Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library Research Report Series - 330
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library
This document is the first product based upon research funded by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation through a grant from the AT & T Foundation to support interpretations of African American life in early Williamsburg. Unlike the monograph which will follow, this extended essay primarily focuses on Williamsburg and Norfolk in the years before 1790, the two colonial Virginia towns formally recognized as a city or borough by legal authority. The larger study will include Richmond, Petersburg, Alexandria and Fredericksburg in an analysis of black urban life before 1810, but with much of the evidence for these towns based on records following their incorporations in the years after 1775.
This report and project has been aided, not only by the financial support of the AT & T Foundation, but by a generous and flexible leave policy of Utah State University and the support and encouragement of my department and college. At Colonial Williamsburg Cary Carson, sometimes in the person of Wendy Sumerlin, saw that my research needs were met, protected my time from unnecessary institutional interruptions and was a congenial and stimulating colleague. Rex Ellis, and later, Robert Watson provided not only an intense and supportive interest in the project, but helped shape it by their insights and the questions they raised as they developed interpretive presentations for the African American program. John Ingram and the ever-helpful staff at the Foundation Library readily answered my queries and rapidly iii processed my inter-library loan requests while Jim Garrett solved computer and soft ware puzzles. Kevin Kelly, Pat Gibbs, Lorena Walsh, Linda Rowe, Lou Powers, Kathy Hellier and John Hemphill welcomed me into the midst of the Research Department and patiently answered questions and directed me to specific sources and record collections. Among his other duties, Rodney Vaughan, an AT&T Intern, performed a literature search during the summer of 1988. Especially valuable was the work of two research assistants; Jenny Clark, who gathered information on individuals who appear on Williamsburg's 1780s tax lists, and Julie Richter who assembled data from the York County Record Project and from the Virginia Gazette. Both Jenny and Julie sometimes found themselves searching for the unknowable, too. Harold Gill kindly provided valuable information on urban artisans from his massive computer file of Virginia craftsmen.
Along with others at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Sarah Hughes, then of Hampton University, and Len Rosenband, a colleague at Utah State, served as sounding boards for the meaning and significance of the bits and pieces of information my research turned up. Thad Tate went out of his way to make our stay in Williamsburg a special experience. Most significantly, Linda agreed to become a single parent for nearly a year and to live almost like a graduate student again, for a second year. Our children, Sarah and Thad, gave up their father, or perhaps gladly shooed him east for long periods of time, and then left friends and schools behind for a year. We gave back a iv significant part of my salary to AT&T during the first year of the fellowship but found, in spite of the advertisement, one could not quite "reach out and touch someone," though it certainly helped. My thanks to all.
Readers interested in the history of African Americans in Williamsburg are likely already familiar with Thad W. Tate's The Negro in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg. It is not the purpose of this report to supplant this pioneering and very durable work first published in 1965. Rather it is intended to supplement it by providing comparative information on urban black life in early Norfolk, to explore issues that have emerged in the scholarship on African Americans in the Chesapeake region since the publication of Tate's report, and to extend, where possible, our knowledge of Williamsburg's "other half:" the latter largely made possible through the record files created by the York County Records Project over the last several years.
As Thad Tate concluded in his study of The Negro in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg. although slaves constituted about half the population of the colonial capital, "Because they were a subjugated, inarticulate, leaderless half, it becomes simple enough to forget how much they must have influenced life in Williamsburg and all but impossible to arrive at an adequate estimate of that influence." He went on to note the pervasive "impress of slavery" on all aspects of early Virginia society and to make "an extremely simple, unpretentious point, that is, how much the slaves were a part of the ordinary daily life of Williamsburg and how frequently they would have been seen at vi work, along the street, or perhaps on the fringes of some large public gathering." In a more recent reprinting of his study, Professor Tate suggests that early African Americans may have played a "less passive role" than his original analysis suggested (p. 127-128, italics mine).
This essay seeks to expand on these conclusions by exploring aspects of the life which African Americans, enslaved and free, lived in Williamsburg and Norfolk during the eighteenth century, their pervasive presence in and about these towns, and the ways in which they sought to create a world within an "urban" environment. Given the paucity of Williamsburg-sources, particularly on black life, the inclusion of Norfolk provides historical evidence of the African American experience that may prove suggestive for interpreting the lives of Williamsburg's black population. But the problem of actually exploring many dimensions of African American culture and daily life remains, just as it does for a large segment of the free white population of early Virginia: hence the title of this report. Nevertheless, tantalizing bits and pieces of evidence can be pieced together to identify some Williamsburg and Norfolk motifs in the crazy quilt of the black experience under slavery and as free individuals in the two towns.
This essay first provides a brief overview of the two towns and their populations. Obviously the purpose and functions of a town had a great influence on the nature of its population, particularly over a slave labor force possessing limited choices.vii
After exploring the composition of the black population of the two towns, the efforts to control the urban slave and free black are surveyed. Many of these municipal ordinances sought not just to regulate the social behavior of slaves but their economic activities too and describing them provides an introduction to the world of work required of urban slaves. The next sections discuss interactions between blacks and whites, slaves and masters and among African Americans themselves. It explores as well, the few opportunities for education and training, and religious practices and entertainment. An analysis of the origins of urban free blacks and the particular roles they played in these towns follows and the essay ends with a discussion of the unique opportunities, disruptions and threats created by the American War for Independence.
The white residents of mid eighteenth-century Williamsburg and Norfolk shared lives that set them apart from their rural counterparts in colonial Virginia. Not only were a wider array of consumer goods and services, amusements and entertainments, a post office and newspapers closer at hand, but so too was a more complex social order with a greater variety of tradesmen, artisans and marginal members of white society. Norfolk residents felt the ebb and flow of the shipping seasons. They brought foreign goods and local staples to their wharves and sent off meat and grain to Europe and particularly the West Indies. Williamsburgers sought to capitalize on the seasonal influx of merchants and lawyers, politicians and plaintiffs who swamped the town during the public times of provincial court and assembly. These activities placed a thin metropolitan veneer over the seasonal agricultural rhythms that dominated and shaped the activities and lives of most Virginians.1
While the interests of the town merchant or urban craftsman may not have been the same as the tobacco planter or farmer, they did share certain important and fundamental realities. The most significant for this study was living in a slave society. Even 2 before Williamsburg was chartered in 1722, and certainly by the time of Norfolk's incorporation in 1736, slavery was a deeply imbedded, legally defined, and crucial part of the society and economy of Virginia. No less than the tobacco planter, urban residents owned and depended on slave labor, and the presence of African Americans in the two towns shaped urban life in subtle and sometimes profound ways.
By the time of the Revolution the population of both towns was roughly half black. A census summary for 1775 appearing in a Williamsburg almanac of the following year listed a total of 986 blacks representing 55% of the total population of 1880. Magistrates in Norfolk in 1774 counted 759 black tithables [males and females above the age of 16) within a larger tithable population of 1235. Such figures would roughly translate, according to the eighteenth century formula, into a population that was 44% African American and a proportion that had already been achieved at least as early as 1752 in the port town.2 The Revolutionary War seriously disrupted both towns and their populations. Norfolk was burned in 1776 by redcoat and rebel 3 while Williamsburg lost political preeminence to Richmond by 1780 and served as staging area and hospital for the battle of Yorktown. By 1782 the former capital's population had declined to 1424, 702 or 49% of whom were black, while in Norfolk some 1210 had returned to begin building and living in the ruins of the town. Of these 543 or 45% were African Americans.3
If the racial proportions within the two towns' populations were roughly similar, there were interesting differences between both the white and black populations as to gender, if Williamsburg is any indication. The census summary of 1775 for the provincial capital reveals that white males of all ages outnumbered white females 505 to 389, comprising nearly 56% of the white population. Within the black population, however, only 469 black males were counted compared to 517 females or just over 47 percent. The predominance of females within the African American population may account for another difference between the two populations revealed by the census summary; the proportion of adults and children within the two groups of males. Tithable white males outnumbered white boys 327 to 178 [65%] but within the black male population tithables made up only 56% of the number of males [263 to 206]. Unfortunately, the census taker did not break down the numbers of females according to age 4 but if the ratio of adult to child within the black male population was the same within the black female population, adult black women would have outnumbered black men about 290 to 263 while the estimated count among adult whites would have stood in favor of men some 327 to 253.4 One might conclude that the domestic service enjoyed in urban households and required in public taverns dictated the larger numbers of black women within the Williamsburg black population and this in turn contributed to a larger proportion of slave children in the group. Or, that the market for domestic service generated demands that led to large proportions of children being employed, too.
A similar profile of Williamsburg's black population emerges on the 1783 personal property tax list.5 The taxman listed each slave by name and recorded the number of the tithable slaves. Of some 642 listed, 350 were tithables, that is at least aged sixteen, and 292 were children, a proportion of adults [55%] that is nearly identical with that among males in 1775. Adult women continued to grow in proportion to men [rising to 61%] while the percentage of adults in the male population fell to just over half [51%]. On the other hand, the percentage of adults in the female population stood at 58%, perhaps again suggesting, along with the growing proportions of women, an even more dominant 5 domestic service for Williamsburg slaves following the loss of the town's provincial political role. Indeed, the proportion of females in the whole black slave population increased from 52% to 58% and was still that high when the Federal enumerator compiled the town's census in 1820.6
Norfolk's slave population produces a different profile. Of the nearly five hundred tithable slaves in the Borough in 1752 some 56% were men. By 1774 the ratio was almost exactly even between the sexes of the now nearly 760 black tithables.7 The growth in the numbers and proportions of slave women in Norfolk likely reflects the increasing demand for domestic servants that accompanied the town's growth and the emergence of a wealthy merchant class, many of them British. In 1775 James Parker, for example, lived in a two story house undergird with cellars and topped with garrets. With four rooms on a floor equipped with marble fireplaces, stone steps leading up to his manse, a brick kitchen in back, and a stable for six horses, it is not surprising that he also used as his house servants, Juba, a gardener, Pleasant, a cook and housekeeper, Roger, a waiting man, Charles a servant, Chloe, a chambermaid, Dinah, a washerwoman, along with Sarah and Nancy, simply described as young women, and 6 Charlotte a girl.8
Another side of Parker's portfolio also reveals why Norfolk's slave population was more evenly balanced in gender than Williamsburg's on the eve of the Revolution. As a one-sixth owner of a rope walk and tannery operating as the firm of James Campbell and Company, Parker was indirectly responsible for employing a large number of slave men in Norfolk. Described as the largest rope and tan works in America, it utilized nearly fifty African American tradesmen in the ropewalk, tannery and shoe factory. On the 1774 Norfolk tithable list for the district east of Church Street, James Campbell and Company was taxed for 31 tithable slaves, 28 of them males.9 Thus the presence of industrial activities of some scale, with their larger numbers of male workers, had a significant impact on the composition of a town's population.
The shipbuilding industry in southern Hampton Roads also contributed larger numbers and proportions of men to the slave population in and around Norfolk. Although Thomas Talbot, a ship carpenter or builder, reported seventeen women on his tithable list in 1774, many of his twenty-eight slave men were probably engaged in his shipyard. Adding to these numbers were the slaves belonging to supporting members of the shipbuilding industry, such as Isaac, David, Dick and Bob listed with blockmaker Samuel 7 Portlock in 1774, a year in which he reported no tithable women.10
Other seemingly small but numerous operations collectively helped to build the gender balance in Norfolk's population. Nearer to the wharves on the western side of town, Stephen Tankard, a liscenced tavern operator, paid taxes on four men and eight women but also ran a ferry service across the Elizabeth River with ten slave men. Elsewhere on the docks repairing ships, and unloading or dispatching cargoes required hired day laborers and jobbers who were drawn from a pool of slave men." Such incidental demands in the port collectively contributed to the presence of greater numbers of African American men whose owners found it profitable to hire them out for short terms and specific jobs. Something on a much smaller scale may well have existed at the landings at College and Queen's Creeks near Williamsburg, but apparently not enough to influence the composition of the city's resident black population as much as it did in Norfolk, especially where the wharves were such an integral part of town.8
These numbers are important for they clearly demonstrate the pervasive presence and suggest the significant role African Americans held in Williamsburg and Norfolk. These figures also serve to raise questions about the possibilities of slave family life. Did the almost evenly divided adult black population in the Norfolk of 1774, for example, have an easier time finding a spouse than their counterparts in Williamsburg where women greatly outnumbered men? Or, if significant numbers of slave men in Norfolk lived in barracks-like structures, as they seem to have at a ropewalk in Richmond in the 1780's and at a tannery in Norfolk near the close of the century, were the opportunities to live with or frequently visit a spouse and children no better than if they were on a nearby plantation?12 And although the distances dividing spouses or parents and children owned or hired by different employers in these towns were only a fraction of those separating the members of many rural African American families in the countryside, how many women, in Williamsburg particularly, had distant husbands who lived in James City, York or even the more remote Gloucester, New Kent, or Warwick Counties?
Direct and definite answers to these questions do not appear in the records. Slaveholding was widespread in both towns, but the number of slaves held in most white households was small. Surviving censuses for both towns in 1782 capture, for the first 9
|Size of Holding||1||2-3||4-6||7-9||10+||0||Totals|
|No. of Households|
|% of Slaveholding hhds.||22.9||30.5||21||8.6||17.1|
|cum. % of Slaveholding hhds.||22.9||53.4||74.4||83||100|
|No. of Slaves||24||75||108||73||263||0||543|
|% of Slaves||4.4||13.8||19.9||13.4||48.4||0||99.9|
|cum % of Slaves||4.4||18.2||38.1||51.5||99.9|
|No. of Households|
|% of Slaveholding hhds.||25||22.1||25||14.7||13.2|
|cum. % of Slaveholding hhds.||25||47.1||72.1||86.8||100|
|No. of Slaves||34||71||161||158||267||0||691|
|% of Slaves||4.9||10.3||23.3||22.9||38.6|
|cum % of Slaves||4.9||15.2||38.5||61.5||100|
Whether or not these distribution patterns obtained for the colonial period remains unanswered, particularly for 11
|No. of slaves|
|% of slaves||8.6||23.2||31.9||19.0||17.3|
|cum % of slaves||8.6||31.8||63.7||82.7||100|
|No. of slaves|
|% of slaves||9.1||27.1||34.6||10.3||18.9|
|cum % of slaves||9.1||36.2||70.8||81.1||100|
Families don't exist without children. Indeed, the real significance of the emphasis on the black family under slavery exists in the nurturing, socialization and cultural education African American parents provided their children. In what kind of household did slave children live in early Norfolk and Williamsburg? Did the urban demand for domestic workers lead to young children being employed by themselves, apart from parents or other African American adults? Our earliest clues to this question appear on the Williamsburg tax list of 1783 where 13
|Households:||N. of households||N. of slaves||N. of tithes||N. of men||N. of women||N. of boys||N. of girls||Unknown|
|with men only||10||16||16||16||0||0||0||0|
|with women only||10||11||11||0||11||0||0||0|
|with men and women||61||510||285||120||156||96||122||7|
These censuses and tax lists reveal nothing about the nature of black family life, but they do suggest something about the structure of the black households in an urban environment. As we have seen, most contained children and a very large proportion of the black population, nearly 80 percent in Williamsburg, lived 15 where both men and women were present. Just over one fifth of adult women lived in households without the presence of men as did the same percentage of children. But to note this fact is not to suggest that such households were aberrant, that the absence of men somehow created a pathological or unhealthy domestic environment.13 And one must remember, that in the small confines of these towns, both fathers and mothers who lived apart from each other but still within the town likely had opportunities for more frequent contacts with each other and their children than was possible among cross-plantation families in the countryside. The same was not true, however, for a parent, usually a father, who lived some distance outside of town.
If the nature of slaveholding evident from tax lists makes it appear that most slaves, adults and children, lived in a household structure approximating families, one should not forget the realities of slavery and the ever present threats to slave family integrity. Deaths, the departure and indebtedness of owners, shifting demands for labor, and even the defiance of 16 slaves led to the sale and hiring out of urban slaves, no less than those on plantations. A few examples, all from Williamsburg, illustrate the point.
Stepping up to the door of the Raleigh, "Williamsburg's most famous tavern in the eighteenth century," puts one at the site of many slave sales. In 1771, some were the slaves of the deceased tavern owner, Anthony Hay, who had operated the Raleigh.
Nineteen slaves, one "a very good Cabinet Maker," another "a good Coachman and Carter," and "some fine Waiting Boys, good Cooks, Washers, &c" among the rest, found themselves arrayed before the tavern that spring. His inventory listed a total of twenty slaves, indicating that all but one slave faced the possibility of being sold to different owners, unless one had already died or been sold. Among them were Peggy and her children Ben, Lucy, Jemmy and Jenney; Sarah and her daughter Mary; and Nancy and her son Edmund.14 The inventory does not establish familial relationships among the other slaves held by Hay until his death.
Even well-intentioned owners who tried to make special provisions for their slaves in their wills could exercise only a limited paternalism from the grave. A case in point is Governor Francis Fauquier who died in 1768. As Thad Tate noted, the English bureaucrat found slavery revolting. Stating that the peculiar institution was "disagreeable" to him, "but which my 17 station made necessary for me," Fauquier expressed his concern that his ownership of slaves might come back to haunt him on the Judgment Day, in spite of being a "Merciful Master" to them. Seeking to reduce their misery in this life as much as possible, the governor ordered his executors not to separate mothers and children and to allow his slaves six months to find new masters who would be permitted to purchase them from his estate at a discount of twenty-five percent below their inventoried value. If a slave failed to find a willing purchaser, then the slave was to be exposed to public sale for whatever price could be obtained.15 All but three of the governor's seventeen slaves found owners, if the purchase price, uniformly discounted one-fourth from the inventoried value, is such an indication. Young John, valued at £60, Sall and her son Harry, valued together at £70 were sold to Dr. George Gilmer for £104 rather than £97.10, which would have been their collective discounted price. Perhaps one of the two adults had found Gilmer as a new owner too, while the other had failed but was bought by Gilmer at auction. In any case, Fauquier's slaves were soon scattered around Williamsburg: Titus to Robert Carter Nicholas; Old John and Bristol to Thomas Everard, just across the street from the Palace; Tom, Mary and her child Jemima to John Dixon; Doll to Richard Johnson; and Nanny with her child Sukey, who soon died, to James Geddy down at the end of the Palace Green. Lancaster was bought by Christopher 18 Ayscough, whose wife Anne Ayscough was Fauquier's chief cook, while Hannah remained at the Palace, having been purchased by Lord Botetourt. Suckey and her two daughters, Mary and Sall were bought by Reverend James Horrocks.16
Now the property of others, Fauquier's slaves were beyond the control of his best wishes. Within months of being sold to Reverend Horrocks, Suckey Hamilton and her youngest daughter, aged seven, were placed before the Raleigh at auction. What happened to her other daughter? Within two years, Christopher Ayscough, who had purchased Lancaster, gave up tavern keeping and advertised his property to satisfy his creditors. Among his holdings, he listed nine slaves including "an exceeding good cook wench, and a fellow who is a very good gardener." Was Lancaster among the nine? One month after Ayscough's sale, James Geddy who acquired Nanny, the woman whose child had died soon after the governor, advertised for sale "a likely NEGRO WENCH, about eighteen years old, with her child, a boy." Could this have been Nanny, now with another child, or a woman whose service to the Geddys was no longer needed now that Nanny had joined the household?17
An owner's inability to pay his debts also disrupted slave families. Thomas Cobb who lived along the street leading to 19 Capital Landing had three slaves taken, along with three houses and lots and other personal property, by the York County sheriff to be sold to satisfy his creditors who had successfully sued him in 1768. Cobb's slaves were not unique. Many others were sold on the steps of the James City courthouse to satisfy creditors, and York officials often exposed slaves to sale at the Raleigh. In 1775, the sheriff of James City County took as many as fifty slaves, "some valuable tradesmen," to be sold in Richmond, for "ready money." Indeed, numerous ready money sales dot the pages of the Gazette, indicating the pressing need for money on the part of owners. For those who wished their embarrassed financial situation to remain unknown, slaves could be sold through William Page, who opened a vendue office in 1772, promising to observe "profound Secrecy" in his dealings with the public at his Monday sales. 18
Departures from Williamsburg for England also led owners to dispose of slaves. When Richard Kent announced his intention to embark in 1752, he advertised his house slave and her child. The year before, John Dixon and his family sought to leave for England too, and wished to sell their house servants and a number of craftsmen. Similarly, when Dr. Henry Potter decided to emigrate, he placed his slaves on the auction block during the session of the Oyer and Terminer court when numerous potential purchasers might be expected in Williamsburg. Cabinetmaker Peter 20 Scott sought to sell two slave cabinetmakers, before his departure for Great Britain in 1755.19 Later, with the removal of the capitol to Richmond, the relocation of Williamsburg slave owners to other towns had a similar disruptive effect.
Slave defiance and recalcitrance led to slave sales too, while obeisance was often necessary to preserve slave families. On a Sunday night in January 1777, a slave man named Emanuel threw the merchant John Greenhow to the ground and ran away. Formerly the slave of Augustine Smith of Middlesex County, Greenhow may have bought him at the settlement of Smith's estate in 1774 or perhaps Emanuel was among "A Large Parcel Of Young Virginia born slaves" sold by the sheriff of Middlesex County before the Raleigh in 1773. In the meantime, Emanuel, along with co-runaway Foy, had established themselves as "notorious thieves." Not surprisingly, when Emanuel was recaptured, he was sold to a planter in Rockbridge County.20 Sometime in 1778 or 1779 Anne Drummond, another Williamsburg resident, hired or sold a man named Sam to a planter in distant Albemarle County, because at the time Drummond believed he had stolen some items from her, although she later doubted it.21 Eve, a slave women in the 21 Randolph household had been destined to be given to a niece by Betty Randolph upon her death. But between the writing of her will in 1780 and her death in 1783, Betty Randolph sold Eve for her "bad behavior." During the Revolution, Eve was among some dozen slaves belonging to the Randolphs who joined British forces. Yet others inherited by Betty Randolph, such as Aggy, were not singled out in the modification of her will, suggesting that this temporarily successful effort to escape was not the sole reason for Eve's sale.22 In any case, the constant possibility of being sold or hired far away was a threat and a. means of control that had direct consequences for not only the individual slave but the family as well.
Slave hiring also could disrupt slave family life and may have been more disruptive than sales. Many times slaves were hired out, usually for a year, as a means of sustaining an estate after the death of the owner. Thus when Frederick Bryan died in 1774, his slaves, who usually worked land on Queen's Creek just outside of Williamsburg, were to be hired out on the last day of the year if no one took them as part of a rental agreement of his plantation. Skilled slaves, such as the unidentified carpenter advertised by Benjamin Weldon in 1776, another by Thomas Everard in 1773 or the blacksmith described by John Ruffin in 1775 were 22 especially likely to be hired. But "men and maid servants" were also available to anyone who wanted to rent Yelverton Peyton's home and business in 1772.23 Indeed, annual slave hirings were so systematized that few advertisements had to be placed in the Gazette for the event which usually took place on or very near New Year's Day.
The impact on slave family and community life of an owner's death, removal, and financial solvency as well as the practice of hiring could be substantial. In Norfolk roughly 17 percent of the adult slaves in the Borough in 1773 were not listed by the same owner or hirer in 1774. An additional 10 percent of the tithable slave population may have disappeared with their owners who left the town during the course of the year, although some may well but there is no evidence that either 1773 or 1774 were abnormally lethal in the history of the town.24
In Williamsburg, an even higher turnover rate occurred for the slaves living in the town in the 1780's. Where the census taker had counted 691 slaves in 1782, the magistrates enrolled only 642 slaves on the tax list for 1783. Comparing the names of slaves on the tax rolls of 1784 with those belonging to the same owners or hirers of slaves present in 1783 reveals only 395 of 23 556, or roughly 71 percent were the same. No lists survive for the city in 1785, but a similar procedure conducted with the personal property tax list of 1786 documents that only 278 of 472 or approximately 59 percent, were the same slaves held by owners appearing on both the 1783 and 1786 lists.25 Unlike the tithable lists of Norfolk, the personal property lists of Williamsburg include slave children, and the practise of selling or hiring women with very young children would tend to raise the figures above those of Norfolk. In addition, declining labor demands as the city slowly atrophied following the removal of the capitol most likely contributed to a high rate of turnover within the slave population that may not have been so dramatic before the Revolution.
* * * * *
Clearly, the black populations of both Williamsburg and Norfolk were substantial. In Williamsburg, where over half of the population were enslaved African Americans in 1775, a majority of the adults were women. But in Norfolk, where just under half of the residents appear to have been slaves, the number of men and women in the black population was equal in 1774, reflecting a decline in the proportion of slave men within the town over the previous generation. The presence of 24 shipyards, and larger-scale processing and manufacturing businesses than existed in Williamsburg accounts for the differing proportions of adult men in the two populations while the greater degrees of wealth and the demand for domestic service probably explains the increasing proportions of women in the Norfolk population. Slaves found themselves owned or hired by a large proportion of the white households in both towns. There was a tendency in each place for women to be more numerous within smaller holdings while the proportions of men grew as the numbers within individual slave holdings increased. Deaths, financial setbacks, and the mobility of the white population contributed to a fairly high degree of turnover in the slave population as did the demand for hired slaves and the defiance of individual slaves themselves. In Williamsburg particularly, the decline of the town following the Revolution also added to disruptions in local slave families and within the black community. On the other hand, the core of stable, solvent white slave owners resident in these towns contributed, however inadvertently, to structuring a slave population that, as we shall see, seized the opportunity to fashion and sustain something resembling family life in the midst of the uncertainty and anxiety that went with being treated as property.
The most obvious reality that set even the early Virginia 25 urban scene apart from the countryside was the sheer number of slaves in such a relatively small area. Not even the largest of Virginia plantations ever held the number of slaves that lived in Williamsburg or Norfolk by mid-century. But while the concentration of such large numbers of slaves in the small spaces that were Williamsburg and Norfolk was unique, the nearly equal proportion of whites in the two towns dissipated the impact of the number of slaves. Even so, the peculiarities of an urban environment led to a specific set of municipal regulations and efforts to control not just the slave population, but to regulate the special opportunities a town created for the illicit interaction of blacks with each other and with whites.
When William Byrd, II passed through Norfolk on his way to begin surveying the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina, he commented on the harbor, the ships, and the general appearance of the town, but said nothing about the town's African American population.26 Typically, travelers seldom note what to them is commonplace. But the presence, and more especially, the nightly and Sunday gatherings of African Americans in Norfolk had provoked local residents to request greater control a decade before Byrd floated through the town in 1728. At its sitting in June 1718, the Norfolk County court received a petition from town residents seeking "some restraint...to deter the Greate Concourse 26 of Negroes in the Said Town at unseasonable hours in the night and on the Lords day." Their "meetings and Caballing together," the town's white residents complained, "tends to noe good End but Contrary wise to Compleat and Study mischief w[hi]ch by Esxperience they are found too much proan to." The justices responded by appointing Daniel Philips as a watchmen and charged him with inspecting all gatherings of blacks at night or on Sunday, and to arrest any slave on the streets after nine at night or at any time without a pass from their owners. He was allowed to collect one shilling from the owner of each slave he took up for administering the twenty-one lashes required by the court as punishment for violators. The court also empowered him "to impress such aid as at any time or times as may be wanting" to execute these duties.27
The Norfolk justices' directives of 1718 encompassed many of the later efforts to regulate black behavior in the Borough. At the first meeting after its incorporation the Common Council appointed a committee to determine the most appropriate method for "Defraying the Charge of the Watch hereafter to be appointed." By October 1738, they agreed to employ six to eight watchmen for £40 but apparently could only recruit four men willing to split the sum among themselves. By 1740 the Borough authorized two of its members to draft, "by Directions in 27 Writing," local inhabitants to serve as a watch who were take up all "Negro's ... after the Hour of Ten of the Clock at Night" and upon the authorization of a magistrate, to collect eight pence from the slave's owner for whipping and incarceration. But the effort failed. At the meeting of the Hall the next year, noting "that frequent Insults and Abuses arise from the Negro's, residing in and about this Town in the Night Time, and on Sundays and Holidays," the mayor and an alderman were again given power to draft a watch. But now, any blacks arrested away from their abode were to be taken before the mayor who would determine an appropriate punishment, while the owner faced costs of one shilling four pence. Doubling the fine increased the incentive for individual owners to exercise greater control over their slaves, but to little avail.28
For the rest of the colonial period, Norfolk officials periodically wrestled with the problem of controlling the black population's night-time and holiday gatherings. In 1742 a committee was appointed to draw up a law "for the preventing the Unlawful and Tumultuous meeting of Negro's upon Sundays, Holydays &c." In 1744 lists were drawn up and four residents chosen to watch each night from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. while the constable was further encouraged to disperse assemblies of blacks on Sundays by exempting him from the nightly watch and threatening him with a fine of four shillings for not doing his duty. In 1763 the 28 Hustings Court ordered the six constables of the town to "walk the streets thereof every Sunday with their staffs in their hands by turns two and two every Sunday & so continue by a regular succession... and take up all rioters and unlawfull assemblys of negroes in the streets..."29
Norfolk's shift to draftees for the night patrol and to constables for weekend duty, rather than a paid patrol, emerged from questions concerning the legality of assessing the inhabitants for support of the watch. The assembly resolved the issue, upon the petition of the Borough in 1763, by giving the Common Hall the power to tax its residents to support a night watch and erect lamps in the town. Watchmen were exempted from militia duty as an additional inducement to take the job. Thereafter, Norfolk hired a nightly watch, annually taxing the inhabitants, until the spring of 1775 when a slave conspiracy led the Common Hall to order every white male tithable to "watch by turns."30
The absence of Common Hall records from Williamsburg prevents a study of the evolution of the capital's police efforts but it is clear the town had a municipally created watch by 1772. 29 Under provisions of the militia act of 1755, a contingent of both the Norfolk and Williamsburg militias were authorized to patrol not only the municipality, but one-half mile beyond the boundaries of the two towns to ensure public order. In 1772, the regulations of Williamsburg's apparently recently created town watch were published revealing that the watchmen began their rounds at ten o'clock with the authority to arrest all disorderly individuals, including slaves.31
Neither of the town watches existed solely to chase down wandering slaves. A very real part of their duties included looking out for fires, both accidental and the work of arsonists. The Virginia Gazette editors called for a town watch after a fire destroyed Dr. William Carter's stable in 1767. The paper went on to point out that "Although this city has been particularly fortunate in not being often Visited with fires, yet the devastation lately made by that outrageous element in other places (particularly Barbadoes) ought to make the inhabitants very careful lest such a woeful accident should one day betide us. And we cannot help thinking but that if there was a set of watchmen for this place, it would tend much to the safety, as well as peace of mind, of the inhabitants, not only for the 30 protection of fires, but robberies likewise."32
Over time the growing density of buildings in Williamsburg increased the collective threat of arson. When Sarah, a slave of Archibald Blair set fire and partially burned his house on the Ides of March, 1728--for which she was found guilty by the justices of York County, valued at £18 and ordered hanged on April 17--the threat to the whole town was not great. In fact, at about the same time, Hugh Jones had noted the safety advantages of the non-contiguous manner of building in the town.33 But when an unknown arsonist robbed the Post Office in 1768 and tried to hide the robbery by throwing a shovelful of coals on a bed in the building, the Virginia Gazette noted that "If their design ... had taken place, not we only must have suffered, but there was a great probability of most of the houses on the same side of the street being consumed likewise." Anxiety must have increased in 1770 when another arsonist lit the house of James Hubard. Isaac, belonging to Catharine Hubard, was formally charged for the act, while David, belonging to James Hubard was accused of instigating and abetting the deed. The 31 court found Isaac guilty and like every other slave successfully prosecuted for arson, was given the death sentence. David was found innocent of the charges lodged against him, but the court, also judging him to be "a dangerous person," ordered him to jail until both owner and some justice agreed on his release. Two years later the night watch proved its worth to the editors of the Gazette by the timely discovery of,a fire set to the floor of the jail by a slave man who was assisted in his escape by other slaves outside of the building who knocked a hole in the underpinning. Through quick action by the watch the jail was saved and the nearby buildings prevented from catching on fire, but the slave apparently escaped.34
Norfolk, a town racked by fires in the years after the Revolution also faced the threat of slave arson. In 1761, a slave woman named Mary "in the possession of James Murphee," was brought before the justices of Norfolk County for unsuccessfully trying "to fire the house of David Purcell" who lived in the borough on the east side of Church Street. If she had succeeded, she would likely have been hanged, but her failure led the justices to order her owner to post a £1000 bond for her good behavior. It is possible Mary had been hired to Purcell.35
Nighttime robberies and burglaries were also a problem for 32 both towns. In fact, Norfolk used a recent rash of robberies in an appeal to the Assembly in 1763 for authority to levy a tax in support of a town watch.36 Slaves were not the only town residents who committed burglaries and robberies, but these particular crimes did dominate the charges levied against slaves in Williamsburg, with most incidents believed to have been committed at night. At the York County courthouse, between 1728 and 1780, some sixty-one trials were held of slaves belonging to Williamsburg owners or who committed a crime in the city and all but six involved breaking and entering and theft. According to trial records over half (some twenty-nine) of these attempts occurred under the cover of night.37 No doubt, darkness was needed by Moody who trapped and disappeared with nineteen of the Governor's turkeys in 1772. But Hannibal took eight more from the Governor in 1774, apparently in broad daylight, while William Rose lost two turkeys to Ned the following year, again during the daytime. Given the mobility of male slaves arising from the tasks of driving livestock, carrying messages, and carting goods Ned might have been able to pass down the streets and roads of Williamsburg with a turkey under each arm without arousing much 33 notice. Hannibal, however, was already a convicted felon who had been burnt in the hand when he bled his benefit of clergy before the James City justices just months before his arrest. Unlike Moody and Ned who were also found guilty, he was hanged.38
Most other slaves needed the cover of darkness for their thefts. John Irwin, a slave belonging to Hugh Orr of Williamsburg spent some of the time between nine and twelve on the night of January 13, 1759 in the store of John Tarpley from which he was found guilty of taking thirty-six yards of ribbon and twenty-five shillings in silver coin. Rippon escaped the gallows after being pardoned for taking four shirts, two blankets and thirty shillings in colony treasury bills sometime before midnight on the 20 September 1760 from the house of merchant Joseph Scrivener. No night watch or daytime constable could, however, prevent the work of the pickpocket as Williamsburger Thomas Dickson learned. In 1742 he was apparently carrying a gold "double double sovereign" belonging to Governor William Gooch and forty shillings of silver coin of his own when Nanny lifted them from his pocket and passed the money on to Quash. Since both slaves belonged to Yorktown owners, the crime may have been committed there, perhaps in a tavern where Dickson might possibly have been staying.39
While night watches and constables might try to control the 34 gatherings of slaves, sound the alarm in case of arson and accidental fires and provide a presence that might deter burglaries and thefts, other activities by slaves and whites threatened urban peace and order even more. In Norfolk the Common Hall debated on more than one occasion how best to keep slaves and servants from obtaining liquor. In 1738 ordinary keepers complained to the Common Hall of those who sold "Strong Liquors to the meaner Sort of People Servants and Slaves without Liscence" and petitioned that no one except themselves be allowed to retail any "Rum Brandy or other Distilled Spirits" in quantities smaller than one gallon. Presumably, servants and slaves sent to purchase liquor could buy in larger quantities. A committee was appointed to draft such an ordinance but when they finally made their report four months later the Hall rejected their efforts. A subsequent, but ineffective Borough ordinance may have been subsequently adopted for in 1741 Mayor Josiah Smith called the Council's attention to the daily abuses, "contrary to the ordination of the Borough," arising from retailing rum and spirits "not only to Indolent and Idle Persons, but also to Negro's." The result, according to the Mayor, made the latter "incourigable, and Affronts, and Insults are frequently made on the Inhabitants of the Borough." Again, a committee was appointed to draft an ordinance limiting liquor sales to slaves to no less than two gallons, but the committee failed to make a report at the next recorded meeting in July 1742. As in the case of the night watch, legal questions may have arisen over the 35 authority of the Common Hall to regulate liquor sales. In 1746 Borough officials set up liscencing requirements for retailers of rum but in 1748 they recognized that their efforts were largely ignored. Finally, in 1752, the Assembly directly authorized the Borough to liscence ordinary keepers and denied the power to the county court which had most likely contested the earlier efforts.40
Having the authority to liscence ordinaries and restrain tippling houses did not solve the problem. Local residents, white and black, continued to sell liquor or "entertain" slaves. In 1770, for example Walter Bruce and Susannah Bailey, a free black woman, were charged with being persons of "lewd life and conversation and common disturbers of the peace by keeping a disorderly house" while entertaining slaves.41 A grand jury presented Robert Laughton of Williamsburg "for keeping an Irregular Ordinary by intertaining Servants & Slaves contrary to Law" in 1720. The next year Governor Alexander Spotswood complained of Katherine Craig entertaining his servants. She was granted until the next court to answer the charge, was then 36 allowed upon promising to run a more orderly house to continue her operation until her liscence expired, but was denied a renewal of the permit until February 1723.42 Katherine Craig and Robert Laughton were not alone in profiting from sales to servants and slaves. In 1754, the merchant Daniel Fisher was accused by Williamsburg's mayor, John Holt, of selling rum to slaves. When Fisher demanded the evidence, he was told that since a slave could not testify against a white there was no way the case could be proven. Trying to clear his reputation, Fisher unsuccessfully tried to waive the legal limitation, asserted that he and his family "had been frequently ridiculed for being scrupulous" in the sale of liquor to slaves, and then charged that two slaves he had refused to sell liquor had gone straight to the Mayor's store and obtained it there. At the same session of the Hustings Court John Greenhow also sought to renew his ordinary liscence, a merchant described by Fisher as "infamously remarkable for trafficking with Negroes in wine, or any other commodity, Sunday not excepted." Even allowing for Fisher's antipathy, it is apparent that Williamsburg merchants, and even those in authority were not above violating the laws aimed at limiting slave initiated consumption of alcohol.43
Part of the problem, as perceived by white Virginians, was the slave's behavior while under the heavy influence of alcohol. 37 Slave owners in fact supplied rum to their slaves, most notably at harvest times, both as a reward and to meet the extraordinary demands for greater caloric consumption the heavier demands of harvest created. Slave women received rum during childbirth, too. But for slaves to consume enough liquor to put them, in the words of a later Richmond newspaper anecdote, in "that happy medium, when the bondsmen feels himself as happy as the monarch," and presumably acting like one, was unacceptable. William Nelson of Yorktown, for one, claimed liquor made slaves "untractable and unfit for their servitude" and we have already seen the complaints of Norfolk officials.44 No wonder then, that in the towns where retailers and wholesalers of liquor were concentrated, black consumption of alcohol presented both opportunities and problems for both white and black residents.
Closely tied to drinking was the belief that slaves purchased alcohol as well as some other items with the proceeds gained from selling stolen goods. Daniel Fisher recorded William Nelson's opinion that the legislature did not believe it was possible to enforce a distinction between "innocent" transactions arising from the sale of items derived "from the produce of that small portion of labour those unhappy creatures are allowed to devote to their own purposes," and the traffic "which would be injurious to them and their Master's service."45 Hence all 38 "dealings," barter, purchases and sales were prohibited unless the owner had given permission for the transaction. The prosecution of Ann Brathwaite by the York County court in 1775, "who hath dealt frequently with Slaves for Corn Meal Garden Stuff and other things without the consent of their owners" and for entertaining slaves by allowing them "to Game at Cards at her House" provides one example of the willingness, in spite of the law, of many to barter with slaves.46 Several prosecutions of Norfolk residents for dealing with slaves, suits initiated on the complaint of slave owners, reveals it was a problem there, too.47 And if Daniel Fisher can be believed, these court cases reveal only a small portion of the actual dealings between slaves and urban white merchants and shopkeepers. Many were only too willing not to ask the right questions for greater gain. For even if the slaves were selling their own garden produce or objects of their own making, they had a difficult time receiving full market value for their goods if their master denied them the necessary permission.
Not all of these transactions took place on the sly. In 39 Norfolk, the near daily public market and street vending created opportunities that the borough tried to squelch. In 1764 a committee was appointed to draw up an ordinance "to prevent the slaves from selling Cakes &c. and Small Beer at the market and other public places" and ten years later, the Hall adopted a bye-law preventing "Indians, mulattoes, or negroes Bond or free from selling any kind of dressed Meat, Bread, or bakes, or retailing any kind of Beer or spirituous Liquors."48 While it is not clear whether concerns arose from the competition to white butchers, bakers and liquor retailers, the inability to trace the origins of the ingredients in these food stuffs, or a combination of these two with other unknown reasons, the proscriptions reveal evidence of economic activity and aggressiveness deemed unacceptable to town fathers. The dominance of slave and free black women in the markets in Charleston and the Carribean where many Norfolk ships ventured may have been an example Norfolk's restrictive efforts sought to avoid.49
Unfortunately, we know little about the Williamsburg public market, its regulations, and the role African Americans took in its operations. It is clear, however, from the market rules and regulations adopted in other Virginia towns after the Revolution 40 that selling items and produce by slaves without the written permission of their owners was prohibited, but that many slaves found it easy to dispose of goods among compliant shopkeepers.50
The heavy reliance on slaves as carters, waggoners and messengers brought additional regulations. The Norfolk council resolved in 1741 that no servant or slave "shall ride any Horse, Mare or Gelding Swift faster than a foot pace, through the Streets Lane or Alleys within this Borough." Masters were fined two shillings sixpence for each offense unless they surrendered the guilty party to undergo "Condign Punishment." In 1755 officials spelled out another regulation "to prevent mischiefs arising from unruly horses and Oxen in Carts and Waggons and to prevent the running and straining of Horses in the Streets," a measure that affected many slaves as well as white residents.57
Restrictions on the lives of African American slaves adopted by municipal ordinance simply fine tuned the colony's broader slave code. While an addition to the colony's militia laws in 1755 provided for a slave patrol in Williamsburg and Norfolk, the urban concentrating of the dangers of arson and robbery also contributed to the emergence of town watches. Similarly, the distillation of sources of alcohol and markets for stolen goods in these towns created pressures exceeding those in the countryside. Towns also magnified the opportunities for other 41 unacceptable slave behavior, such as riding or driving too fast, that never arose in the rural parts of the Old Dominion. In short, the urban environment exposed more fully than the plantation the inherent cracks and crevices in a system that depended so heavily on slave men and women to carry on nearly all aspects of daily economic life.
African American men and women worked in a wide range of jobs, requiring a broad spectrum of skills. As the century progressed, the numbers of slave craftsmen in Virginia grew and planters and townsfolk alike utilized this increasingly skilled group. Slave women, however, were usually not trained as artisans. Generally put to work in plantation fields alongside men, some few women were employed as domestics, while others, many times the elderly, were kept busy spinning. Labor demands in town obviously eliminated field work, but it was not unknown for a woman employed as a town domestic to one day find herself hoeing in the fields of a new owner.52 Men and women who were 42 held by owners with both rural and urban property may have been shuttled between the locations of greatest need of their skills and labor.
The predominance of women in the African American population of Williamsburg encourages an examination of their work first. Most likely, nearly all were employed in the domestic sector of the economy. Cooks could range from those who put the meals on the table of a private family, such as Venus in the household of Thomas and Elizabeth Jones; the table of a public official, such as Sucky Hamilton for Governor Francis Fauquier; or the public tables of an ordinary, such as the unidentified "exceeding good cook wench" at Christopher Ayscough's tavern, or those belonging to Anthony Hay at the Raleigh.53
Laundresses may have had one of the most onerous jobs, and one in great demand. Evidence from Norfolk at the beginning of the nineteenth century suggests household laundry was probably done nearly weekly in the warm months of the year, but with less frequency during the winter months. It was also something of a production. In the Harris household, a black laundress named Hannah usually came and did the laundry at the house, but she also took dirty clothes home with her to be washed and returned later. One rainy night, in anticipation of her arrival, the household slaves were kept busy capturing the water running off the roof until the early hours of the morning, which cost some 43 sleep but probably saved hauling it from a distant well.54
Hannah appears to have been either a hired slave or perhaps a free black woman who probably followed a regular schedule, doing the laundry of a number of different households. Slave laundresses in Williamsburg may have made similar rounds among various families as well as being hired by itinerants and visitors to the town who needed their skills and access to water. Since it was easier to carry clothes to the water than vice-versa, travelers sent their laundry out. One "old Negro Woman" in Williamsburg was observed carrying a visiting gentleman's "foul linen" in a basket on her head, smoking her pipe, as she headed "home" to do his laundry.55
Seamstressing was also singled out as a particularly noteworthy skill held by several African American women. In a 1777 advertisement, two women, each with a child, were offered for sale: one "an excellent semptress; the other, not forty, and a good spinner." Some very young women quickly mastered the skills of sewing, as indicated by a 1776 notice for a fifteen year old, already "an exceeding good sempstress, and a pretty good flax spinner." The same year, an owner offered for sale "A Young mulatto woman who is an excellent spinner on the flax wheel, a good knitter, can cut out and make up linen as well as 44 any servant in Virginia."56
Like many noted here, some women spent their hours in single or closely related types of work. However, most women, particularly in households with few other female slaves, were forced to contribute more broadly to the operations of the urban household. Not uncommon were advertisements for those who combined a variety of talents such as the thirty year old, who washed, ironed, and could spin both cotton and wool. Or the "Valuable young Negro woman, very well qualified for all Sorts of House-work, as Washing, Ironing, Sewing, Brewing, Baking, &c." Again, age did not keep another fifteen year old girl from being already "used to all kinds of Household Business," an indication of the early age children were put to domestic tasks.57
Slave women also had to care for young white children. In the Thomas Jones family, a slave woman named Daphna essentially raised young Tom. The boy saw her as his best guardian, "calling upon Da, Da, in all his Extremities." While Daphna was a "dry Nurse," other slave women served as wet nurses and were in demand to be hired. While it is not evident whether two advertisements in the Gazette were necessarily looking for slave women, what is clear is that the women being sought were expected to sacrifice their own child to the needs of the advertiser. Thus, in 1775, the printers published "WANTED, A WET NURSE, of good Character, 45 without a Child," and again in 1777, "Wanted, As a WET NURSE, a young healthy woman with a good breast of milk; if she has a child, it must not be brought into the family. Such a person will meet with good encouragement by applying to the printer of this paper." Later advertisements in Richmond newspapers indicate, that this type of advertisement solicited both black and white women. 58
Most unusual would have been the nearly industrial employment of slave women and girls. But in response to the nonimportation of British goods a Manufacturing Society of Williamsburg was organized in 1776. Established to make cloth, the managers advertised they would hire spinners and weavers as well as take slave girls as apprentices. Another Williamsburg "manufactory," William Parks' paper mill, may well have employed slave women as well. In Europe, paper making was conducted in a highly gender segregated manner with men and women performing very specific tasks. Is it possible that Parks employed slave women as the sorters, pickers and cutters of rags, and the hangers of paper, roles traditionally occupied by women in paper 46 mills?59
Kitchen kettles, laundry tubs, chamber pots, and the other normal utensils of household life in Williamsburg and Norfolk all bore the fingerprints of the domestic female slaves who did much of the cooking, cleaning and caring for children in many white families. Others cut and sewed, knitted and spun, sometimes for themselves. In this urban environment of public markets and common wells slave women's tasks brought a greater mobility than most African American women enjoyed in the countryside. One can easily imagine the exchange of greetings and news at town wells, in the bustle of the market, and even as individuals, such as the laundress noted above, wound their way through the streets and back lots, stopping in at a kitchen to light a pipe.
As a group slave men brought a broader spectrum of skills to the work required of them. Like most women, some men also worked in the domestic sphere. William Cary, a Yorktown merchant, advertised for sale a man who not only could "wait in the house" but serve as a "very tolerable cook," and Catharine Blair offered to hire "either in Williamsburg or the Country, A LIKELY COOK FELLOW, who is also a good BUTCHER."60 As Thad Tate noted, 47 there is more evidence of men and boys serving as personal servants of white men, then of women and girls appearing as handmaids for white women. These domestic slaves shaved heads and beards and dressed hair or wigs, and many who waited on their owner were also required to take care of his horses. The numerous public houses employed men and boys as waiters and hostlers, too. Men also appear as the gardeners in these urban households, but whether the term used refers to someone who was a grounds keeper or the caretaker of a kitchen garden, or both, is not clear. Nearly all these skills were collected in the hands of one unidentified young man advertised in 1769 "who understands cleaning of a house, and is well qualified to wait on a single Gentleman, or a family, a very good gardener, and a tolerable good cook, butcher, and plaisterer, and in short very handy at any thing." He also could play the violin, and perhaps more importantly to the potential buyer was described as "sober, very honest. "61
Unlike most slave women, and for that matter, white females in Virginia, male slaves were formerly apprenticed to skilled artisans and employed in Williamsburg and Norfolk to the extent the local economies demanded their services. Benjamin Weldon, for example, hired out a carpenter who had been apprenticed, 48 while William Digges, Jr. of Yorktown put two of his slaves, George and Stepney to seven year apprenticeships with the Williamsburg carpenter and joiner, Mathew Tuell. Jerry, Nat and Isaac formed the core of Humphrey Harwood's crew, plaistering, laying and making brick and doing carpentry work. The advertised skills of an unnamed slave blacksmith belonging to Edward Travis or the high value placed on Nat, a blacksmith of James Anderson, attest to some period of formal training.62 Similarly coopers, such as Harry who ran away from John Greenhow, and a different Harry who ran from Francis Jaram, could not have pursued their craft without hard learned skills. The same can certainly be said of Peter Scott's two cabinetmakers, or the ones belonging to Anthony Hay and James Honey. On the other hand, Thomas Gilbert, a "mustee," chose to flee from wheelwright John Brown before his apprenticeship had been completed.63
Both shoemakers and carpenters, by the wide range of the nature of their work, may have had differing degrees of training. The slave who only shaped the coarse shoes worn by most plantation slaves or who "pretends to make shoes," may have had an equivalent among the "rough" carpenters. But an individual 49 like Billy, "who served at the trade of shoemaking some years in Williamsburg, where he was brought up" while being owned by John Greenhow, likely had the skill needed to fashion the latest styles in boots and shoes. The free black men, John and Hullitt Rowlinson were both master shoemakers in the capital.64
Other skills requiring less intensive training but still in great demand were also well represented in Williamsburg. Carters, coachmen, and hostlers moved goods and people to and about the city. Carters like Jack, who once belonged to Joseph Scrivener, for example, transported barrels and crates from the landings to merchant storehouses, hauled wood and coal for the voracious fireplaces of kitchens and parlors, and relocated the furniture and personal property of transient tenants. Ben, a darter, ran away from John Saunders in 1779 and the executors of Anthony Hay advertised for sale a man who served as coachman and carter. Given the presence of a cart harness for two horses in the inventory of Mathew Ashby, a free black, he may have earned part of his livelihood as a carter.6550
More prestigious and enjoying even greater mobility were the few Williamsburg slaves who worked on the water. Many of the small river craft arriving at the landings at Queen's and College Creeks were manned entirely by black crews. Daniel, a slave man of about 19 belonging to Edward Champion Travis, ran off in 1778, spent about ten days in Williamsburg, and then was believed to have sailed from College Landing to Portsmouth in a boat "conducted by negroes." Merchant John Greenhow employed his slave man named Ceazer, who could write his name and presumably read a bill of lading, to ship goods between Rappahannock River ports and Williamsburg. Another sometime Williamsburg waterman and resident was Dick who once belonged to a Dr. Jackson in Yorktown where he worked as a ferryman before James Spiers bought him and apparently put him to work in his garden. From there he ran away .66
Skilled slave sawyers cut out siding and framing members for buildings, but the constant demand for fuel for cooking and heating kept more busy at the less skilled but still taxing job of cutting firewood out of larger logs. The sharp whack of the axe and the heavy rhythmic breathing of the saw were among the 51 most common sounds coming from back lots in Williamsburg.67
A more disconcerting sound to modern ears would have been the bellowing of cows and the screaming of pigs, and perhaps the thud of the mallet or axe as the town's butchers, many of them slave men, began their tasks on market days. Their experienced hands deftly pulled the hides from the carcasses, disassembled the body into the cuts of choice, and perhaps salted some down for distant or future consumption. The hides and fat could have been hauled off to William Pearson's tannery, where his slave tanners and curriers transformed the hides into leather, some of which his slave shoemakers crafted into footwear. The fat was turned into tallow for candles and some of it rendered into soap. Although tanning was a quieter process than slaughtering, Williamsburgers would have been reminded of Pearson's tannery and may have been able to anticipate a storm out of the northeast when the aroma wafted through town.68
The African American population of Norfolk did all these tasks and more. The larger size of Norfolk did not noticeably affect the range of tasks expected of the town's slave population, but being a seaport broadened the spectrum of skills needed in the local economy, particularly for men. In addition, the growth of the Borough, in contrast to what appears to have 52 been a rather stagnant population in Williamsburg during the middle decades of the century, probably created greater demands for workers in the building trades, too.
Shipwrights like Scipio, or the ship carpenter claimed by Charles Sayer Boush on the eve of the Revolution, and caulkers like Robin helped build and repair the ships coming out of Elizabeth River slips. A large number of sawyers in the Norfolk area, as evidenced by claims submitted for slaves lost during the Revolutionary War, may have been producers of ship planking as well as providers for fireplaces. Sailmakers, like the one belonging to Jemimiah Marinex or Talbot Thompson, who was fortunate enough to be able to purchase himself though his special skill, worked in sail lofts. Watermen, sailors and seaman, seemingly similar roles but perhaps denoting well understood distinctions in the eighteenth century, described the work of a good number of Norfolk African American men such as Tom, Ned, Boatswain, George, Anthony and Jack. Pilots, such as James Robertson, James Jackson and John Collin from Norfolk and Portsmouth served the British during the War while a man named Cuffee chose to pilot for the American cause.6953
The maritime rhythms of Norfolk's economy created a different kind of labor demand from Williamsburg's, too. When the HMS Ludlow Castle arrived at Norfolk in 1757, she was soon deserted by nearly forty of her crew leaving a number of others who were sick. In desperation the ship's captain appealed to the Borough for temporary help and the Hall responded by ordering the town's sergeant to hire fifty black men to work on the ship for the next few days "to assist in getting in...Cables & Guns." Other ships in need of specific help, such as the Fishburn of London which employed large numbers of black men by day and night over a two week period in 1761, relied on the strength and skills of the black waterfront population.70
The maritime economy of southern Hampton Roads affected other types of work as well. African American blacksmiths like Prince or Caesar probably made ship-fittings along with the agricultural tools and household items smiths usually produced. In all likelihood, two historically anonymous anvilmen of Charles Smallwood, who lived between Norfolk's Ferry Point and the Great Bridge, were the ones who actually did the smithing required for the ship Hodge in 1775. Seagoing crews had to be fed and Isaac, 54 Sam, George, Shallow and Captain ground the grain in two brick windmills that Robin, Bacchus, Cuffey, London, Will and Joe baked into shipbread in four ovens at Robert Tucker's mill and bakery on Wind Mill Point.71
Many Norfolk ships hauled corn, pork and beef to the West Indies, although the meat trade may have been in decline in the 1760's. Drovers from eastern North Carolina and lower Tidewater Virginia directed their herds to slaughter houses where the hogs and cattle were processed for shipping and the hides sent to local tanneries.72 Receiving some of them would have been Will, Jack and Pompey, who had 819 hides in different stages of curing in 1771 at Thomas Thompson's tannery. Most would probably have gone, however, to the tannery and ropework of James Campbell and Company which paid taxes on twenty-eight men in 1774. Since the owners claimed they employed a total of fifty slaves at the works, others were probably hired.73 Coopers like Sam, Lawrence and King may well have made barrels for shipping meat, or perhaps refitted or constructed hogsheads for the rum distilled from West Indian molasses brought to Norfolk and to the distilleries like the one owned by Logan, Gilmore and Company. This firm had a 55 wide array of Virginia customers, with nearly 40,000 gallons of molasses and over 7,000 gallons of rum on hand in 1776. Its losses to Virginia troops in the actions around Norfolk may have not been entirely from fire.74
In the decade before its destruction in 1776, Norfolk grew rapidly. An estimate of its population in the mid-1760s of about 3,000 and above 400 houses was only half of the estimated people and a third of the buildings the town contained by the mid-1770's. Even allowing for a certain amount of civic boosterism, or a post-war exaggeration in the claims of human displacement created by the Revolution, or possibly even including Portsmouth in order to arrive at a population estimate of from 6,000 to 6,500, a lot of construction had taken place in the ten years before the town was destroyed. Slave men played significant roles in this boom. House carpenters in the area, such as Peter or Joe, both part of Willoughby holdings, bricklayers such as Adam or Sam, the former working for Champman Manson, the latter likely hired out by Neil Jamieson, joined other men, sawyers, joiners and carpenters in building the growing town.75 Several of Norfolk's pre-destruction buildings were of brick. The Pool family, white bricklayers, worked in the town before and after 56 the Revolution and family estate accounts from the early nineteenth century reveal the intensive work of brick making and the use of slave labor in the process. Between September 1803 and May 1804 the Pool family estate sold some 779,931 bricks, most apparently made by nearly twenty slave men and boys during the summer and fall months of 1803. Firing a kiln required around the clock work. Lighters, most likely manned by slaves, brought the wood to wharves from which slave men carted it to the kiln day and night. Other slaves worked "flatting" bricks, and even cooking for the rest of the kiln crew. Once the pile was burnt the bricks were sorted, counted and delivered by Pool's laborers, many of them hired, rather than owned by the Pool estate. They also backfilled the pit providing the clay. Lime was also made by Pool workers from oyster shells arriving in the same manner as the wood. After the shells were burnt into lime, it was sifted, and sold along with the bricks to Pool customers. 76
The building of Norfolk required more than skilled urban artisans. The demand for timber for framing and siding sent slave crews into the woods of Princess Ann, Norfolk and Nansemond Counties. Cyprus and juniper shingles split from Dismal Swamp trees emerged by the thousands to roof Norfolk houses and for export.77 Slave watermen and carters moved the timber from 57 source to building site and in the process participated in a mobility that few slave women enjoyed. Building construction also increased the number of men in the slave population, in contrast to Williamsburg, where erecting the city appears to have proceeded in a less frenzied manner during the generation before the Revolution. Large construction projects, like the second capitol, or perhaps the courthouse of 1770, may have added slave men to the local black population, but these efforts created only temporary increments, leaving the capital's slave force dominated by women, and the world of work more decidedly domestic.
Like a Venn diagram, the urban worlds of slave and free, black and white, overlapped extensively even while slices of life could be exclusively African American or Euro-Virginian for differing periods of the day. Unlike the plantation world, where the usual relations between black and white were more limited to that of slaves with owner or overseer, urban blacks passed a variety of whites of various occupations, statuses, wealth and even national backgrounds. In a similar way, white residents dealt with more slaves who were not their own, and over whom they had no direct control. Surely, because of the more diverse range of encounters this created, urban African Americans became more sophisticated in their interactions with whites. They had to 58 quickly apprise and anticipate a range of possible actions past experience taught them they might expect. The locus of raw power dictated this reality.
Power ultimately resided in the hands of whites, whether slave owners or not, and it allowed whites to make less of an effort to understand the blacks they saw on the streets going about their tasks, or who lived in the kitchen behind the house next door. To be sure, slave owners grew to know the personalities of many of their slaves, but even here power changed the manner in which both owner and slave dealt with each other. On the surface the white vocabulary of behavior in this dialogue appeared nearly limitless, while slavery restricted the range of the lines African Americans could employ. But slavery in eighteenth-century Virginia was not the clear cut, ideal model of a totalitarian system. Indeed, one could argue that while the very existence of such extensive powers fostered white confidence, when coupled with the heavy utilization of slave labor it created a slavery fraught with internal inconsistencies. In simplest form this meant that half of the population could not spend all of its time overseeing the other half. Slightly, but significantly, this reality changed the dialogue, and slave men and women discovered and exploited the inconsistencies at opportune times to the advantage of themselves and their families. Some pushed too far, however, and painfully came face to face with the power that always existed as the foundation of the system even if it was not always exercised consistently.59
The interaction between Venus, the cook in the household of Thomas and Elizabeth Jones, provides one example of the behavioral dialogue between slave and master. In July 1728 Elizabeth Jones was in England, her husband Thomas in charge of the household in Williamsburg, apparently near where the Public Hospital would later be located. Soon, Thomas was complaining to wife Elizabeth of the ill behavior of Venus. In the absence of mistress Jones, Venus succeeded in convincing a surrogate housekeeper "that she did not know any comon thing, nor wou'd she do any thing without her assistance, and presence, nor will she now send in a dish of Meat fit to set before any body." In short, the housekeeper might as well have been doing all of Venus's tasks herself. Besides, as Thomas Jones put it, "there is not bearing with her to have any ease in the family."
Venus calculated that if she were useless to the Jones household as its cook, she would be sent to one of the Jones plantation quarters up country. At least, this is what Thomas surmised from her actions. But, he noted, "I will take care [it] shall not be so great a satisfaction to her as she imagines." Jones reported that he would replace Venus with another slave woman named Pallas, "(who I believe will at least be willing to do what she can) and her husband with her." His last phrase suggests that perhaps the husband of Venus was on one of the upland quarters, and a desire to be reunited with her family was a major motivation for her actions. But Jones also concluded something else from this experience. "There is no dependan[ce] 60 on Negro's without some body continually to [soldier?] them ....therefore I must des[ire?] you to look out for a Capable Servant to bring with you [from England] that may e4se you and me of that trouble." Thus Venus, "so incorigable in her bad Habits," but actually resisting her situation, made Jones question the convenience of slavery, but not abandon it. He continued to buy, transfer and use slaves both in Williamsburg and on his plantation. Indeed, while her own lot may have changed, if not improved, her actions also created repercussions for other slaves belonging to Jones.78 Thus, because the actions of a single slave could carry consequences for others, as families became extended and social connections deepened, individuals had to calculate a range of risks their intended actions raised. Some slaves may have concluded that overt individual resistance changed neither one's bondage or the system of slavery itself.
But slaves still resisted. A half-century later, Anne Drummond faced similar recalcitrance from one of her slaves. Sometime around 1777 or 1778 she suffered a robbery and blamed one of her slaves, a young man named Sam. In retaliation, she hired or sold him to a planter in or near Albemarle County, at least one hundred and twenty miles northwest of Williamsburg, putting him out of sight and separating him from his mother. Sam was an only child and in response to Drummond's action, his 61 mother went on strike. An excellent cook and laundress who could also sew and spin, she did nothing for Drummond for the next two years, complaining of a sore leg that prevented her from working. But it was more complicated than that. Drummond apparently had been used to hiring her out annually for about £10. Hence it seems that Sam's mother used the sore leg to prevent being hired out by the year, "that She may be her own mistress," but still took on odd jobs to her own advantage and so received "more money for her Self, than any too" Drummond hired out. This helped convince Drummond, that if the slave were "out of Town" and reunited with her son, "she'd soon have her legg cured." By this time too, and perhaps because of his mother's actions, Drummond decided that she had been wrong about Sam's guilt for her robbery and made an attempt to reunite the two by hiring or selling them to the same person, or to another nearby.79
While both Venus and Sam's mother gave shape to their own lives by resisting the demands of their owners, other slaves appealed to their good behavior to influence an owner's actions. Another slave woman of Anne Drummond provides a case in point. During the inflationary monetary spiral of the War for Independence, many white Virginians sought security by investing in slaves. Williamsburg attracted a lot of buyers because many slaves seized from absentee Tories were sold there. But, as Drummond reported, these sales did not saturate the market and 62 "people are dayle coming from all parts to purchase [slaves] at enormos prices" with "the vile trash, which we call money." Drummond herself was approached by an agent for a man from South Quay who offered to buy one of her slave women she had hired out. Not yet twenty, the hired woman had lost her first child but then gave birth to a son and a daughter, leading Drummond to conclude she was "likely to be mother to many." The Williamsburg matron was willing to part with her, but even though she had not seen her for the last five years, agreed not sell the woman and children to the South Quay planter, because "she is so averst to be sold in Carolina," and had begged "not to distress her so much." Drummond acceded to the distraught woman's request noting "as she has never offended me I realy must indulge her thus far." Instead, she and her children were offered to Col. John Coles of Albemarle County, the man who also may have been the new master of Sam.80 In this case, the compliant slave woman was able to beg for consideration from the same mistress of another slave woman who employed a physical ailment in order to accomplish her own ends. In all probability her request was likely perceived by Drummond in a more favorable light because of the frustrating behavior of her other slaves. In both cases, however, ultimate power to dispose of the two women, to determine their immediate fate, still resided with mistress Drummond.
At other times the nature of the dialogue between slave and 63 master took more violent turns. We have already noted the attempted and sometimes successful use of arson in both Williamsburg and Norfolk. Poisonings were equally threatening and perhaps just as difficult to detect. In May 1763, the household of Walter Lenox, a Williamsburg barber, sat down to dinner which included a dish of milk and rice. Soon, ten of the eleven members of the household comprised of Lenox, his wife and son, Elizabeth and John, along with James Long, William Awbrey, Judith Dunford, William and Adam White, John Jones, and a hired slave woman Sally, who belonged to the estate of Carter Burwell, suffered from "violent Vomiting." The eleventh member of the household, Cuffy, a young slave hired from the Reverend John Fox of Gloucester was accused of obtaining arsenic, "in his Mistress's Name...to Poison Rats," and of dumping the poison into the pot of milk and rice while it stewed on the fire. It was reported that the lad had been put up to it by " a Couple of Negro Fellows." But the crown's attorney did not bring charges against Harry, a slave belonging to Joseph Wade, and while Isaac, a free black man was named in the original bill, he does not appear to have been tried. In fact, a hearing on complaint brought by Lenox for breach of peace resulted in his discharge from prison "for reasons appearing to the court," without being required to post a security bond. Cuffy was not so fortunate, being found guilty, valued at £60 and ordered hanged on the 17 64 June 1763.81 Lines like Cuffy's were not permitted in the dialogue of master and slave.
Physical threats and defiance from slaves were not part of the script concocted by slave owners, either. We have already seen the results of Emanuel's throwing John Greenhow to the ground and joining Fay, who had also assaulted Greenhow's overseer, in running away. Presumably, Greenhow could have used the machinery of public prosecution and punishment allowed by Virginia law of any slave who lifted a hand in defiance of a white. And he may have in the James City County court, whose records are lost, before selling Emanuel, if not Fay, too. On the other hand, masters did not need the courts to mete out their own forms of punishment, but non-owners did. Two who resorted to the York County Court were John Hansford and Albrightan Wagstaff. Hansford operated a tavern halfway between Williamsburg and Yorktown and Wagstaff had served as one security for his liscencing bond. Both were assaulted by Toby, belonging to William Hewit in January 1733, and both swore the peace against him. Upon hearing the two white men's sworn fears that they were in "danger of bodily hurt, Burning their Houses or Other Injuries" from Toby, the court ordered the slave lashed thirty times, confined in jail overnight, given another thirty lashes on 65 the next day and then imprisoned until his master and another security posted a fifty pound bond for his good behavior for one year and a day, all in conformity to colony law.82
Similar confrontations took place in Norfolk through the century. In 1714 Isabell Collings complained to two justices that Sam, a black man belonging to Jonas Holiday came to her house when her husband was absent speaking "many angry words as that he must doe some murder and that he must kill somebody." Sam was taken up, jailed, given fifty lashes and sent back to jail until the court chose to release him. Nathaniel Nosay appeared before the court in 1745 swearing that he was "in danger of his life" from slave Will. The court commanded the sheriff to incarcerate him until his owner posted sufficient security. Four years later David Ballentine, Jr. claimed that Scipio, who belonged to Captain Thomas Herbert had threatened "to kill and murder" him. Herbert had to post a £500 bond to free the slave.83 In August 1768 Christopher Calvert, gentleman swore the peace against Ishmael, a slave of Nicholas Wonycott. The slave man was brought before the justices of the county court for his "misbehavior" and the court required his imprisonment until his master posted a £100 bond and found another security to post a £50 bond for Ishmael's good behavior over the next two years. 66 Wonycott must have had a particularly bold set of slaves. In the following year, Richard Basset, a tavern keeper, swore the peace against both Jemmy and Anthony, forcing Wonycott to post bonds for them too. Another Wonycott slave, Jack, was brought before the Norfolk court in 1773 for a breach of peace, which made his master pay the costs of the successful prosecution and post a £50 performance bond requiring Jack's deportation from Virginia .84
Slaves did kill whites. In 1773 the York County court heard the case presented against Fanny, a slave of Richard Charlton, a Williamsburg tavern keeper. Although accused of murdering John Donaldson, after hearing several witnesses as well as the defendent's testimony, the court found her guilty, but only of manslaughter, ordered her to be hanged, valued her at £90, and unanimously recommended her to the Governor "as a proper Object of Mercy." Being found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, even though it too carried the death sentence for a slave, and the recommendation for a pardon suggests that the death was either accidental, or Donaldson had behaved unjustifiably, even towards a slave. In any case, when Charlton died in 1780, his appraisers listed a Fanny and her child among the seven slaves he held.85
Harsh words and gestures alone were not likely to lead to a 67 court appearance, since a report to the owner could produce any needed correction. But sometimes whites resorted to violence against a slave that provoked an owner's suit. Such was the case in 1728 when Benjamin Disbrow complained of James Southsea in York County court for beating his slave Tom. What Tom's sins of commission or omission were, if any, is not recorded, but Southsea was pronounced guilty and given thirty-nine lashes at the public whipping post. Different circumstances may have existed when a Norfolk County jury found Mathias Christian not guilty of trespass when charged by Henry Rothery with beating his slave Lettice.86 Much more serious was the charge levelled against Henry Stanworth, apparently a convict but perhaps no longer a servant. This York County man was found guilty of murdering a child named Harry belonging to Edward Baptist and was hanged in Williamsburg in 1751. Similarly, Julius Kirk was accused of murdering Abram Archer's slave man Sawney in 1775 but the examining court decided the evidence only supported the charge of manslaughter. Kirk was tried, found guilty by the General Court and after claiming his benefit of clergy, was burnt in the hand and released.87
Evidence from elsewhere in Virginia suggests that only a fraction of the instances of physical violence leading to a 68 slave's death commanded the attention of the General Court. County courts did examine owners charged with murdering slaves, but the need for even "one lawful and credible witness" eliminated most evidence since blacks could not testify against whites. In addition, the formidable burden of proof of malicious and willful intent made prosecutions, as opposed to examinations of owners, very rare. Hence, like the examples above, most cases involving a slave's death or serious beating followed an owner's prosecution of another white.88
As one would expect, the instances of individual, physically violent altercations between blacks and whites far outnumbered the incidents of collectively organized insurrection. But white residents in both towns faced this threat, too. In 1730 a rumor surfaced that former governor Alexander Spotswood had returned from England with an order freeing all slaves who had become Christians. When nothing happened a belief spread that the order 69 had been suppressed. Slaves began meeting but many were soon taken up "in all parts of the Country" by the militia.
Authorities could never discover the source of the rumour, but reestablished control "by Imprisonment and severe whipping of the most Suspected." Six weeks of tranquility then emerged until about two hundred slaves from Princess Ann and Norfolk gathered, elected officers and planned a rebellion. Somehow the plot was discovered, the leaders tried and four were hanged. For sometime afterwards, Governor Gooch ordered the militia to carry arms to church on Sundays.89
There were other urban plots as well. The Common Council of Norfolk ordered its inhabitants in July 1741 to attend Sunday services with arms, as well as other days of worship or service, "to prevent any Invasion or Insurrection," an indication a similar scare existed, and perhaps one related to the events in New York City earlier that year. One wonders what was behind the Norfolk grand jury presentment of Black Vinah for being a "divulger of false news" in 1748.90 Another insurrection was believed in the making in early 1775. On April 28, two men, both named Emanuel were executed in the Borough "for being concerned in a conspiracy to raise an insurrection" in the town. One, 70 Emanuel de Antonio who worked for James Campbell and Company, had sued the company in March 1771 for his freedom. He claimed to be a "free born subject of his catholic majesty" and the court appointed an attorney, ordered depositions taken from Emanuel de Estrada and Joseph de Valleras and warned the company not to remove or punish the plaintiff. In August 1772 the case was removed by a writ of certiorari to a different and unidentified court, where Emanuel de Antonio apparently lost his case. Having failed there he may have enlisted others to end their enslavement. It was this threat that led the Common Hall to order each adult white male to take turns as part of the town watch.91
About the same time in Williamsburg, fear of a local slave revolt was fueled by Lord Dunmore's seizing of the colony's powder supply. He countered by claiming he was securing it in case it was needed because of rumors of slave unrest in Surry County. Compounding the issue was the testimony of John Randolph and Dr. William Pasteur that the governor had stated he would raise the Royal Standard and invite all, including slaves, to rally to the cause if royal authority was opposed. He would do this, however, only if actually attacked, they testified. Still, Henrico 71 citizens condemned him for taking the powder when the city was "being then threatened with an insurrection." Perhaps this was only radical rhetoric aimed at rousing his condemnation by appealing to white Virginians' worst fears.92 But later that summer, Thomas Cox was examined by the York County court "on suspicion of endeavoring to raise a Conspiracy and Insurrection among the Slaves in this County." He was found guilty of the lesser charge of a misdemeanor "leading to a breach of the Peace." Apparently, something involving Cox and some slaves had occurred, but unfortunately little else is known about this York County incident.93
The singular crisis of the Revolution, which divided the ruling classes within the Empire, seemed to offer the greatest opportunity for slave rebellion. Slaves rapidly picked up and spread information about political crises and apparently attempted to take advantage of such events. At the beginning of 72 the French and Indian War Governor Robert Dinwiddie linked the international crisis to an assembling of some slaves which required local officials to take action. But the rarity in the course of the eighteenth century of actually feeling the impact of foreign crisis so directly meant that most slaves resorted to methods other than open rebellion to change their situation.94
Some slaves ran away from their owners or the persons who hired them, though this usually brought only a temporary respite to the reality of their existence. It needs to be remembered that prior to the 1780's no colony or state banned slavery, leaving slaves no where to go where they might find true freedom. Instead, with rare exception, they had to be able to pass as free within slave societies, escape to a vessel, or find liberty within runaway maroon communities. Some version of the later existed within the Dismal Swamp south of Norfolk. Travelers in the 1780's reported that fugitive slaves had inhabited the swamp for decades, unmolested by outsiders who dared not enter the uncharted morass. But few advertised runaways were noted to be headed towards the Dismal Swamp, and no official efforts were ever mounted to dispossess them in the way a group of runaways was suppressed in 1729 in the Valley of Virginia. During this period, then, it may only have served as a refuge for African 73 Americans in the immediate area.95
More documentation exists for slaves who ran away from the two towns. Some were propelled by the hot breath of the law. Moody, for example, had a checkered career on the streets of Williamsburg and in the York County court. First convicted in April 1772 for stealing nineteen turkeys from Governor Dunmore, Moody was lashed thirty-nine times. At the end of the year he was charged, along with Patrick, a slave of William Baptist, of breaking and entering a house of Mary Potter and stealing items during the night. Both men were found guilty, but not of the original charges: Patrick of a felony but not of burglary; and Moody of only a misdemeanor. Both received thirty-nine lashes at the public whipping post. The following August, Moody was tried again, this time for gouging out the eye of Jack, a man "of very small size," nearly forty, who worked at the Vinyard operated just outside of town by Andrew Estave. Again found guilty, Moody endured thirty-nine more lashes. He may have been sold or perhaps already hired at this time by Elizabeth Mingham to Benjamin Bucktrout, for within a month he was advertising Moody as a runaway, "a notorious Villain, who has been tried three times at York Court....and last Sunday robbed a white man of 74 twenty Shillings, and a Silk Handkerchief."96 No doubt, after this escapade and a sure candidate for the gallows, Moody ran with everything to lose.
Another example of running just steps ahead of the law is provided by the exploits of Matt and Simon. Both disappeared on February 15, 1751, Matt from John Blair, Simon from Ann Shields. Cloth had been stolen from one of the Williamsburg Randolphs and the two were having clothes made up at one of the Hornsbys, no doubt by slaves there. Three days later Simon surrendered and was imprisoned but Matt eluded capture until the 21st. Blair had just placed an advertisement at the Gazette office, but succeeded in cancelling it before the paper went to press. The next day justice of the peace John Holt examined Matt in the presence of Blair and "made discoverys," some of which were apparently followed up by a discussion on the 26th with Mrs Frances Webb. On March 7, the two men were tried in York County Court, along with Natt, a slave of William Drummond's of James City County. Simon and Natt were charged with breaking into Jane Vobe's house on the night of February 7, with force and arms, and stealing five gallons of rum and one box of candles worth a total of thirty shillings sterling. Matt, on the other hand, was charged with the burglary of five gallons of wine and ten gallons of rum valued at forty shillings sterling from Simon's mistress earlier in December. Natt, was found guilty of a misdemeanor and given 75 thirty-nine lashes, the evidence from Jane Vobe, and Betty "a Christian negro slave belonging to Frances Webb" not being sufficient to establish the felony and burglary charges. To the justices, the evidence against Simon and Matt, coupled with the latter's statement before Holt was enough for the court to pronounce them guilty. They were then valued at £55 each, and ordered hanged. The two men went to the gallows together on April 8.97
The historical record of the events surrounding Matt and Simon's running is more complete than most accounts, but frustratingly full of gaps. Were Matt and Simon related? To what extent was Simon involved with Matt in the burglary of his mistresses house? Had they shared the liquor Matt allegedly stole? Was it used to barter with others for the cloth taken from Randolph and for the tailoring to turn it into clothes that would provide a disguise for their running? What role did Betty, Frances Webb's slave play in this? Was she hired by Vobe and on the spot when the Vobe house was burglarized? Or was it her evidence that led to Natt's reduced sentence? On June 8, 1751, two months after Matt and Simon were executed, Nat was tried again for the nighttime burglary of John Hyndman's warehouse, charged with stealing stockings, rugs and other goods. Again, the same Betty and Juba, a woman belonging to Ann Shields, were two of the three witnesses called against him. Natt was found 76 not guilty, released from custody, and reappeared a week and a half later as a witness against Josiah, a slave of Dr. John Amson, for the same burglary Natt and Simon had been tried for earlier. Josiah, like Natt, was not found guilty of the burglary, but was of taking and stealing the rum and candles. He successfully pled his benefit of clergy, but because he had broken jail before his trial, for which he was found guilty, he too was ordered hanged.98
One-eyed Jack, the diminutive man mutilated by Moody, also ran away in November 1773. Estave, the manager of the colony vineyard, attempted to produce wine with a slave crew purchased with public funds. Putting together his labor force broke the ties of family and friendship and not surprisingly a number of these slaves attempted to return to family, friends and perhaps even Africa. Thus about the first of June, 1771, Quomony, most likely born in Africa, took off and was believed to have left for Norfolk, since he once was owned by Doctor Campbell there. Cuffy also left for the same town in 1772 and another African, Sunday, absconded in 1774 and again in 1776. Another man named Jack left the Vineyard in 1774 but Estave gave no estimate of where he might be headed.99
Like the slaves employed at the Vineyard, other slaves who ran from town were recent arrivals, perhaps none more so than 77 Judith, who carried her twelve month old baby girl at her breast. She had been sold in Williamsburg by Augustine Smith of Middlesex County to John Maclean of Norfolk on April 30, 1773, but disappeared the next day before Maclean left the capital. Thought to be pregnant, she was most probably headed back to Smith's or one of his neighbors, Maclean believed, no doubt where her husband and family were. Interestingly, other slaves of Augustine Smith ended up in Williamsburg and ran away: Emanuel, who threw John Greenhow to the ground; and Fanny, believed to be hidden by Peyton Randolph's Moses while waiting for the right moment to rejoin her mother still residing at Smith's as a cook.100 H [aldenby?] Dixon was looking for Frank in early 1768 and advertised that he had been seen at Capahosick Ferry, presumably on his way back to John Robinson's plantation in Middlesex, "from whence he lately came." On January 7, 1773 another unidentified owner asked the public to return an unnamed fifteen year old boy, who spoke "but few Words of English," he had bought from Adam Fleming, a merchant at Cabin Point, while the latter was in the city the previous November.101
Even slaves who had lived in Williamsburg and then been sold to other Williamsburgers ran away. Alexander Purdie had to advertise for Jack who once belonged to Joseph Scrivener of Williamsburg, and Frederick Bryan needed to place a notice for 78 Lucy who had belonged to John Cole. Both were thought to be lurking in the town or its immediate neighborhoods. Executors of estates, the new nominal directors of decedents' slaves also faced runaways. Alexander Purdie placed an advertisement for Cyrus from the estate of Mrs. Webb and Joseph Royle tried to find Jenny who belonged to the Royle estate. All told, of some fifty-nine slaves advertised in the pages of Virginia newspapers between 1738 and 1790 who absconded while in Williamsburg, twenty-nine had previously belonged to another owner or were part of an estate's property.102
Other slaves took advantage of immediate but fleeting opportunities in order to escape masters. James, who belonged to Sir Henry Moore of New York, left Jonathan Watson, and Joshua parted ways with James Mason of Brunswick County, both while their masters were in Williamsburg. William Davis of Charles City County notified the public of the loss of Charles, who belonged to William Allen. Perhaps this fifteen or sixteen year old lad, had been sent to pick up newspapers for county distribution for he was last seen on a horse with saddle bags loaded with newspapers trotting out over the Capitol Landing bridge on his way up country. He was not headed in the direction of Charles City County, however. Local slaves grabbed unique chances, too; Jane Vobe complained of Nanny who had left with some comedians who had just departed from town; and John Blair, 79 the executor of John Blair's estate claimed Sall Cooper absconded with a white man she had spent time with before the man went to Norfolk. She had just been left to the decedent's daughter Mary Braxton. And of course some slaves, such as Fanny, left with the British as they pulled out of Williamsburg for their disastrous positions in Yorktown.103
In spite of the larger slave population of Norfolk, fewer slaves were advertised as running away from the Borough and its immediate surroundings. Prior to 1774, Norfolk residents did not have the easy access to a newspaper slave owners in Williamsburg enjoyed, which probably accounts for much of the difference in the rate of advertising runaways. Whatever the reason, some thirty-four Norfolk runaway slaves were advertised compared to fifty-nine in Williamsburg. There are other interesting differences, too. Only three slave women in Norfolk were sought through the newspaper, a proportion that squares roughly with the larger pattern of runaways for all of Virginia in the eighteenth century. In Williamsburg, however, nearly one-fourth (14 of 59) of the advertised absconding slaves were women, a proportion perhaps partly reflecting the larger female share of the slave population there.104 Differences in the origins of the two 80 town's black populations are also revealed in the runaway advertisements which bear on the runaways' intent. Norfolk's direct connections with the West Indies provides one notable pattern. Hence Gilchrist & Taylor, a local firm, advertised for Jem, a slave belonging to Antiguan John Barton, and runaway Manuel was "Spanish born." Quash could speak "middling French," and Bristol handled English along with some French and Spanish, their language skills suggesting West Indian residences, if not birth. Bermuda born Tom was actually believed to be headed towards Williamsburg to prove his freedom, carrying as proof a pass commonly given by owners of Bermuda vessels during times of war to their slave crews. This document sought to prevent their being claimed as prizes in case the vessel should be taken by an enemy.105 Closer access to waterways about Norfolk aided those who worked on it, such as Ned, who had been allowed to hire himself out for several years as a sailor, or Zophir who was used to the sea and could read. Jim knew both sides of the James River as far up as Maycox's in Prince George County. Boson, on the other hand, was believed to have departed with one James Nickolas, accused of stealing Josiah Riddick's flat on which he worked. It would have been only his third voyage and Boson may 81 have been stolen along with the boat.106
Some Norfolk runaways shared common background experiences with those who stole themselves in Williamsburg. Just as many runaways from the capital had prior owners Peter, Will, Job and Toney had been owned by different individuals in Virginia, Maryland or North Carolina. Ben, in trouble for some reason, broke loose from the constable before the man could give him a whipping, and Adam tried to join his wife in Petersburg.107 And as in Williamsburg, but to a far greater extent because of the different nature of the opportunity, as discussed below, Norfolk slaves fled to the British.
Male Norfolk runaways had a better chance of gaining some measure of freedom than did those in Williamsburg. The seafaring backgrounds of many, the easy access to employment on the water at the port town, and the distance that could quickly be placed between owner and slave increased their odds of success. The many warnings to ship captains in runaway ads in general testify to the willingness of some ship masters to take on African American men without too many questions being asked. On the other hand, there were some spectacular instances of remarkable runaways from Williamsburg. Bob stayed out for eight years 82 before being caught. Part of the time he lived in Charleston, South Carolina, but he spent the last three years of his freedom in North Carolina where his owner William Trebell believed he had been harbored by a man named Van Pelt. There too, Bob had a wife and a different name, passing as Edward or Edmund Tamar. Like Bob, West Indian born Peter managed to reach North Carolina. This slave, who once belonged to Edward Ambler, was now being sought by James Southall. Peter had also acquired a family during his four year absence and the habit of wearing a cocked hat.108
The evidence for the runaway experiences of Bob and Peter points to what made for a successful runaway, however temporary. Both could read, and thus could demonstrate a skill not likely to be held by most slaves, but certainly by some free blacks. Bob could also write and hence could manufacture passes for himself. He was a highly skilled man, an "extraordinary sawyer, a tolerable good carpenter and currier, pretends to make shoes, and is a very good sailor." These skills could be sold, perhaps at discount, to needy whites such as Van Pelt. While both Bob and Peter were described as "Negro" men, slaves with a white ancestor generally appear to have been able to pass more easily as free people since descent from a free white woman was the basis for most free people of color's freedom before private manumissions were permitted in 1782. Being male was also an asset, simply 83 because slave men enjoyed greater freedom of movement within Virginia as the ones who drove the carts and wagons, steered the boats, propelled the ferries, and delivered messages to distant plantations and towns. Not surprisingly, Jenny, who ran from nearby Green Spring plantation to Williamsburg, went disguised as a man .109
Even males had to conform to a certain appearance in order to pass as free. They could not succeed if they looked like ordinary field hands who were not normally sent on errands to pick up goods or deliver messages and crops. It is not likely, that the clothes Matt and Simon had commissioned from the slaves at Hornsby's were going to be tailored in the style of the roughly made items issued to field workers. Instead, they needed clothes that set them apart from such individuals, garments that made them look like either the trusted slave or the independent free black. Thus, cloth and clothing items likely commanded a special place if they were extraordinary--and judging by the runaway ads many were--in the repertoire of slave dress. Clothing may have been one of the most highly prized possessions of Virginia slaves, functioning not only as protection from the elements, but serving to assert one's personality and at the same 84 time providing a readily exchangeable commodity.110
The same evidence that reveals the stories of Bob and Peter also points to their failure to escape bondage. It is only after being captured that we know of their earlier but temporary success. Like Matt, who was brought in after one week, most runaways found their newly seized freedom of shorter duration than Bob and Peter. Picking one's way through Virginia, where at least half, if not more of the population was white, was akin to negotiating a path through an unmarked minefield. All unknown whites were potential bounty hunters, even though some might hire or harbor a fugitive slave. In York County alone, claimants in the court sought the rewards for at least 134 runaway slaves captured between 1710 and 1748, certainly one indication of the scale of flight, but also of the very real difficulty in eighteenth-century Virginia of finding freedom by running away.111 Still, the desire to be reunited with spouse and family, to escape to a more independent existence on riverboats or seagoing vessels, to find the way back to Africa, to establish one's freedom in the General Court in Williamsburg, or to flee the fury of masters and courts, left many slaves with no apparent 85 alternative but to run. And they did.
Not all relationships between slaves and whites were constantly antagonistic. A certain amount of conviviality pervaded the atmosphere of the tippling houses that served blacks and whites. Some runaways were aided by whites and some slaves took heroic action to save owner's lives and property. White women like Mary Ashby and a good many more bore the babies of black men who were lovers or legally unrecognized husbands, and not all the children with a white father born in the slave quarter or kitchen were the result of rape. The human relationships in Virginia's slave society were more complex than the simply defined differences between slavery and freedom would appear to imply.
In one instance, gender may have meant more than race or status. In September 1768 Elizabeth Lane complained to the Norfolk County court that London, a slave belonging to Solomon Miller, not only had "carnal knowledge" of her, but had been sent out of the colony by Miller after a felony warrant had been issued against him. Since Miller would have been compensated from the public treasury if London had been convicted and executed for his crime, his action appears outside the bounds of expected behavior. Perhaps Miller believed that Lane only brought the charge because her relationship with London had been discovered, to her detriment. Interestingly, she did not claim to be raped. In response to her charges, the court ordered 86 Miller to post bond with two securities for his good behavior.112 London may have not gotten very far from Norfolk. He was apparently the unnamed Miller slave who was captured, but broke out of the Norfolk jail along with three other slaves in October. By December, he had been incarcerated in the New Kent County jail after being caught in some activity there for which he was condemned to death. But the jailer noted that since he and his accomplices were not to be hanged until mid-January, there was time for securing a pardon. In late February the New Kent jailer advertised London again, announcing that a pardon had been obtained for him "ever since December," and urged his retrieval, because "he has been a long time upon expences." However, Solomon Miller does not appear to have taken permanent possession of his slave, even though in September 1770 Samuel Portlock presented to the Norfolk court the pardon issued by Lord Botetourt for London to be recorded.113 Portlock may have been acting as attorney for Miller, or for a new owner who needed any questions about London's legal status cleared up, perhaps so he could be sold. In any case, Miller never listed London on his tithable returns after 1768, and neither did Portlock. Local sentiment may have overwhelmed Miller's initial response to side with or protect his slave. He may not have 87 dared bring the slave home.
Sometimes slaves could find themselves as players in disputes among whites which put a different twist on their relations with the master class. When Governor Francis Fauquier clashed with Reverend John Camm after the latter's return from England, where he had represented the Anglican clergy in the Parson's Cause, the executive ordered Camm never to darken his door again. To enforce the order Fauquier called for a white servant to assemble the appropriate Palace staff. When two slave men and a boy were finally present, the governor pointed to Camm and ordered that he never be allowed to enter the mansion.114
Another case, again with a decided political point, took place in Norfolk Borough in 1755. On June 24, the day appointed by royal charter for Borough elections to be held, fourteen white men gathered at the house of Richard Scott and elected his slave named Will as mayor. The men "seated him and drank to him as Mr. Mayor by way of Derision," Richard Kelsick complained, who had just been elected borough mayor by the common council on the same day and who claimed the action was an insult to all Norfolk officials. The Common Hall agreed and ordered the men to appear before them, which they did, claiming they meant no insult to the officials. The Hall accepted their apology. Will was ignored in the proceedings following the mock election, the officials no doubt believing he was not his own agent in the action. Even his 88 owner, Richard Scott whose house provided the setting for the mock election escaped censure.115 Will's status as a slave sharpened the political point these men were making, a fact not likely lost on Will either, but nothing is known of his feelings or of his willingness to participate in the prank. Like many other slaves, his performance may have been just another means of surviving.
The African American residents of Williamsburg and Norfolk, nearly all of them slaves, lived lives and usually played roles not of their choosing. If as has been argued, the functions of the town gave shape to its population, so too did the daily demands of individual owners and employers define the larger structure of the day. In the midst of this harsh reality slaves did what they had to do to survive, and to the degree possible, tried to shape their daily lives as best they could. Sundays presented special opportunities quickly seized by black residents.
We have already sensed the significance of kin and family in the lives of these urban dwellers, as well as the tenterhooks of tension created by the readiness or necessity of many owners to fracture families through sales. Indeed the clearest evidence 89 for the existence of close ties of kin and family emerges after slave families had been broken and their members attempted to reunite by running away. Such was the case for many slave families in Williamsburg.
If slaves ran from the capital town to rejoin family members, others sought to return to the city after being forcibly removed. It was not Williamsburg as a, refuge for the anonymous runaway, but Williamsburg as a family center that drew some escapees to the town. Jordan, for example, had been raised in Williamsburg and worked at the press in Purdie's shop before he was sold. Moses "pretends to have a wife at Emanuel Jones'" which led his master to think he might be there. Jemima was brought up in Williamsburg and still had relatives at Queen's Creek, while Nanny had a husband at a print shop but not the one that published the notice of her running. Kate, who once belonged to John Cary of York County had a husband in town, was hired there in 1774 to Philip Moody, then to Isaac Hobday of Gloucester in 1775 and finally to John Thruston of the same county in 1776. Apparently she left on the day of her hire to Thruston and was thought to be harbored at Capitol Landing, Moody's or at James Taylor's, perhaps the home of her husband. The wife of Gaby, working at Robert Nicholson's, was the magnet — that drew him to town and Nick had a mother and sister remaining in Williamsburg in 1786. Billy had been born in the "family" of Mrs. Ray before John Banister of Petersburg acquired him and Jenny Valentine was believed to be heading back to the old 90 capital to rejoin her mother after spending some time in Richmond with Hannah Maclin, a free black woman who probably was the same individual who had once lived there too. Other runaways may have returned to "fictive kin" unrecognized by their owners as the significant surrogate family members for those who had lost their immediate family through sale and death.116
The owners of other runaways expected their errant slaves to rely on their Williamsburg "acquaintances" to aid and shelter them. Billy, for example, was a shoemaker trained under John Greenhow's auspices before being sold to Joseph Penn of Amherst County. The man appeared to be heading down country to his earlier home. Isaac Bee, once the slave of John Blair abandoned Mecklenburg for Williamsburg while Bailey left Hanover and Robert Carter Nicholas for the town and neighborhood in which he was well known. Bacchus had once belonged to Dr. George Pitt before being sold to Gabriel Jones of Augusta. He had ridden with his new owner on several trips to the tidewater in the next couple of years, and was even sent back to Williamsburg on frequent trips, unaccompanied by Jones. But in 1774 he left the Valley without instructions, believed to be headed to the city and perhaps even Great Britain since he had learned of the Somerset case, an English judicial decision wrongly interpreted to have ended 91 slavery in England. Randolph's many acquaintances in Williamsburg may have been more casual, arising from the trips he made with Robert Baylor of New Market, Caroline County. Be could be spotted, his master reported, by the livery suit he wore when he left.117
Still other slaves may have believed they would find a refuge among Williamsburg's African American population, for their owners did not reveal any prior connections with the town. So it was with Hampton and Jemmy, James and Betty and many others. Sam, who ran from piedmont Amelia County, was thought to have actually found safe harbor with Mathew Ashby, the free man of color, while Alice had succeeded for a time in passing as a free woman a few years before she ran away again in the company of Ben, who had "made several overseers fear him." In all likelihood, she would not have been able to accomplish the first feat without at least the passive, if not active support of the black residents of Williamsburg.118
The strength of the sinews of family and friendship revealed in the advertisements for runaways testify to the important place of kin but few records detail how African American children were raised, socialized and educated. There may have been some differences between the experiences of children in town and those 92 on rural plantations. A recent study of "education" in the quarter focusing on the last.ante-bellum generation argues that on the larger plantations many children were cared for by elderly slave women, sometimes in organized nurseries and seldom ventured off the plantation until they were nearly adults.119 Obviously in towns like Williamsburg and Norfolk the early childhood experience would have been much different. For one thing, the size of individual urban slave holdings precluded organizing similar nurseries, and while households with elderly slave women may have utilized them in childcare, a good number of children would have been raised more directly by their own mothers. This reality carried interesting consequences. Witness the advertisement of one B. Johnston who was giving up life in Fredericksburg, renting the tavern he owned and selling his slaves. One was "a valuable house wench, and a very good cook, young, strong, and healthy..." Johnston added a final virtue, she "does not breed." Similarly, a Norfolk owner advertised in 1805 a woman who was an excellent cook and noted that she was without a child and in the same year a Richmond advertiser sought a woman who had to be "a good plain Cook and Washer, cleanly in her person, and everything she does; and to have no followers." If the latter referred to children, it suggests, once again, the advantages to a white urban household of employing women unencumbered with young children. At the same time, it reveals 93 that slave mothers of young children tried and were able to devote some of the working day to their own children.120
As the child grew older education and experience came from beyond the household. African American children in town saw and met a far greater number of whites, as well as unknown blacks than would have been the norm for boys and girls on nearly all plantations. As a result, it is reasonable to assume that their introduction into the realities of their world, part of the education provided by their parents, was also different. It was not just the character, personality, habits and foibles of an owner or overseer that had to be learned, but how to deal with a multitude of whites. One can well imagine the warnings, directions, and examples adults provided for their children. Children also learned of the difference between the public presentation of self and the private behavior acceptable in the confines of a kitchen, house, or room removed from white eyes. At the public whipping post, as well as in many a back yard, whippings of parents, siblings and even unknown blacks left indelible marks on the minds of children as well as the backs and breasts of those punished. At the public sales that separated spouses and divided parents and children, small black bystanders also learned of the harsh possibilities the future might hold.
Education for some black children included learning how to read and write. No doubt some acquired formal literacy from 94 other African Americans with these skills. In Williamsburg a parish school apparently provided some opportunities for this kind of instruction, coupled with religious training, as early as the late 1740's.121 More evidence exists for the efforts of the Associates of Dr. Bray who supported a school for black children in Williamsburg between 1760 and 1774. They also attempted unsuccessfully to begin one in Norfolk, but did sustain a smaller school in Fredericksburg between 1765 and 1770.122
The failure to establish a charity school in Norfolk followed the unwillingness of the Anglican priest, the Reverend Alexander Rhonnald, to undertake the effort. In a long letter he raised all sorts of objections to its potential success, citing the impossibility of a woman being able to teach thirty young children, the probable monopolization by the wealthy families of the school, the lack of local backing for such an undertaking, if not outright opposition, and even the capacity of the children to learn. More sensitive to his own political position in the parish, Rhonnald declined the opportunity and the Associates withdrew their offer.123
The Norfolk failure underlines the conclusion Thad Tate reached concerning the significant role of Robert Carter Nicholas 95 in securing the success of the Williamsburg school. One individual did make a difference. If Williamsburg slave owners were not as hostile as those reported in Norfolk and elsewhere in Virginia and other colonies, they were at best indifferent and many appear to have used the school as a kind of daycare center, caring not what their slave children learned or gained from the experience. This attitude and the difficulties Nicholas faced in securing even small contributions to augment the Associates minimal support frustrated the English philanthropists, and by 1769 they had instructed him to abandon the school if local residents were unwilling to make up even the small difference between British contributions and Williamsburg costs. He was apparently able to obtain the needed amount and the school lasted five more years.124
Notable too, was the effort of Mrs Anne Wager, a local schoolmistress who left her collection of white students to teach African American children. She must have had her hands full, for her pupils ranged in age between three and ten years old, and sometimes as many as thirty-four were enrolled. Attendance was not as regular as Nicholas wished, however, and by 1765, he reported that this allowed Mrs. Wager to take on more than the 96 thirty students the Associates recommended, she being "willing to instruct all such as offer themselves." Under the rules of the trustees, she met her students from seven in the morning during the winter and faced them beginning at six during the warmer months. They stayed with her until at least evening prayers were said, making for a long day for both student and teacher. Spelling, pronunciation, reading in the Bible and indoctrination in Christian principles were the mainstays of the education she offered, with girls being taught the added domestic skills of knitting and sewing. Some sort of uniform was recommended but it is not known if the suggestion was implemented. Given the noncompliance of owners to other rules, it does not seem likely. On days of divine service Wager was to assemble them at the school, march them to the church with Bibles and prayer books in hand to participate fully in the order of service, but not "to disturb the rest of the Congregation."125 Trustee Nicholas tried to get slave owners to commit the children to school for at least three years, but to little avail. They withdrew, or did not send them whenever it was not in the interests of the slave owner. Whenever they could be used at home, caring for the owner's children if the slave was old enough, or doing odd jobs such as running errands, the student was prevented from attending. A similar problem existed in Fredericksburg, where the older children were soon kept home to care for younger slave children, another answer to the problem of securing as much uninterrupted 97 work from the smaller urban domestic slaveholding as was possible.126
The Bray Associates, frustrated by the resistance and apathy of colonial planters to the education and religious instruction of slave children justified their philanthropy by the threats of divine retribution at the last judgment for slave owners indifferent to the spiritual welfare of their slaves. They also argued that "true Religion must make the Blacks as well as whites (notwithstanding some few exceptions) better servants." In spite of his continual support of the school, and even results beyond his first not "very sanguine Expectations," Robert Carter Nicholas may have concluded otherwise. Perhaps it was Hannah, listed on the school's 1762 roll who Carter was referring to when he wrote, "I have a Negro Girl in my Family, who was taught at this School upwards of three Years & made as good a Progress as most, but she turns out a sad Jade, notwithstanding all we can do to reform her." The problem for others, if not her, Nicholas believed, arose when they came home to "the bad Examples set them there & for want of the Instructions necessary to confirm them in those Principles."127 In other words, the African Americans in these children's lives played a more important role in their "education" than the best efforts of a Nicholas or a Wager.
Part of the problem, according to the Williamsburg trustees, was the withdrawal of the students after they had begun 98 to read but before they "could be supposed that they were made acquainted with the Principles of Christianity." If the Williamsburg school had turned over only one-third of its thirty students each year, about 180 black children would have had some opportunity to learn to read and write. Interestingly, Mathew and Ann Ashby, two African American parents, took full advantage of the school. Their son John appears on both 1765 and 1769 lists of students, indicating the possibility that he may have studied there for about four years, if not longer. Their daughter Mary was enrolled as a student in 1769, too. Perhaps she remained a student until the death of Anne Wager in 1774 which brought an end to the school.128
Teaching girls to knit and sew at the Bray School was typical of the kind of "vocational education" given young females. Both black and white boys in Virginia society received training as artisans and craftsmen through both formal and informal apprenticeships. The wide range of skills held by slave men, already noted, testifies to such training, and the binding of free black boys through the parish welfare system provides further evidence of the phenomenon. Some of these instructors were free black men. Under the common terms of apprenticeships, masters had to provide a modicum of formal education, a clause that was not changed for free black apprentices until 1804 when the General Assembly specifically exempted masters from the requirement. Although legislators did not specifically forbid 99 the effort in the language of the law, the marginal notation by the compiler of the laws interpreted it as a prohibition to teach "Black or mulatto orphan[s)...reading, writing or arithmetic."129 Such skills of communication were anathema in the aftermath of Gabriel's aborted rebellion.
An introduction into the mysteries of the Christian faith was provided to some Williamsburg African Americans besides those who attended the Bray School. Anglican priests were encouraged to reach out to the black members of their parishes throughout Virginia, and with the Commissary of the Bishop of London resident this charge may have been particularly well followed in Bruton Parish. Well over one thousand blacks were baptized at the font in the church during the third quarter of the eighteenth century, but with the exception of the few adults who were among them, this says more about their owners than any inculcation of doctrine or faith. The free black parents who brought their children to be baptized may argue for a different conclusion, but one real advantage followed their actions: a formal record was created which could prove the child's freeborn status in the future. In Norfolk, the efforts of Reverend Rhonnald to baptize, instruct and preach to black attenders of his services led some of his parishioners to smear him as a "Negro Parson," which contributed to his unwillingness to also take charge of the proposed Bray School there. Still, to be "vilified & branded as 100 such" indicates he had made the effort and some few of his black congregation took "Communion, after a due Sense of the matter."130
White indifference and hostility may have kept some slaves from being able to attend religious services, but regular attendance was surely limited simply by the size of the church. The 110 white families of Bruton Parish, all of whom were reported to attend frequently, would have left little room in the church for the slave population in 1724. And even with the addition of galleries, where slaves sat in many churches, the available seating would not have accommodated many of the African American population of the town and the rural portions of the parish .131
More significant than white attitudes or the physical constraints of the churches were the desires of the black population itself. Sabbath sermons admonishing servile obedience, and learned discourses on salient but perhaps esoteric points of doctrine did not sit well with slaves, and for that matter, a good number of white parishioners. In addition, the Holy day was, of all days of the week, the one most wholly the slaves own. Slaves from outside of town, including many spouses and parents, journeyed to Williamsburg and Norfolk to visit 101 family and enjoy time with friends. Not surprisingly, Sundays were invariably singled out as the one day when town watches and patrols were encouraged to be particularly active in breaking up slave gatherings. In 1805 James Semple even begged arms from state officials to help control the black population in Williamsburg. "On Sundays & Holidays," he wrote, "the number of Free negroes & Mulattoes as well as slaves that is seen in the City is truely astonishing." It is likely this Sunday going-to-Williamsburg practice had been around for a long time, but it is doubtful that attendance at the local parish church fostered the habit for most. Indeed, one of the rules of the Bray School required Mrs Wager to assign for each Sunday "some Task out of the most useful Parts of Scripture" in order to keep them "from spending the Lord's Day profanely or idly." She was to give a close examination of the assignment each Monday.132
Obviously it was not that eighteenth-century African Americans had no religious interests. The presence of conjurers and slave doctors, as Mechal Sobel has pointed out, reveals the continuing existence of African approaches to spiritual 102 matters.133 In addition, the opportunities presented by the insurgent evangelicals who arrived on the Virginia scene in the decades just before the Revolution attracted many African American adherents and indicates a pervasive spirituality among many. Indeed, their success among the black population certainly added to the Anglican gentry's fears of growing disorder in Virginia society.134 It is in this light that an event in Richmond County in 1773 takes on special significance.
On one Sunday morning early in September, parishioners of Lunenburg Parish, Richmond County gathered at the lower church for worship. After the church filled, the gallery "where the Negroes sit" collapsed and panic stricken congregation trampled over each other tying to escape. A pregnant black woman was so badly injured she was thought to be near death, another man had his legs badly injured, while others received minor scrapes and bruises. Once the dust settled, the congregation, "which was remarkably numerous that Day," reentered the church and heard "an excellent Discourse...delivered by the Reverend Mr. Giberne, exposing the dangerous Tenets of those Sectaries the Anabaptists, which are so pernicious to Society, and Subversive of almost every Christian and moral Duty."135 Perhaps the sermon topic 103 had encouraged slave owners to take many of their slaves to church that day, overloading the gallery and causing its collapse.
In Norfolk, the preaching of Methodist itinerants sparked the anger of secular authorities. Early in the decade of the 1770's John Williams climbed the courthouse steps, started singing to gather a crowd and then preached to the assembled. The mayor soon arrived and was heard to say, "if we permit such a fellow as this to come here we will have an insurrection of the Negroes." Williams' sermon text is unknown. When Joseph Pilmore arrived later in the summer of 1772 thousands of "almost every order of people" in the area of Norfolk and Portsmouth came to hear him. On Sunday evening August 9 Pilmore preached indoors in Norfolk because of wet ground and guards were placed at the door to keep out the black attenders until all whites had a place. There were too many for the building to hold, however, and after the stage began to sag the service was moved outside. On the following Sunday, a thundershower again led to an indoor service, with whites seated inside while "a vast multitude of black people stood around about the outside." Later that week Pilmore left Hampton Roads for Williamsburg where he preached in the playhouse, and because of the heat and the crowd, "in the State House Yard" to a "vast multitude of hearers who behaved remarkably well." No doubt many of these were black residents of the city.136104
The Methodists succeeded in establishing a lasting presence in Norfolk, but not an immediate one in Williamsburg. By contrast, the reverse was true for the Baptists. Not until almost the end of the century would Norfolk have a Baptist church and it may have been a branch of one in Portsmouth. Jacob Bishop, a black man preached in the towns in the mid 1790's and joined Jacob Grigg as a delegate to the Portsmouth Baptist Association annual meeting in 1798. These were integrated churches, although it was reported that Bishop and others considered creating "an African Church" in 1796, implying one organized, run and dominated by African Americans in Norfolk.137
Williamsburg, as is well known, had a nearly all black Baptist church, the early church historian Robert Semple recording that the congregation being "composed almost, if not altogether, of people of color." Indeed, the minutes of the Dover Association in 1793 refer to it as "the Baptist church of black people at Williamsburg."138 The exact origins of the 105 formal church organization are not known. Semple credited an often whipped Moses with being the first preacher to an informal group of followers. Nothing else has surfaced about this man but it is clear there were other black Baptist preachers in the area. James Williams, "fond of singing hymns and preaching," [and hence probably a Baptist] spent his time "about Williamsburg" ever since he ran from Dinwiddie County on April 5, 1775. His owner, David Walker, knew him as Jemmy. Shortly after the Revolution another runaway slave, James Traveller, who "pretends to be a Baptist preacher" was spotted near the city. His Northumberland County owner called him Tim, and noted his "very smooth way of speaking." Both of these men may have found physical refuge and fellowship among a growing number of black Baptists and spiritually ministered to them in return.139
Better known is Gowen Pamphlet, the minister who led the Williamsburg congregation into formal membership in the Dover Baptist Association in 1793. Semple claimed he came from Middlesex County where he had been a preacher, too. However, this may be a confusion arising from the site of the Dover Association meeting when the Williamsburg church gained admittance to the confederation of churches in 1793. Or he may have been one of the many slaves sold in Williamsburg from 106 Middlesex for other evidence suggests an earlier Williamsburg residence for Pamphlet.
In 1793, Gowen Pamphlet not only succeeded in affiliating with the Dover Association, he also secured his freedom. In September David Miller manumitted Pamphlet and the deed was recorded in December at the York County clerk's office, on order of the court. Miller had returned to Williamsburg by 1791 after operating a tavern in Manchester, the one Jane Vobe had left the former capital city to run, sometime in 1786. Miller became the executor of her estate and kept the tavern until 1788. In both 1783 and 1784 both David Miller and a slave named Gowen or Gavin appear on her personal property tax return. Since Vobe left no will, it is not clear how she disposed of her property when she died soon after the move to Chesterfield County, but as a childless widow she may have left her belongings to Miller, including Gowen. Or, the slave preacher may have belonged to Miller all along, working for the man who worked for Vobe. In any case, it would appear that Pamphlet may have labored in Williamsburg at least between 1783 and 1784, moved to Chesterfield County with the tavern operation in 1786 and then returned with Miller to the old Capital in 1791, perhaps to pick up the preaching Moses had now left behind. Or perhaps he was hired to a Middlesex resident during these years, only to be retrieved by Miller when he inherited him and returned to Williamsburg. Whatever the case, Pamphlet appears to have ministered to the church until at least 1807, the last year he 107 appears as a delegate to the Dover Association annual meeting.140
Where the ministers Moses and Pamphlet met their congregations is not known. By the time the church joined the Dover Association it had 330 members, which would have been nearly the whole adult black population of Williamsburg and nearly half of the town's 680 African Americans counted in 1790. Of course since many of these souls probably lived in the area immediately surrounding the town, there were some adult blacks who were not formal church members. But wherever their residence, Williamsburg may have had a black population that was more extensively associated with a formally constituted church by the 1790's, than was the case in any other Virginia town or city, probably because of its black preacher and lay leadership. No doubt attendance was irregular, determined in part by demands of owners, one's health and desire. But such a large congregation, one that surpassed all but one or two others in the Dover Association, probably had difficulty squeezing into any available building and may not have had any structure of its own until after 1800. Oral tradition claims gatherings in arbors and these may have remained the physical church for some time. Like the children of Israel wandering in the Wilderness with their 108 portable Tabernacle, the Baptist congregation of Williamsburg probably met at a variety of sites. No evidence of the ring shout survives for Williamsburg, but if it was a vital part of the expression of worship, a building would have restricted participation in this rite for many.141
The limited physical world of worship was mirrored in the scanty material possessions of the African American population, slave and free. Slaves lived in what masters and mistresses provided. Wealthy white urban residents with a large coterie of slaves might have a separate structure. William Nelson insured three buildings in Yorktown; his 60 by 40 foot brick house, a 40 by 20 wood kitchen and wash-house, and a 24 by 20 brick servants quarters. The latter was three feet from the kitchen and was part of a complex of a poultry house, dairy, smoke house and spinning house. Like a plantation in town, Nelson's complex created a small separate space for many of his slaves. A majority of the twenty-seven Williamsburg slaves of Peyton Randolph probably were living in a similar arrangement behind his house when the Speaker died in 1775. Some body servants or maids, however, may have spent many of their nights in the main house, as Thad Tate noted for urban slaves in general, sleeping 109 on pallets rolled out in halls, landings or perhaps even the bedrooms of owners.142
Most urban households did not possess so many slaves.. Housing for them was less likely to be in so specialized a structure. Although runaway slaves were noted lurking about the kitchens and quarters of Williamsburg, they may have been one and the same thing. In the Archer household in Norfolk, for example, the "north room of the Kitchen, commonly called the quarter" served as housing for some, if not all of five adults and an unknown number of children in the early 1770's.143 During public times in Williamsburg, the slaves who accompanied visitors were probably put in whatever space tavern keepers could find in the outbuildings of their operations, or in similar structures if the guest put up at a private home. Slaves who had relatives and friends in town may have been able to stay with them, as long as they made themselves available to carry out their masters' commands and did not trouble the Williamsburg owner.144110
The more immediate possessions of slaves are hard to document. Estate inventories rarely list any property that can be identified as belonging to slaves. When William Prentis died in 1765 the court appointed appraisers of his estate took the time to list his personal property room by room and even identified the contents of some of the outbuildings as well as the personal property at a farm in James City County. One of the structures, perhaps in Williamsburg, was "Old Nanny's." She was valued at only £5, and was apparently living in a structure seen as her own. A steer, if not another cow was there and the appraisers also noted a frying pan, an old pot, one axe, a grindstone and old casks. No furniture, cooking utensils, foodstuffs or personal items were listed.145 In this case, the appraisers were counting the value of Prentis property and took no notice of anything else that might have been hers, or in her use.
The appraisers's procedures at Old Nanny's was typical. Just as the clothing on the backs of slaves rarely appears in inventories, any personal objects slaves had were overlooked by estate appraisers. In most cases they had little or no resale value to heirs or creditors and thus were of no importance to the estate. Unfortunately this reality deprives us of the opportunity to assess in any systematic way, the material holdings slaves might consider their own. But there are clues.
Colony law directed that notices of captured runaways 111 include a description of the clothing as well as the physical appearance of the escapee. No doubt this encouraged owners to include evidence as to the nature and range of clothes escaped slaves had on or carried with them.146 However, it would be a mistake to assume that all slaves had the variety of garments some carried with them when running away, a point well made by the description of clothes worn or carried by individuals who ran from Williamsburg or its immediate neighborhoods. Some thirty-four runaways had no article of clothing mentioned, a result of their already being so well known no further description of them was needed, or because an unusual scar, physical feature, or perhaps the passage of time rendered any list of clothes unnecessary or superfluous. Twenty-six slaves did have their dress given in these eighteenth-century wanted posters, but only three carried or had clothes other than what was on their backs. Ben, who drove John Saunder's cart, ran in 1779 with a blue coat trimmed in red and sufficient clothes to change his appearance. Rachel, pregnant and dressed in green half thicks, was thought likely to change her dress during the week between her running and the placing of a notice by Allen Jones in November 1771. Frank, West Indian born, a Baptist and a tailor wore an old brown coat, a waistcoat of green plains, and breeches, but also took other clothing that perhaps was not his own in 1787. Of all people, he was well skilled to manufacture a new identity to keep from being returned to James Davis who earlier in the year had 112 attempted to sell him. Of course, others may have departed with additional clothing unknown to the owner, bartered or bought from other slaves. We have already seen the steps taken by Matt and Simon to secure different clothing in their attempt to flee in 1751.147
Cloth and clothing were costly items before the industrial revolution made them cheaper and actually better. Owners who hired out their slaves for the year demanded that they be returned as well clothed as when they left. For many this was no more than the fairly common, almost uniform like items issued to slaves. As Linda Baumgarten has pointed out, this practice created a sameness in the appearance of many slaves, particularly field hands. Some Williamsburg slaves received similar issues. Fifty year old Ben took off from Peter Pelham in an oznaburg shirt and an old pair of breeches made from Russian drab, "pretty much torn." The same kind of material making up Ben's pants appeared in the form of a white coat on the back of Bagley who wore a dowlass shirt under it, and a pair of brown linen breeches with a different colored waistband. Country linen provided the fabric for the short breeches of Sam, coupled with a new shirt, but covered with an old Virginia cloth jacket. He topped it off with a straw hat. Peter also wore an old Negro cotton jacket and breeches, along with an oznaburg shirt and new shoes while Nanny escaped wearing a narrow striped Virginia cloth waistcoat and 113 petticoat. An unnamed woman who had once lived in Poquoson wore "blue plains" but could be otherwise detected, if drinking, by her fondness for singing risque and sailors' songs. A different Peter wore a kersey waistcoat above a pair of cotton breeches with a special tailored feature. His pants could be laced up the sides to slide over the irons attached to his legs. He was outlawed. 148
Common cloths did not have to produce similar appearances. Expressions of individuality emerged with the particular pairings of different items and colors. Green, blue and even red cloth stood out against the drab browns. Peter had a Newmarket bearskin coat, both blue and red waistcoats and white stockings to go with a pair of long oznaburg breeches, besides his cocked hat. Dick's white coat closed with metal buttons and was drawn over his blue jacket and breeches. Venus may have been the one who modified her waistcoat of green plains so that it closed with buttons instead of lacing up above her petticoat. In short, there was variety in the appearance of Williamsburg slaves. Only Jack who ran from the Vineyard was simply described by the term applied to some rural slaves, "dressed as Negroes usually are. "149114
Some of the clothes, if not the particular combinations of dress suggest various sources for slave clothing. In addition to the new clothes issued to slaves there were some hand-me-downs that made it into the ensembles of some few slaves. Other items were bought, traded and sold among slaves. Runaways looking to change their appearance, and there were a number of them passing through Williamsburg and Norfolk, probably proved to be one source. Stealing cloth and clothing was another. Kate took a silk apron and ten handkerchiefs. Emanuel grabbed some cloth and a pair of leather breeches. Rippon was pardoned for stealing money, clothing and blankets, but Essex suffered for taking table cloths. Mary Aggy, who pled her benefit of clergy, had been found guilty of stealing sheets, and Kircandy was finally hanged for taking both money and cloth. He had been unsuccessfully tried once before for breaking and entering. Cloth, shirts and shoes were seized by John, and Ned made off with both clothing and cut silver. Clearly, the use and value of cloth and clothing made acquiring them worth the risk of severe punishment and even death, for these were the prices many of these slaves paid.150
Other slaves expressed themselves through other accoutrements. Agnes absconded from Norfolk in 1766 wearing silver bobs in her ears and silver buckles on her shoes. She was also the only female runaway noted wearing stays, these with 115 "fringed blue riband." When she ran again in 1768, she had neither silver buckles, bobs nor stays noted. Males wore jewelry too. Jack, equipped with the "Creole dialect," departed from John Cowper of Portsmouth in 1790, bound for Philadelphia. Captured in Dumfries and returned to Norfolk jail, he broke out. Cowper noted that he often wore rings and sometimes "drops" in his ears, but the most notable items on his body this time, were a pair of handcuffs.151
An unknown slave may have worn a cowrie shell, recently excavated in an archeological dig at the Brush-Everard site. It was pierced with a small hole, suggesting its attachment in an ornamental way. Cowries served as money in West Africa and were heavily imported into Africa by European slave traders. In the fall of 1989 four more cowrie shells were discovered in the haphazard fill of a brick-lined pit in the clay floor of a kitchen that once stood behind what is now called the Grissel Hay house. They may have been swept into the pit when the structure was torn down, sometime after 1730. These were not pierced. Diviners cast cowries, sometimes with other items to forecast the future, a use of the shells still practiced by Yoruba diviners in Nigeria.152 How many other cowries have actually been excavated 116 at Williamsburg sites in years past is impossible to determine. Before their significance was recognized, any that might have surfaced were lumped with other shells and described generically, according to Marley Brown. Even though their use and immediate owners are not known, the cowrie shells serve as a reminder of the continuing African heritage that permeated slave life in the eighteenth century.
Some slaves may have been able to purchase personal items, too. Tips and small monetary gifts, rewards for finding items lost in the streets, wages for doing an odd job after work for someone or even squeezing it into the day, and payment from selling cakes, oysters and fish in the market gave a few slaves some small amounts of money.153 And so did theft. Others were rewarded for assisting in emergencies. Indeed, as Daniel Fisher discovered, pay had to be promised before one could expect aid from by-standing slaves to fight a fire that threatened his house . 154
A slave could accumulate and use small amounts of money because slave owners recognized the existence of legitimate means 117 of obtaining it. But it did a slave little good to spend a large amount of money, for that immediately raised suspicions. One may have had a better chance of collecting a reward for finding a sizable sum of money, for example, than in getting a large note or coin changed or using it to purchase goods. The shopkeeper would simply "stop" the sum, and require positive proof of the means the slave had obtained the money, another reminder of the unofficial police powers of the white population. Of course, some shopkeepers or merchants may have been willing to "buy" the money for a fraction of its worth, or sell items at inflated costs. Before the manumission law of 1782 there was also no incentive to save for one's self-purchase. In only the most exceptional circumstances could or did this occur.155
Given the widespread evidence of tippling houses willing to serve slaves, some amounts of slave money made it back into the white economy through the illicit sale of liquor. Tobacco was also used by many slaves: in Williamsburg its use ranged from the old laundress who smoked a pipe to fifteen or sixteen year old Charles who "chews and smokes much tobacco." Perhaps these two purchased, pilfered or picked up their supply from the piles of leaves rejected by tobacco inspectors before it was destroyed. 118 Or they may have acquired it from slaves like Stafford or Achilles who stole the weed, and who may have counted on disposing of their loot among the black population.156 A pocketed twist of the Peninsula's sweet-scented tobacco may have even been the kind of gift a plantation based relative might bring to a kinsman when coming to town on Sunday or for sale to others.
Sunday gatherings and nighttime visits resulted from families and friends seeking each other out, the former more legitimate in the eyes of the slave holders, than the latter. Fathers played with children and even helped their wives meet the demands of the house mistress when they were sick.157 Some, even a good many at the Baptist Church in Williamsburg by the 1780's, attended church. Others paraded down the streets of Williamsburg and Norfolk while boys spun tops and played at marbles. Some children may even have flown kites, to the terror of those in carriages and on the backs of skittish horses.158119
Liquor was bought or bartered for and consumed out of the sight of the constables who were to be patrolling the streets and alleys, looking to break up any untoward gatherings that threatened the public order. Cards and gambling attracted others.
Not all of the relationships within the black urban community were jovial and mutually supportive. If there has been a trend towards romanticizing the slave community of the quarter in the historiography of the Chesapeake in the last decade, one of the unfortunate results is to hide the full range of human feelings, and emotions slaves experienced. One of the corrosive effects of enslavement may have been to deflect anger, stress and frustration towards other slaves. The long absences that came with distant hirings, or even the town-country marriages that prevented constant companionship likely led to suspicions and anxieties. In the midst of an argument with his wife one Saturday night in July 1768, a man angrily threw a hatchet he was using into the air. By accident it struck another slave man who happened to be coming on the scene. In 1774 the Virginia Gazette attributed the Monday evening murder of a man belonging to [Gabriel?] Maupin of Williamsburg to jealousy on the part of another man belonging to [John?) Saunders. Some disagreement led Daniel to knife and kill Frank on Sunday, September 25, 1785 in 120 Bruton Parish.159
On the complaint of William Tart, Grace and Jemmy, who belonged to two different Norfolk County owners were given thirty-nine lashes for poisoning Tom in 1759. In or near Portsmouth during the next year, Ab and Instance, slaves belonging to David Harper and Andrew Sproule were prosecuted for "threatening to poison sundry slaves," found guilty and punished by whipping. Benjamin Dingley Gray, the master of David, had to post bond for his good behavior after threatening the life of James who belonged to a different owner in 1768. Two years later Gray was again back in court with his slave having to post bond, the court deciding David was of "evil behavior." In 1789 the Borough court tried Moses for "maiming and wounding" a woman named Terisser during the early morning hours of July 26, but since the court could not reach a unanimous decision of guilt, he was discharged.160
These incidents reached trial record because they involved more than one master. No sharp exchange of words or blows between slaves of the same owner was likely to be publicly noticed by the courts, the source of so much of our information. By the same token, the same court records never capture the full 121 range of behavior that would allow us to better appreciate and comprehend the range of choices, and the normal, nonviolent, and not always contemplative behavior that was so much of daily life, for both enslaved and free individuals, black and white.
Not all African Americans were slaves. A small number were already free or were able to beat the odds and achieve a legally recognized freedom during the colonial period. Black freedom before 1782 in the slave society of eighteenth-century Virginia flowed from two different channels; descent and officially sanctioned manumission. Descent from a free African family provided freedom for a small handful of African Americans in early Virginia. More numerous were those, named and defined as "mulattoes," whose paternal ancestor or father was a slave, but whose maternal ancestor or mother was a free white woman. Under Virginia law, children inherited the status of the mother, leaving children of bi-racial heritage but with enslaved mothers as slaves. A very small number of individuals were formally freed by action of the governor's council upon the petition of their owners, or in some cases, themselves. Individuals and families representing both of these avenues of freedom lived in Williamsburg or Norfolk, indeed in some cases were disproportionately located there or on the outskirts of town.122
By the end of the seventeenth century Virginia Assemblymen had made it very difficult for the free black population to increase. In order to preserve the ownership of scarce and costly labor, they condemned their own offspring born of enslaved women to slavery, even as they permitted a quasi-free status to emerge for the children born to white women and slave fathers. They accomplished this, by declaring that children would inherit the status of their mother. They went further. In 1691, as part of an act "for suppressing outlying Slaves," legislators forbade manumitting any "negroes and mulattoes" because of "their either entertaining negro slaves from their masters service, or receiving [sic] stolen goods, or being grown old bringing a charge upon the country." Any emancipated after the conclusion of the Assembly's session had to be transported out of the colony within six months at the expense of the owner, heirs or executors. 161
Within the context of this law John Fulcher of Norfolk County drew up his will freeing sixteen but not all of his slaves, and in 1712 bound the merchant Lewis Conner to purchase 640 acres for them in North Carolina. Fulcher's action contributed to two developments. In 1717, following a series of continuances under the rubric of "the difference between Lewis Conner and all the free negroes," Robert Richards, Maria 123 Richards, Kate Anderson "and all the free negroes by the last will and testament of John Fulcher" sued Conner for noncompliance. However, Conner convinced a jury that he had met the requirements of his bond and the court dismissed the complaint. The plaintiffs, however, remained free, and some appear to have either remained or later returned to Virginia.162
Fulcher's will precipitated another course of action. In 1713 the justices of Norfolk County had informed the governor's council of his benevolent act. In response, this august body recommended that the General Assembly "provide by a Law against such Manumission of Slaves, which in time by their increase and correspondence with other Slaves may endanger the peace of this Colony." Not until 1723, however, did the Assembly take such action, but when the House did it tightened restrictions on manumissions even more. Under the 1723 law, in force without amendment until 1782, no slave could be manumitted except "for some meritorious services, to be adjudged and allowed by the governor and council...and a liscence thereupon first had and obtained." Any who were otherwise freed and who remained within a parish for one month were to be taken up and sold as slaves. 163
Betty and her children became casualties of this law. By the July 1728 will of John Davis of York County, she was to have 124 been freed after the death of his wife Ann. At that time, Betty was to inherit the plantation the Davises lived on, and her own three children who were then to be freed at Betty's death. In addition she was provided with livestock and furniture and some miscellaneous housewares, apparently at John Davis's death. Any property remaining when Betty died was to be split among her three children. Although the Davises had no children of their own whose inheritance would have been diminished by this wish, widow Ann Davis petitioned the York County court in September 1728 to set aside the provisions manumitting Betty and her children and providing them with any property. The York justices, upon "hearing the pltfs Suggestions and the law produced" granted the request, leaving Betty and her three children without any hope of obtaining the freedom John Davis willed them.164
Other Williamsburg and Norfolk slaves were freed through the legal channels created by the 1723 law. In Williamsburg, the "Honble John Custis Esqr" successfully petitioned the Governor and his fellow members of the Council in 1744 for permission to free "his Negro Boy Slave Christened John but commonly called Jack," the son of Custis's Young Alice. John Custis cared deeply for John, stating once that if the boy died before he did "it would break my heart, and bring my grey hairs with sorrow to the 125 grave my lif[e] being wrapt up in his."165 Historians have assumed that John was Custis's son because of the lavish attention and provisions he made for the lad, but interestingly, he was never referred to as a mulatto in any of the recorded documents naming him. But, since other individuals were described as both "Negro" and "mulatto" on different occasions, this may not indicate much. In any case, Custis recorded the deed of manumission in 1748, gave him at the same time 250 acres in two tracts along with all the livestock and tools needed on the land, his mother Alice and her children, and a choice of four boys from 9 to 10 years old from among Custis's holdings. Custis then went on to provide that after his own death, John was to receive £20 sterling a year until he reached twenty years of age along with an array of clothing and food provisions. Finally, another tract of sixteen and a half acres on Queens Creek adjoining Queen Mary's Port was placed in trust for John in 1749, and in his will of that year Custis provided that a house be built on this land and supplied with a specific list of furniture. A portrait he had procured of John was left to Ann Moody, the wife of one of the trustees of many of these provisions. Sadly, the young man died early on the morning of September 9, 1751 after a very short illness described as "a Pain in the back of his Neck for wch he was blooded." Under Custis's provisions, if John had no heirs, the property passed to other 126 whites, which appears to have happened.166
Perhaps because of Custis's position on the Council he did not have to demonstrate meritorious services to justify the emancipation of John. Similarly, when Governor William Gooch was about to leave for England in 1749, he recommended that a slave of his, Captain John, be freed, which was granted. John Buckner of York County, however, provided sufficient, but unstated reasons in his petition for securing the freedom of one of his slaves, a mulatto named John Jones. A few other petitioners did have their requests denied, the council believing that no truly meritorious service had been demonstrated.167
Mathew Ashby, who lived in or on the outskirts of Williamsburg, was one of several people of color who sought Council action for either themselves or someone else. Indeed, nearly one-third of the petitioners to the Council between 1723 and 1775 were either slaves or free blacks. Ashby, whose mother Mary Ashby was an indentured white servant woman of James Shields, laboriously saved £150 and purchased his wife Ann and two children, John and Mary, from Samuel Spurr, the man who 127 undertook to build the brick wall around Bruton Church. A third child, Harry, may have died before November 27, 1769 when Ashby successfully petitioned the council for the freedom of his family or was born to Ann Ashby but whose owner may have refused to sell him to Mathew. Ashby cited his wife's faithfulness and diligence "ever since marriage," but it is likely that the request was granted, because as the wife of a free man who lived with him, she was already perceived as free. Formally changing her status may have meant but little to the Council, but this action provided her and the children's only protection if Mathew Ashby should die. And he did within two years.168
All of the recorded petitions to the Council by other free blacks and slaves were successful. Elizabeth Young, a free mulatto woman who may have lived in the Norfolk area, tried to free her husband, Abram Newton by her will. He obtained it by council decision. Mary, a slave of Charles Smith, the clerk of Norfolk County, assiduously cared for him during a lingering illness. When he died he instructed that she was to be freed after serving his grand-daughter for one year. This done, Mary petitioned for her freedom and gained it.169 Most unique was the petition of Talbot Thompson, also of Norfolk. His owner, Alexander McKensie had returned to Great Britain leaving his 128 affairs in the hands of Benjamin Waller with instructions to sell Thompson to a person of the slave's choice. Instead, Thompson negotiated his self-purchase with Waller in 1758, agreeing to pay £60 in five years. The slave sail maker was able to produce the sum by late 1761, and with Waller's endorsement, succeeded in gaining formal recognition of his freedom. In June 1769, Thompson was back before the board successfully seeking the freedom of his wife Jenny, whom he had purchased from the estate of Robert Tucker. She may have been the "Old Jenny" valued at only £5 in Tucker's estate inventory, the appraisers listing the other Jenny as a girl. This was most probably the case, for even though the purchase had been made sometime after May 1768, the two had lived together "for many years last past ... as Man and Wife."170
Most free people of color in eighteenth century Virginia were born free. Mathew Ashby and his brother John, as well as John and Hulett Rowlinson provide examples from Williamsburg. But they were only a handful of many. In contrast to the five identifiably Williamsburg slaves who were freed through the council, the parents of some fifty-four free black children logged their births or baptisms in the Bruton Parish register between 1745 and 1770. Many other children of free blacks in the parish were not listed, however. Mathew and Ann Ashby, for example, registered the birth of their daughter Mary in 1764, but 129 the book notes neither the birth nor the baptism of their son John or of Harry. Clearly, there were others.171
In 1782 the census of Williamsburg listed but four free black households. The households of Sally Carter, Nanny Jones, Elizabeth Rozario and Betty Wallace totaled only eleven souls. Even by 1790 the federal census taker counted only forty-six free blacks in the city.172 The legal boundaries of Williamsburg, however, did not exclusively define the participants of the city's daily life. Outside of the town, especially towards and along Queen's Creek lived enough free blacks to be noticed by contemporaries. The owner of runaway Jacob thought it "more than probable he may be lurking about Queen's Creek, being much acquainted with the free mulattoes in that neighborhood." Jemima "was brought up in Williamsburg, and has Relations upon Queen's Creek," where David Ross thought she might be harbored, and in one breath Lockey Collier gave Yorktown, Queen's Creek and Williamsburg as the potential hideouts of Len who had once lived in Williamsburg. Like Collier, John Armistead of Mecklenburg listed the same three possible destinations for outlawed James. Perhaps it was not by chance that John Custis bought sixteen and a half acres for his favorite boy John to live on in the house John Blair was to design at Queen's Creek. The free black 130 shoemaker, John Rowlinson, owned at least seven lots at Capital Landing, perhaps renting them to other free blacks.173
The large number of free blacks who lived in the environs of Williamsburg opened a range of choices not normally available for many free people of color in the more rural areas of the colony. Men and women found spouses among the free population of color more readily, for example. Twenty-nine of the fifty-four children whose birth or baptism was recorded in Bruton Parish prior to the Revolution had both free parents of color listed. Yet other children had only a single parent noted for their birth and baptism, suggesting that their father could have been a slave. Elston, the son of Ned Edwards formerly the slave of Major Swinney of Elizabeth City county was baptized August 7, 1748. At this time, however, his mother, a free woman of color named Anne Ellston, owned his father who later achieved his freedom through petitioning in 1758, with her "consent." Moses, a slave of Speaker Peyton Randolph was the father of a daughter born to Elizabeth Maloney in 1768 by the name of Jane. Most of the remaining children had mothers identified in the records as free women of color, such as Ann Freeman, Elizabeth Wallace, Bash Jones, Elizabeth Macklin, Suckey Chavis and Elizabeth Armfield. Some of the children born to these women could have had, of course, a white father. One child, Sarah, was the daughter of 131 shoemaker John Rowlinson and his white housekeeper Elizabeth Garrett, further testimony to the complex nature of both racial relationships and the dynamics between freedom and slavery in the eighteenth century.174
Although the identification between color and status was not entirely complete in eighteenth century Virginia, the legislature usually defined the limits of free black actions and status at the same time they legislatively restricted slave behavior. They also took care to define who was or was not legally considered a mulatto. Nevertheless, the free black population survived and some left ample record of their accomplishments. Mathew and John Ashby provide a pair of Williamsburg examples. As already noted, these two brothers were the sons of an indentured servant woman, Mary Ashby. Most likely born early in the 1720's, both survived and continued to live in Williamsburg or its "suburbs." As mulatto children of an indentured servant woman they were both probably bound out to serve until they were 31 years of age, a requirement for "free" children of color, born to women before 1765. Who Mathew Ashby was indentured to is not known, but John was apparently bound to Thomas Cobbs for he is most likely the "Jack Ashbe" in the Cobbs estate appraisement as a servant valued at £16 in October 1750.175132
Both brothers married. Mathew took for his wife the slave woman Ann while John found his spouse in a free woman named Sarah. Both couples had at least three children and Mathew sent his to the Williamsburg school run by the Associates of Dr. Bray, the English philanthropist. Exactly where the two families lived is not known, but John paid rent to the estate of Timson Crawley in the early 1770's, partly for a house another free black man, Lawrence De Rozario, was paid by the estate to build. Mathew died in 1771 and John died by the fall of 1776.176
Mathew Ashby left a will and the court ordered an appraisement of his estate. In his last testament Ashby requested John Blair to serve as the executor of his estate, leaving his property in trust to him for the support of his wife and the care and education of his surviving children, John and Mary. Blair declined the responsibility leaving widow Ann as the executrix until she apparently married George Jones, a relationship that soon fell apart.177133
Ashby's inventory provides some clues as to his means of livelihood and the level of wealth he and his wife had accumulated by 1771. Four beds, a bolster, three sheets, a counterpin, a bed rug and a bedstead eased weary bodies in the Ashby household. They sat on six old chairs at either a round table or another pine table. Two tea kettles, a tea board, three teaspoons and tongs indicate they shared the addiction with most other colonists, while the presence of a silver watch and two looking glasses are the only signs of luxury in the household. A group of old books is not surprising since the Ashby children attended the Bray school and Mathew may have been taught to read if he had been bound out as a child. Three chests and two trunks were undoubtedly used to store clothing and a single cupboard probably held the ubiquitous "parcel of old Pewter" and perhaps the family tin ware. Marble and iron mortars, iron potts and kettles, a skillet and a "Spit Grid Iron frying pan Ladle and Skimmer" rounded out the kitchen utensils. Two ironing tables, four pair of flat irons along with four tubs, eight pails and two soap jars hint that Ann Ashby may have been a laundress when she and daughter Mary were not working at the spinning wheels or carding wool. The family also may have made candles for sale in the twenty-six candle molds and frame Ashby owned, and perhaps milk was sold from their two cows, but some was probably taken by 134 a calf while denied to a yearling. No pigs grunted about the place, but the appraisers listed 174 pounds of bacon, most likely weighed on Ashby's own set of stillyards. Other estate assets indicate Mathew may have worked at a variety of jobs for a livelihood. Three horses and four saddles along with a cart harness for two horses imply that he may have spent part of his time hauling goods and running errands for area residents. He was paid once, for example, for delivering two mares and colts to the estate of Dr. Peter Hay. This kind of odd jobbing may have also been supplemented by work with his parcel of carpenter's tools. However he and his family had accumulated these items of personal property, the appraisers added it all up to a total value of £80.18.6, a sum not unlike that of other poor, but white decedent residents of York County.178 Not included, nor perhaps even thought of because it would not have been relevant for white decedents, was Ashby's earlier purchase of his wife and two children for £150. Not having to list them was probably his most prized legacy.
No inventory was taken when John Ashby died, sometime in 1776, preventing a comparison of the two brothers' material wealth. Another free black man who was probably born about the same time as Mathew Ashby was the shoemaker John Rowlinson. He died in 1780 with appreciably more wealth. It is likely that his shoemaking skills aided him considerably in his accumulation of 135 property, and he inherited some unidentified property from his mother Elizabeth. Unlike Mathew Ashby, marrying a free woman meant that Rowlinson did not have to "invest" in his family either. In any case, Rowlinson's estate was valued at £11063.10.0 which, after allowing for the incredible inflation of the war, meant an estate worth more than twice that of Mathew Ashby's. What separated the two men's personal property, however, was very little. Rowlinson did own a gun, a desk and a "boffet," as well as two maps and three candlestands and snuffers which Ashby did not, but the shoemaker's livestock holdings were only a single horse, a cow and a heifer. Unlike Ashby, however, Rowlinson had real estate. His appraisers listed eight houses and lots worth £6000, or over half of his estate's total worth. Seven, if not all, of these lots were located at Capital Landing. Rowlinson also owned an old and unidentified black man whose value, a good indication of his physical ability to work, was placed at only ten of the inflated pounds and only one-sixth of the value of a jar listed on the same line of the inventory. Interestingly, none of Rowlinson's shoemaking tools appear in the inventory. Perhaps his son Hulet, also a shoemaker and one of the executors of the estate, found them useful for his own needs. 179136
Like Williamsburg in 1782, the census for Norfolk reveals few free black residents in the newly rebuilding town. No one on the borough's list is specifically identified as a free black but there are two households composed only of blacks: Jane Anderson's family of six; and the two people on Luke Duncan's return. The Andersons were a free black family of long standing in Norfolk County and Luke Duncan along with his brother John were the sons of Sarah Duncan, a free woman of color. Although Norfolk's 1790 population of 2959 was well over twice that of the former capital's the 61 free blacks counted in the borough were only a third more than reported for Williamsburg.180 And unlike Williamsburg, there does not seem to be a particularly large concentration of free blacks in the immediate environs of Norfolk during the colonial period. Even so, there were free people of color scattered through the colonial town and in the pockets of settlement along the banks of the Elizabeth River.
Talbot Thompson was one. As we have seen, this self-bought man acquired his wife and her freedom, too. His sail making skills led to contracts for the ship Paqe in 1762 and the ship Hodge in 1775. Thompson also owned or hired a slave man named Joseph in 1767, and two slave men by that name from 1768 to 1771, designated after 1770 as Great Joe and Little Joe. In 1773 he listed two, one named Joe, the other Othello; and in 1774 three, Peter, Murray and again Joe. Thompson's labor force was 137 augmented in the latter year when the church wardens of Elizabeth River Parish bound a free black lad named Jacob to him. Talbot Thompson lived in the western half of Norfolk where he owned one lot. It was sold to Joel Mohun in August 1780 as one of the pieces of British property escheated to the state, indicating that Thompson left with British forces, most likely with Lord Dunmore . 181
Other free blacks lived in Norfolk near Thompson. As early as 1744 a person named Whitehaven was among a group free blacks presented by the grand jury for not listing themselves or their wives and may have been the John Whitehaven listed with some regularity on Borough tithable lists through 1774. Abraham, "a free negro for himself" had an acre of land in the eastern part of town and was recorded along with both John Whitehaven and Till Williams in 1770. Williams, along with Hannah and Mary Williams appeared on the 1768 list, too, the next to last year before free black women were no longer taxed as tithables. Like Thompson, Till Williams also had an apprentice, William Travis, bound to him in 1764, an indication of being a skilled artisan of some sort . 182
Moving to the Borough as a free man in 1771, if not a 138 prior resident as a slave, was Francis Jordan. His deed of manumission granted by the Govenor's Council was recorded in June 1771 in the Norfolk Court a month after his former master, Edmund Jordan of Nansemond County had petitioned on his behalf. Now about forty years of age, shoemaker Francis Jordan was freed for his "extraordinary fidelity and Meritorious Services," Jordan feeling "bound in Conscience to do his utmost to make him free." Setting up in Norfolk, the former slave shoemaker soon was taking on apprentices. Within a year the Elizabeth River Parish church wardens were ordered to bind Thomas Feemore to him, and in 1774 both Samuel Anderson and Lemuel Bailey, all free African Americans. Bailey was well trained by Jordan, going on after the Revolution to become a prominent borough shoemaking entrepreneur and contributing in a variety of ways to freeing a number of local slaves.183
Clearly, skilled labor had an advantage over the odd-jobbers, whether one was black or white. Individuals like John Rowlinson, Talbot Thompson, Francis Jordan, and later Lemuel Bailey illustrate the opportunity during these years skilled free blacks could find in communities where their work was in demand. Other free blacks were not so fortunate, however. In 1774 the Norfolk free woman of color, Amy Russell came before the court with her attorney complaining of the "misusage" of her master 139 John Halstead, Jr. Amy Russell was no juvenile for seven years before her two sons, James and Frank were bound out to the baker Paul Heriter. The court dismissed her claim, she "failing in her proof," and after Halstead produced an indenture between the two. But the court, while recognizing the validity of the contract, still appeared troubled by its terms. In exchange for £6 Amy Russell had indented herself to Halstead for ninety-nine years. Had she signed something she could not read? Under what circumstances had she been induced to sell herself into lifelong servitude? With Halstead's consent the court ordered the sheriff to "sell" her at public auction for the length of time needed to obtain £6 and to return the sum to Halstead.184
David James, another free black in Norfolk, fell into debt to Captain John Hutchings, sometime justice of the peace and burgess for the borough. In June 1744 James confessed judgment against himself for the sizable sum of £19.18.1. In order to pay the debt, he agreed to serve Hutchings at the rate of 40 shillings a month and to take "necessaries" not exceeding 10 shillings monthly to be supplied by Hutchings and paid for at the same rate. In effect, James agreed to subsistence and a monthly wage of 30 shillings for a period lasting just over thirteen months, doing whatever the ship captain ordered. If he had a family, James would have probably found it difficult to earn other income to support them during this period, particularly if 140 he were sent on a voyage.185
Some of the opportunities free black artisans found in places like Williamsburg and Norfolk before the Revolution existed because their numbers never threatened white craftsmen. In Charleston, South Carolina white artisans in a wide variety of crafts complained of the loss of jobs to black workers, slave and free, during the course of the century. No evidence of such protests emerged in Virginia towns until the 1790's when the numbers of free blacks had clearly grown.186
In a similar fashion the small number of free blacks in colonial Virginia, while most certainly more numerous than the 1800 or so later estimated to exist just prior to the manumission law of 1782, were seen as something of a threat, but not one sufficiently great to force their total removal or enslavement. White authorities seemed comfortable with the current means of restricting the growth in the number of free blacks in their midst. Even so, the existence of free people of color in Virginia's slave society destroyed any easy correlation between color and status. Their very presence made running away for slaves more possible, besides the aid they could and at times did provide the refugee. Their families and their lives in these communities, as they constantly crossed the boundaries of race and slavery also remind us of the complexities of relationships 141 that existed among whites and African Americans, slave and free in early Virginia. In spite of its lopsided distribution of power, Virginia was no simple society.
The rapid deterioration in relations between the colonists and Imperial authority in 1775 created new and immediately felt changes in Virginia. African Americans found new crevasses opening up in the slave system as both sides took up arms to preserve liberty or empire. A revolutionary ideology stressing freedom and a rhetoric likening the position of white colonists to slaves led some to question slavery itself. Before the Peace of 1783 had been signed, the Virginia State Assembly had modified the colonial strictures on individual private manumissions. On the other hand, the institution of slavery survived the crisis and war intact, only a handful of white Virginians being willing to support a general emancipation or end to slavery. Indeed, some argued that while all men might be created equal, not all residents of Virginia were entitled to life, liberty and property. African Americans were not considered part of Old Dominion society, and hence did not enjoy the natural rights constituent members of society enjoyed.187142
African American slaves did not need the ideology of the American Revolution in order to seek freedom. What the Revolution created was a unique and immediate opportunity for blacks to obtain freedom by joining armed forces at war with their masters. Never before had such a situation existed for Virginia slaves and it was not long before some began to take advantage of it. Almost as quickly as Governor Dunmore uttered his comments about raising the royal standard and inviting loyalists to rally to the cause in the wake of the powder-seizing incident in late April 1775, a few black men appeared at the Palace offering their services. Informed of their tender by one of his servants, Dunmore admonished them through the servant to return to their masters. Both sides were acutely aware of the potential threat to white Virginians of appealing to their slaves, but the governor waited until November 1775 before issuing his proclamation.188
Although Dunmore delayed the offer of freedom to all servants and slaves belonging to rebels who could bear arms against their masters until the fall, many slaves did not wait for the formal invitation. After leaving Williamsburg for the 143 safety of some ships at Yorktown, Dunmore sailed down to Norfolk and by midsummer was joined by British troops from St. Augustine. The British vessels took in some slaves from Norfolk who had managed to escape. Ship commanders protested they neither encouraged nor harbored runaways, but soon returned some refugees from the Borough and adjacent countryside who had joined them, runaways who may have been with them all along.189 Word soon spread of Dunmore's location and runaways sought to join the fleet. A Northern Neck owner believed one of his slaves had left for Norfolk, the prevailing opinion being that one could find safety there.190
Seven days into November Dunmore signed a proclamation promising freedom for men belonging to rebels who could join him and bear arms. English authority was clearly eroding, not just because of Dunmore's evacuation but because of the military events which took place in the Chesapeake and far away in New England. Virginians had met in convention, organized Committees of Safety and basically created a substitute government that functioned in the face of Dunmore's ship of state. With the proclamation, white Virginians became incensed. Probably no other single act could have alienated slave owners from British authority so much. The official reaction took many forms. Slaves were addressed in the Virginia Gazette warning them not to 144 expect to find freedom with Dunmore and claiming that the British were the ones who kept up the slave trade in spite of Virginians' efforts to abolish it. The convention offered pardons to those who willingly returned from the Governor and death to those who took up arms and did not desert. All told, it has been estimated that some eight hundred slaves made it to Dunmore's standard. A good number of them died of small pox and fever on board his ships or at his encampment on Gwynn's Island.191
Perhaps more might have attempted to join him, but many were wary. The Gazette gleefully quoted Ceasar, "the famous barber of Yorktown," whose chosen name was John Hope to the effect that since Dunmore had not freed his own slaves, why should any others trust him? A few years later, Hope's mistress, Susannah Riddel successfully petitioned the legislature for his freedom, no doubt influenced in part by these expressions of apparent loyalty.192 But Hope may have revealed the feelings of many. Given the risks and danger in even trying to reach Dunmore, why should this white official be trusted, himself a slave owner and no real friend to freedom. In addition, between the Governor's proclamation in early November and his departure in the following summer, he hardly had a base of operations to flee to, especially after the loss of Norfolk. Most slaves who made it to his ships, were 145 likely the ones who found one of the tenders and barges that raided the coastal waters of the Old Dominion during this period. 193
John Hope himself had personal reasons for resisting Dunmore's offer. He had at least one son, Aberdeen, who belonged to Hugh Nelson, and possibly a wife at Nelson's as well.194 An individual effort meant abandoning his family. Many other slaves were caught in the same dilemma. In Norfolk, what appears to be the largest single group to join Dunmore did not make the effort until the spring of 1776. Somewhere between 87 and 97 of John Willoughby, Sr.'s slaves, including a handful belonging to his son left en masse. They did not decide to go, however, until the Committee of Safety on the urging of General Charles Lee ordered the evacuation of all residents north and east of the Great Bridge on April 10. All male slaves above the age of thirteen were to be segregated and kept by military authorities until their owners were relocated further inland. When this order arrived, John Willoughby protested and had his patriotism questioned, but his slaves deserted on April 14.195
Willoughby's slaves alone would have made up a significant 146 proportion of Dunmore's slave entourage as he sailed up the Bay some five weeks later.
It is often forgotten how little time in Virginia was actually spent by British forces during the War for Independence. When ships and men did appear local slaves were drawn to them like a magnet, especially after General Henry Clinton's more general proclamation that promised freedom to all slaves who made it to British lines. But outside of a few raiding vessels in the Chesapeake, only the short visit in 1779 of Matthews interrupted the tranquility of Virginians before the arrival of Leslie, Arnold and Phillips in late 1780. The first did not stay long and apparently refused to accept runaways. But the greatest opportunities for freedom flights came with the latter's raids, and the army of Cornwallis who marched about the Peninsula and its hinterlands before the fateful encampment at Yorktown. The best evidence of slave flight comes from this period.196
What is strikingly different about the Revolutionary runaways is the aggregate profile of those who ran during these years. Unlike normal times, the presence of the British army and navy encouraged whole families to escape. Where earlier in the century only one or two out of every ten runaways was a woman 147 during the war the proportion of adult females at least doubled.197 Children were gathered up by parents too, and many women bore children while behind British lines. Of approximately 960 African Americans evacuated with the British from New York in 1783 claiming an origin in Virginia, 30 percent were women and just over one-fourth were children, with a number of them born after their mothers ran. Not surprisingly, given its prominent role in the War, many of these former slaves were from Norfolk, Portsmouth and their environs. Former owners claimed the loss of 741 slaves from Norfolk County, including the Borough and its smaller neighboring town, the greatest number of any county with surviving records. Women comprised 30 percent of the adults and children 27 percent of those whose age and gender was described, both proportions far in excess of the pattern among runaways earlier in the century.198
The presence of the army at Yorktown also allowed larger numbers of slaves from York County to join the British than was typical of many more remote and less affected areas. The 112 slaves owners asserted had been lost by their joining the British totalled only a fraction of those claimed from Norfolk but the defeat of Cornwallis allowed many owners to retake many who had 148 joined. Among those who left with Imperial forces from New York were a number from "Little York." Seventy year old Daniel Barber, described as "worn out," claimed he had been freed, apparently informally, by Austin Moore, while Jacob Adams, a "stout fellow" aged twenty-six asserted his free born status to the British military clerk as did the forty-two year old mulatto carpenter, Thomas Plumb. Robert Lee identified Thomas Edwards as his previous owner, while Dick Richard fingered Peter Willis and Samuel Tomkin named Richard Tomkin. Like Samuel Tomkin the remaining evacuated slaves appear to have their former owners last name attached to them by the British clerk: Lewis who belonged to John Kirby, Mary identified as Captain Tomkins', Daniel held by Thomas Archer, and Joe, once Joseph Freeman's.199
Like York County residents, Williamsburgers permanently lost comparatively few slaves given the military action in the area. Only eight unnamed slaves were claimed as lost to the British, but it is not clear that the short list of total losses is a complete one. James Carter submitted a claim for three, John Carter for one, and John Greenhow for four. Twelve of Peyton and Betty Randolph's slaves fled, but like many in the area, either were recaptured or returned. Eve, as already noted, was then sold.200 No claim was submitted by James and Elizabeth Cocke either, whom St. George Tucker reported losing "favorite man 149 Clem" and their cook in the summer of 1781. Other Williamsburg owners placed advertisements in the Gazette, seeking the aid of readers. John Saunders asked people to be on the lookout for Sally who had left with the British but was last heard of moving north with the French soldiers when they departed months after the capitulation at Yorktown. Fanny had joined the British temporarily, too. Ambrose Davenport, reported however, that this slave who had once belonged to Dudley Digges, Jr, was then reputed to be with a cabinetmaking husband who belonged to a man near Petersburg.201
Some sixteen African Americans above the age of twelve reporting Williamsburg origins made it to New York with the British. Included were John Jones, forty years old in 1783 who abandoned Richard Jones in favor of Governor Dunmore. Twenty year old Sally Dennis freed herself from "Lucas" Burwell and by the time she boarded the ship in New York she had a nineteen month old boy named John. Nancy Dixon, sick and with a six year old child, slipped away from John Dixon three years before. John Gustice, nineteen, and Sally Stewart, twenty-six both left John "Tassell" behind while Hannah Jackson, aged 33, and Hannah Jackson, aged 12 escaped from William Holt as did Robert Holt aged 24. Simon Johnson had served as a trumpeter in the American Legion and John Gray had been put into the army by "Captain 150 Harrard" from which he had deserted and joined the British. James Rea was missing a leg, but whether he lost it during the war is not known. He listed his previous owner as one George Wilk.202
The ultimate fate of most slaves who ran and survived the war cannot be determined. For those who made it to New York, some went to Nova Scotia and others kept going to England. Both destinations later contributed new settlers who moved to the British sponsored colony of Sierra Leone and presumably several of them may have been from Virginia. The immediate fate of a few is known, although most of these were slaves belonging to loyalists. George Mills' experience provides an interesting example. Born on the coast of Guinea in Africa, he survived the middle passage to land in Virginia about five years before the Revolution. He served a Captain Avery in Portsmouth and then joined Dunmore. After spending about a year with the Governor he arrived in New York and served the British on a vessel for the remainder of the war. Mills sought compensation for property losses totaling £10, but the adjustment board doubted such an accumulation of property and since his freedom had been gained as a result of the war, decided the British government owed him no other compensation. This was the decision for a good many black applicants.203
Peter Anderson was a free born man who lived in Norfolk when 151 the war commenced. His accumulation of property, some chests of clothes, four featherbeds and furniture, twenty hogs and about $200, possessions "he had slaved very hard for," was destroyed by Dunmore's corps. His wife and children were slaves and apparently were left behind when he joined Dunmore and went to work for the army. Lacking any proof, and giving "an incredible story as to his property," his claim in England for reimbursement was denied.204
William Aitcheson, mercantile partner of James Parker, sometime Burgess for the Borough, Alderman and Justice of the Peace sided with Dunmore. Taken to Williamsburg and kept on parole, he apparently died in the fall of 1776. Jack, his gardener, Smart, a coachman, and George his waiting man all died in Dunmore's fleet from disease. Peggy, who served as a "waiting woman," and her three children took advantage of General Clinton's proclamation and claimed their freedom from the Aitcheson family.205
Twenty-nine of Andrew Sprowle's slaves died in the Dunmore fleet. Jack, a waiting man belonging to the loyalist merchants, William and John Brown of Norfolk, died on shipboard, too. Tonny served as a soldier in a Captain Collet's Black Company, made it to New York and was not heard of by the Browns again. Similarly, James Dunn who worked as a gaol keeper for Dunmore in Norfolk, as well as a guide and carpenter had three slaves. Lucy went on 152 shipboard, but on returning to shore was captured by "a rebel colonel." His two other slaves made it to New York, but refused to go to Nova Scotia and "left their Master in the night." Penelope Forsyth D'Ende' the widow of William Forsyth submitted a claim for two slaves. One a valuable shoemaker who worked in their shoe factory was killed at the battle of Great Bridge in December 1775 while her "excellent woman servant" was seized by American forces in Williamsburg. Scattered too were the slaves William Farrer once claimed. Dinah was deserted in Norfolk but finally made her way to New York and then disappeared. James was drafted for the crew of a man of war while York was taken by Virginians when the British fleet sat off Norfolk. They too disappeared. Francis was seized on board a privateer, shipped to Philadelphia and sold. Penelope and Patty made it to England via New York but became "totally lost" to Farrer.206
Other loyalist owners took their slaves to the West Indies for sale while many who were left or lost to local forces were seized and sold to new owners. The latter was the fate of many of Dunmore's own slaves. Other loyalists disposed of slaves as best they could. William Hunter of Williamsburg had taken over his father's printing business in 1775 after reaching his majority. He lost a slave to the British who died in Portsmouth serving as a pioneer. He gave fifteen other slaves to his father in law, Joseph Davenport, for the support of his children after leaving Virginia with the British bound for England via New York 153 and Nova Scotia.207
Just as the war divided white allegiances not all African Americans identified with the British either. William Flora, a free black man served with bravery in the fighting at Great Bridge south of Norfolk in 1775. The orphan of the free black woman, Mary Flora, he had been bound in 1763 to Joshua Gammons on the Portsmouth side of the river. Saul served throughout the war but did not fall within the conditions set by the Assembly in 1783 emancipating those who had been enlisted by their owners as free substitutes for drafted whites and who had served the full term of enlistment. Since owner George Kelly was unwilling to manumit him, he had to petition the legislature in 1792 for his freedom. He claimed that he had early taken up arms for the patriots for he had been "taught to know that war was levied upon America, not for the Emancipation of Blacks, but for the subjugation of Whites, and he thought the number of Bond-men ought not to be augmented." While his choice of words was calculated to appeal to "the Legislators of a Republic" they may still reflect his thinking at the time he chose sides.208
The war broadened the range of choices African Americans faced. British armies and navies coupled with proclamations of freedom allowed some slaves to join them. Their proximity to 154 many permitted women and children to flee successfully in far greater numbers and proportions than normally obtained for runaways. An uncertain freedom had to be measured against the realities of the dangers and diseases that always followed armies and navies, but a good many slaves risked the odds. Other slaves simply took advantage of the disruptions and dislocations of the war to leave masters, or perhaps were abandoned by them, and pass as free. One wonders, given the small number of manumissions during the 1780's, if a few of the free people of color counted in the census of 1790 might not have been slaves who succeeded in establishing themselves as free individuals, particularly in the rapidly growing towns of the Old Dominion.
Norfolk and Williamsburg were both casualties of the War for Independence with significant results for their African American populations. First Dunmore's troops and then patriot soldiers set fire to buildings in Norfolk in early January, and the Virginia Convention ordered its complete destruction in February to prevent its use by Dunmore. Some slaves had already left to join British forces, but as residents fled to nearby counties seeking refuge, one can well imagine the destruction of slave families as owners took their various routes to differing destinations. This may have had the effect of encouraging the members of already fractured families to join later British expeditions to the region.
Williamsburg was not destroyed in the same manner as Norfolk. But long under siege by western Burgesses who sought a 155 more central location for the capital, it fell in 1779. Fearful of its vulnerable location, the Assembly moved the capital to Richmond. This proved no safer a place, but since the new capitol was located in a non-descript building Benedict Arnold's troops failed to identify and destroy it.209 By then, and over the next decade Williamsburg shopkeepers and lawyers, craftsmen and tavern keepers were migrating to the new capital. Their removal also threatened the integrity of Williamsburg slave families. How many were affected when Serafina Formicola relocated his tavern, when Robert Gilbert, the boot and shoemaker moved to Richmond? Or as Jane Vobe departed for Manchester or Anthony Singleton for the new capital? As was noted earlier, a considerable turnover in the Williamsburg slave population took place in the 1780's, some of it certainly due to the removal of slave owners seeking better business opportunities elsewhere. Thus, the disruptions begun by the Revolution continued.
Slavery and African Americans shaped and supported the very existence of Williamsburg and Norfolk. Few if any aspects of daily life went untouched by blacks, whether one speaks of the economic foundation of these towns, the religious and social life 156 of their residents or even the fears and expectations of whites. The particular pursuits of profit in the two towns gave unique shape and structure to the black populations of the towns, and the success and failures of individual owners had a profound impact on the lives of African Americans and their families. Death and debts brought sales while financial success brought increments to the black members of an owner's holdings.
In the midst of these realities, African Americans did have some areas of choice. Families were created and runaways attempted to reconstitute them. Commonly recognized holidays and Sundays as well as the dark hours of the night were exploited by African Americans to the extent they could make those times their own. Some were able to create more meaningful religious experiences and institutions in Baptist and Methodist churches than had been the case under the Anglican Church. Some in Williamsburg could obtain a more formal education in reading and writing English at the school supported by the Bray Associates. These and other children were also trained for work, for some boys as craftsmen, for girls along more domestic lines. And some put those skills to use supporting themselves when they ran away.
African American slaves in Williamsburg and Norfolk confronted slavery by running, plotting their freedom, sometimes organizing revolt and by individually resisting the demands of their owners. Some tested the boundaries of permissible behavior with frequency, while others garnered an owner's praise and banked it for future needs, to prevent the sale of a loved one, 157 or even oneself, for example. Some stole, others sold the loot. A few committed arson or poisoned. Some physically attacked whites, but the possession of ultimate power by whites meant that violence was more often directed toward the slave.
The Revolution disrupted the lives of all Norfolk and Williamsburg residents. The war created new and different opportunities for slaves of both genders and of nearly all ages to run to freedom. Others actively fought for the patriot cause. By loosening the restrictions on manumissions, revolutionary and dissenting religious ideology also contributed to the growth in the numbers of free people of color. This complicated Virginia's social order even more and made the identification between race and status even less consistent than it already was.
Hints of this new order were already present in Norfolk and Williamsburg before the revolution, having free black populations of some size and concentration when compared to the scattered numbers in most rural areas. In a similar way, slavery's strengths and weaknesses were magnified in the urban environment. Efforts to control slave activities were compounded by the physical nature of these towns and by whites and blacks who willingly ignored municipal ordinances for their own gain and needs. The concentration of slaves, coupled with free blacks, made white urban dwellers doubly anxious even as the near majority of whites gave them some reassurance. It was a world of complex relationships and connections and, given the limitations of the historical record, one not easily deciphered. One thing 158 remains clear, though. The power of owners, while perhaps eroded by the air of necessity in the towns, was never weakened to the point ultimate control was lost nor the racism of most whites in any way lessened. Any slave could be sold at any time. All slaves, even in town, were constantly subject to corporal punishment for unacceptable behavior. It is within these and other intangible realities of slavery, that enslaved African Americans, and to a certain extent even free people of color, tried to give shape and meaning to their lives. They calculated risks against the opportunities that existed within the narrow compass of the crevasses in the Virginia slave system. Their actions and accomplishments should always be weighed against the risks and the odds they faced.