Newman is an assistant archivist at the Virginia Historical Society, which recently released a free database of previously unknown slaves in Virginia. She'll be holding workshops with others involved with the database on Tuesday and Wednesday in Alexandria and Staunton to talk about their findings.
How many slaves are in the database?
Currently there are over 3,200 names, and then there's around almost 300 owner's names.
How do you find so much information on people previously unknown?
Initially in 1995 we collected manuscripts that included information on enslaved African-Americans in general. That has pinpointed African-American items in our collection, but we had over 8.5 million processed manuscripts ... What this database does is actually extracts the names out of the documents. It's like you're going one layer further.
What was your main goal in creating this database?
The main goal is to provide access to this information. Also to encourage African-American genealogy. We made a strong effort to include names, but also to make sure that we have a digital version of the document that that name was from ... This database allows them to have exposure to our collections without actually having to come here.
There is a long tradition of slavery in Virginia. Is there a slave or a story you find especially moving?
There is one slave. Peter Spain was actually a freed man. And if you go online, it's his will from the 1840s ... One, you see very few free men of color living in Richmond in the 1840s. Two, he emancipates his friend but he leaves an unnamed space near where the name should be and he considers her his wife and he never names her. I've looked through to find a name and I haven't.