What We Know of the Enslaved: Hidden Lives in the Michael Reed Papers

Michael Reed and his family were among the first settlers of Robertson County in central Texas; Reed became prosperous and influential as a corn farmer dependent on the labor of slaves. Upon his death in 1859, Reed’s heirs inherited 23 slaves, but nearly 40 are mentioned by name in the Michael Reed Papers. More are mentioned but not named.

The Michael Reed Papers at Southwestern University primarily cover Reed’s life and business from 1818-1859 and include promissory notes, receipts, records of payments and bills, correspondence concerning requests for Reed’s corn and other goods, bills of sale for slaves, and Michael Reed’s ledger of the daily activities of slaves. Although the only extant records of these lives were recorded by their oppressors, this exhibit works to highlight the lives and humanity of these slaves, whose enslavement allowed Reed to become prosperous.

The exhibit is organized according to the identity of each enslaved person rather than individual documents. For each person, we report what we know of them from the Michael Reed Papers, and link to digitized documents at The Portal to Texas History that serve as evidence of their life.


Emily Higgs