AfriGeneas Free Persons of Color Forum
Re: Henry Watts of Norfolk County, VA
In Response To: MANUMISSION PAPERS ()
You are in luck. I searched Ancestry.com to locate your ancestor and to get a sense of how far back I could track someone of that name in the Norfolk vicinity. Since I could find evidence of him, or at least a FPOC, in Norfolk County back to 1830, I figured I would search some of the records I have from that decade.
I found an entry for a Henry Watts in the Norfolk County Register of Free Negroes & Mullatoes. The entry reads as follows:
#235, Henry Watts, 21 years, 5 ft 8 1/4 in., black man with a small scar [on] forehead and one on lower part of the right [eye] brow, born free, registered 17 March 1821, date of certificate: 23 October 1821, copy delivered
I copied this at the Library of Virginia in Richmond, based on a photocopy of the original that I presume is still at the Norfolk County courthouse. I don't have the call or reference number, but believe that the records are available on microfilm. The Library of Virginia has a black binder in the microfilm research area, that lists all of the records they have on Free Blacks/Negroes by county and city. I think the Norfolk County register is listed in that binder. Again I can't recall specifically what roll of microfilm I viewed to copy the register.
Answering your question, based on the information above, if it is indeed your ancestor, you're probably going to have to search records prior and near Henry's birth. The 1850 federal census gives him a slightly earlier year of birth than the register, being prior to 1800, so you might want to start your search about 20 years prior to this time for information on Watts family members in Norfolk county.
Since this register indicates Henry was born free, and you have an idea of the names of former owners of some Watts family members, then you need to search the County Deed Books. Look for any and al transactions made by the slaveowners. Sometimes the transaction might be a bill of sale or transfer of property, followed later by a deed of emancipation. You will also want to check the Court Order Books because this is where the free register entries (Free Blacks registering their proof of free status) were often made. Typically the Court Order Books will record when a FPOC registered their proof, the circumstances under which they established their freedom (born/emacipated), and when the person last registered. I've only studied the records in Norfolk Borough/City, but believe that they probably had the same record keeping practices as the clerks in Norfolk County.
If you have further questions, please feel free to email me and I'll see if I can help you further.
I hope this helps!
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