Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Laws and Lives of Free Blacks in North Carolina: 1715-1863 (part 2)

Laws of the 1800s
© 2004, 2007 Erin Bradford

This week is a continuation of the laws in North Carolina regarding free people of color. Most are specifically about free Blacks, but some laws are general including tax-paying Native Americans. If you noticed from last week's post, the laws started out fairly lenient, but became more and more strict. This week you'll see the same theme appear. Laws for the 1700s may have become more strict, but apparently they were bearable to the free Blacks who resided within North Carolina as with the exception of a very few, I have been able to follow the families within North Carolina for that century. The 1800s are a different story, and thing really took a turn for the worse for free Blacks after Nat Turner's Revolt in Virginia, 1831. Although the revolt took place in Virginia, it did affect North Carolina. The revolt took place in Southampton County, VA, which is directly above the VA-NC border (see map). A sort of mass hysteria followed the revolt and many Blacks, both slave and free where accused of conspiracy with Nat Turner and executed.

So why would this revolt have such an impact on free Blacks in North Carolina? As author Paul Heinegg points out, many of the free blacks in North Carolina were manumitted in Virginia and migrated into the borders of North Carolina. Because of this, it is likely that insurrections in Virginia had more of an affect on North Carolinians than those in other states since that is where many of their free black population (or their ancestors) during the colonial and revolutionary period originally came from.

Well, let's get on to the topic at hand here:

The North Carolina General Assembly passed 3 separate laws between 1801-1833, no doubt brought forth by white Carolinians' fear from Gabriel’s Rebellion and Nat Turner’s revolt. All three laws concerned the act of manumission. The first law, passed in 1801, required a 100 pound bond by the slave owner for each slave manumitted. The General Assembly of the state passed the second law in 1830. This law increased the amount of the bond to one thousand pounds, ten times the amount of the 1801 law. On addition, if any slaveholders desired to manumit a slave, this law required them to file a petition with the county court and give public notice six weeks in advance. Section two of this act stipulated that any manumitted slave must leave North Carolina’s boundaries within ninety days “. . . and will never return within the State afterwards.” A third law passed in 1833 that made no changes to the 1830 law, but rather upheld it.

Apparently, none of these three manumission laws were followed completely. For instance, in 1814, a slave named Maria was freed in Cumberland county and the 100 pound bond was not a required condition for her freedom. In 1821, Job Hazell, a free black man, petitioned the court to set free his two slaves, who were actually his wife and daughter. The court complied and no mention of a monetary reimbursement to the court was mentioned in neither the petition nor the decision. In an 1836 case, the court was petitioned to set free four slaves for a monetary reimbursement of only 1200, less than half of what the law required. In 1847, Joshua Carman of Cumberland County set free two of his slaves for a payment of only $500, only a quarter of the requirement. It is possible that the law allowed individual counties to interpret and apply the law in the manner they saw fit. Further examination of emancipations during the 19th century is necessary to come to a more conclusive understanding on how the law was applied statewide.

The year 1836 saw the passage of two more laws dealing with apprenticeships, public preaching, and slave insurrections. The first of these laws passed gave power to the many county courts to bind out all illegitimate children born to free people of color and all children of free people of color whose parents were not employed in “honest and industrious work.” As with earlier apprenticeship laws, all children of free people of color bound out were to remain so until of age 21 and apprenticeship masters were required to teach reading and writing. A new stipulation required apprenticeship masters to pay a $500 bond that said they would not remove their wards from the county in which they resided. Numerous court cases before 1836 in the guardians court (more about that on another day) regarded apprentice masters who took their wards either out of the town, county, or even state without permission from the courts or their wards' parents. I believe this law was put in place to prevent that from happening.

The second law of 1836 further restricted contact between free blacks and slaves. The first section made it illegal for any slave or free black person to preach in public or to even officiate as a teacher in a meeting that included slaves. Violation of the first section was punishable by thirty-nine lashes. As its second point, if any free black was found involved in any capacity in a slave insurrection, they would be put to death. I personally believe this is a result of slave insurrections, and particular Nat Turner's Revolt of 1831. Smaller insurrections that occurred in the South during the 1800s were sometimes the result of a conspiracy between slaves and free Blacks. Although I have not found any record specifically stating why this law came about, I do believe that this was brought up as a way to prohibit that from happening in North Carolina.

It should be noted that around this time, the 1830s, many of North Carolina's free Black population began to leave the state. Many of them settled in Ohio and Indiana, and even a few went further South into Louisiana, particularly New Orleans where another large free Black population existed.

The passage of laws regarding free blacks during the last years of the slavery era in North Carolina seemed to be a scramble to hang on to the last threads of an institution. Five laws alone were passed in 1861 and another in 1863 for a total of at least six laws during the Civil War. There may have been others, but were not found as of yet by me. 1861 saw the first passage of laws limiting the rights of property ownership for free blacks in North Carolina, as well a further and final restriction on the practice of manumission and apprenticeships, taxes, and trade and the setting up of a poor house specifically for free people of color.

Free blacks in North Carolina owned property just like their white neighbors. Some of them owned a lot, some very little. In North Carolina, free blacks, “. . . enjoyed all the protection in the matter of acquisition, transfer, devise, and descent [of property] that other citizens . . . enjoyed.” The courts ruled strongly against violations of property rights against free blacks. The first two laws of 1861 regarded the rights to bear arms and the ownership of slaves. Until 1861, no laws denied free blacks the right to own a gun, as long as it they held a license issued by a county court. This first act took away that right and prohibited county courts from granting licenses to free blacks. Violation of this law could have resulted in a fine of at least $50. It should be noted here that at least one exception was made. For instance, in 1861, the County Court of Robeson County allowed Jack McPherson, a free black man, to own and carry a gun on his own premises for a year and there appears to be no action taken against the county. The second law prohibited free blacks from owning slaves or purchasing slaves, including the purchase of family members’ freedom. In many cases where free blacks in North Carolina owned slaves, the slaves were family members who had been purchased in order to obtain their freedom. However, their slave spouses and children had to remain slaves because of manumission laws in the mid-1800s made it very difficult to free them. This law made it impossible for free blacks to purchase slaves, even members of their immediate family, for the purpose of manumission. This new law prohibited that. In its entirety, this act stated:

That no free negro, or free person of color shall be permitted or allowed to buy, purchase or hire for any length of time, any slave or slaves, or to have any slave or slaves bound as apprentice or apprentices to him, her, or them, or in any other wise to have the control, management or services of any slave or slaves, under a penalty of one hundred dollars for each offense, and shall further be guilty of misdemeanor, and liable to indictment for the same.

This act does give relief to free Blacks who have already purchased or hired slaves; this law did not apply to them. It did, however, prevent them from purchasing or hiring any more slaves in the future. In a case where a free black man or woman has a spouse or child still a slave because they had not yet saved enough money to purchase them (and hence their freedom), this was indeed a striking blow.

Yet another blow to slaves hoping for the chance to gain their freedom and possibly join the rest of their family, the General Assembly of North Carolina passed a law in 1861 that made it illegal to manumit a slave by a person’s last will and testament and in cases where that was attempted became null and void.

Perhaps the strangest law passed in North Carolina before and during the Civil War was a law that the General Assembly passed in 1861 allowing all free persons of color to choose their own masters and become slaves. Originally, I thought that perhaps a free Black person in huge debt to another person might enter into a form of slavery as a method to pay off his or her debt; however, under closer examination of the law, it stipulated that there cannot be any outstanding debt with the chosen master. Why a person would choose to become a slave is unfathomable, but it did happen. At least two instances in North Carolina, people chose to become slaves. In Guildford County in 1861, John Phillips and Jenetta Wright both filed petitions to become slaves. It is not clear why these two free blacks chose to become slaves, but a reasonable assumption is that that they were so destitute to that even slavery looked like a good option, since they would at least have food and shelter as slaves. Of all the county papers on slaves and free blacks that I have searched so far, these cases were the only that could be found of a free black person petitioning the court to become a slave.

The final and longest law of 1861 had eleven points to it, covering four separate topics. The first section of this law was an act to set up a poor house in each county specifically for free people of color. Furthermore, each county was to summon before its court every free person of color within its boundaries and note their name, age, economic status, and whether if willing and able to support their family. If they are found willing and able, then nothing further was needed; however, if they were not willing nor able to support their families, then either the family was sent to the poor house or the children under age 10 were to be bound out. Along with this law, if the court found a person willing and able to support their family, any of their children age 16-21 were considered taxable and the county courts received the power to assess taxes on these households based on the value of labor. If the court bound out any child, the parents retained the right to file a plea that would prevent the county court from further binding out and for the court to reassess the economic status. Lastly, all previous laws regarding the trading between whites and slaves now applied to trade between whites and free people of color. This meant that whites could no longer buy products or trade with free people of color without the written consent of their employer or the justice of the peace for that county in which they resided. In essence, this act cut off all sources of livelihood of free people of color and relegated status of free blacks to that of slaves. Because they were free, they were not allowed to trade or do business with slaves, but now because they are Black, they can no longer trade or do business with whites.

The last law passed by North Carolina concerning that of free Blacks before the end of the Civil War was that of 1863. This law regarded punishment for felonies and for manslaughter. This law stated that if any free person of color was found guilty of manslaughter or any felonies, punishment should be public whipping, not to exceed 39 lashes.

Of all the laws restricting the freedoms of the free black population passed between 1715 and 1863, the great majority of those laws were passed out of fear held by the white population. There are two parts to this fear. First and foremost, a fear that came from events that took place outside North Carolina borders, particularly Gabriel’s Rebellion and the Nat Turner Revolt in Virginia and the Denmark Vessey Revolt in South Carolina. These events took place in the 1800’s and for the most part, soon after the events transpired, North Carolina’s General Assembly passed stricter laws.

Secondly, their fear came from a steadily growing population of free blacks, which grew from 4,975 in the 1790 census to 30,463 in the 1860 census. For the most part, these laws passed during this time were not reactionary to events that transpired within their own borders, but to events in neighboring states, especially Virginia.

Here is a bibliography of sources I used to write this paper in 2004. Links to the Deed of Gibbea Chavis and also the petition go back to my personal website, where I have transcribed those records verbatim, back in 2004. The HTML coding is a bit off, so some places have weird writing in the place of " and '. The link for Table 48 at the Census Bureau is a spreadsheet that will automatically load (or at least should) in whatever spreadsheet software you use on your computer. It shows the population by race from 1790 to 1990 and it an excellent source. Note that the total number of "free" differs slightly than the totals I have given, but overall, it's the same. It seems to depend mostly on what your source is.

Byrd, William L., III. In Full Force and Virtue: North Carolina Emancipation Records 1713-1860. Bowie, MD: Heritage books, 1999.

Clark, Walter L. The State Records of North Carolina. Goldsboro, NC: Nash Brothers Book and Job Printers, 1906.

Cumberland County. Miscellaneous Papers. Slave Records. “Freedom Papers and Writs of Emancipation, 1801-1855.” (C.R.029.928.9)

Franklin, John Hope. The Free Negro in North Carolina 1790-1860. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Emancipation papers of Betty Beebee

Granville County. Denied Petitions. Petition of Inhabitants of Granville County, 1771.

Granville County. Election Records. 1861, (C.R.044.912.2).

Granville County. Election Records. 1862, (C.R.044.912.3).

Granville County. Will Book L. Deed of Gibbea Chavis to Joseph McDaniel.

Guilford County. Miscellaneous Papers. Petition of John Phillips to Become a Slave.” 1861, (C.R.046.928.2).

Guilford County. Miscellaneous Papers. Petition of Jenette Wright to become a slave,” 1861, (C.R.046.928.2).

NC Senate Bill No. 27, Session 1860-1861. A Bill to Regulate the Free Negro Population Within this State. General Assembly, 1861.

PBS. Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property.

Public Laws of the State of North Carolina Passed by the General Assembly at its Session of 1860-’61. Raleigh: John Spelman, 1861.

The Revised Statutes of the State of North Carolina Passed by the General Assembly at the Session of 1836-37. Raleigh: Turner and Hughes, 1837.

Rowan County, Miscellaneous Papers, “Civil Actions against slaves and free persons of Color”, (C.R.085.928.5).

Saunders, William L. The Colonial Records of North Carolina. Goldsboro, NC: Nash Brothers Book and Job Printers, 1906.

U.S. Census Bureau. Table 48. North Carolina - Race and Hispanic Origin: 1790 to 1990.

Warren County, Miscellaneous Papers, “Civil Actions against slaves and free persons of Color”, (C.R.100.928.2).

1790 Census of Population and Housing. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.

1800 Census of Population and Housing. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.

1810 Census of Population and Housing. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.

1820 Census of Population and Housing. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.

1830 Census of Population and Housing. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.

1840 Census of Population and Housing. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.

1850 Census of Population and Housing. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.

1860 Census of Population and Housing. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Update on familylink.com

These guys seem to be great at responding to feedback. It may take a couple of days, but when I emailed them the problem with the dates on Wednesday the 18th, I received a response within about 48 hours, and it wasn't one of those automated responses you get from sites "thanks for your feedback, it is very important to us and customer satisfaction is number 1 blah blah blah." Anyway, the point is, they fixed the dates and they now go back to 500 AD.

Now I'm having a new problem and I've contacted them again tonight, I created an ancestor page on Wednesday before they fixed the dates, so tonight I went back to change the dates, but whenever I tried, it just sent me back to my main profile, I'll see what they say, but as I said before, I see a LOT of potential with this site.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Laws and Lives of Free Blacks in North Carolina: 1715-1863

© Erin Bradford, 2004-2007

Hi folks! Today's post is going to be the first of a 2 part series on the laws in North Carolina regarding free Blacks. Today will be about the laws of the 1700s. First is a bit of an introduction about the laws over the period of 1715-1863 and what might have led to their creation. Then will look at the laws specifically from the 1700s. I'll also be posting all my sources for both parts in next week's post. This will be sort of long, so let's dig in!

NOTE: Links to the state constitution go to a page at the State Library of North Carolina. The other 2 links to actual free Black documents are transcriptions by me at my website.


Between the years of 1715 and 1863, the state of North Carolina passed numerous laws that gradually restricted the rights of free blacks within its borders. These laws focused on restricting the rights on how slaves could gain freedom, whether or not free Blacks could vote, rules for paying taxes, movement in and out of the state as well as movement within the state, regulation of apprenticeships, property ownership, marriage and cohabitation, and involvement of free Blacks with slaves. Despite these restrictions, the free Black population in North Carolina continued to grow from 4,975 in the 1790 census to 30,463 in the 1860 census. In looking at court cases and county records in North Carolina, not all the laws, especially those in the 1800s, were created as results of current problems facing the state, but rather as reactions to problems facing neighboring state, particularly Virginia. Many of the laws of the 1800s were reactions to events such as Gabriel's Rebellion in Virginia during 1800, the Revolt led by Denmark Vesey in South Carolina during 1822, and the Nat Turn Revolt also in Virginia during 1831. The state of North Carolina also passed many laws in 1861 in reaction to the Civil War. Also, the growth of the free Black population in North Carolina borders likely played a role in the laws that were passed by the North Carolina General Assembly.

The majority of the free Black population in North Carolina consistently resided within eight counties during the seventy year period from 1790-1860: Bertie, Craven, Granville, Halifax, Hertford, Northampton, Robeson, and Wake. In these eight counties, the free Black population grew rapidly between 1790 and 1820, but very slow growth from 1820-1840, likely signifying the exodus of many of North Carolina's free Blacks moving out of state, particular to Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana. It wasn't until 1850 that the free Black population again saw a sharp increase (see table 1). On the county level, comparison of the free Black population in 1790 with that of 1860 shows that only Bertie County decreased in number, while Granville and Wake continually rose every census year. However, the other eight counties fluctuated in number each decade (see table 1). Overall, the population of free Blacks in North Carolina increased for all counties. These numbers are important because they reflect two things: how the rise in the free Black population could have prompted the General Assembly to pass laws that restricted their rights, and how the laws that the General Assembly passed affected the movement out of the state or to different counties within the state.


Table 1. Total number of free people of color enumerated in Bertie, Craven, Granville, Halifax, Hertford, Northampton, Robeson, and Wake Counties
1790-1860 census.

Laws of the 1700s

Between the years of 1715 and 1799, the General Assembly of North Carolina passed a total of eleven different laws restricting the rights of manumitting slaves and the rights of free blacks. These eleven laws concerned the right to manumit slaves, voting rights of free blacks, who counted as tithables for paying taxes, migration into and out of the state, the practice of apprenticeships, registration of free blacks within certain towns, marriage rights, and an act designed to prevent the selling of stolen goods by slaves and free blacks.

In 1715, the General Assembly of North Carolina passed “An Act Concerning Servants and Slaves.” This act contained twenty-one sections, five of which pertained to free blacks. Sections one through thirteen, as well as section nineteen, all specified laws regulating slaves and indentured servants, especially women, while sections fourteen through eighteen aimed to regulate free persons of color (including Native Americans). Sections fourteen through seventeen were the first laws of the state to outlaw miscegenation. Section fourteen stated that if any white woman, whether servant or free, had a child by any person of color, she would be required by law to pay to the church warden six pounds or be sold into 2 years of servitude. Furthermore, section fifteen empowered church wardens to bind out any children born from a union between a white woman and colored man, until they become of age 31. It is important to note that only these children were to be bound to age 31, while other children, including legitimate children of color, were to be bound until only age 21. Section sixteen stated, “. . . Be It Further Enacted By the Authority aforesaid that no White man or woman shall intermarry with any Negro, Mulatto, or Indyan Man or Woman under the penalty of Fifty Pounds for each white man or woman.” Finally, section seventeen fined any members of the clergy who performed a marriage between a white person and person of color. Section eighteen was the first act passed by the General Assembly regulating the right of slave owners to set their slaves free. According to this section, owners could not grant manumission to slaves who previously attempted to runaway. Furthermore, the law stipulated that manumission would only be granted for “honest and faithful” service and that freed slaves must leave North Carolina within six months or face being sold back for an additional five years.

In 1715, the General Assembly passed another act, this time making it illegal for free people of color (including Native Americans) to vote. This act came about in part from a petition launched in 1705 which complained about servants, free people of color, Jews, and “aliens” voting in the previous election of the General Assembly for the state of North Carolina. In 1776, the state constitution of North Carolina gave back the right to vote to free blacks until a new constitution was written in 1835.

1723 saw the passage of one act regarding both taxables and migration in and out of the state. The act first deemed any free person of color age 12 or over taxable and also that any white person who married a free person of color became liable under the same law. A petition was filed in the Granville County Court to complain against this law, signed by both free black and white men, including Gibbea Chavis, a free black man, who owned 300 acres of land at one time. , The second part of the law stipulated that if a freed slave, after leaving the state within the required 6 months later returned, they could be apprehended and sold back into slavery for 7 years.

An act passed in 1733 regarding the practice of apprenticeship offered the only form of relief to free blacks during this time. Before 1733, free blacks could be taken and forced into an apprenticeship against their will. In July 1733, many complaints and petitions came forward concerning free blacks who were either forced into an apprenticeship or forced to remain past the legal age of 21, many forced to stay as long as age 31. As a response to these unethical apprenticeships, Moseley Vail, of the North Carolina House, wrote to the General Assembly that, “. . . these practices are well known . . ..” and further wrote, "It is therefore humbly recommended by the said Committee that a vote pass this House declaring the illegality of such a practice and that all such Persons so taken from their Parents or Guardians be returned . . ." Later the same year, the General Assembly agreed with Vail and made such practices illegal.

An act passed by the state legislature of North Carolina in 1741 repealed the manumission act of 1715. Three major points comprised the act of 1741. First, slaves could only be emancipated as a reward for meritorious service. No longer could slaveholders free their slaves as they desired for whatever reason they desired. As its second point, this act required manumitted slaves to leave the state within six months in the same manner as the act of 1715. Finally, if the newly freed slave did not leave the state by the end of the six-month period, they could be sold back into slavery. Unlike the act of 1715, this new act did not limit the length of time for them to serve.

In 1762, the General Assembly passed two separate laws, only one of which proved beneficial to free blacks, concerning the practice of apprenticeship. It is worth noting that the laws regarding apprenticeship during the 18th century applied to both white and free black children, unless otherwise noted. The first of the apprenticeship acts required apprentice masters or mistresses to “. . . provide for him or her Diet, Clothes, Lodging, Accommodations, fit and necessary; and shall teach or cause him or her to be taught, to read and Write . . ..” This is a big step for free black children because without this stipulation, many free black children would not receive an education before reconstruction. The second apprenticeship law passed in 1762 upheld previous laws while adding three more stipulations. First, the second law gave county courts the power to bind orphan children with little to no inheritance. Second, and the only difference in the treatment of white and black children, is that all male children were bound to age 21, all black females bound to age 21, and all white females bound to age 18. The third stipulation is that all apprenticeships are now to be treated as indentures. Although free black children in an apprenticeship were taught to read and write, in essence, these apprenticeships could become a virtual form of slavery for the first 21 years of their lives.

The General Assembly passed laws that further restricted manumission in 1777 and 1778. Both laws upheld earlier laws, but added further restrictions. In 1777, the General Assembly of North Carolina passed an act, which in effect upheld the 1741 act. One of the major differences between the two acts is that the 1777 act called the practice of manumitting slaves “evil and pernicious” and that it “ought at this alarming and critical Time to be guarded against by every friend and Wellwisher to his country.” No doubt, that “critical time” in the law refers to the Revolutionary War. The 1777 law made it so that any free white person could apprehend a freed slave who reentered the state. After apprehension, these freed slaves who reentered the state could then be sold to the highest bidder, with one-fifth of the proceeds given to those who captured the slave. In effect, this gave a reward to the capturers and led to opportune-seeking individuals to capture legal free black citizens, as well as those illegally in the state, in order to make money. Once sold, the new owner could not allow the apprehended slave to hire themselves out. If their new owner allowed them to hire themselves out contrary to the law, the they could again be apprehended and forced to work twenty days of hard labor. Threats posed by the act of 1777, particularly that of apprehension and re-sale, did not constitute mere words. A group of Quakers in the state of North Carolina kept a log of manumitted slaves who fell victim to the act of 1777 from Pasquotank, Perquimans, and Chowan counties. Luckily, the General Assembly later released many of these manumitted slaves on the log.

In 1778, the General Assembly saw the error of the earlier law and passed a new law that stipulated that only the Sheriff could apprehend a freed slave who illegally reentered the state. The stipulation of 1778 remained in force as long as slavery existed in the state of North Carolina.

North Carolina’s first attempt at registering free people of color came in 1785. Apparently, the cities of Edenton, Fayetteville, Washington, and Wilmington had a problem with slaves attempting to pass as free. As a result, the General Assembly of North Carolina passed an act requiring the registration of free people of color who resided in the towns of previously stated, as well as free blacks who were visiting these four cities for three days or more. As well as registration, free people of color in the four towns were required to wear a patch on their shoulder that said “FREE.” It is important to note that this act applied only to Edenton, Fayetteville, Washington, and Wilmington and not to the entire state. Also of notice is that all four towns bordered a major body of water. Fayetteville is on the banks of the Cape Fear River, while Edenton, Washington, and Wilmington are all on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. A strong possibility exists that slaves in these four towns attempted to escape via these waterways by passing as free. Further evidence of this hypothesis can be seen from a law passed in 1787.

A law in 1787, entitled “An Act to Prevent Thefts and Robberies by Slaves, Free Negroes and Mulattoes,” had five major stipulations concerning two different things, but with a similar purpose: a start in preventing contact between slaves and free blacks. The first two sections concern the “entertainment” of slaves and free blacks. First, no slave or free black can be entertained on boats from sundown to sunrise from Monday to Saturday and not at any time at all on Sunday. If any are found, perhaps during a raid or while on patrol, it will be assumed that the slave or free black person is trying to sell stolen goods and the commander of the boat will be fined. Two exceptions existed for the first section: that the slave has a pass from their master allowing them to be there or that the slave or free black person be employed on the ship. The second section states that free blacks cannot entertain slaves during the said times stated above. The difference in the two sections is how much a white commander will be fined versus a free black. There is no amount stated in the first section, but a free black person will be fined 20 shillings for the first offense and 40 shillings thereafter. The third section to the law made it illegal for a slave and free person of color to marry or cohabitate unless they have the written consent of the slaves master. If the master did not give consent, the free person of color could become a slave for one year. It becomes very clear that the intention of this law is not to prevent theft, but rather to prohibit contact between slaves and free blacks.

Concluding thoughts

I'm sure you'll come away from part 1 with one of two reactions: either you won't be surprised at the laws, meaning that you expected as much, or you're going to be pretty surprised--either that the laws are more lenient than expected or more harsh. I was not too surprised with the 1700s laws, but if anything, they were more lenient that what I would have expected. I would have been surprised if there were no miscegenation laws. I was most surprised about the 1787 laws that began to limit contact between slaves and free Blacks (and you'll see this again in the 1800s!) I guess I always assumed that free Blacks and slaves would always be able to keep in contact, but apparently not!

So, what do you find surprising or otherwise in this section? I'd love to hear your feedback!

There are a few surprises with the laws of the 1800s, and that's coming up next week, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

New Website Alert: FamilyLink.com

Hi all!

Well, I heard it through the genealogical grapevine that there is a new website out there to help connect folks. It's called FamilyLink.com. Here is the press release:

FamilyLink: New Genealogy Collaboration Web Site Rapidly “Links” People at a Whole New Level

Geographic and language barriers minimized to improve genealogy research with launch of FamilyLink

Provo, UT, April 18, 2007 --FamilyLink, the newest social genealogy networking Web site created to rapidly link people across the world launched today.

"The recent surge in social networking sites demonstrates the need for people to connect around diverse types of interests" said Michael Tanne, Founder and CEO of Wink, a People Search Engine. FamilyLink provides a perfect venue for families, genealogists and family historians to share their common interests and heritage as they connect with one another and upload their photos, family tree, and family history."

FamilyLink has been created to facilitate genealogists in working together in ways that have never been attempted before in the genealogy world with a tool that is easy to use and understand.

"During the early years of Ancestry and MyFamily, I could hardly sleep. I was so excited about what we were building. I feel the same way about FamilyLink,” said Paul Allen, CEO, WorldVitalRecords.com.

Using FamilyLink, geographic and language barriers are minimized as individuals connect with their loved ones, research their family history, and preserve memories.

"For the first time ever, if I'm looking for an ancestor in a particular part of the world, I'll be a click away from the expert researchers who live there, and from others who have done research there," Allen said.

FamilyLink users can view the profiles of other individuals, communicate with individuals who have researched or are currently researching in their area of interest through the City Link feature, meet new individuals who also participate in the service, share photos, genealogical information, and post comments.

“One thing that is really interesting right now is that there really is nothing out there on the Web to help someone who lived in a certain city gather information from another city, unless they fly there. The need for this type of social networking definitely exists. FamilyLink allows people who are in different cities to connect with each other in an amazing way,” said Jason McGowan, Product Manager, FamilyLink.com.

Additional features include a news feed system, Ancestor Pages, announcements pages, email features, shared connections between WorldVitalRecords.com and FamilyLink.com, and will soon include a family tree.

“Putting FamilyLink.com and WorldVitalRecords.com together is a great way to preserve, share, and grow your family tree,” said Barbara Renick, professional genealogist, nationally known lecturer, and author.

In the past genealogists were able to make connections with other genealogists. However to do so required a lot of time, and effort, two scarce resources for genealogists. FamilyLink is a tool that connects people in such a way that it makes everyone and everything more efficient, and will become even better as people join the site.

"As with other social networks, the more people that use FamilyLink, the more useful it will become to everyone else. So we invite you to join and encourage others to join as well, so that we will soon have members in all of the cities of the world--all helping each other to find and preserve their heritage,” Allen said.

Ok, so what do I think??? Well, it's definitely got a lot of potential to be a great site, but since it's still in Beta, there are quite a few bugs. I played around in there for a few hours this afternoon and ran into quite a few, but I think when all the bugs get worked out, it will be a great resource. I suggest folks go ahead and start up a profile and report the bugs as you find them. One feature I like is you can search to see if someone has your ancestor and if they don't, just create your own ancestor page. It looks like it may be a collaborative effort, kind like Ancestry's one world tree....but hopefully not as confusing! If you click on an ancestor page, for instance this one of MY ancestor, there is a section under their name that says "My Family" with links to all the profiles who share that ancestor. Right now, it's just me. Below that is a profile for that ancestor with as much info as you can put. I'm a bit frustrated with the ancestors profile section, and this is a bug I assume, but in the dates section, you can only use dates back to 1924! LOL I got around that and put the dates in the "location" field, so it worked out, and when the dates are fixed, I'll fix that. You can add a lot of information here, including a biography if you want!

Like I said, the site has tons of potential and you should go reserve your spot; hopefully the bugs will be worked out soon!

New Book Alert!

Hi folks! I just found out about a new book last night. This is part 0f a sort of series (technically not a series, but it's "series-like"), which anyone with slave or free Black ancestors in NC needs to check out, it's a great source. The author is William L. Byrd, III. All the books start out with the title: "North Carolina Slaves and Free Persons of Color" and a subtitle of the particular county. This one is for Perquimans County and the publisher is Heritage Books. Here is a link to Heritage Books and in the search box, type "William Byrd" to get the full list. 3 of titles returned are not by him, but if you add the "L." in there, it won't return EVERY title of his. The publication date is 2006 with a copyright date of 2005. If you don't want to purchase it, check your local library or get it through ILL at your library. I can finally fit the pieces together of 1 family I've been researching thanks to just the first 10 pages of this book!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Quiz Answers

Today’s post is the answers to the quiz. No one responded to the original quiz, and although I’m a bit disappointed, I really didn’t expect anyone to.

The purpose of the quiz was NOT to show how much or little a person knows, but really to point on the discrepancies between our general knowledge of free Blacks in the South and the truth. I’ve given this quiz about 5 times to groups and of all the times I’ve given it, maybe only 3 or 4 got more than 50% correct

Section 1: Population

  • In 1790, how many free people of color were there in the South compared to the North? A). 361 in the South vs 2,031 in the North B). 3,619 in the South vs. 2,031 in the North C). 36,196 in the South vs. 20,315 in the North D). None of the above
  • Answer: C. Out of a total free “colored” population of 59,511 in the entire US in the 1790 census, 36,196 lived in the South versus 20,315 in the North. Surprising, huh?? Remember, tax paying Native Americans were included in this number and quite a few free Blacks were part Native American.

  • Which state had the largest population of free people of color in 1790 and the second largest in 1850? A). Virginia B). North Carolina C). Maryland D). New York
  • Answer: A. In 1790, Virginia had the largest population with Maryland trailing behind at 2nd and North Carolina at 3rd…all Southern states. Maryland was a border state and depending on what a person believes, some consider it Northern while others consider it Southern.

  • The free people of color population of the entire state of NC in 1790 accounted for what percentage of the population? A). 54% B). 5% C). 27% D). 13%
  • Answer: D. 4,975 free persons of color resided in NC in 1790, accounting for 13% of the entire state's population.

  • In the 1850 census, North Carolina again ranked 3rd in the highest population of free people of color. Virginia was 1st, Maryland was 2nd. What was the population of free people of color in NC during the 1850 census? A). 5,362 B). 13,035 C). 75,003 D). 30,463
  • Answer: D. The 1850 census of North Carolina enumerated 30,463 free people of color, the majority which lived in Halifax County.

The most interesting thing to me about looking at the populations, our society today is led to believe that the majority of the free Blacks before the Civil War lived in the North, but the census shows that from 1790-1860, the South always had more. Virginia and Maryland switched back and forth between positions 1 and 2, and then North Carolina was usually 3rd and as low as 6. In North Carolina, the largest majority of free Blacks lived in the Northern Piedmont section, especially around Granville and Halifax Counties. It is interesting to note that the majority were not freed in NC, but in VA and a large portion came from Mecklenburg Co., VA

Section 2: Laws

  • True or False: North Carolina required all free Blacks to register statewide.
  • Answer: False! Although most Southern states required free Blacks to register, NC only required it for 4 towns: Washington, Wilmington, Edenton, and Fayetteville. The law came about because these 4 towns were situated on a major water way and many slaves tried to escape by boat by pretending they were free. The law was in place to prevent this from happening.

  • True or False: Free Blacks could always travel freely in and out of the state.
  • Answer: False! Manumission laws in NC required the freed slave to leave the state within 6 months. In 1723, a law was passed that made it illegal for a freed slave to return or face being sold back into slavery for 7 more years. Another law passed in the early 1800's forbade free Blacks from other states from entering NC.

  • True or False: Free Blacks could always own slaves in NC.
  • Answer: False! Up until 1861, it was actually true, there were no restrictions on free Blacks from owning any property. It wasn't until the dawn of the Civil War that laws changed. In 1861, not only was it illegal for free Blacks from owning slaves, they could no longer own guns as well, which left them defenseless against attacks by white neighbors and soldiers during the war.

  • True or False: North Carolina's courts always followed the letter of the law when it came to free Blacks.
  • Answer: False! This may be very surprising to some, but they were very lenient on following the laws…in favor of the free Blacks! Many court cases exist that are in complete contradiction with the laws of the day.

At the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh, almost every county has a section of records entitled “Slave Records” or “Slave and Free Persons of Color Records” where there are numerous records on free Blacks. Also, many records can be found in numerous court documents. A great place to get started with your research at the NC State Archives is: http://www.ah.dcr.state.nc.us/archives/FindingAids/co_guide.pdf

These are surnames currently in my database that I'm actively working on. If you have free Blacks in antebellum NC, whether they are listed below or not, please let me know, I would like to communicate with you about your line to further your and my research.


This list of names is always growing and I’ll try to remember and post new names I’ve discovered.

Coming up next: North Carolina laws of the 1700s regarding free Blacks.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Historical Periods in U.S. History, and Other Terminology

Hi all,

I was reading my blog and intro over and didn't mention this. I wanted to talk a bit about the terminology I use for my research. First, I want to talk about what I mean by "antebellum".

Antebellum vs. antebellum

Many dictionaries give the definition of "antebellum" as the period of history immediately before the Civil War. If you break about the word and look at it's roots, it literally means "before (ante) war (bellum)" I use antebellum in a general sense, meaning the entire period of U.S. history before the Civil War. However, there are many time periods in U.S. history, and I'm sure I might refer to them when I discuss a specific time period. I'm going to break down the time periods here in order to help you understand about them some more for you non-historians out there.
  • Pre-Contact: This is the period before Jamestown. I see no reason why I'd use this term in the blog, but wanted to add it. This has a lot to do with the "discovery" of America (both North and South) by European explorers.

  • Colonial: This period generally goes from 1607-1750. I will be using "Colonial" to discuss early free Blacks in the state.

  • Revolutionary: This period goes from 1750-1789, basically the time leading up to the Revolutionary War and the time after the War through the creation and implementation of the Constitution. This is also a term I'll be using to talk about early free Blacks. The early free Black families generally span from the Colonial period and the Revolutionary period.

  • Antebellum: There is some disagreement when the antebellum period begins. I personally view the antebellum period beginning when Gabriel's Rebellion began in 1800 and my next couple posts about the laws in NC regarding free Blacks will show you why. Generally I use antebellum to refer to the whole period of US history before the Civil War, but if you see me use "Antebellum", I'm talking about the specific Antebellum period. I know that's confusing, sorry. I'll try to give date ranges as much as possible to avoid confusion.

  • Bellum (aka, the Civil War): This is pretty straight forward, but the Civil War period is from 1860, when the first states began to withdraw from the Union, until December 1865, when the 13th amendment to the Constitution was ratified.

  • Reconstruction: The Reconstruction era lasted about 10 years, from 1866-1877. This is the period when slaves were freed and free Blacks during the antebellum period fell under the same laws as the former slaves.
I may discuss more past Reconstruction, not sure at this point, and I'll define those eras if I do.

"Black" vs. "Free Person of Color" vs. "African American"

There are different terms I may use, and I did touch on this a bit in the quiz. I use the term Black, but this offends some and they'd rather I use African American. I've used African American before, and that offended others, so instead I use what I'm most comfortable using, and since I have arthritis in my hands, I use Black. I apologize right now if that offends you, it's not my intention, but I can't please everyone.

From time to time, I may revert back and use the term "free people of color" or "FPOC" for short. I have seen quite a few people offended by this term, not just when I've used it, but other historians as well, such as Paul Heinegg and at Afrigeneas for the FPOC forum. Why do we use this term? For the simple reason that not all Blacks were/are Black, but they are often a mixture of races, such as Native American, and white. Some documents from the time refer to "Free Coloreds," which refer not only to those of African descent, but to tax paying Native Americans as well.

Manumission vs. Emancipation
So, what is manumission? This is something I'll talk a lot about. A lot of people have never heard the term before. Manumission and emancipation are pretty much the same thing. There is a slight difference though. Generally, emancipation refers to the freeing of someone from another person (i.e., they are forcing the "owner" to free them). Manumission is more voluntary. Usually the "owner" is setting his own slave free, or perhaps he purchased a slave for the purpose of manumitting that slave. I will almost always use the term "manumission."

I cannot think of anymore terminology issues as this time, if I do, I'll do another post about terminology. If you have any questions or concerns regarding terminology, please either let me know in the comments section or send me an email to discuss it privately.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Free Blacks: Take This Quiz (answers next week!)

What?!? Two blogs in one day??? Yep! I just want to get the ball rolling, and this is the way I start all my talks that I've given both on and off line. This blog is a quiz. Don't worry if you don't know the answer, because frankly I don't expect you to! The purpose of this quiz is to show you the difference between stereotypes concerning free Blacks in the South as a whole versus the truth. Some stereotypes may be based on fact, some not, and I'm not giving away any answers. Next Monday (April 16th), I will post the answers to the quiz. Feel free to post your answers to the quiz, or what you think the answers are, in the comments, but you don't have to. So, without further ado.....

First, I’m gonna start with just the facts. This is a transcript of a quiz I handed out at a talk I gave in February of 2006. Please note that "free people of color" refers not just to Blacks, but also to tax-paying Native Americans and any other racial minorities that happened to live in the area. Early census years did not distinguish between Blacks, Native Americans, etc. Instead races were either "white" or "other free people" and "slaves".

Section 1: Population

  1. In 1790, how many free people of color were there in the South compared to the North? A). 361 in the South vs 2,031 in the North B). 3,619 in the South vs. 2,031 in the North C). 36,196 in the South vs. 20,315 in the North D). None of the above
  2. Which state had the largest population of free people of color in 1790 and the second largest in 1850? A). Virginia B). North Carolina C). Maryland D). New York
  3. The free people of color population of the entire state of NC in 1790 accounted for what percentage of the population? A). 54% B). 5% C). 27% D). 13%
  4. In the 1850 census, North Carolina again ranked 3rd in the highest population of free people of color. Virginia was 1st, Maryland was 2nd. What was the population of free people of color in NC during the 1850 census? A). 5,362 B). 13,035 C). 75,003 D). 30,463

Section 2: Laws

  1. True or False: North Carolina required all free Blacks to register statewide.
  2. True or False: Free Blacks could always travel freely in and out of the state.
  3. True or False: Free Blacks could always own slaves in NC.
  4. True or False: North Carolina's courts always followed the letter of the law when it came to free Blacks.

So, how do you think you did? You’ll find out next Monday! Wish I could offer something to the person who gets the most right…oh wait, I AM! KNOWLEDGE

Introduction: who am I?

Hi folks!

I know that some of you already know who I am and are already familiar with my research, but I'm sure there will be some new folks coming around, so I want to start off telling you a little about me, who I am, and what my research is. Then I want to talk about the purpose of this blog and what I hope to accomplish. Please note that all posts are copyrighted. I'm in the process of publishing some information and hope to get a book published about this project once I finally finish school. Feel free to print off a copy for yourself and whatnot, but if you want to repost something elsewhere, ask for my permission first please :o).

My name is Erin Bradford and I currently live in Raleigh, NC. I was born and raised in Montana and my parents and brother still live there. I've been doing genealogy since I was 11, that's 19 years now (you can do the math! LOL), but since no one in my family had ever tried to do genealogy, I had no clue where to begin. In a way, this is a blessing for my research project into free Blacks of antebellum NC. Since I didn't know how to start, I did it backwards. My grandma told me that we were supposedly descended from Gov. William Bradford of Mayflower/Plymouth Rock fame, but no one knew for sure. I had no clue how to start, so I began with Gov. Bradford and went forward. Using secondary sources, I found the first 7 generations forward only to determine it was too complicated to continue! When I started college at age 18, I had internet access and was able to start searching online. I also found some genealogists who set me straight on how to do the research. I can safely say now that I am NOT descended from Gov. William Bradford!

I started college at Montana State University with hopes and dreams of becoming a record producer, better than Quincy Jones and Barry Gordy put together, but that dream was soon dashed when I went deaf 1 week before the first day of class....and my major was Spanish! *LOL* I chose to change my major to art and it was a good choice as it was a good form of therapy for me to deal with my new deafness, but I also soon realized I did not like folks to tell me what to draw or how to draw it! I stayed at MSU for 2 years and then transferred to U of Montana where I changed my major to history. I loved UM, but I wanted to minor in African American studies and they did not offer it as a minor at the time, only Native American studies, which I did at first, but quickly realized it would not work for me since everything was oral and my typists couldn't keep up. I found out about the National Student Exchange program and decided to come to North Carolina State University, where my cousin currently attended, and fell in love with Raleigh. Secretly I knew that I would not be returning to MT, and I think my folks knew it, too. I finished out my BA in history with a minor in Africana studies at NCSU and then returned there the following year to get my MA in public history with a concentration archival management. I am now attending North Carolina Central University in Durham to get my MLS (Master's of Library Science) and hope to be done by May 2008.

So, now that you know the basics of me, here is some info about the project.

I began this project at NCSU in spring 2000 with a seminar on World Slavery, taught by Professor John David Smith (now at UNC-Charlotte), whose specialty is slavery and emancipation. For that class, we only had one grade: a term paper on any aspect of slavery, any where in the world. Since my interest was U.S. slavery, and I had just finished Dr. John Hope Franklin's The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860, I decided to write on the manumission practices of colonial North Carolina. During the process of writing that paper, I found manumission papers for quite a few families, and also mention of manumission papers for other families who were freed outside of NC thanks to Paul Heinegg's research, which encompasses not only NC, but also SC, VA, MD, and DE (and I'm probably leaving another state out). I fell in love with one particular family and I became hooked! I've had to put my research on the backburner for the last year and until I finish school. Between a full time job and full time school, I just have no more time to do any research, but if everything goes according to plan, I'll be back in action in about a year!

I'm hoping to accomplish a few things with this blog.

  • First, I want to help educate those who are not aware of the free Black population in antebellum NC. This group is continually overlooked, not only in NC, but in other states as well, and I want to do something to help bring them to light.
  • I want to discuss various types of records, which have been useful in my search. Most state records are different from state to state, but also there are similarities. I plan to present the benefits of various records for searching that might prove beneficial.
  • I hope to highlight various free Blacks that I'm researching with mini-biographies about them. With the exception of a few very well known ones such as John Chavis and Thomas Day, these biographies will mostly consist of dates, spouses, children, and what records I have found them in.
There may be other things I do that are history or genealogy related, such as highlighting new websites or books I've come across related to either NC genealogy, history, or free Black genealogy or history; genealogy tools that I've found helpful, etc. If you have any ideas or suggestions, feel free to leave me a comment or email me. I don't plan to post more than about once a week or so and you can always subscribe to the RSS feeds to get updates (contact me if you don't know what these are or how to subscribe).

Thanks all for stopping by my neck of the woods!