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"Bringing Alabama's African American History to Light: A Model Partnership," funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), is a project designed to make available to the public collections of personal papers and company and organizational records held by the University of Alabama Libraries and the Tuskegee University Library which shed light on the lives of African-Americans in Alabama. In addition, it will assist in establishing policies, procedures, and practices for the Tuskegee Archives.
Septimus Douglass Cabaniss was a prominent Alabama attorney who is perhaps best remembered for his role as executor for the estate of Samuel Townsend, a plantation owner who intended to emancipate his slaves upon his death. After attending the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Cabaniss returned to Huntsville and was admitted to the Alabama Bar in 1838. An examination of his legal papers shows that Cabaniss concentrated on civil matters, particularly the settlement of estates, from the inception of his legal career. In 1853, Cabaniss was employed by the wealthy, unmarried Samuel Townsend to draft a will that would allow him to manumit and leave property to a selection of his slaves, many of who were his children. Townsend was concerned because his brother Edmund Townsend's will had been held void by the courts at the time of his death in 1853. Edmund had left the bulk of his estate to two of his slaves, whom he acknowledged as his children. However, the extended family of Edmund protested and succeeded in nullifying his will for their benefit. Samuel Townsend was concerned that his own will could be held void and hired Cabaniss to draft a will which would protect the interest of his chosen heirs. At his death in 1856, the Samuel Townsend estate was valued at approximately $200,000 and included eight plantations.
The will was unsuccessfully contested for nearly two years by the natural heirs of Samuel Townsend, but in 1858 it was finally probated, though more legal battles and the Civil War would soon interrupt its disbursements. Townsend's former slaves were relocated to Ohio and Kansas, and after the Civil War, Cabaniss continued trying to liquidate and settle the remainder of the estate.
The University of Alabama Libraries' Digital Services Department has been awarded a grant by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to digitize the papers of Septimus D. Cabaniss. The project will provide contextualized, freely-available online access to approximately 44,563 images (including 59 bound volumes), the complete holdings of the Septimus D. Cabaniss Papers Collection, linked out from the online searchable finding aid.
First Report (July 1, 2006 - January 31, 2007)
Second Report (February 1, 2007 - July 31, 2007)
Third Report (August 1, 2007 - January 31, 2008)
Fourth Report (February 1, 2008 – July 31, 2008)
Fifth Report (August 1, 2008 – January 31, 2009)