A Guide to the Petersburg (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records, 1787-1865 Petersburg (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records, 1787-1865 1152180, 1182359, 1182360

A Guide to the Petersburg (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records, 1787-1865

A Collection in
the Library of Virginia
Barcode numbers: 1152180, 1182359, 1182360


Library of Virginia

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© 2007 By The Library of Virginia. All Rights Reserved.

Processed by: Sarah Nerney

The Library of Virginia
Barcode numbers
1152180, 1182359, 1182360
Petersburg (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records, 1787-1865
Physical Characteristics
0.9 cu. ft. (2 boxes and 1 folder)
Petersburg (Va.) Circuit Court.
Library of Virginia

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Use Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Preferred Citation

Petersburg (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records, 1787-1865. Local government records collection, Petersburg (City) Court Records. The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia 23219.

Acquisition Information

These items came to the Library of Virginia in transfers of court papers from the City of Petersburg including under accession 37622.

Historical Information

Petersburg was formed from parts of Dinwiddie, Prince George, and Chesterfield Counties. A garrison and fur-trading post called Fort Henry was established there in 1645 on the site of the Indian village Appamattuck. The present name, suggested in 1733 by William Byrd, honors Peter Jones, Byrd's companion on expeditions into the Virginia backcountry. Petersburg was established in 1748 and incorporated as a town in 1784. In the later years the towns of Blandford, Pocahontas, and Ravenscroft were added to Petersburg. It was incorporated as a city in 1850. Petersburg was enlarged by annexation from both Prince George and Dinwiddie Counties in 1972.

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 any emancipated slaves, freed after May 1, 1806, who remained in the Commonwealth more than a year, would forfeit the 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.

Scope and Content

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.

Valuations of slaves held in jail 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.

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).

Related Material

Additional Petersburg Free Negro and Slave Records can be found on microfilm at the Library of Virginia. Consult A Guide to Virginia County and City Records on Microfilm.

Separated Material

Index Terms

    Corporate Names:

  • Petersburg (Va.)--Circuit Court.
  • Subjects:

  • African Americans -- Employment -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Confederate States of America -- Defenses.
  • Free African Americans -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Free blacks -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Freedmen -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Fugitive slaves -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Slave labor-- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Slave records -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Slaveholders -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Slavery -- Law and legislation -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Slaves -- Emancipation -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Tax collection -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • War -- Economic aspects -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Geographical Names:

  • Petersburg (Va.) -- History.
  • Genre and Form Terms:

  • Affidavits -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Certification -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Deeds -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Executive orders -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Free negro and slave records -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Free negro certificates -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Free negro lists -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Free papers -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Judicial records -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Legislative acts -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Letters (correspondence) -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Local government records -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Patrol returns -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Petitions -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Registrations of free negroes -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Reports -- Virginia -- Petersburg.
  • Summonses -- Virginia -- Petersburg.

Contents List

Barcode number 1152180:

Free negro registrations, certificates and affidavits, 1809-1859, undated; Issues regarding legal status as "free negro,"1824-1854; advertisements for lost free papers, 1851, 1856; persons apprehended without free papers, 1835-1858; 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 years, 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; miscellaneous free negro and slave records, 1823, 1833, 1835.

Barcode number 1182360:

Deeds of emancipation and manumission, 1787-1861; bills of sale for slaves, 1795-1831.

Barcode number 1182359:

Lists of free negroes, 1803, 1821; deed of emancipation, 1806.