AfriGeneas Free Persons of Color Forum
Article: FB's in Richmond VA
The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography is the publication of the VA Historical Society. The articles are written by historians and scholars who focus on VA History. The articles do help by putting things in an historical context. Genealogical research is more then a collection of names (at least for me) separate from the larger society and the events occurring in any one place, but understanding the information we gather, in a context of what I call “Time, Place and Space”. Although these articles are not genealogical, the authors do set the stage of what was going in their areas of interest, during specific time frames, giving examples using the stories of individuals or and or groups (and citing sources for you to possibily use in your research). This is the case of the article which appeared in a 2009 Magazine (Vol. 117 No. 1) entitled: Surviving War and the Underground: Richmond Free Blacks and Criminal Networks during the Civil War by Carey H. Latimore.
The article focuses on the activities of FB’s in Richmond ( and enslaved individuals) and the conditions and laws that impacted their activities and lead them to participate in Underground economic activities (he is not talking about the Underground Railroad), “a space where hustlers, peddlers, pimps, plain folk, prostitutes, and thieves carved out a precarious existence”
During the War “1000’s of AA from surrounding areas came to Richmond seeking protection and refuge from the war’s devastation”. Shelter and refuge is not what most of them found…instead poverty and homelessness…refugees and residents also faced a daily routine of harassment by other inhabitants both black and white, and often brutal local authorities.” The loss of status for FB's in VA predate the Civil War, but can be seen following the Nat Turner Rebellion in Southampton County in 1831, whose impact was most evident throughout VA and the rest of the country.
The author would conclude that “the deplorable failure of city government to ameliorate the deplorable conditions was the largest contributor to free AA participation in the underground…For many AA’s desperation was enough cause not only to risk the inherent dangers in life in the underground but also to risk incarceration and enslavement…we should not view these FB’s as victims of racial oppression but also as agents who used their integrity and street-smarts to serve their own interests”.
I can not in this space detail all the information in this article, but do recommend to those doing research in VA. I will list here the names of some of the Free Blacks who are named in the article:
Peter Price, Mary Brown, Desora Bontz, James Poindexter (not paying taxes); William White (no pass); Martha J. Smith (10 lashes-not carrying pass) Matilda Walters (no pass, hired out for not paying court fees); Archy Ruffin (age 15) hired out; Daniel Anderson (no pass, old and infirm, no money, sent to poor house);
Tom Charles sold into slavery for stealing 2 sides of beef; his wife Mahala had purchased Tom Charles freedom from George W. Barker; William Byrd, Solomon Green, Thaddeus Scott (sold into slavery for stealing money);
Lucy and Ann Tonget were tried and sold for stealing “one trunk, containg 450.00 in money, five pairs of pants, six shirts, one pair of boots, 2 vests and 1 hat from Branch Johnson, a slave of Thomas Bass; Anderson Jackson (FB) and Patrick Foley (white) stole cabbages…took refuge at home of Maria Wade (white) – Wade and Foley were indicted, but charges dropped. Jackson received 39 lashes and sent to work on the batteries, which were part of the fortifications designed to protect Richmond from Union invasion; Henry Stanard (FB) and a slave arrested for owning a cook shop - illegal for FB's to own cook shops, they often operated them while whites posed as the owners.