MANUMISSION Derived from the Latin verb manumittere, literally meaning "to let go from the hand," manumission was a popular term used during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in reference to the voluntary act on the part of individual slave-owners of freeing or liberating their own slaves. As a general rule, slaves so freed were issued a formal document ("manumission deed") by the slave-owner. This document, of course, became an invaluable possession of the ex-slave and usually the only means of "proving" that he or she was indeed free.
Although the distinction is somewhat amorphous, the terms manumission and emancipation should not be confused. Whereas manumission refers to an individually-motivated and voluntary act on the part of -an individual slave-owner, the term emancipation generally is used in reference to a government-decreed large-scale or collective liberation of slaves, such as that occasioned by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.