Over the past 181 years, the bill of sale has turned a pale tan. The ink has faded from black to brown and includes elaborate flourishes that seem ill-suited to such a grim and ugly business.
On Feb. 25, 1832, the bill reads, a slave named William Johnson "about eighteen years of age" was sold to the owner of an Alabama plantation for $550 — or roughly $14,000 in today's currency.
"This document changed my life," the Los Angeles-based philanthropist and collector Bernard Kinsey says about the piece of paper he received as a gift in the 1970s from a friend.
"When I opened that FedEx up, I felt like I was holding this young brother in my...