The Resource Petersburg (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records

Petersburg (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records

Petersburg (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records, 1787-1865
Petersburg (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records
Inclusive dates
  • Petersburg (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records, 1787-1865, consist of deeds of manumission and emancipation (1787-1861); slave bills of sale (1795-1831); free negro registrations, certificates and affidavits (1809-1859, n.d.); issues regarding the legal status of "free negro" (1824-1854); advertisements for lost free papers (1851, 1856); persons apprehended without free papers (1835-1858); lists of free negroes (1803, 1821); list of free negroes in Pocahontas [Island] (1838); lists of free negroes returned for non-payment of taxes (1851-1860); list of male slaves between the ages of 18 and 45 (1863); hires of slaves (1814-1818); valuations of slaves held in jail (1824-1830; 1865); patrol commissions and returns (1809-1850); petitions of free negroes to remain in the state (1818-1850); requisition of slaves to provide for the public defense (1863); and miscellaneous records (1823-1835)
  • Deeds of manumission and emancipation state the name of the slaveowner, the name of the slave to be freed, the date the slave shall achieve freedom, the date the manumission was proved or certified, and sometimes a reason why the owner decided to emancipate the slave
  • Slave bills of sale give the name of the seller, the name of the buyer, the name of the slave(s) sold, and the price. The date the bill was proved and recorded in the court is also noted
  • Free negro registrations, certifications and affidavits contain the name of the free person, sometimes the individual's age and a brief physical description, and a statement or affidavit based either on another person's knowledge or on other official documentary evidence seen by the certifier that this person was either born free or was emancipated. If born free, reference is sometimes made to parents. If emancipated, emancipating owner, place and date of emancipation, and prior registration as a free negro are usually mentioned. Occasionally the register number is given; this number corresponds to the entry number in the register of free negroes kept by the clerk of court at the courthouse. Sometimes other evidence such as a will or deed of manumission was also presented as evidence of free status. Many of the registrations are noted as being a re-registration which was required by Virginia law every three years
  • Issues regarding the legal status of "free negro" include Lavinia Sampson's certification as a Pamunkey Indian and not as a free negro or mulatto (1841); Sally and Adell's applications to be registered as free negros refused (1850); Sylvia Jeffers's certificates of ancestry as an Indian (1853); William Freeman's inquiry into his status as a free negro (1853); and a summons for George E. Hammett to show cause why he should withhold the free papers of Berryman Butler (1854)
  • Advertisements for lost free papers include one newspaper advertisement (1851) and one certification of advertisement for lost free papers (1856)
  • Persons apprehended without free papers are lists and individual orders to the jailer about African Americans who had been apprehended and who claimed to be free but who did not have their free papers on them. Some of the documents list the full names of the persons, the amount of jail time to be served, and the fee to be paid as a result of this offense
  • Lists of free negroes (1803, 1821, 1838) were compiled by the commissioner of the revenue for tax purposes. The 1803 and 1821 lists give full name, age, and occupation. The 1838 list is of free negroes in Pocahontas [Island] and contains only names of men and no further information
  • Lists of free negroes returned for non-payment of taxes was also compiled by the commissioner of the revenue. The list contains the full names of mostly men and occasionally some notes are made to the effect that a person is dead, an unsuccessful attempt was made to hire out in order to pay the tax, or that a person had moved. The 1859 and 1860 lists include the names of females. The 1858-1859 lists were for free negroes delinquent in the payment of city taxes
  • The list of male slaves between the ages of 18 and 45 years (1863) is a list of slaveowners and the numbers of such slaves that they possess. Slave names are not given. Slaveowners are listed in alphabetical order and occasional notations are made about the number(s) of slaves that a particular owner has sent to work on the Confederate fortifications. The list was compiled by the Commissioner of the Revenue
  • Hires of slaves are bonds for the hire of a slave between the owner and the person doing the hiring. A notation was made on the bond if a claim was made against the bond
  • Valuations of slaves held in jail (1824-1830; 1865) mostly concern runaway slaves. The name of the slave is noted as is the name of the purported owner if that can be determined. A group of three named men assessed the value of the slave and their names are given on the document
  • Petitions to remain in the state include the name of the petitioner, the circumstances of free status, and a request to remain in the county often with accompanying names of citizens who can testify to the free status or who support the request of the petitioner to remain
  • Slave patrol commissions and claims include the names of persons appointed to serve and the amount of pay they claimed against the city for doing the patrol work
  • Requisition of slaves to provide for the public defense (1863) consists of a printed 1862 Act of Assembly authorizing slave requisitions for public defense works and a chart showing how many slaves were to be sent from each locality; a summons for the justices of the peace to carry into effect the requisition; and a list of slaveholders with the numbers of slaves they were required to provide for the requisition
  • Miscellaneous records include a criminal committment of slave Asa for going at large and hiring himself out (1823); a report of the committee on how many free negroes wish to emigrate to Liberia that includes a print of the Act of Assembly that authorized the Liberia removal scheme (1833); and a letter from Jesse Kennedy regarding his son's slave Delphia in the Petersburg jail (1835)
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Biographical or historical data
  • Petersburg was formed from parts of Dinwiddie, Prince George, and Chesterfield Counties. It was established in 1748 and incrporated as a town in 1784. In the latter years the towns of Blandford, Pocahontas, and Ravenscroft were added to Petersburg. It was incorporated as a city in 1850.
  • An act passed by the Virginia legislature in 1803 required every free negro or mulatto to be registered and numbered in a book to be kept by the county clerk.
  • In 1806, the General Assembly moved to remove the free negro population from Virginia with a law that stated that all emancipated slaves, freed after May 1, 1806, who remained in the Commonwealth more than a year, would forfeit his right to freedom and be sold by the Overseers of the Poor for the benefit of the parish. Families wishing to stay were to petition the legislature through the local county court. Beginning in 1837, freed slaves could petition the local courts for permission to remain.
  • Pocahontas Island is a peninsula in the Appomattox River in Petersburg that bills itself as the oldest black community in America. Originally populated by Native Americans, the first white settlement there was founded in 1749. Beginning in the 1830s to 1850s the area became predominantly African American and home to many former slaves.
Cataloging source
Petersburg (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records
These items came to the Library of Virginia in transfers of court papers from the City of Petersburg including under accession 37622
  • The Library of Virginia
Governing access note
There are no restrictions
Immediate source of acquisition
Petersburg Circuit Court
Terms governing use
There are no restrictions.
Type of unit
cu. ft. (2 boxes and 1 folder)



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Library Locations

    • Library of VirginiaBorrow it
      800 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA, 23219, US
      37.5415632 -77.4360805
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