African Americans of South Carolina

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This entry was originally written by Johni Cerny and Gareth L. Mark for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
the South Carolina Family History Research series.
History of South Carolina
South Carolina Vital Records
Census Records for South Carolina
Background Sources for South Carolina
South Carolina Maps
South Carolina Land Records
South Carolina Probate Records
South Carolina Court Records
South Carolina Tax Records
South Carolina Cemetery Records
South Carolina Church Records
South Carolina Military Records
South Carolina Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
South Carolina Archives, Libraries, and Societies
South Carolina Immigration
African Americans of South Carolina
South Carolina County/District Resources
Map of South Carolina


African Americans arrived with the first ships in 1670, and were the majority of South Carolina’s population, as slaves, from about 1708 to the eve of the Revolutionary War. When the 1820 U.S. Census was conducted, African Americans were again in the majority, a position they retained until the 1920s. They brought many important skills with them to South Carolina; as agriculturists, herdsmen, and watermen, they made a significant contribution to the planter society of South Carolina.

Researchers cannot afford to overlook the Voter Registration Lists of 1867 and 1868. African Americans in South Carolina gained temporary control of the state through their voting majority; many recently freed slaves made their first appearance in the Voter Registration Lists.

Lists of free persons of color, slave lists, plantation records, personal and family records, bills of sale, account books, indentures, and a variety of similar records attest to African Americans in South Carolina. The South Carolina Department of Archives and History, College of Charleston, South Carolina Historical Society, University of South Carolina, and Winthrop College have important collections of these types of records and manuscripts. Not every South Carolina district or county created or preserved each type of record listed above. In fact, the number of local records attesting to a specific slave is small when compared with those available for people who were not enslaved. The best sources of information about slaves are district (county) estate and property records. See James Rose and Alice Eichholz, Black Genesis (1978; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2003).

Kenneth M. Stampp, Professor Emeritus, University of California at Berkeley offers one of the best discussions of ante-bellum plantation records as the introduction to “Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution Through the Civil War,” Series J: Selections from the Southern Historical Collections, Part 3: South Carolina, available online at www.lexisnexis.com/academic/guides/southern_hist/plantations/plantj3.asp.

Other useful publications include:

  • Begley, Paul R., Alexia J. Helsley, and Steven D. Tuttle. African American Genealogical Research. Rev. ed. Columbia, S.C.: Department of Archives and History, 1997.
  • Cody, Cheryll Ann. “Naming, Kinship and Estate Dispersal: Notes on Slave Family Life on a South Carolina Plantation, 1786–1833,” William & Mary Quarterly, 3d Series. 39 (1982): 192-211.
  • Helsley, Alexia Jones, South Carolina’s African American Confederate Pensioners, 1923–1925 (Columbia, S.C.: Department of Archives and History, 1998).
  • Helsley, Alexia Jones and Patrick J. McCawley, The Many Faces of Slavery (Columbia, S.C.: Department of Archives and History, 1999), discusses manumission, contracts, maroons, religion, miscegenation, and family relationships.
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