Lansing man donates rare slavery document to Michigan Archives

Feb 11, 2016

The Michigan Historical Center recently got a special donation: the manumission papers of Frank Demas, who likely bought his freedom from a slave owner in Kentucky before settling in Mason, were donated by his family. We hear from state archivist Mark Harvey and Ben Hall, a Lansing musician and descendant of Demas, about this rare piece of history.


In 1850, the United States passed the controversial Fugitive Slave Act. It required that escaped slaves who were captured be returned to their masters, even if they had made it to a free state.

Slave catchers were brutal in their pursuit of slaves who had escaped their masters, and they weren’t above capturing free black people, too. Many African Americans in the north carried with them the papers proving they had bought or been given their freedom.

Few of these documents have survived, but recently, the Michigan Historical Archives unveiled a restored version of the manumission papers of a Mason man named Frank Demas.

Current State talks about the significance of this document with Michigan state archivist Mark Harvey, and Benjamin Hall, the great great great grandson of Demas.