by Holly Timm
[originally published 7 January 1987
Harlan Daily Enterprise Penny Pincher]
Until January 1, 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation freed them, slaves were regarded legally as any other property was. They were bought and sold with deeds or bills of sale just as land or livestock were treated and formed part of a person's estate and taxable property.

Harlan County had few slaves, our geography not lending itself to the large plantations which depended on slavery for their economic existence. A few owners may have regarded them as financial investments. An able slave could bear many children, future slaves, to be sold for a profit. In the county's first years, several families - Ball, Bailey, Blair, Craig, Cawood, Green, among others - owned a few slaves, probably household slaves, almost part of the family in some homes.

The families which owned the largest number of slaves were the Turners, Brittains and Howards and a woman named Ann White who owned 10 slaves, all but two older women being children under the age of 16. In 1820, she also owned the only wheeled carriage in the county.

A bill of sale dated 1821 from Jesse Richardson to Moses Ball Jr. includes a quantity of livestock, household furniture and "three certain negroes: a woman named Dolly, a woman named Caty and a girl child rising three years-old names Lucy."

At his death in 1848, much of the considerable estate of Benjamin Howard was slaves. One of these slaves, a boy names Peter, became the subject of a lengthy dispute between Benjamin Howard's heirs and William D. Green, the husband of his deceased daughter, Idress.

Idress Howard Green died about a year after her father and her mother, Phoebe; brothers Philip, William S., Benjamin, Jacob, James, Elisha and Eli; and her sisters Sally Bingham, Elizabeth Taylor, Catharine Salyer and Julia Howard sued William D. Green for the return of or payment for the boy Peter.

There was considerable dispute as to the slave's value as well with Green saying he was worth only $400 and the Howard heirs saying it was $600. This slave boy, Peter, is probably the 11 year-old mulatto boy listed in Green's household in the 1850 slave schedule.

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