Bill of sale for Slye family slave called London, Rehoboth, Massachusetts, 1722

I’m sure you’re aware that Hennepin History Museum has an archive of historic documents and photos, but we also have digital collections. Although we don’t have a digital collection on our website, items are available on other platforms like the Hennepin County Library (HCLIB) and the Minnesota Digital Library (MDL). Our holdings are also viewable on

The Minnesota Digital Library (MDL) has a contributor’s choice collection which features favorite” or unique items from the collections of participating institutions. Archivists, including myself have highlighted an item in our collections that we feel has historical value. When I was asked to contribute to this collection, there was no question in my mind about sharing the slave bill of sale in our collection on the MDL platform. You can read about it here. 

Oddly enough, even though I knew I wanted to write about this, it wasn’t the easiest thing to write about. As an African American, I have always been aware that these documents existed somewhere. As my first introduction to history, my parents made sure to show me images of slavery, as well as American Indian people who lived on the land before European Americans. They made sure that I knew movies on television were made up and not real (except for the Roots miniseries of 1977✊🏾). They also showed me documents like manumission papers and schedules of the formerly enslaved so that I would be more aware of the society into which I was born. It was quite another thing to hold such a document in my hands. 

When I held the document in my hands, I got a flash of the room where the deal went down. This may sound kind of weird, but when you have an historical record in your hands, there’s an energy that comes with it. This is the paper that a slave owner / seller signed – and the buyer signed here”. I imagined London standing in a dimly lit but heavily furnished room or perhaps he was already tucked away on a wagon ready for transport. Archivists handle so many documents that we can’t spend a lot of time on each one – we’re cautioned to not spend too much time reading while processing documents and carry on with the work, sometimes irrespective of the content. But I read this one. And seeing the names of the people involved put a lump in my throat. It’s there now and it returns whenever I think about all that went into the existence of this piece of paper. 

You can see this and other special documents in MDL’s Contributor’s Choice. MDL’s unique items go well beyond the Contributor’s Choice series, however. Stephanie Hess, the digital curator for MDL highlighted them in last month’s blog. 

Written by Michele Pollard, Hennepin History Museum Archivist