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

A Guide to the Petersburg (Va.) Enslaved and Free 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.) Enslaved and Free 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.) Enslaved and Free 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 near the Appamattuck town of Ronhorak. 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 Black peron or free person of color 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 Black population from Virginia with a law that stated that any emancipated enslaved persons, 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 enslaved persons 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 the Appamatuck tribe, 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 enslaved persons.

Scope and Content

Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; religion; sex; and sexual orientation and gender identity.

Petersburg (Va.) Enslaved and Free 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, undated); 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 enslaved males between the ages of 18 and 45 (1863); hires of enslaved persons (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, 1787-1861, state the name of the enslaver, the name of the enslaved person to be freed, the date the enslaved person shall achieve freedom, the date the manumission was proved or certified, and sometimes a reason for emancipation.

"Slave bills of sale," 1795-1831, give the name of the seller, the name of the buyer, the name of the enslave person(s) sold, and the price. The date the bill was proved and recorded in the court is also noted.

"Free negro registrations, certificates and affidavits," 1809-1859, undated, 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 the person was either born free or emancipated. If born free, reference is sometimes made to parents. If emancipated, emancipating enslaver, place and date of emancipation, and prior registration as a free Black 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," 1824-1854, include Lavinia Sampson's certification as a Pamunkey Indian and not as a free Black or free person of color (1841); Sally and Adell's applications to be registered as free Black women refused (1850); Sylvia Jeffers's certificates of ancestry as an Indian (1853); William Freeman's inquiry into his status as a free Black (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,1851-1856, include one newspaper advertisement (1851) and one certification of advertisement for lost free papers (1856).

Persons apprehended without free papers, 1835-1858, 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 persons in Pocahontas [Island] and contains only names of men and no further information.

"Lists of free negroes returned for non-payment of taxes," 1851-1860, 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 persons delinquent in the payment of city taxes.

The list of enslaved males between the ages of 18 and 45 years, 1863, is a list of enslavers and the numbers of such enslaved persons that they possess. Enslaved individuals' names are not given. Enslavers are listed in alphabetical order and occasional notations are made about the number(s) of enslaved persons that a particular enslaver has sent to work on the Confederate fortifications. The list was compiled by the Commissioner of the Revenue.

"Valuations of slaves held in jail," 1824-1830; 1865, mostly concern "runaway slaves." The name of the enslaved person is noted as is the name of the purported enslaver if that can be determined. A group of three named men assessed the value of the enslaved person and their names are given on the document.

"Patrol commissions and returns," 1809-1850, include the names of persons appointed to serve and the amount of pay they claimed against the city for doing the patrol work.

"Petitions of free negroes to remain in the state," 1818-1850, 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.

"Requisition of slaves to provide for the public defense," 1863

Miscellaneous records, 1823-1835, include a criminal committment of an enslaved man Asa for going at large and hiring himself out (1823); a report of the committee on how many free persons 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 enslaved person, Delphia, enslaved by Kennedy's son in the Petersburg jail (1835).

Related Material

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

Digitial records may be found in the Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative Digitial Collection at the Library of Virginia. Search the Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative Digitial Collection Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative Digitial Collection available at Virginia Memory.

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 Enslaved and Free 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.