South-Central Pennsylvania Slavery Research

Slave Research

Since finding my slave ancestor in Cumberland County, PA, I’ve been doing a lot of research on that particular slave and also on slavery in general in south-central Pennsylvania.  This page is just a beginning of what I hope to be numerous resources useful to people doing slave research in this area.  My goal is to publish multiple volumes.

Complete So Far

Short manuscript on the life of my 3rd great-grandfather, Nasa McCurdy.

Rediscovering African Americans in South-Central Pennsylvania, Volume 1: Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, Register of Slaves and Slave Births, 1780-1841.

Future Volumes Planned

Volume 2:  Slaves and Slave Owners in the Tax Lists, Federal, and State Census for Cumberland County, Pennsylvania: 1763-1849.  (Nearly complete)

Volume 3: Slaves and Slave Owners in the Tax Lists, Federal, and State Census for Franklin County, Pennsylvania: 1763-1849.

Volume 4:  Runaway Slave Advertisements in Local Papers for Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.

Searchable Database

Most of the above data I hope to have in a searchable database online. What you can search below is in development and purely experimental for now.

Searches are not case-sensitive.  For free blacks, search under Head of Household name.

Enter Search Data:

Head of Household Last Name: Soundex
Head of Household First Name: Soundex
Slave Name: Soundex
Township Name:

Check which sources:

Search All
1780 Slave Register
1789 Slave Birth Register
Tax List (1763-1782)
Federal Census (1790-1840)

Note on sources for the database search:

These sources currently cover only Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.  The data being searched includes all slaves registered in 1780 and all slave births starting in 1789 – both required by state law.  It also includes every slave owner in every direct tax list available, as well as all households with colored persons (whether free or slave) in the federal census for Cumberland County from 1790-1840.

Search Hints

  1.  Searches are not case sensitive.
  2. Remember that neither the census nor the tax lists give slave names.  Including a slave name in your search will exclude searching those types of records.
  3. Use the percent sign (%) as a wildcard.  It will replace any number of characters.  A search for last name of “And” returns nothing.  Search “And%” returns Anderson and Andrews.  Search “%And%” returns Anderson, Andrews, Sanderson, McFarland, and others.
  4. ALWAYS use wildcards on first names, as there is frequently a title or honorific attached to the first name (e.g. “Capt”, “Esqr”, “Jr”, etc.).
  5. Many of these names have a wide variety of spellings.  Also, given names were often abbreviated (e.g. for Alexander: Alescander, Alexander, Alexander (Capt), Alexander (Junr), Alexandr, Alexdr, Alexr, Alexr (Esqr)).  Be creative in trying various spellings with wildcards.
  6. Use soundex to search for similar names.  Note you cannot use soundex and wildcards on the same search term.


I would love feedback  on this, particularly if you encounter bugs or suspected errors in the data.  Also if you would like to help compile similar records to be included here.  Use the Contact button at the top of the page to email me.