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, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
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.
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by Ned Benton, Co-Director, Northeast Slavery Records Index
Can artificial intelligence (AI) locate and assemble fragments of information about an enslaved person and present them in an accurate and coherent narrative? We formulated seven prompts (AI search questions) asking about five specific enslaved people and two localities for which there is significant documentation from the Northeast Slavery Records Index (NESRI) and other internet sources. We submitted the prompts to three AI programs, ChatGTP, Microsoft Bing and Google Bard, and compared the results to descriptions readily available elsewhere. The AI responses ranged from hesitant incompetence to assertive mendacity.
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Note: This project is ongoing and this article and the associated report will be updated as the project research continues.
Universities, colleges and schools have engaged in slavery, and engaged in activities to abolish slavery, directly as organizations, and less directly through the activities of administrators, faculty, staff and students associated with the organizations. When campus officials model and normalize slavery, this is an important educational message to students, who as alumni bring these values and norms back to their home communities. Thus, slavery at the campus can promote slavery in distant communities. This is particularly true when the campuses are educating future ministers and religious leaders, who then model and espouse slavery to their congregations and home communities.
The Northeast Slavery Records Index (NESRI) is assembling records of enslavement associated with universities, colleges and schools, and developing online reports of the records we index. We include records of enslavement by college officials and by students in their home communities. The project is starting with colonial universities and colleges, and those founded in the early decades of the USA.
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