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Bill of Sale: Franc

Imagine if your worth as a person was denoted to a piece of paper with a few sentences describing your basic appearance. Imagine if this piece of paper were selling you, a human being, from one person to another with just a signature. Bills of sale were used as contracts between enslavers regarding the sale of an enslaved person or people.This research guide discusses the bill of sale of an enslaved person named Franc who lived from about 1739 to 1789.



A Brief Note: while reading this paper you will likely notice two different spellings of the enslaved person whose bill of sale is being discussed: Franc and Frank. Franc/Frank’s name was spelled differently depending on the source, and therefore both forms will be included throughout this paper. The two different spellings of his name demonstrate the lack of control enslaved people had over their lives. Those who claimed ownership of these people did everything in their power to strip them of any sense of identity. Additionally, Franc’s name was changed to “Christian” after being baptized by the Moravian Church. This further demonstrates that Franc had very little say in his own identification. Lastly, the different spellings of his name may be attributed to the different translations of Moravian’s German writing.


Imagine if your worth as a person was denoted to a piece of paper with a few sentences describing your basic appearance. Imagine if this piece of paper were selling you, a human being, from one person to another with just a signature. Bills of sale were used as contracts between enslavers regarding the sale of an enslaved person or people. This research guide discusses the bill of sale of an enslaved person named Franc who lived from about 1739 to 1789. First we offer an explanation of what exactly a bill of sale is, how it was used in the slave trade, and information about the slave trade in general. Then the paper transitions into the specific details of Franc’s bill of sale. Information about Franc’s life is then discussed, both before and after he was sold to the Moravians through the bill of sale. In this section, biographical information is provided about the man who sold Franc, William Gilbert, and the man who purchased Franc on behalf of the Moravian Church, Traugott Bagge. This paper concludes by addressing slavery in the Moravian church. More specifically, this research focuses on their ideology of slavery as well as the ways they participated in the slave trade. By the end of this paper, the goal is for the reader to gain a well-rounded understanding of the dehumanization of enslaved people, how this took place, and the effects it had on Franc. 

What is a Bill of Sale?

Transactions between former enslavers and future enslavers, referred to as a bill of sale, were legal documents that tracked the sale of an enslaved person within the horrific system of slavery. Though the transactions did document some information about the enslaved people, the descriptions remained generic and impersonal. These contracts stated the name and location of the previous and current enslaver, the amount the person was sold for, as well as their gender, name, and age (Duke Digital Collections). Physical descriptions of the enslaved people were also often included (Duke Digital Collections). If an enslaved female was sold, the seller would typically include an added portion guaranteeing that the new buyer would have full rights and ownership over any future children the enslaved person might have (Duke Digital Collections, n.d.). In some cases, multiple enslaved people would be sold under a singular bill of sale (Duke Digital Collections, n.d.). To finalize any bill of sale, both parties involved must provide a signature, as is typical for any legal contract detailing a transaction. Overall, this process was incredibly dehumanizing as these contracts listed enslaved people solely based on their physical value. This process was ultimately an exchange of property. Unfortunately, enslaved people at the time were labeled as objects through which this exchange was legal. According to a list from the mid-to-late 18th century South Carolina, it can be estimated that enslaved people were sold for around 7,000 to 8,000 dollars in today’s money (Eltis 2006, 1056). While this is quite expensive compared to sugar and rum, valuing an entire person’s life at that small amount is extremely poignant. It is important to recognize this as a part of the United States’ dark past.

Although bills of sales were the proper documentation for such transactions, most enslaved people weren’t sold from one enslaver to another. The majority of these sales were conducted through the use of slave traders, who were private businessmen that served as intermediaries between buyers and sellers. This meant that many transactions were documented in private business records that were never available to the public, making information extremely limited. During slave transactions, families were torn apart, and some were displaced from where they lived. Sometimes, there was no documented evidence regarding who their family was or where the enslaved people were forcibly moved to. To the enslavers, the most important part of their transactions was the buyer’s and the seller’s information, and the enslaved people’s details were deemed as peripheral and less important information.

Estate sales were another type of transaction used in place of bills of sale. Estate sales were most common when an enslaver died without a will. The enslaved people he owned would be sent to public and commercial auctions or passed down to his heirs per the inheritance laws of the state. In many cases, estate sales involved paying off previous debt incurred by the deceased enslaver (Thornton 2009, 74). While these transactions were different from bills of sale, they were also normally documented, making them more reliable than slave traders and their lack of a paper trail. Along with bills of sale, estate sales help bridge the information gap of formerly enslaved people, their movement, and details involving the timing of their switched ownership. 


Bill of Sale of Franc

Though Moravians were known to keep detailed records, the bill of sale for Frank follows the pattern of vagueness and holds very little information about him. The following is the information that is known about the sale of Franc to the Moravian church. In 1771, an enslaved man named Frank was accompanied to Salem by a man named James Donelson. Donelson was sent to sell Frank to the Moravians on behalf of Frank’s enslaver, William Gilbert (Moravian Archives, n.d.). There were additional notes written by Gilbert, one asking for their safe passage and one describing how Frank would prove useful to the enslaver during the summer season (Moravian Archives, n.d.). Once they arrived in Salem, Frank was bought by Traugott Bagge on behalf of the Moravian Church (Moravian Archives, n.d.). Franc was sold for £96 and 5 shillings which is $4529.74 in today’s US currency (Moravian Archives, n.d.). In the bill of sale, Gilbert quotes: 

I do oblige myself, iny Heirs and Assigns against the Claim or Claims of all Persons whatsoever and also do promist and oblige myself my Heirs & ce to forfeit and pay the Sum of One Hundred and Fifty Pounds like money, if ever the said Bagge should by any incumbrances whatsoever here before made loose the Negroe by Suit in Law (Moravian Archives, n.d.). 

From this quote, it can be inferred that Bagge is under contract by Gilbert, and if he were to break said contract and lose Franc in a lawsuit, Bagge would be required to pay Gilbert one hundred and fifty pounds.


Franc’s Story: 

Frank was a West African male who was bought by the Moravian Church in 1771 from a merchant in what is now Tryon County (Moravian Archives, n.d.). It was later revealed in his memoir that Frank was born in Guinea and sold as a child (Moravian Archives, n.d.). Frank had four known enslavers before he was sold to the Moravian Church: William Shepard, Molly Dellfish, John McLane,, and William Gilbert (Moravian Archives, n.d.). The final enslaver listed, William Gilbert, is the man who sold Frank to the Moravian Church through Traugott Bagge. During Frank’s time with the Moravians, he mainly worked in the Salem store. However, he also spent several years working in the tavern until it burned down in 1784 (Sensbach 1998, 304). In August of 1780, Frank was baptized by the Moravian Church under his new name, Christian (Sensbach 1998, 304). Before his baptism, Frank was often seen trying to earn money on the streets of Bethabara by dancing (Sensbach 1998, 112). His movements reflected his attempt to preserve African culture and customs (Sensbach 1998, 112). Unfortunately, enslaved people were usually forced to abandon African cultural or spiritual expressions because they “often offend white Moravian’s sensibilities,” (Sensbach 1998, 112). Frank had to forgo his dancing to conform to Moravian standards of Christian fellowship (Sensbach 1998, 113). After his baptism, Christian married an enslaved woman named Anna in 1783 (Sensbach 1998, 304). After many years, they both moved to Bethabara where they became members of the Married Womens’ and Married Mens’ Choirs of the Moravian Church (Sensbach 1998, 304). Christian remained in Bethabara until his death in September of 1789 (Moravian Archives, n.d.). His death was likely due to an incident of injury, which was a “bad fall as he was carrying wood on his shoulder” that took place eight days prior (Old Salem Museums, n.d.). Following his passing, which was announced by trombones, Christian was given a funeral and procession that was “larger than was expected” (Old Salem Museums, n.d.), which could imply that Christian was a well-loved and respected man. During this service, his memoir was read that attested to his “excellent character” (Old Salem Museums, n.d.). These details of Christian’s funeral are evidence that being enslaved in the Moravian Church was a more desirable lifestyle as an enslaved person. Though there were many gruesome and horrific aspects of slavery, their lives were, at the minimum, valued and seen as important to the white members of the church.


Johann Samuel’s Story with The Moravian Church, A Possible Parallel

While there are some blanks in the story of Franc’s life, information about Sam/Johann Samuel, another enslaved person held as property by the Moravian Church at the same time, can help provide a better idea of what his life and relationship with the Moravians may have been like. Sam, referred to as Johann Samuel after his baptism in 1771, was originally a laborer hired or “rented” by the church from his actual enslaver (Africa 1977, 275). He was in charge of supervising the cattle while a white man watched over the calves (Historic Bethabara). After a few years of working for the Moravians, the Moravians purchased Sam in 1769 for 120 pounds (Africa 1977, 275). He soon gained the responsibility of taking the wagon to acquire supplies for the town (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). In 1780, Johann Samuel married an enslaved woman, Maria, and had four children who survived until adulthood (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). Johann Samuel paid with his own money for his children to be educated at a school in Bethabara (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). In 1788, Johann Samuel earned the title as superintendent of the Bethabara farm after John Holland, a Brethren, was demoted from the position (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). Eventually, the Bethabara Farm land he had been in charge of was given away and Johann Samuel was given his freedom. Johann Samuel was then able to independently work for his own earnings and pay rent to the Church for a place to live (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). However, this was very difficult as a black man. He got into legal trouble twice due to unstable income and his property was put on sale to the public (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). Though the couple were no longer members of the Church, some of the Church elders generously bought and lent back Johann Samuel’s livestock and tools (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). With this new ownership, Johann Samuel was able to settle on a farm outside of Bethabara (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). Johann Samuel died in 1821, a few weeks after his wife, but little was said or done in his honor by the Moravians (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). Although this narrative differs in the sense that Johann Samuel eventually was given his freedom, it is assumed that Franc’s life may have paralleled Johann Samuel’s earlier life and connections with the Church. One could assume that, since Johann Samuel was no longer a member of the Moravian Church, that is why his funeral was not as notable as Franc’s.


William Gilbert

Franc’s final enslaver before the Moravian Church, William Gilbert, was born in Ireland and then moved to Philadelphia (Moravian Archives, n.d.). He eventually traveled through Charleston to the old Tryon County in North Carolina, which is where Franc was sold (Moravian Archives, n.d.). His home was in Gilbert Town, located inside of Rutherford county (Moravian Archives, n.d.). Gilbert was involved in several lawsuits— eventually causing him to lose his property after the Revolutionary War (Moravian Archives, n.d.). The sale of Franc to the Moravians faced some challenges as Gilbert already was facing legal trouble. The son-in-law of Franc’s original enslaver, William Sizemore, was protesting the ownership of him. This lawsuit was eventually settled by 1788. It appears Sizemore failed to gain back ownership of Franc, considering he was still the property of the Moravian Church at the time of his death (Moravian Archives, n.d.).


Traugott Bagge

Traugott Bagge purchased Franc on behalf of the Moravian Church in Salem, North Carolina. Bagge was born in Gothenburg, Sweden on July 7, 1729 (Moravian Archives,, n.d., 372). His father was a merchant and Bagge was trained to follow in his footsteps (Moravian Archives, n.d., 372). In 1755, Traugott Bagge joined the Moravian Church in the Netherlands and then proceeded to spend several years serving the church in different locations (Moravian Archives, n.d., 372). Bagge was called to move to the Moravian society located in Salem in 1769 (Moravian Archives, n.d., 372). Once in Salem, Bagge took charge of the community store. As the years went on, he was given an increasing amount of responsibility to the point where he supervised all trade and commerce in all of Salem and managed all store accounts (Moravian Archives, n.d., 373). Bagge also was a member of the North Carolina Assembly in 1782 and had the role of justice of the peace (Moravian Archives, n.d., 372). Because he supervised all trade and commerce, it could be assumed that Bagge was frequently involved in the purchase of enslaved people. Bagge purchased enslaved people on behalf of the church, and he was also involved with the selling process that occurred if an enslaved person tried to challenge the church (Moravian Archives, n.d., 373). Through his contributions for the Moravian Church, it is evident that Bagge was a prominent figure in the community and was trusted to make many financial decisions.  


Slavery in the Moravian Church

At the beginning of their settlement, Moravians hired white workers to meet their labor demands. However, since these workers tended to be unpredictable and would not convert to the Moravian faith, the community soon looked towards slavery to meet their specific demands (Moglen 2016, 161). Slave labor was also much cheaper than the labor of a white worker (Africa 1977, 276). There were two types of enslaved people in Salem: those who had been bought by the church, and those who had been rented out to the church from their enslaver for a period of time (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). The Brethren of the Moravian Church still did most of the labor and only left the enslaved people more menial tasks (Africa 1977, 276). Similar to Franc, most enslaved people in Salem primarily worked in the tavern, the store, in agriculture/farming, or worked as a craftsman (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). 

For many years, the Moravians tried to limit the number of enslaved people they owned. This was not because they believed slavery was harming black people, but rather, the Moravian church believed that it was at the expense of the community if the white Moravian people were unemployed (Sensbach, n.d., 79). Additionally, they believed that private ownership of enslaved people would lead to laziness within the white community and therefore did not allow it (Sensbach, n.d., 79). These are the reasons for which Franc was purchased by Bagge on behalf of the Church and was not considered Bagge’s personal property. Additionally, when Franc was enslaved, the Moravians owned very few enslaved people, possibly only four (Africa 1977, 277). However, as the need increased and ideologies changed, Moravians began purchasing and hiring more enslaved people (Africa 1977, 277). There were approximately one hundred and sixty enslaved people in Salem at its height in 1860 (Hidden Town Project 2021). Franc’s experience was most likely more personal than the people who were enslaved in the later years, as there was a higher ratio of enslaved people to enslavers.

The Moravians had unique and slightly conflicting beliefs surrounding slavery and the black community. They believed God created a hierarchy within mankind, and thus slavery was an acceptable part of God’s plan (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). Essentially they felt black people were their inferiors because of the way God created certain people in the Bible. However, they still felt the black community could be educated about God and become “civilized” (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). While the Moravians did not view black people as their equals in society, the Moravians did treat the enslaved people as equals in regards to the Church (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). The Moravians would teach their enslaved people how to read the Bible, would bring them in as official members of the church, and baptize them as they did Frank (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). Additionally, the enslavers and enslaved people sat together for church (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). These details further contribute to the previously mentioned idea that being enslaved by the church was a far more desirable option compared to many other forms of enslavement. 

Another distinctive practice of the Moravians was how they went about deciding which enslaved people to purchase. While most enslavers bought whichever enslaved person would yield them the most profit, the Moravians based their decisions on how the enslaved person would contribute to their community (Bethabara, n.d.). The Moravians felt that bringing more people into the church was a benefit of slavery because they thought it was important to spread their religion and were thus more inclined to purchase an enslaved person who had shown interest in the church (Africa 1977, 277). Additionally, Moravians were skeptical of outsiders, white and black, corrupting their society. Due to this fear, they also made character judgments on the enslaved people before they bought them (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). The Moravians wanted to ensure that they were bringing people of good character into their community. 


Unlike many others involved in the institution of slavery, the Moravians did not partake in physical or sexual violence as a way of controlling their enslaved population (Moglen 2016, 162). Rather than physical punishment, the church would simply sell one of its enslaved members for disobeying their regulations (Historic Bethabara, n.d.). Enslaved people in Salem were looked at as investments in which Moravians expected a return through their labor (Moglen 2016, 162). They either lived with their enslavers or in enslaved dwellings in town (Hidden Town Project 2021). They were also taught how to read and write (Moglen 2016, 159). Not only that, but many enslaved people spoke German, the language of the Moravians, better than English (Sensbach 1998, xix). Another unique practice of the Moravians was that every member of the congregation, including enslaved people, was expected to write a memoir (Thorp 1998, 434). As aforementioned, in Franc’s case, this memoir was read aloud at his funeral. Many enslaved people tried to stay within the community so that they could keep the slight sense of safety, material security, and the religious fellowship that they experienced in Salem (Moglen 2016, 164). 


Information on the AudioVisual

The theme of the audiovisual is one of a newspaper, making it easy for students to grasp each section. This project was done through Prezi, which allows the user to go through the presentation at their own pace. As the students view the audiovisual material on the bill of sale for Franc, assistance may be required. The creators of the Prezi wanted to ensure that the major details about Franc’s life were communicated, but tried to make it as simplified as possible so that they can comprehend a part of the complicated history of slavery. The key aspects of the Prezi are: 1) What a bill of sale is, its key components, and an image of Franc’s specific bill of sale, 2) the economic aspect of slavery and how the enslaver’s valued enslaved people— which was similar to goods such as sugar, 3) information about the Moravian church, Traugott Bagge, and William Gilbert, and 4) a biographical and historical document of Franc. 

In an attempt to keep the students actively engaged, the designers created a crossword puzzle for them to look for answers as they listen along to the presentation. Please, give the students a handout of the blank crossword puzzle before they begin the presentation. Each main section includes the information for about two questions of the puzzle. When the student reaches the end of the presentation, they will find that the puzzle is incomplete. This is intentional, as it is representative of the lack of information that is known about Franc’s life. Enslaved people unfortunately do not often have many personal details about their life, as the most important details to their enslavers was their physical characteristics and how this was beneficial to their economic profit. Hopefully, the student’s feelings of dissatisfaction with the incomplete crossword puzzle will allow them to pair this with the frustrations of slavery and the many holes of information that coincide with it. 



While Franc had a civil relationship with the church and community, it is evident that as an enslaved person, he lacked autonomy and freedom. Even though slavery in Salem was seen as less harsh and less violent in comparison to slavery in other communities, it was still slavery nonetheless, and the enslaved people wanted an out. It is documented that some enslaved people attempted to escape, which implies they were dissatisfied with their life with the Moravian Church (Old Salem Museums & Gardens 2021). Additionally, many of these records were kept by the people of the Moravian Church, which they originally did not want to release to the public (Radzievich 2015). Therefore, it is possible that there was an inherent bias in the record keeping, or that some gruesome details were left out. For example, Franc’s story was incredibly hard to find information for thus indicating that there are likely thousands of enslaved people whose stories remain unknown and untold. It is important to learn of these individuals' pasts to honor them for more than they were reduced to at the time. By not including embarrassing details, or ones they are ashamed of, the Moravian Church left out a major part of United States history. Through understanding how many components are unknown about Franc’s life, it can help a person understand, on a grander scale, the magnitude of details left out of the United States’ history of enslavement. 

Object biography by Camille Calkins, Sofia Dieppa, Elizabeth Dutton, Audrey Miller, and Erin Solomon.  Spring 2021.

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Research Guide Structure

1. What is a Bill of Sale?

2. Bill of Sale of Franc

3. Franc's Story

4. William Gilbert

5. Traugott Bagge

6. Slavery in the Moravian Church 

7. Information for the Audiovisual Project

View additional examples of Bills of Sale here.


The American Slavery Documents Collection at Duke University contains an assortment of legal and personal documents related to slavery in the United States. Nearly all of the documents are singular and otherwise unrelated to the other, but as a composite, the collection brings to light the details of the lives and deaths of free and enslaved African Americans during the Antebellum and early Reconstruction Eras. The type of materials include bills of sale, manumission papers, emancipation notes, bonds, auction notices and other assorted items. The documents represent nearly all of the states of the American south, including North Carolina.

Works Cited


Africa, Philip. "Slaveholding in the Salem Community, 1771-1851." The North Carolina Historical Review 54, no. 3 (1977): 271-307,


“American Slavery Documents / Digital Collections / Duke Digital Repository.” Collection #RL.11093, Duke Digital Collections,


“Book Series: Records of the Moravians in North Carolina.” Moravian Archives,


“Christian, Formerly Franks (Enslaved) – Old Salem Museums & Gardens Old Salem Museums & Gardens.” Old Salem Museums & Gardens,

Eltis, David, Frank D. Lewis, and David Richardson. "Slave Prices, the African Slave Trade, and Productivity in Eighteenth-Century South Carolina: A Reassessment." The Journal of Economic History 66, no. 4 (2006): 1054-065. Accessed May 12, 2021.


“Hidden Town Project.” Old Salem Museums & Gardens, (2021)


 Moglen, Seth. "Enslaved in the City on a Hill: The Archive of Moravian Slavery and the Practical Past." History of the Present 6, no. 2 (2016): 155-83,  doi:10.5406/historypresent.6.2.0155.


Radzievich, Nicole. “Moravian Record Books Hold Little-Known History of Slaves.” The Morning Call. Tribune Publishing, May 16, 2015. slave-archives-20150516-story.html. 


Sensbach, Jon. A Separate Canaan: The Making of an Afro-Moravian World in North Carolina, 1763–1840 (Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History ... and the University of North Carolina Press). New edition, Omohundro Institute (1998)


“The Stories of Bethabara’s Enslaved | Historic Bethabara Park.” Historic Bethabara,


Thornton, Mark, Mark A. Yanochik, and Bradley T. Ewing. "Selling Slave Families Down the River: Property Rights and the Public Auction." The Independent Review 14, no. 1 (2009): 71-79. Accessed May 12, 2021.


Thorp, Daniel B. "Notes and Documents: Chattel with a Soul: The Autobiography of a Moravian Slave." The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 112, no. 3 (1988): 433-5,

Imagine if your worth as a person was denoted to a piece of paper with a few sentences describing your basic appearance. Imagine if this piece of paper were selling you, a human being, from one person to another with just a signature.

Students can make their own Prezi presentations here

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Printable copies are available here.

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Phillip Kerner Estate Sale

You can learn more about estate sales from the Kernersville Broadside project here.


You can learn more about Moravian history in Salem and enslaved Moravians who were captured in Africa from the Moravian Fraktur project here.

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