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Archiver > Melungeon > 2006-11 > 1164804978

Date: Wed, 29 Nov 2006 07:56:18 EST


These genealogies, comprising the colonial history of the majority of the
free African American families of Virginia and North Carolina, reveal several
facets of American colonial history previously overlooked by historians:
* Most families were the descendants of white servant women who had
children by slaves or free African Americans.
* Many descended from slaves who were freed before the 1723 Virginia
law which required legislative approval for manumissions. Families like Gowen,
Cumbo, and Driggers who were free in the mid-seventeenth century had several
hundred members before the end of the colonial period.
* Very few families descended from white slave owners who had children
by their slaves, perhaps as low as 1% of the total.
* Many free African American families in colonial North Carolina and
Virginia were landowners who were generally accepted by their white neighbors.
* Free Indians blended into the free African American communities. They
did not form their own separate communities.
* Some of the light-skinned descendants of free African Americans
formed the tri-racial isolates of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Louisiana.

Virginia Origins
Most of the free African Americans of Virginia and North Carolina originated
in Virginia where they became free in the seventeenth and eighteenth century
before chattel slavery and racism fully developed in the United States.
When they arrived in Virginia, Africans joined a society which was divided
between master and white servant - a society with such contempt for white
servants that masters were not punished for beating them to death [McIlwaine,
Minutes of the Council, 22-24]. They joined the same households with white
servants - working, eating, sleeping, getting drunk, and running away together
[Northampton Orders 1664-74, fol.25, p.31 - fol.31; McIlwaine, Minutes of the
Council, 466-7; Hening, Statutes at Large, II:26, 117; Charles City County
Orders 1687-95, 468; Westmoreland County Orders 1752-5, 41a].
Some of these first African slaves became free:
* Michael Gowen, a "negro" servant, was freed by the 18 January 1654
York County will of Christopher Stafford [DWO 3:16].
* Francis Payne of Northampton County paid for his freedom about 1650
by purchasing three white servants for his master's use [DW 1645-51, 14].
* Emanuell Cambow (Cumbo), "Negro," was granted 50 acres in James City
County on 18 April 1667 [Patent Book 6:39].
* John Harris "negro" was free in 1668 when he purchased 50 acres in
York County [Deeds 1664-72, 327].

A number of African Americans living on the Eastern Shore gained their
freedom in the seventeenth century. There were at least 33 taxable African
Americans in Northampton County in the 1670s who were free, later became free, or
had free children. They represented one third of the taxable African Americans
in the county.(1)
The Nickens and Weaver families came from Lancaster County where Black Dick
(Richard Nickens), his wife Chris, and their children were freed in 1690 by
the will of John Carter [Wills 1690-1709, 5].
Free African Americans were beginning to be assimilated into colonial
Virginia society in the mid-seventeenth century. Many were the result of mixed race
* Francis Payne was married to a white woman named Amy by September
1656 when he gave her a mare by deed of jointure [DW 1655-68, fol. 19].
* Elizabeth Key, a "Mulatto" woman, successfully sued for her freedom
in Northumberland County in 1656, and married her white attorney, William
Greensted [Record Book 1652-8, 66, 67, 85a, 85b].
* Francis Skiper was married to Ann, an African American woman, before
February 1667/8 when they sold land in Norfolk County [W&D E:1666-75; Orders
1666-75, 73].
* Peter Beckett, a "Negro" slave taxable from 1671 to 1677 in
Northampton County, Virginia, married Sarah Dawson, a white servant [OW 1674-79, 203;
OW 1683-89, 59].
* Hester Tate, an English woman servant in Westmoreland County, had
several children by her husband James Tate, "a Negro slave to Mr. Patrick
Spence," before 1690 [Orders 1690-98, 40-41].

As the percentage of African Americans increased, so did tension between
free African Americans and slave holders. In 1666 Bastian Cane, "Negro," was
punished by the Northampton County court for harboring, concealing, and trading
with Francis Pigott's "Negro slave" [Orders 1664-74, fol.29]. And as more and
more slaves replaced white servants, the Legislature passed a series of laws
which designated slavery as the appropriate condition for African Americans:

* In 1670 the Virginia Assembly forbade free African Americans and
Indians from owning white servants [Hening, Statutes at Large, II:280].
* In 1691 the Assembly prohibited the manumission of slaves unless they
were transported out of the colony. It also prohibited interracial marriages
and ordered the illegitimate, mixed-race children of white women bound out
for 30 years [Hening, Statutes at Large, III:86-87].
* In 1705 the Assembly passed a law which all but eliminated the
ability of slaves to earn their freedom by ordering that the farm stock of slaves

shall be seized and sold by the church-wardens of the parish wherein such
horses, cattle, or hogs shall be, and the profit thereof applied to the use of
the poor of said parish [Hening, Statutes at Large, III:459-60].

* In 1712 all fifteen members of the Anderson and Richards families
were freed and given 640 acres in Norfolk County, Virginia, by the will of John
Fulcher, creating such a stir that the Legislative Council on 5 March 1712/3
proposed that the Assembly

provide a Law against such Manumission of Slaves, which in time by their
increase and correspondence with other Slaves may endanger the peace of this
Colony [McIlwaine, Executive Journals of the Council, III:332].

In an effort to "prevent their correspondence with other slaves" Fulcher's
executor, Lewis Conner, by a deed dated 20 March 1712/3, swapped their land in
Norfolk County with land on Welshes Creek in Chowan County, North Carolina
[Chowan DB B-1:109].
In 1723 the Virginia Assembly prohibited the freeing of slaves except in
cases where they had rendered some public service such as foiling a slave
revolt. Also in 1723, the Assembly amended the 1705 taxation law to make female
free African Americans over the age of sixteen tithable [Hening, Statutes at
Large, IV:132-3].(2)
Despite the efforts of the legislature, white servant women continued to
bear children by African American fathers through the late seventeenth century
and well into the eighteenth century. From these genealogies, it appears that
they were the primary source of the increase in the free African American
population for this period. Over 200 families in this history descended from
white women. Many of these women may have been the common-law wives of slaves
since they had several mixed-race children.(3) Fifty families descended from
freed slaves, twenty-nine from Indians, and nineteen from white men who
married or had children by free African American women.(4) It is likely that the
majority of the remaining families descended from white women since they first
appear in court records in the mid-eighteenth century when slaves could not
be freed without legislative approval, and there is no record of legislative
approval for their emancipations.
Table 1. Descendancy of Free African American Families in This
Genealogy: Virginia and North Carolina White servant women 200 Freed slaves 50
Indians 29 White men 19

The replacement of white servants with African slaves, begun in earnest in
1660, continued for more than a century. African slaves had still not
completely replaced white servants by 17 October 1773 when the jailer in Prince
William County advertised in the Virginia Gazette that he had caught a runaway
white servant man:

Committed to Prince William gaol a certain William Rawlings, who says he is
the property of Francis Smith of Chesterfield. The owner is desired to pay
charges, and take him away.

and he advertised in the same edition that he had jailed a runaway white
servant woman:

Committed to the gaol of Prince William a servant woman about 26 years of
age, named Mary Richardson; has on a short printed cotton gown, and striped
Virginia cloth petticoat [R 17Oc73:33].(5)

Elizabeth Bartlett, an indentured servant from Accomack County, was punished
in July 1716 for running away with her mistress' "Negro man named James"
[Orders 1714-7, 28]. George Wallis, a white man, and "Negro Dick" were taken up
as runaways in Westmoreland County in November 1752 [Orders 1752-5, 41a].
Racial contempt for free African Americans did not fully develop as long as
there were white servants in similar circumstances. It was during this
period, as late as the end of the eighteenth century, that free African Americans
were accepted in some white communities.
Many free African Americans originated in or moved to Surry County,
Virginia, where their deeds, marriage bonds, and wills were recorded in the
seventeenth and eighteenth century. They were the Banks, Blizzard, Byrd, Charity,
Chavis, Cornish, Debrix, Jeffreys, Kersey, Peters, Scott, Sweat, Tann,
Valentine, Walden, and Wilson families. Descriptions in the Surry County, Virginia,
"Registry of Free Negroes" in the late 18th and early 19th century read:

Armstead Peters a Mulatoe man, ...aged about 56 years, born free of a
yellowish complexion... (6 October 1794).
James Williams a Mulatto man, pretty dark complexion, born of free parents
residents of this county, 35 years old ... (11 May 1797).
Joseph Byrd son of Joseph and Nelly Byrd free Mulatto persons & residents of
this county 20 years old, 5'5" high, bright complexion, short thick hair,
straight & well made (27 September 1798).
William Tan, a mulatto man and son of Jemima Tan, a white woman late of this
county. He is of bright complexion, has straight black hair, pretty stout
and straight made, aged 21 last September (3 December 1801) [Back of Guardian
Accounts Book 1783-1804, nos. 1, 21, 35, 136].

Since so many free African Americans were light-skinned, many observers
assume that they were the offspring of white slave owners who took advantage of
their female slaves. Only three of the approximately four hundred families in
this history was proven to descend from a white slave owner. They were the
children of South Carolina planters: Collins, Holman, and Pendarvis. Like their
fathers, they were wealthy slave owners who were accepted in white society.
In 1782 Virginia relaxed its restrictions on manumission, and thereafter
manumitted slaves contributed to the increase in the free African American
By 1790 free African Americans were concentrated on the Eastern Shore of
Virginia, the counties below the James River, and the northeastern part of North
Carolina [Heads of Families - Virginia, 9]. This was a pattern of settlement
similar to that of newly freed white servants. Land was available in
Southside Virginia and in the northeastern part of North Carolina at prices former
servants could afford [Morgan, American Slavery, 227-30].


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