- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A 170-year-old document belonging to a man who bought his freedom from slavery is being displayed in a library responsible for preserving the records of Michigan state government and other public institutions.

The freedom paper, known as “manumission,” was set to go on display Monday at the Archives of Michigan, located inside the Michigan Historical Center, in Lansing, the Lansing State Journal (http://on.lsj.com/20EIumL ) reported.

The legal document was donated by Benjamin Hall of Eaton Rapids, the great-great-great-grandson of Frank Demas, also known as Thomas Willis.

In 1846, Willis bought his freedom in Kentucky, where he may have been able to hold an outside job in order to pay for his freedom. He eventually moved to Mason, Michigan, around the time of the Civil War.

“It is an extraordinarily rare document to have survived,” said Sandra Clark, director of the Michigan Historical Center. “To have one that has survived this long and in this condition and one that connects to Michigan . I get goosebumps.”

Willis was married to Mary Willis, who ran away from a Louisiana plantation around 1850, and escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad, following the path used by the character Eliza in in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” according to a 1907 article in the Ingham County News. He changed his name to prevent his wife from being recaptured.

Hall, the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival Coordinator in East Lansing, found Willis’ freedom paper rolled up and inside a metal canister that was in his father’s safe.

“I knew it didn’t belong in a canister in a safe. It needed to be preserved, and I wanted it to be useful,” Hall said.

Hall and his wife, Laura, also donated an 1872 Bible belonging to Merry Willis, her ceramic pipe, and a small study book about arithmetic.

Hall said his ancestors were believed to be among the first black families in the Lansing area.

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com

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