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The Brutal Legal Reality of Slaves as Property
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Ephraim Butler...does by these presents specially mortgage, and hypothecate in favour of the said J E Lewis the following discribed and named slaves... Louisa a negro woman of dark complexion aged about twenty eight years, Stephen a Boy black complexion aged about nine years Cezar a boy also Black aged about five years Roze a girl aged two years…

Enslaved African Americans like Louisa, Stephen, Cezar, and Rose were property, lawfully bought, sold and used as collateral to secure loans. When planter Ephraim Butler became indebted to Dr. John E. Lewis for nearly $500, he gave the physician a promissory note secured with a mortgage on his slaves.

[SLAVE TRADE]. Manuscript Document. Mortgage of Ephraim Butler to John E. Lewis, DeSoto Parish, Louisiana, April 12, 1855. 2 pp., with integral leaf with docketing on verso. 7¾ x 12½ in.

Inventory #24717       Price: $950

Ephraim Butler (c. 1808-aft. 1880) was born in Kentucky, and married in Alabama in 1846. In 1850, he was a planter in DeSoto Parish, Louisiana with $1,700 in real property including four slaves. Butler apparently paid his debt. By 1860, he had $6,000 in property, including six slaves.

Louisa Butler (b. c. 1830) was born into slavery in Alabama. By 1870, she was a free farm laborer in De Soto Parish, Louisiana. Her daughter Rose Butler (b. c. 1851) lived with her and also worked as a farm laborer, as did four younger children.

John E. Lewis (1814-1861) was born in Georgia and became a physician. He settled in western Louisiana by the late 1840s. In 1850, he owned nine slaves. By 1860, he was also a farmer with $12,000 in real property and $18,400 in personal property, including sixteen slaves.

Complete Transcript

                                                                        State of Louisiana

                                                                        Parish of DeSoto

Be it known that on this the 12 day of April A D Eighteen hundred and fifty five before me Saml F Smith Recorder in and for the Parish of DeSoto State of Louisiana duly commissioned and sworn, personally appeared Ephraim Butler a resident of this Parish who declared that he was legally and justly indebted unto John E. Lewis of the same residence in the just and full sum of Four hundred and ninety five and 92/100 Dollars and for which amount he the Said Ephraim Butler has this day executed and delivered his promissory note, made payable to said J E Lewis or bearer, due the day after date, and bearing interest at the rate of Eight per cent per annum from the date thereof till paid, which said note I the said recorder and notary have this day paraphed[1] “ne varietur”[2] April 12th AD 1855 to Identify the same with this act of mortgage. And the Said Ephraim Butler declared that in order to secure the payment of said note, at its maturity together with all interest and cost that may accrue thereon, he had mortgaged and does by these presents specially mortgage, and hypothecate in favour of the said J E Lewis the following discribed and named slaves, towit: Louisa a negro woman of dark complexion aged about twenty eight years, <2> Stephen a Boy black complexion aged about nine years Cezar a boy also Black aged about five years Roze a girl aged two years of dark complexion, the above discribed and named slaves to be and remain specially mortgaged and hypothecated unto the said John E. Lewis, to be sold and without the benefit of appraisement until full and final payment of said note interest and cost, the said J E Lewis being here present declared that he accepts the within and foregoing mortgage, and waives the production of a certificate of mortgage from the office of Recorder of mortgages for the parish of DeSoto as required by article 3328 of the Civil Code of Louisiana

Thus done and passed at the town of Mansfield State and Parish aforesaid in presence of Joseph B Elam and Benjamin Youngblood, witnesses of Lawful age and domiciliated in this parish who also sign their names together with said parties and me the said recorder & notary on the day and year first above written

the interlineation of the words ‘to be sold’ interlined and the word ‘and’ stricken out before signing

Ephraim Butler / Witness / J B Elam / John E. Lewis / B Youngblood

                                                        Saml F Smith recorder and exofficio notary Public


[1] A “paraph” was a flourish made after one’s signature to prevent forgery.

[2] “ne varietur” is a Latin phrase meaning “it must not be changed,” often used as an inscription on notarized documents like mortgages.


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