This guide provides an overview of the Charles F. Heartman Manuscripts of Slavery Collection as well as an introduction to Mr. Heartman, his life's work, and his collecting prowess. Also included here, you will find accompanying research links and beneficial reading to better understand the cultural aspect of these manuscripts and their place in a tumultuous time in history.
From the beginnings of Xavier University of Louisiana, Mother M. Agatha Ryan, President from 1932 to 1955, facilitated active encouragement to building up a substantial historical Black Collection. These efforts included the addition of rare books, historical manuscripts, and pamphlets to the Library's holdings. Beyond active acquisition practices, the displaying of manuscripts for campus activities, including conferences outside the state became a necessary move to encourage outreach and community engagement. Faculty members aided this process by producing photo-static copies of baptismal records of slaves and Free People of Color housed at St. Louis Cathedral, while also, accompanied by students, transcribing thousands of slave manifests at the New Orleans Custom House before the originals were sent to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Charles F. Heartman (1883-1953), a prominent Mississippi book dealer, was known for collecting and dealing in African-Americana and materials related to the American South. Contrary to his predecessors, he shunned the idea that he collected on ephemeral ideologies and admitted to chasing pro-slavery materials simply because no one else would. Despite discouragement from many individuals, Heartman continued to construct his collection throughout the Great Depression. His vision and understanding of the value of the materials were based on historical nous which placed him ahead of most of his Southern contemporaries. He knew, too, where the collection would do the most good:
“What I would like to see is the transfer to an institution in the deep South, where a headquarters for Negro culture is more necessary than anywhere else. There is a deplorable lack of understanding about the importance and value of the cultural heritage among the Negroes at large, but more particularly in the South. In the desire for economic betterment and pressure for political advantages, it is too often overlooked how necessary it is to be fully conversant with past achievements and an analytical knowledge of the whole question.” – Charles F. Heartman, “The Charles F. Heartman Collection of Materials Relating to Negro Culture,” News Sheet Number One, January, 1945.
Over a period of many years, Xavier had diligently purchased books from his collection, and when it became necessary for Heartman to dispose of it, Xavier was able to acquire the portion of the collection which pertained to Louisiana and some of the surrounding states in 1945.
The Charles F. Heartman Manuscripts of Slavery Collection consists of over 6000 pieces dating from 1724 to 1897, and relate directly to the social, economic, civil, and legal status of enslaved Negroes and Free People of Color in Louisiana, especially in the city of New Orleans.
Approximately half of the Charles F. Heartman collection consists of municipal records from city of New Orleans. Clerical books, especially those of the Third Municipality, provide valuable information on the labor and leisure activities of slaves in the early nineteenth century. The city also had the largest concentration of Free People of Color in the nation, and encompassing tax records and business bonds reflect their economic activity. There are also rosters of Negro soldiers in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, and records of societies of Freemen dating from Reconstruction and beyond.
Currently, the Charles F. Heartman Collection is in the process of being digitally converted for long-term preservation and utilization for future researchers, students, and scholars. This continuing process extends Mother M. Agatha Ryan’s mission to not only assemble, but educate on the history of Slavery in the South, while preserving the value of cultural heritage as Charles F. Heartman deemed necessary for the future of African Americans. As this collection continues to be digitized and added online, please feel free to visit the Digital Collections website to see our progress.