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African American Nashville in History & Memory: Introduction

Learn about the African American History in Tennessee

Black Nashville: An Introduction

Blacks-slave and free-made up 20 percent of Fort Nashborough's settlers in 1779. From these early years through the Civil War, a growing black community in Nashville, led by a small group of black elites, quietly built the foundations of a future society, developing schools, churches, and businesses.

Lovett, B. (1999). The African-American History of Nashville, Tennessee, 1780-1930: Elites and Dilemmas. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt201mpt5

Slavery in Public Places

Glover & Boyd-  A General Purpose Agency, No. 50 Cherry Street that sold the enslaved, rented properties to others, and the selling of land property amongst other things. 

Dabbs & Porter- General Purpose Agency that was into the buying and selling of African Americans. Office was located on 33 Cedar Street, between Cherry and Summer. The Partnership was dissolved on October 30, 1854. 

James & Harrison- A General Purpose Agency on 18 Cedar Street, commissioned others to board, sell, and oversee the enslaved. Auctions were held every Saturday at 10:00am to the public. Often would place ads to help others recover lost slave property in the local papers. 

Lyles & Hitchings - Slave Dealers located at No 33 Cedar Street. Involved in the buying/selling of the enslaved in the New Orleans Market.

Reese W. Porter- Formally of Dabbs & Porter who sold the enslaved from a variety of trades (carpenters, cooks, blacksmiths, plough boys, fancy boys, girls, and seamstress). 

This information was taken from ads in the Republican Banner 1856-1857

Davidson County Slaveowners: A History

John Overton was born in Louisa County, Virginia in 1766. Overton moved to Nashville in March 1789 and began practicing law in the Davidson County court. During his lifetime he served as an early Tennessee lawyer, a jurist, banker and political leader. Overton was also a trusted friend and advisor to Andrew Jackson. John Overton was perhaps Jackson's closest advisor and confidante. He often wrote to Overton, discussing Washington politics, local and national affairs, gossip, and land speculation. He served as federal tax collector on the whiskey tax from 1796 until 1803. Overton was elected to replace Jackson as judge of the Superior Court of Law and Equity, where he served until 1810. After the Jackson Purchase in 1818, Overton, James Winchester and Andrew Jackson established the town of Memphis in the western corner of Tennessee near the Mississippi River. During his later years, Overton devoted a substantial portion of his time at promoting the new town's growth and development. Overton lived at his plantation near Nashville, Traveller's Rest.

Andrew Jackson, byname Old Hickory, (born March 15, 1767, Waxhaws region, South Carolina [U.S.]—died June 8, 1845, the Hermitage, near Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.), military hero and seventh president of the United States (1829–37). He was the first U.S. president to come from the area west of the Appalachians and the first to gain office by a direct appeal to the mass of voters. His political movement has since been known as Jacksonian Democracy (Britannica).

Jackson went from poverty to wealth because he personally embraced the institution of slavery. Enslaved workers grew his cotton, built and tended his house and helped him gain a social foothold in Southern society. Jackson owned as many as 161 enslaved people, buying and selling them, using their labor to build his fortune and even bringing them to the White House to work for him (

African American Genealogy online research is much more difficult due to the scant nature of record keeping for African American’s prior to the Civil War. This is the reason for creating a separate section for African Americans much like we have for Native Americans who’s research can also be hampered by the available records.

Searching for African American families involves two distinct research approaches. These approaches correspond to the distinct change in the legal status of African Americans in the United States before and after the Civil War. Genealogical techniques used to track slave families before the war are necessarily quite different than those used for white or free African Americans; however, research conducted on African Americans after the war usually involves the same types of records as those used for whites.

Statements credits: Access Genealogy

Photo: Rev. Matt Gardner (Elkton, TN), 3rd Great Grand Uncle of Librarian, Angel Sloss-Pridgen

John Harding founded Belle Meade Plantation in 1807. From his initial 250-acre purchase on the “Old Natchez Road,” seven miles from Nashville, Harding built Belle Meade into a twelve-hundred-acre plantation. During the three decades of his management, Harding sold blacksmith services, farm products, and dressed lumber and established an important stud farm.

John Harding is described as a "self-made" man with limited education who purchased a number of slaves while developing his plantation (initially known as Dunham Station ). 


Wills, W. (1991). Black-White Relationships on the Belle Meade Plantation. Tennessee Historical Quarterly, 50(1), 17-32. Retrieved February 4, 2021, from

Daniel Graham was the 5th Secretary of State for Tennessee from 1818-1830 then Tennessee's first Comptroller from 1838-1843. In his legislative capacity he hired his slave Isaac to deliver water to legislators. Graham resided in both Davidson and Rutherford counties to which he kept a Slave Register for both properties. 

William Ramsey was a Slave trader who was paid by the Nashville Government to buy 12,000 worth of slaves on the behalf of the government. Ramsey went to Virginia and bought two dozen slaves: Ben, Emanuel, Jim, Frank, Lewis, Moses, Salem, Anthony, Charles, Lucinda, Lilburn Henderson, Allen, Jim, Moses, Allen, Isaac, Vincent, Peter, Bob, Granville, John, Isaac, John and Jim. Those 24 slaves were taken away from their families and herded to Middle Tennessee (probably chained together in what was then referred to as a slave coffle). Nashville’s government later bought two more slaves named Daniel and Betsy and used its 26 slaves to perform such tasks as building the city’s first waterworks. At least twice, some of these slaves tried to escape. The mayor of Nashville purchased runaway slave ads in hopes of tracking them down.

  • Slaves were often sold as the result of lawsuits, the dispensation of an estate or the financial over-extension of a slaveholder. These sales were carried out by chancery court clerks and masters at slave sales that were announced in public notice ads. I found 163 of these events that accounted for the sale of 1,199 slaves in counties ranging from Blount to Lincoln to Shelby.

Further reading: Tennessee's Slave History

African American Historiography


African American Legislators

Courtesy of the Tennessee State Library & Archives

Most early historical works by black authors were biographies or autobiographies, which usually described a few exemplars of the race to counterbalance the omission or denigration of blacks in many white-authored works. The late 19th century saw the emergence of a new black historiography devoted to demonstrating that contributions by African American individuals and groups were essential to the course of American history and culture. African American historians conducted extensive primary source research to support their historical analyses. Other writers compiled long encyclopedic works, often delving into subfields such as religion, music, and journalism (The Library Company of Philadelphia).

Jim Crow & the Age of Washington