An 1818 statute of the Georgia legislature required all free persons of color to register with the inferior court of their county of residence. According to the statute, county clerks were required to inscribe each freed man or woman by name, age, place of birth, residence, year arrived in Georgia, and occupation. While not all clerks performed their duties to the letter of the law, these source records contain vital identifying information for African-American Georgians long before the Civil War or the watershed 1870 U.S. census. The ensuing registers, varying in their completeness, survive for twenty-one Georgia counties. (Incidentally, the only way to emancipate a slave in Georgia was by an act of the legislature. Antebellum manumissions, though rare, were granted for unusual acts, such as defending an owner’s property during a British incursion during the War of 1812, extinguishing a fire at the state capital, and other faithful service.)
Transcriptions of the aforementioned registers are available in the series from genealogist Michael A. Ports called Georgia Free Persons of Color. This volume in that series consists of transcriptions of the free black registers for Chatham County, Georgia.
Mr. Ports has arranged the contents of the Chatham County volume in a series of tables, and chronologically thereunder, according to the dates of coverage of the three registers from which they are derived. He has provided an overview of each register, allowing for variations in their original format, references to any gaps in the registers, handwriting irregularities or peculiarities, and so on. In addition to the required information, a few clerks recorded the registrant’s height, weight, skin color, and name of their guardian. Persons of a historical mindset will appreciate Mr. Ports’ inclusion in the front matter of the wording of salient Georgia laws from 1818 to 1835 that mandated the registration of free Negroes. These are followed by the Georgia manumission statutes enacted after 1798. Finally–since, in theory, the freedmen and women were required to register themselves every year after 1818–researchers will be able to track the whereabouts or disappearance of individuals over time.