The Northeast Slavery Records Index (NESRI) is an online searchable compilation of records that identify individual enslaved persons and enslavers in the states of New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Jersey.

Seal of the Dominion of New England (1686)

NESRI indexes census records, slave trade transactions, cemetery records, birth certifications, manumissions, ship inventories, newspaper accounts, private narratives, legal documents and many other sources. The goal is to deepen the understanding of slavery in the northeast United States by bringing together information that until now has been largely disconnected and difficult to access. This allows for searches that combine records from all indexed sources based on parameters such as the name of an owner, a place name, and date ranges.

NESRI also serves communities seeking to understand their histories of enslavement. Our Community-Locality Reports present enslavement records for a state, county, town or city.  While our collection of records is never complete and always growing,  our customized report provides a head start in the local research process, identifying records that might otherwise take months or years to locate. 

Small Contracts to Locate and Index Slavery Records

The Northeast Slavery Records Index (NESRI) is offering small contracts for academic and public historians to  locate, organize and index additional digital records documenting enslavement in NESRI’s eight northeastern states from New Jersey to Maine. Begun in 2017 and permanently located at https://nesri.commons.gc.cuny.edu/, NESRI is an ongoing digital public history initiative that currently indexes over 64,000 original records of slavery from the 1500s through the 1860s. NESRI provides customizable reports that are free and accessible online to scholars, students and the general public. This “Small Contracts” project is funded through a grant by the American Council of Learned Societies Digital Justice Grant, and the projects are expected to add at least 6,000 new records to the NESRI database. 

Project Overview: NESRI is proud to have located and indexed over 64,000 records of slavery from our states, but we know that there are thousands of records still to be located and indexed. Until recently slavery in the Northeast states was forgotten or ignored. Many of the records that are foundational to academic and community-based studies of local slavery are lost, misplaced or misunderstood. Our projects will restore names and identities to many enslaved people and hold their enslavers to account. The grant would allow NESRI to inform additional communities about their histories of enslavement, based on new, documentary evidence. The following are key points about the grants:

  • NESRI is funding fourteen contracts of up to $4,999 each. The will be funded in three rounds: August 2022, October 2022 and February 2023. The first round of applications was due August 8th, and the second round is due October 10th. Proposals not funded the first two rounds are retained for further consideration in the next round.
  • The contracts are to individuals or organizations, and we encourage applications from academic historians, students and community-based historians including those associated with historical societies. The contracts are work-product agreements, not employment agreements, with compensation provided based on achievement of the proposed project scope. When possible, compensation will be released based on records indexed, so that, for example, if a project proposed to locate and index 1,000 records, half of the compensation could be released after 500 records are indexed.
  • We will provide, as a resource for potential applicants, examples of records and locations where they might be discovered. For example, we have cases where in the same county, some town clerks have located and digitized legally-required records of births to enslaved mothers, but in nearby towns they are yet to be located. While we know where some records are likely to be found, we welcome proposals based on the special knowledge and insights of community and academic historians and students
  • NESRI does not seek custody of the records. Our goal is to find and index the records, specifying their location and content, especially the names of people who were enslaved.
  • Proposals will be brief, and completed online. Specific instructions will be released during July, 2022.
  • The elements of application proposals are likely to include:
    • Information about the proposer including a brief statement of experience and expertise.
    • Information about the records including location(s), date ranges, purposes, availability and modes of access, extent of individualized information, and estimated number.
    • Explanation of the anticipated project activities to locate and index the records.
    • Explanation of the funding request, not to exceed $4,999.
  • Selections will be made by a panel of NESRI partners from the Northeast states. One goal, when possible, will be to spread the awards across the active states. 
  • We will provide technical support for the indexing process including an indexing instruction manual, an online workshop, and direct access to Professors Peters and Benton. We have received a separate grant to fund a team of students supervised by Professor Frank Chen to code the records into the NESRI format. Thus, it is not necessary for you to do the coding, but we still do need for you and your project to produce the information what we need to code.
  • The index records will acknowledge the researchers who located and indexed them, and we would celebrate studies and articles that the researchers might independently author and publish.

File your proposal application using this form: Small Projects Proposal Form. The application is very brief and simple – the description is no more than 300 words.

We anticipate that there will be many more than fourteen worthy proposals, and part of our project scope will be to write a NESRI article about all of the records proposed for indexing. Based on these opportunities, it may be possible to secure future additional funding from various sources for additional projects. We also anticipate that some of the projects will uncover many more records than originally anticipated, and these might become the basis for additional funding requests by the historian involved, or as a part of future NESRI applications.  

Application Advice: The following are some suggestions to people considering filing an application:

  • Please let us know who you are so we can provide more information to you as well as information about workshops for potential applicants: Expression of Interest Survey
  • Become familiar with NESRI. Click on the NESRI Community Report Page and then enter the state, county and city/town that interests you. Review the records that we have and consider what might be missing.
  • For examples of indexed records, click on these links for communities with a lot of records: New Haven CT, Providence RI, Albany NY, Suffolk County MA, Monmouth County NJ, or Rockingham County NH.
  • Ideally, it is better to propose an application to index a set of known records than to propose to first locate and then index some records, since the records may not be found.

The following are some examples of hypothetical projects.

  • Indexing birth records of enslaved mothers for a set of towns in a single county in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut or Rhode lsland.
  • Indexing estate records in a county archive where the estate identifies enslaved people who are emancipated, sold or give away.
  • Indexing record of enslaved people in the papers of old churches.

Frequently Asked Questions: These are commonly asked questions with answers.

For a large collection of records, can several applications be submitted that are coordinated? Yes, but not many, because this would disproportionately concentrate grant resources on one state, locality or topic. 

Can a single application be written that would compensate several people? Yes, provided that they are working together on the same basic project. 

Could a college or historical society apply as an organization which would then compensate and support participants? Yes, provided that the application is not for more than $5,000 overall. 

Could an organization, already having volunteers working on a project to index a set of records, apply to spend the funds on travel or operational expenses? Yes, but eventual payment would be related to the number of records indexed compared to the number proposed to be indexed.

I want to submit an application but I do not know of any slavery records that need to be indexed. What should I do? Complete the Expression of Interest Survey Attend one of our workshops. We will try to give you ideas to pursue based on your locality, such as towns in the county where you reside where no individualized slavery records have yet been indexed. The records may be in your town clerk’s office.

I am a professor and I want to involve my students in this project. What can I do? We do not have enough funding to provide each student a grant! However, we would fund a project to your college or to a local historical society, who might then have ways to compensate the students. Alternatively, the students could volunteer and the project could pay for expenses such as travel to a records archive.

I am interested in searching for sets of records, but not indexing them in spreadsheets. Can I propose this? Yes. By the time we are reviewing proposals, we may have a grant for indexing records, and we would then ask proposers if they want to adjust their proposals to increase the amount of searching and reduce the amount of indexing.