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Bucks County slave records on their way to preservation

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Robin Robinson has made it her mission to do for the Recorder of Deeds office and Bucks County what others couldn’t. Robinson is overseeing the preservation of valuable documents dating back to the time of William Penn.

On Feb. 11, Robinson took yet another step in this direction. As part of her ongoing preservation project, 61 old books were sent to Kofile, the preservation company located in Essex, Vt.

While all of the old Recorder of Deeds books hold historic value, the 61 books are extra special. “These books are more than just land records, they are artifacts,” Robinson said. “They have slave records, specifically, manumissions.”

A manumission is the formal emancipation of slavery. In finding these records, Robinson and her staff realized that most, if not all, of the manumissions where recorded before the Civil War. “The other fascinating aspect,” she said, “is that they believe these manumissions were recorded by Quakers, with some recording a bill of sale for the slave just prior to recording the manumission for the same slave.

The preservation of these books was made possible by a $125,000 grant received from the National Park Service in conjunction with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The grant, called Save America’s Treasures, funds preservation on nationally significant historic collections.

It is not often history like this comes to light and Robinson wants to be sure that the appropriate people are aware of what has been found. She reached out to Linda Salley, president of the African American Museum of Bucks County, once it was realized the impact the records could have for the history of Bucks County. Salley said, “I’m grateful to be a part of this, to share this history with all of Bucks County and the world.”

Newly elected Bucks County Commissioner Bob Harvie was there to see the books off to Kofile. “As a history teacher for over two decades, I fully appreciate and support efforts to preserve our shared history,” said Harvie. “I want to thank Recorder of Deeds Robin Robinson, and the National Park Service for securing grant funding for this important project.”

The preservation of the books will take several weeks to complete. They are expected back in the care of the Recorder of Deeds office sometime in April.


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