Name – The database provides the names of all known enslaved individuals of African descent referenced in The University of Alabama records. However, the evidence for these names comes from information provided by white enslavers. While many enslaved people selected the names of their own children, this practice was not standard, and many enslaved individuals bore names assigned to them by their enslaver. In addition, some enslaved people used different names with family and friends that are unrecorded in the written record. 

Age – The age of an enslaved person is difficult to ascertain unless their exact birth and death date was recorded. Often, especially if a person was purchased or leased during adulthood, the records only gesture to an estimated age at the time of sale or lease. In addition, the inability to consistently trace individuals after freedom due to name changes or relocation makes identifying the ages for those whose births were recorded effectively impossible. Where possible, the database provides all specific and speculated dates associated with an enslaved individual. 

Freedom Status – While all people listed in the database were enslaved, those who survived through the Civil War became free. “Freedom Status” puts the emphasis on the act of enslavement imposed on individuals of African descent by enslavers. This category also records the shift in status from enslaved to free for the men, women, and children for whom we have post-Civil War documentation.

Enslaver – “Enslaver” denotes an individual, organization, or institution who claimed ownership of one or more human beings during slavery. We use the term “enslaver” in contrast to “owner” or “master” to avoid the connotation that certain individuals, due to characteristics like their race or class, naturally possess power and authority. “Enslaver” stresses the understanding that enslavement did not result from a condition inherent to the enslaved individual but from a socioeconomic system that legitimized the holding of human beings as property.  

Leaser – “Leaser” represents any individual, organization, or institution that contractually “hired out” or “rented” the labor and services of an enslaved person temporarily for a specified period of time. Leasers negotiated prices for the services of enslaved people, came to agreements about their housing, and arranged food and clothing responsibilities between them and the enslaver for the duration of the contract. Often, but not always, these arrangements were made without any concern given to enslaved workers’ desires or requests. While contracts were made between enslaver and leaser, enslaved people sometimes arranged with their enslavers to keep a small portion of the money from their hire. Leasing out labor became a routine practice during slavery, especially in urban areas like Tuscaloosa. It became so prevalent, in fact, that all enslaved persons faced the likelihood of having their labor hired out at least once in their lifetimes.

Servant – The term “servant” rather than “slave” regularly appears in University records in reference to enslaved individuals. Unlike the standard definition, however, the use of this term in its original context does not reflect any held agency by those individuals to dictate their own livelihoods, either in employment, residence, or beyond. Instead, the substitution of the terms was a customary, and oftentimes deliberate, practice used by enslavers to make the institution of slavery appear more palatable to themselves and to others. In keeping with modern practice, we use “enslaved person or individual” rather than “slave” because the latter term represents a dehumanized notion of a person’s identity as fundamentally connected to their legal status as property.

Location – The database has three categorizations for location (original, living, and work). The “Original Location” marks where the enslaved person was born or purchased. “Living Location” records any known boarding residence or home. “Work Location” denotes the places where the enslaved person performed their labor. In all cases, the information in the records varies in precision. The database seeks to identify data for each category but cannot guarantee the accuracy of all locations for every individual. 

Property Value/Contract Term – The database uses two categories to represent the perceived monetary value enslavers and leasers placed on enslaved individuals. When an enslaved person was purchased or sold, the amount of money exchanged between parties is recorded in the “Property Value” category. “Contract Term” entries record the price and terms agreed between enslaver and leaser as a result of hiring out the labor of an enslaved person.  

Agent – In a few places in UA records the term “agent” appears. Agents worked with enslavers or leasers to handle or supervise contractual agreements. Agents were typically employed as executors of estates. They were often called upon if an enslaver or leaser was a minor requiring adult representation until coming of legal age.