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Person or Property

Letters of ownership demonstrated an enslaver’s forcible possession of another person. While these documents contained data similar to contemporary birth certificates, they recognized a person’s legal status as property, rather than as an equal citizen.

Birth Certificate

Birth Certificate

The 14th Amendment of 1868 granted full citizenship to persons of African descent born or naturalized in the United States.

Today, a birth certificate is one of many documents that identify a person as a legal citizen. Compare this with an 1803 document from New York that legally classified a person as enslaved.

Compare this to a Letter of Ownership

Letter of Ownership

In the eyes of the law, enslaved people were property, not citizens. A letter of ownership, like this one for Ruth, made this status clear.

How does this letter show that Ruth was treated as a possession instead of a person with rights?

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