Volunteer Indexing Project of TN Convict Leasing Records

Today we held the first meeting of the year and had an important presentation from our guest speaker, Dr. Camille Westmont. Dr. Westmont is a historical archaeology postdoctoral fellow at Sewanee: The University of the South and shared information about a project she is working on – a volunteer indexing & transcription project, to be more precise, of records created by the Lone Rock Stockade, which was the largest convict stockade in Tennessee.

Dr. Westmont is the coordinator of an online volunteer transcription project for records from the Lone Rock Stockade (which was in Grundy County, Tennessee) spanning 1870-1896. Using the From the Page platform, microfilm images of the ledger records are posted online, and anyone can volunteer to help with the transcription of the information that appears on the ledger pages.

Example ledger page

Why is this indexing project important? Because, for decades, the state (as did many other states after emancipation), unfairly targeted and imprisoned African Americans, then leased them out as forced labor to private businesses. The conditions in which they lived and the ways in which they were treated were horrendous. These records are important because they provide an opportunity for us to KNOW and LEARN these individuals’ names and begin to do the work to TELL THEIR STORIES. And possibly, to reconnect families (via descendants) that have been systematically ripped apart by this practice.

The records contain details such as names, ages, race, the county in which they were convicted, the crime for which they were convicted, sometimes there are physical descriptions such as height/weight, dates of discharge or death, and more. To date, 330 ledger pages have been transcribed by about 30 volunteers. But, much more work remains to be done.

We are looking into hosting a transcribe-a-thon to help with the project. If you are interested in participating, please email us. Meanwhile, if you would like to explore the records – you can sign up at https://fromthepage.com/slaveryproject/convict-leasing-project

Meeting Recap: Filling Gaps in the Story

At our March monthly meeting, guest speaker Betsy Phillips, local author, and columnist for the Nashville Scene, shared with us her tips and strategies for researching various aspects of history related to Nashville.

Tips that she shared included ways to assess the composition of the enslaved in antebellum homes and plantations, the importance of visiting physical locations whenever possible, and being sure to remember historical context when analyzing and evaluating information that you’ve found.

Bud Rogan newspaper death notice, 1905

In a timely example, she also described her search for Bud Rogan – an over 8-foot tall giant from Gallatin, TN. Betsy’s search and process were illuminating and insightful as she took us through her own journey to learn more about Bud.

In today’s Nashville Scene, you can read more about Betsy’s quest – we are lucky to have had an early sneak peak!