Free African Americans in North Carolina : Dictionary of Terms


Below is a list of words that can be found throughout this site and accompanying blog and their intended meanings. If you think I should add other words to this list, feel free to send me a suggestion.


Antebellum vs. antebellum:

Many dictionaries give the definition of "antebellum" as the period of history immediately before the Civil War. If you break about the word and look at it's roots, it literally means "before (ante) war (bellum)" I use antebellum in a general sense, meaning the entire period of U.S. history before the Civil War. However, there are many time periods in U.S. history before the Civil War, and I'm sure I might refer to them when I discuss a specific time period. I'm going to break down the time periods here in order to help you understand about them some more for the non-historians out there.




"African American" vs. "Black" vs. "Free Person of Color"

There are different terms I may use, and I did touch on this a bit in the quiz on the blog. I use the term Black most often, but this offends some and they'd rather I use African American. I've used African American before, and that offended others, so instead I use what I'm most comfortable using, and since I have arthritis in my hands, I use Black. I apologize right now if that offends you, it's not my intention, but I can't please everyone.

From time to time, I may revert back and use the term "free people of color" or "FPOC" for short. I have seen quite a few people offended by this term, not just when I've used it, but other historians as well, such as Paul Heinegg and at Afrigeneas for the FPOC forum. Why do we use this term? For the simple reason that not all Blacks were/are strictly of African descent, but they are often an admixture of races, such as Native American, and white. Some documents from the time refer to "Free Coloreds," which refer not only to those of African descent, but to tax paying Native Americans as well. The term "Free People of Color" or "FPOC" refers to and includes all who are non- European or a mixture of European with non-European.




Manumission vs. Emancipation

So, what is manumission? This is something I'll talk a lot about, especially in the blog. A lot of people have never heard the term before. Manumission and emancipation are pretty much the same thing. There is a slight difference though from what I've seen with primary source documents. Generally, emancipation refers to the freeing of slave by someone other than the "owner" (i.e., they are forcing the "owner" to free them). Manumission is more voluntary. Usually the "owner" is setting his own slave free, or perhaps he purchased a slave for the purpose of manumitting that slave. I will almost always use the term "manumission." Records in the 1700s almost exclusively use the term "manumission" or "manumit." Records from the 1800s really confuse things though because they use both terms interchangeably. For instance, the court records to free Harvey and Rachiel Cook in Granville County use both "emancipate" and "manumit" to describe the act of setting them free.




I cannot think of anymore terminology issues as this time, if I do, I'll do another post about terminology. If you have any questions or concerns regarding terminology, please either let me know in the comments section of the blog or send me an email to discuss it privately.