thanks for you reply!
I've been working my way through the census... not all are online yet, and although I found Sol and children in the later census he's still a complete mystery otherwise. I keep hoping to find a clue as to his origin, and the possibility that this is a lead is exciting though slim. it's just the first one I've run across in years!
I was just looking at familysearch last night. their data subscription is very affordable so I'm signing up. I'm glad to hear they have wills and deeds because I think that's the only way to solve puzzles like this. the org that has maintains the May house hasn't replied to my inquiry yet, but in the interest of restoring lost history I feel like orgs like that have an obligation to make the information they have freely available to the public. I feel like people would rather hide it because they're embarrassed that their ancestors owned other human beings.