I was reading the first edition of The Emancipator, found here:

"THE EMANCIPATOR." Emancipator, 30 Apr. 1820, p. 1. Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A Transnational Archive link.gale.com/apps/doc/GB2500020659/SAS? u=txshrpub100185&sid=bookmark-SAS&xid=74d9572f. Accessed 18 June 2023. Gale Document Number:GALE|G82500020659

In it there a section about the publisher, Elihu Embree beginning on page 18. On page 19, the following is written:

Paragraph about Elihu Embree freeing his slaves in his will

It explains how an abolitionist could also be a slave owner: paragraph explaining how Elihu Embree could be an abolitionist and a slave owner at the same time

There are some oddities with this source. While the paper is dated 30 April 1820, the history of Elihu Embree includes his death, as well as events up until 1849, so that is the earliest possible publication date for this source, other than that, I do not know when this biography of Embree was produced. Still, it would appear the author had his will from about a year before his death. My best guess as to the source of this is that some manumission society had it put together to commemorate it on some anniversary of some date.

The problem is Wikipedia says,

Around 1812, however, Embree freed all their slaves, at a considerable financial sacrifice. Soon afterward he became an ardent anti-slavery advocate, and remained so until his death.

And, at least one of the sources bears that out, the JSTOR article on Pioneer Anti-Slavery Press. The other source makes no mention of his status as a slaveowner. So, my question is, which one is right? I suspect Wikipedia and the JSTOR source, written in 1916, which I suspect to be written after the Gale source, are a whitewashing of history, and this dirty fact was left out.Secondarily, can anyone find what the manumission laws in Tennessee were in 1820? Thanks.

Update: Here also says he freed all of his slaves but this was written after the JSTOR article:

"Elihu Embree." Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936. Gale In Context: Biography, link.gale.com/apps/doc/BT2310014031/BIC?u=txshrpub100185&sid=bookmark-BIC&xid=8f8b6074. Accessed 20 June 2023.

Another update: I believe I found the author who wrote that biographical sketch of Embree and, I believe it is much later than I expected. Dr. Robert Hiram White did not even graduate until 1910 according to the online Tennessee Encyclopedia.

  • I am confused by "JSTOR article on Pioneer Anti-Slavery Press", since JSTOR is just a digital repository. It would be helpful to provide a full citation for this. I am guessing it is: Asa Earl Martin, "Pioneer Anti-Slavery Press." The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 2, No. 4, March 1916, pp. 509-528.
    – njuffa
    Jun 20, 2023 at 9:04
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    Rev. E. E. Hoss, "Elihu Embree, Abolitionist." The American Historical Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 2, April 1897, pp. 113-138 (online) . On page 133 there is an extensive quote from a statement (letter?) by Embree about the details of his slave holding. It is not entirely clear but seems to suggest that he freed many of his slaves around 1812 with considerable financial impact, retaining some due to unspecified circumstances (one might hypothesize that they were financial in nature).
    – njuffa
    Jun 20, 2023 at 9:58
  • 1
    Well, in absence of any further information resolving the contradictions (hopefully someone has some). One of the two options is both far more detailed and makes the story messier, which are both good rules of thumb for textual criticism.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 20, 2023 at 14:28
  • @njuffa I did not provide a full citation, because I was referring to one of two references on the Wikipedia site for the quote given. One is an article on JSTOR, the other is a book not on JSTOR. I just did it for brevity. And since I wasn't quoting from that source directly, only affirming it supported the statement on Wikipedia, I didn't feel one was needed. You are correct on your full quote, though. That is the one I was referencing. Jun 20, 2023 at 18:15
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    @andypea It would be, except several sources explicitly state he emancipated ALL of his slaves in 1812. That being said, I came to the same conclusion as you. The only issue I have is that I cannot find the Tennessee emancipation laws for 1820, so I cannot verify this. Jun 21, 2023 at 21:34

1 Answer 1


Yes. Or at least he did at the time he wrote his will less than a year before his death.

Elihu Embree's will, available for viewing at FamilySearch and probably other places, starts out:

Note: the will contains offensive language and descriptions of people

I Elihu Embree Iron Master of the town of Jonesborough Tennessee being in usual state of health of body & mind calling to mind the uncertainty of life do make and ordain this my last will & testament & do dispose of the property which it hath pleased God to bless me with in this world in the following manner (to wit)

I do will & bequeath to my faithfull servant & slave black Nancy her freedom together with her children Francis a yellow boy or young man Abigail & Sophia her two black daughters and Moriah her yellow daughter & John her son nearly black together with all the future progeny of the said Nancy & well as the posterity of each & all of her children that they be considered & treated as free persons as I have now for some years past & that they all be legally emancipated as soon as they can which the notes of Godfrey [Carrigan?] dcd. has on them can be extinguished agreeable to an article which may be seen among my papers signed by myself and Godfrey [Carrigan?] and Christian [Carrigan?] sons & executors of the said Godfrey [Carrigan?] dcd. . . .

And finishes up:

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand & seal this 10th day of the first month in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred & twenty -

Elihu Embree


  1. Viewing the document on FamilySearch may require a (free) login.
  2. The name I've transcribed as Carrigan may be Carriger or Carryer or something else.
  3. There are likely more probate documents, such as an inventory, records of the sale of the estate, one or more accountings (status updates). These may or may not still exist and may or may not be available for viewing. One of these documents would likely provide information about what happened to Nancy and her family.

Elihu Embree will page 1 of 2 Elihu Embree will page 2 of 2

Citation "Tennessee Probate Court Books, 1795-1927," images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-2TMQ-S9?cc=1909088&wc=M6QW-LMS%3A179850501%2C180221401 : 22 May 2014), Washington > Wills, 1779-1857, Vol. 01 > image 83 of 269; county courthouses, Tennessee.

  • 2
    I actually saw this but was unable to read it and meant to include it. I believe the name was Carriger I just recently merged an Eliha Embree married to an Elizabeth Carriger, whom I believe to be synonymous with Elizabeth Worley, not sure though. Thanks for this. I always have such difficulty reading others' handwriting. I'm accepting this answer for sure. Jun 20, 2023 at 23:19
  • Would the downvoter care to comment how the answer is not useful, or could be improved?
    – shoover
    Jun 22, 2023 at 14:14
  • I really wish they made it to where you have to comment in order to downvote. Jun 22, 2023 at 22:54

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