Tag Archives: sharecropping

Uncovering Local Sharecropping through a General Store: The Van Brunt Business Records

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Around thirteen miles North from downtown Tallahassee is Lake Iamonia. Families such as the Van Brunts historically developed the land around Iamonia as large cotton plantations. R.F. Van Brunt was born in 1862 and from 1902 to 1911 operated a general store and the Van Brunt plantation in the area. The collection primarily comprises store account ledgers like the 1911 Day Book on the left.

At first glance these financial ledgers may not contain anything other than store balances and goods sold. However, this collection sheds light on local sharecropping. Sharecropping was an agricultural labor system that replaced slavery following the end of the Civil War. Plantation owners used this system to keep many former enslaved people bound to their plantations to maintain their crop-driven businesses. 

Sharecropping contracts, like the one below found in one of the Van Brunt store ledgers contracting Randall Hayes, leased land to the sharecropper to cultivate a cash crop. At a specified date, the sharecropper had to produce the contracted quantity of which they kept a portion. VanBrunt04

The Van Brunt store ledgers help us understand the economics of sharecropping. The country store in Iamonia is one example of how credit networks drove sharecropping. At the beginning of the agricultural year, sharecroppers bought their seeds and supplies on credit. The store often supplied individuals for months at a time without receiving payment. Near the date on their contracts, sharecroppers paid their store account in several ways.

The entry for September 16th affirms that five individuals received a balance on their store account for labor “by hauling seed.”

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While they could pay cash if they had it, sharecroppers paid their store balance down with agricultural goods as well. The entry from October 6th reveals that customers paid their store accounts down “by cotton.” Because they paid rent on farmland, and sometimes store balances, in cotton, local sharecroppers often settled their debt with the plantation owner and store during the harvest season.

Infrequent opportunities to settle accounts with plantation owners, natural disruptions, and crop failures meant that sharecropping easily became a cycle of debt that trapped African Americans on the same plantations that enslaved them or their parents.

We invite members of the FSU community and the general public to access our collections in our reading room on the first floor of Strozier Library Monday-Thursday from 10:00-6:00 and Friday from 10:00-5:30.

The 1911 Day Book and Sharecropping Contracts are also available for viewing in our digital library, DigiNole.

Click here to learn more about the Van Brunt Business Records.

Further Reading:

Paisley, Clifton. “Van Brunt’s Store, Iamonia, Florida, 1902-1911.” Florida Historical Quarterly 48 (1970): 353-367.

Enslaved Lives in the Archives at FSU- Research Guide and ASERL Exhibit Update

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A list of enslaved people that George Whitfield of Tallahassee owned as of 1862. [Original Object]

Special Collections & Archives wants to share some updates on our work surfacing and highlighting collections documenting local enslavement and sharecropping. Collaborating with the Tallahassee History and Human Rights Project in their creation of the Invisible Lives Tours produced a list of our archival materials that we wanted to make more visible and accessible to researchers and the general public. What followed was the creation of a research guide solely devoted to gathering our primary sources of Enslavement and Sharecropping in Florida in one place.

The guide aims to promote and support historical and genealogical research in Tallahassee and surrounding counties. In the guide you can find relevant manuscript collections, rare books, and oral histories available on-site and/or digitally. To find Special Collections research guides, navigate to the FSU Libraries home page, click on “Research Guides,” select “By Group,” and then select the drop-down menu “Special Collections.”

From that body of material, we digitized and submitted objects for inclusion in the Association of Southeast Research Libraries’ (ASERL) “Enslaved People in the Southeast” collaborative exhibit that debuted November 4th. The exhibit commemorates the 400 years that have passed since enslaved Africans were first sold in the English colonies in 1619 marking the beginning of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

FSU and thirty-five other institutions offered a range of primary sources including “photos, letters, bills of sale, emancipation documents, insurance and taxation documents, and maps indicating segregation zones.” With this breadth of archival primary sources, “Enslaved People in the Southeast” seeks to show the social complexity of enslavement and its legacy across sharecropping, Jim Crow, and segregation. 

To access our collections, we invite members of the FSU community and the general public to our reading room on the first floor of Strozier Library Monday-Thursday from 10:00-6:00 and Friday from 10:00-5:30. We also encourage those interested to browse our digital library, DigiNole.

Behind the Scenes: Enslaved Lives in the Archives at FSU

Special Collections and Archives spent this summer contributing to two projects centered on the lives of local enslaved people. Currently, we are supporting the Tallahassee History and Human Rights Project. The first phase of this collaborative effort between the Grove Museum, Goodwood Museum & Gardens, the Tallahassee Museum, and the community seeks to better interpret the lives and experiences of the enslaved people that lived on and built the plantations at those sites.

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The Roderick Kirkpatrick Shaw Estate Division of Slaves

To support them, Special Collections & Archives identified manuscript collections, rare books, oral histories, and historic newspapers held at FSU that provide insight on African and African American lives from Territorial Florida to the Great Depression in Tallahassee and surrounding counties. We primarily found plantation records, personal papers, and business records documenting the era of enslavement and sharecropping in the Tallahassee locale. Please join these three museums for a series of tours on Saturday, September 14th that commemorate the lives and experiences of local enslaved people.

Alongside the research done for the Tallahassee History and Human Rights Project, Special Collections and Archives digitized and submitted objects to a collaborative online exhibit curated by the Association of Southeast Research Libraries (ASERL). The exhibit recognizes and commemorates the 400 years since the arrival of enslaved Africans in the United States.

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The Notebook of George Whitfield, a Slave trader in Tallahassee and Leon County. Digital version available here

The exhibit covers five periods: Colonial, American Revolution and Constitution, Antebellum, Civil War, and Twentieth Century. The digital exhibit is slated to debut on the Omeka platform in November. Our contributions, including the Whitfield Notebook to the right, have been digitized and added to our digital library, DigiNole.

Supporting these initiatives led Special Collections and Archives to question how to make our own holdings more visible and accessible. We started with the objects submitted to the ASERL Exhibit and added them to our digital library. The documents below are examples of what we identified that will be digitized in the near future. Alongside digitization, we have begun to incorporate these materials in class visits and aim to include them in research guides. As always, we encourage everyone to visit our reading room to view and work with our collections.

New additions to the digital library documenting enslavement and sharecropping include manuscript and printed sharecropping contracts, the Whitfield Notebook, and the R.F. Van Brunt General Store 1911 Day Book.

Special Collections & Archives welcomes visitors to our reading room on the first floor of Strozier Library Monday-Thursday from 10:00-6:00 and Friday from 10:00-5:30.