was no exception and the heirs of his owner were required to post a $500 bond to guarantee he left Kentucky. Increasingly, states without large free black populations tried through the law to insure that such a population group never developed. In antebellum South, more and more, free people of color were seen as a subversive influence undermining the slave system by their very existence.

So Ambrose Beauford gained his freedom earlier than most slaves but was obliged to leave Kentucky, possibly forever, leaving behind his family and friends, and perhaps the only home he had ever known. It is unknown where he went or whether he ever returned to Kentucky after freedom came to the rest of the slaves, but at least in his case he faced the coming of the Civil War a free man.

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About Donald R. Shaffer

Donald R. Shaffer is the author of _After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans_ (Kansas, 2004), which won the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship in 2005. More recently he published (with Elizabeth Regosin), _Voices of Emancipation: Understanding Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the U.S. Pension Bureau Files_ (2008). Dr. Shaffer teaches online exclusively (i.e., a virtual professor). He lives in Arizona and can be contacted at donald_shaffer@yahoo.com
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