The “Enslaving Virginia” story line addresses the development and growth of a
racially based slave system that profoundly affected the lives, fortunes, and
values of blacks and whites. For further understanding, please read the
key points for this story line.
“Little Spots allow’d them”: Slave Garden Plots and Poultry Yards
- Observations of travelers, comments by planters, accounts showing purchases from slaves,
a plat indicating a slave garden, and archaeological evidence inform us about the gardens
and poultry yards that slaves maintained for their personal use in the eighteenth-century
- The Newsworthy Somerset Case
- What was “Somerset’s Case,” and why did this slave owner think it the runaway’s
motive? How did Bacchus learn of this case if it were the reason for his running
away? Addressing just these two questions takes us through a labyrinth of legal
technicalities, English and American newspaper accounts (some accurate, some
otherwise), as well as several manuscript collections. In following how the
Somerset case was reported and discussed in the late eighteenth century and
afterward, we see legends created, professional reputations made and lost,
property safeguarded and later destroyed, dreams fulfilled or crushed, and
people putting their lives and liberties on the line.
Slavery in John Blair’s Public and Personal Lives in 1751
- John Blair purchased a copy of The Virginia Almanack,
for the Year of Our Lord God 1751 from William Hunter in the fall of 1750. Blair used the 6″
by 4″ almanac as his diary in 1751. It is a document that provides details
about daily events in the life of one of the leading families of Williamsburg
and the colony. He included information about slavery in each of the three
sections of his diary.
After 1723, Manumission Takes Careful Planning and Plenty of Savvy
- This piece reviews late seventeenth-century developments and applicable
laws with regard to manumitting slaves in Virginia. In the larger scheme of
Virginia’s slave society the impulse to free slaves appears to have been a
limited one, but legislators wanted to discourage that impulse as much as
possible, especially since they had decreed that the status of any child
born in Virginia was determined by the free or enslaved condition of the
child’s mother. By 1723 they had devised a complicated process designed to
slow manumission to a near standstill.
The Burwells Move Their Slaves to the Southside
- When I read the description of the Ann Powell Burwell Commonplace Book in
The Guide to African-American Manuscripts at the Virginia Historical Society,
I knew I wanted to see the document. The entry in the guide reads, “Contains
lists, 1746-1839, of slaves owned by Armistead Burwell and John Burwell,
including ages or dates of birth. One list includes names of mothers.” I
hoped to find information in these lists about slaves who lived in
eighteenth-century Williamsburg for my ongoing study of this community.
New Findings about the Virginia Slave Trade
- To what extent were enslaved Africans brought to the Americas able to retain
or to re-create elements of the cultures of their homelands? If there is one issue
about which scholars currently disagree, this is it. Until recently, the consensus
has been that this great forced migration led to a random mixing of disparate peoples
drawn from many different parts of West Africa.
- A Biographical Sketch of Matthew Ashby
- Free African Americans in colonial Virginia lived amid ambiguities of many
kinds. Partial freedoms confronted them at every turn. This biographical sketch
explains the origins of Ashby’s freedom, extols his accomplishments, hints at
some brushes with the law, and indicates the legacy of freedom Ashby attained
for his family.
A Portrait of York County Middling Planters and Their Slaves, 1760-1775
- Many eighteenth-century Virginians, as well as colonial Americans generally,
liked to divide society into three groups. For example, during the ratifying
debate on the Constitution, Patrick Henry spoke of the “well born,” “middle,” and “lower” ranks.
Historian Jackson Turner Main notes that characteristics such as “respectable,” “honest,” and “sober” were
applied to the “middle sort,” but, Main argues, access to property and
wealth was key to “class” distinctions