Free blacks in Virginia: A reader’s comment

I received such an excellent comment to my “Free blacks in Virginia: The Drew Family” post….that I decided to feature it as a guest post. It’s a great overview covering free blacks in Virginia. It also arrived at the perfect time. I’m currently drafting a blog post about the long-standing community of free African-American community which lived (and thrived) in Charles City County, Virginia in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Thank you Aubrey for providing such a considered comment:

from Aubrey:

As a descendant of free people of color from Virginia I decided to respond to the above post ( in an effort to share some of what I have learned. I learned that I am a descendant of one of the original Africans brought to Virginia.  Not all Africans were subjected to permanent slavery but were indentured servants,  much the same as their European counterparts. After completing their indenture, they received their “freedom dues” which generally consisted of a certain acreage of land plus tools and a years worth of food clothing and possibly seed for planting.

These formerly indentured servants frequently intermarried and formed the basis for the community of free people of color in Virginia. This population grew as a consequence of natural expansion by birth and emancipation (for various reasons including emancipation of children by their white fathers or through slave owners’ Wills). It should be pointed out that in the early period of the colony, Native American in Virginia were frequently enslaved much the same as their African counterparts.

The legal status of emancipated people in Virginia changed around the early 1800′s as a response to the revolt of Gabriel Prosser. A state constitutional convention, held a few years later, made changes to the Virginia state constitution.  These changes enabled the enactment of laws that required emancipated people to leave Virginia within a year of emancipation or suffer re-enslavement. It is likely that those that did not leave, remained because of family who were still enslaved.

Furthermore, it is also like that in some cases free born people of color retained family members who had been purchased or otherwise were legally considered slaves (such as the the children from a wife who had been purchased from enslavement.  The children of enslaved mothers were legally classified as slaves). The slave status was maintained because if they were emancipated these family members would be required to leave the state.

Frequently emancipation in such cases happen by wills or other legal mechanisms. It should be noted that in Virginia free born people of color who were descendants of those free born or emancipated prior to the change in Virginia law were not required to leave the state. Petitions to the Virginia General Assembly could result in permission to remain in the state.

Additionally, free born people could be subject to life time slavery as a consequence of convictions for certain crimes.

Genealogy Adventure additional note: Emancipated and free born blacks could also be kidnapped and sold into slavery.

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