The James P. Wilson Family’s “Slave Bible”
The James P. Wilson Family’s “Slave Bible”
The James P. Wilson Family’s “Slave Bible”
The James P. Wilson Family’s “Slave Bible”
The James P. Wilson Family’s “Slave Bible”
The James P. Wilson Family’s “Slave Bible”
The James P. Wilson Family’s “Slave Bible”

The James P. Wilson Family’s “Slave Bible”

Darlington, South Carolina: 1829-68. Hardcover. Entries were kept in The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments published in New York by Daniel B. Smith, 1825. Contains eight pages of birth and deaths records for slaves of the Wilson’s plantation known as Levensworth plus one page listing all overseers who worked at the plantation between 1826 and 1850. A 5” x 4” sheet with additional birth records is laid in. 9” x 11” in a modern leather binding. Foxing and wear throughout. Several leaves with archival repairs. Very good. Item #009225

A superb example of a “Slave Bible” used to record the births and deaths of enslaved African-Americans at Levensworth. The entries—in the ‘Family Record’—were likely made by James Pliny Wilson, Jr. who signed the Bible on its original front free endpaper. Overall, 102 births and 22 deaths are listed and span at least two generations. The preponderance of entries were made between 1829 and 1865, however three are post-Civil War.

The births are all recorded in similar fashion, mostly in chronological order; some entries identify both parents:

"61. Lassey child of Patty born May 17th 1853.
62. Anson child Anson & Lizzy was born about 28th Feb: ’54. 63. Maria child of Tom & Charity born 6th May 1854.
63. Phillis child of Clarissa & Antony was in June 1853.
64. Warren (son of Julia & Willis) in July 1854."

It is the death records, however, that make this Bible especially fascinating. In most Slave Bibles, deaths are record in a simple fashion similar to the births. Some of the death records in this book are like that, but for eight, Wilson provides more information, and in some case, detailed medical information which he was perhaps provided by his brother, James, a physician:

"Stephany died September 15th 1848 His death was caused by a fall from the second to the first floor of the store – the skull was fractured to the extent of 3 inches. He died in 3 hours. . . .

"Caroline died October 27th 1848 She was injured eight days previously by falling from a wagon – The wheel [ran] over the right leg – tore the flesh from near the ankle to the knee entirely from the bone – (the muscles were not separated from the bone) – but little injury to the bone except for the bruise. There were symptoms also of intestinal injury, probably from the wheels passing over the body – She never recovered from the first shock – the system all the time being so prostrated as to forbid amputation. . . .

"Pliny – native of Africa – died 16th January 1857 – He suffered for 2 or 3 years with some affectine (sic) of the heart – whether organic or functional unknown – of the Heart. He ultimately died of an affectrin (sic) of the Stomach probably Cancer. He was a member of the Baptist Church for many years. He was honest in deportment and faithful to his owners. . . .

"Hannah died the March 1857 Her disease was child bed fever Aged 23 years. . . .

"Isaiah died August 20th 1857. He died of a congestive chill. Aged 30 years."

Additionally, one page provides a chronological list of the plantation’s overseers:

"The Plantation was purchased in the year 1826 and settled in 1827. Mr. John Young the overseer for that year, and he was succeeded by Mr. Danl Campbell for the succeeding year & 1828, 29 & 1830. And he was succeeded by Wiley W. Priritt for three succeeding years 1831. 1832 & 1833. . . . "

The plantation land was originally granted to a veteran of the Revolutionary war, Dr. Nathan Leavenworth and, upon his death, bequeathed to his brother and nephew, William and Nathan Levenworth (spelled this way in the sale document referenced below). They, in turn sold the property to one of the wealthiest South Carolinians of the early 1800s, John W. Lide. It is unknown if Lide sold the plantation directly to the Wilsons or if there was another owner in between. A short summary (at this link) tracing the ownership of Levenworth between 1786 and 1891 as well as a copy of the plat will be provided.

Since African-Americans were not included in federal censuses before 1870, the only information available to genealogists are the records of slave-owning families. Most of these documents—such as bills of sale or hiring contracts--are short with minimal information. Some—like wills or probate cases—contain a little more. That is why scarce plantation Bibles like this one are so historically valuable; they provide generations of family information and relationships about other ‘invisible’ slaves. This amazing plantation record contains a treasure trove of African-American genealogical information made all the more important by the detailed descriptions of slave deaths.

Unique and rare. As of 2019, the Rare Book Hub shows only two other Slave Bibles have sold at auction, both by Swann Galleries; one for $10,350 in 2005 and one for $27,000 in 2012. This Slave Bible contains far more pages of records and far more detailed death information than either.

Price: $30,000.00