A Guide to the Henrico County (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records, 1789-1865 Henrico County (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records, 1789-1865 1118451, 1160828, 1186850

A Guide to the Henrico County (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records, 1789-1865

A Collection in
the Library of Virginia
Barcode numbers: 1118451, 1160828, 1186850


Library of Virginia

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© 2008 By The Library of Virginia. All Rights Reserved.

Processed by: Library of Virginia staff

The Library of Virginia
Barcode numbers
1118451, 1160828, 1186850
Henrico County (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records, 1789-1865
Physical Characteristics
1.5 cu. ft. (3 boxes)
Henrico County (Va.) Circuit Court.
Library of Virginia

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Use Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Preferred Citation

Henrico County (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records, 1789-1865. Local government records collection, Henrico County 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 Henrico County.

Historical Information

Henrico County was named for Henry, Prince of Wales, the oldest son of James I. It was one of the eight original shires established in 1634.

Beginning in 1778, slaveholders who brought slaves into Virginia were required to register the slaves with the county court and sign an oath agreeing not to bring slaves into the commonwealth with the intent of selling them.

Lists of free negroes were compiled by the commissioner of the revenue for tax purposes.

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.

An act passed by the Virginia legislature required that a register be kept by the clerk of court for every slave held by any person for his or her life only. See Revised Code of Virginia 1819, volume 1, p. 439, section 70; Code of Virginia 1849, chapter 103, section 8; and Code of Virginia 1860, chapter 103, section 14.

An act passed in 1806 required freed slaves to leave the state within a year.

Recognized in 1634 as an original shire. All county court records prior to 1655 and almost all prior to 1677 are missing. Many records were destroyed by British troops during the Revolutionary War. Post–Revolutionary War county court records exist. Almost all circuit superior court of law and chancery and circuit court records were destroyed by fire during the evacuation of Richmond on April 3, 1865, during the Civil War. The county’s circuit court held its sessions at the state courthouse in Richmond.

Scope and Content

Henrico County (Va.) Free Negro and Slave Records, 1789-1865, consist of registrations and freedom papers (1794-1865, undated); applications for registration (1791-1858); manumission papers (1789-1810); petitions by free negroes to remain in Virginia (1817-1863); applications for non-negro certification (1852-1853); miscellaneous free negro papers (1816-1864); tax lists including lists of free negroes and lists of delinquent free negro taxpayers (1824-1864); divisions of slaves as estate property (1818-1823, 1856); slave hire papers (1817-1819, 1847); valuations and sales of runaway slaves (1824-1836); runaway slave causes (1804-1864); and miscellaneous slave records (1812-1817, 1851-1854).

Registrations and freedom papers (1794-1865, undated) include registers of free negroes as well as supporting documentation used to prove freedom such as wills, affidavits, certificates, and free negro registrations from other localities. Free negro registers or registrations contain the name of the free person, sometimes their age and a brief physical description, and a statement 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.

Applications for registration as a free negro (1791-1858) are petitions and applications made to the court for a person to be registered as a free negro in Henrico County. Occasionally proof of free status is included. There is usually a notation on the document as to the outcome of the application.

Manumission papers (1789-1810) are deeds of manumission or emancipation. include the name of the slaveowner, the name of the slave, the date or age at which the slave will be freed, the date the deed was written, and the date the deed was proved. The age of the slave at the time of the deed was written, a surname assigned to the freed slave by the slaveowner, and the slaveowner's reason for emancipation are sometimes given.

Petitions by free negroes to remain in Virginia (1817-1863) 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. The outcome of the petition is usually although not always noted.

Applications for non-negro certification (1852-1853) are requests by John Scott Bailey (1852) and Braxton Smith (1853) to be declared not a negro due to their white or Indian ancestries. Bailey's application includes affidavits.

Miscellaneous free negro papers include county claims related to Harry Davis, a freedman who died after being erroneously taken up as a runaway (1816); a letter of character for Anthony Matthews to received a business license (1818); a letter of character for William Lucas to get a shopkeeper's license (1822); an order concerning the hire of Hannah Richardson after being jailed as a runaway in order to pay her jail fees (1836); the hiring out of Livinia to pay her jail fees (1856); an advertisement by Robert Morse for the return of his lost free papers (1859); Mary Watson's summons for witnesses to prove her freedom (1859); bond of George Jones to leave the state within ten days (1860); and two notices of free negroes hired out or sold into slavery (1864).

Tax lists (1824-1864) include lists of free negroes, lists of delinquent free negro taxpayers, and lists of free negroes offered for hire to pay off their delinquent taxes. Not every type of list exists for every year. The lists of delinquent taxpayers and free negroes offered for hire include names, usually the amount of tax delinquent, and sometimes to whom hired and the amount paid for the hire. Notations are also made if effects were found that could be seized and sold in order to pay off the tax owed. One list from 1851 indicates that some of the free negroes on the delinquent tax lists were slaveowners. The lists of free negroes include name, age, and occupation. Some lists indicate where a person was registered as a free person.

Divisions of slaves as estate property (1818-1823, 1856) are records created by commissioners appointed by the court to divide slaves between the heirs of a deceased person. Listed are the heirs, which slaves they received from the estate, and sometimes the valuation of the slave.

Slave hire papers (1817-1819, 1847) are records of private arrangements of slave hires.

Valuations and sales of runaway slaves (1824-1836) include information about persons taken up as runaway slaves whose owners could not be found who were then assigned a value and sold by the court. Included are the name of the slave, the assigned value, sometimes bills for advertisements placed in the newspaper, and sometimes information about the purchaser.

Runaway slave causes (1804-1864) include information about persons take up as runaway slaves and jailed, bills for advertisements placed in the newspaper, newspaper clippings of runaway ads, and other courses of action taken to determine who a slave's owner was. The name of the slave is included as is the owner's name if that could be determined.

Miscellaneous slave records include a list of slaves bequeathed to Sarah Gunn in the will of her son James Gunn (1812); the memo of William Fulcher as agent for Andrew Smith about slaves exported from Virginia (1813); Abel Upshur's certificate for transport of slaves into the state (1817); a list of slaves held for a term of years or for life (1851); and a list of slaves belonging to the estate of John H. Washington (1854).


Arranged chronologically by record type.

Related Material

Additional Henrico County 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."

Henrico County is one of Virginia's Lost Records Localities. Additional Henrico County Court Records may be found in the Virginia Lost Records Localities Collection at the Library of Virginia. Search the Lost Records Localities Database found at the Library of Virginia web site.

Index Terms

Adjunct Descriptive Data

Significant Places Associated With the Collection

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