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Ziba B. Oakes Papers

 Collection — Container: MS Am. 322
Call Number: MS Am. 322

Scope and Contents

The 652 letters in this collection document the business dealings of Ziba B. Oakes, an enslaver and broker of enslaved persons, who lived in Charleston, South Carolina. The letters were written by several business associates and cover all aspects of the trade of enslaved persons such as financial transactions, sales instructions, and fugitives from slavery. Oakes’s real estate business and other financial matters are also documented. There is no correspondence from Oakes.

The majority of the letters in the collection are from enslavers, brokers of the enslaved, agents, and clients from different parts of South Carolina and other southern states with whom Ziba Oakes did business. For example, there are fifty-eight letters written to Oakes by William Wright from Savannah, Georgia; thirteen letters by Burch Kirkland and Company, from Montgomery, Alabama; and twenty-three letters by Thomas Limehouse, from Goulding, South Carolina. In addition, there are letters from traders from Richmond, Virginia and New Orleans, Louisiana. These contain specific details about enslaved persons bought and sold, and give market prices for each city.

Of the approximately 480 letters written by enslavers and slave traders, 135 were written by A. J. McElveen, whose job it was to travel throughout South Carolina’s Sumter District and purchase enslaved persons for Oakes. The letters include details about the number of enslaved persons that were purchased on each trip, the gender and physical descriptions of each person, and where on the plantation each enslaved person should work. Other matters include the problems he had with selling certain enslaved persons and his dealings with other traders. McElveen’s letters also provide insight into the relationship he had with Oakes.

Additional letters document Oakes’s real estate and other business ventures such as the buying and selling of plantations and railroad stock.


  • 1852-1857


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Items in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. In most cases, the Boston Public Library does not hold the copyright to the items in our collections. It is the sole responsibility of the user to make their own determination about what types of usage might be permissible under U.S. and international copyright law.


652.00 Items

Language of Materials



Original order of the correspondence has been maintained.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Ziba Oakes papers were taken from a Charleston, South Carolina holding site for enslaved persons on February 20, 1865 by James Redpath. Redpath gave the papers to William Lloyd Garrison in April 1865. The collection was later donated to the Boston Public Library on November 11, 1891 by Francis Jackson Garrison.

Related Materials

Slave Trade Letters, 1839. MS fAM 1034

Related Publications

Drago, Edmund L. ed. Broke by the War: Letters of a Slave Trader. University of South Carolina Press. 1991.

Processing Information

This electronic finding aid is transcribed from legacy data. In many cases, transcriptions were not verified against collection materials at the time of transcription. As a result, this finding aid could be incomplete and might only reflect a partial understanding of the material.

Statement on harmful description

Archival description reflects the biases of time periods and cultures in which it was created and may include direct quotations or descriptions that use inappropriate or harmful language. Creator provided descriptions may be maintained in order to preserve the context in which the collection was created and/or used. Legacy description and potentially offensive content may be made available online until a collection can be reprocessed because the access that they provide to primary source materials is uniquely valuable to the research community at large. Our efforts to repair outdated descriptions and to describe our collections more equitably are iterative and ongoing.
Ziba B. Oakes Papers
Rare Books & Manuscripts Department staff.
2011 October
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2011-04: Updated by Kimberly Reynolds, April 2011.
  • 2021-04: Collection description and notes updated by Eve Neiger to replace oppressive, outdated, and/or harmful descriptive language. See the processing note for more information.

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