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Land Deed for Pioneering School Sheds Light on an Early American Anti-Slavery Effort

Sotheby’s announced Wednesday that it is auctioning off a 1794 land deed for the first location of the African Free School in lower Manhattan, one of the first educational institutions founded to prepare free people of color and the children of enslaved people for life after slavery.

The document, recently acquired through a consigner who wishes to remain anonymous, is on display at Sotheby’s in New York City through Saturday, Feb. 29, in honor of Black History Month, and then will hit the auction block at a June sale for books and manuscripts, where the auction house says it expects the document to fetch an estimated $250,000-$350,000.

Dated July 22, 1794, the deed for this land, in what’s now the SoHo neighborhood, makes clear the mission of the school: “Whereas many respectable and benevolent Persons in the City of New York have associated under the denomination of ‘the Society for promoting the manumission of Slaves and protecting such of them as have been or may be Liberated,’ and have Instituted a School in said City, called the African Free School for the humane and charitable purpose of Educating negro Children to the end that they may become good and useful Citizens of the State.”

This document stood out to Selby Kiffer, International Senior Books specialist at Sotheby’s, because of the detail about what the land would be used for. “Often times a land grant is very dry, sometimes just the address, but what’s great about this document is the inspirational language explaining the purpose of the land,” he says.

Read entire article at Time