Tuesday, August 22, 2006
The year eighteen hundred was a fateful one for American slavery. It was then that John Brown was
born, that Gabriel's[Prosser]revolt occurred
and that [Denmark] Vesey purchased the ownership of his own body and it was then too, October 2, that Nat Turner was born." 1 All of these portentous events, Prosser's August 1800 revolt, Vesey's consciousness of the 1808 slave rebellion in Haiti and Turner's insurrection, nearly thirty years to the date of Gabriel's revolt to overthrow the American institution of slavery, in one way or another, set in motion a series of reactions in the state of Virginia and perhaps in all post colonial America. These reactions, specifically to quell the growth of anguish in the white community in Virginia, compelled the government, a "select committee"2 of that state to legislate the establishment of "colonization boards" to repatriate Africans, those who were the descendants of the survivors of the perilous Middle Passage, those with possible multi-ethnic identities or backgrounds and their children, back to the west coast of the African continent. The state of Virginia saw fit, even though a good number of its' black and perhaps most colored people were already bound by the institution of slavery or some form of servitude, authorized a count of "free black and mulattos" within its' boundaries. This "select committee", according to Louis P.Mashur , even considered "acquiring the state of Texas ( or what then was Texas ) and making it an independent black state."3 Just in case this still left any room for movement by "free black and mulattos" in their supervised freedom, Virginia, or the "select committee"4, turned the screw just a bit tighter. Specifically, "a police bill [also] passed further erod[ing] the rights of ["free blacks and mulattos"] by denying them trial juries and allowing for their sale and transportation if convicted of a crime5 .
In A Just and True Account, Two 1833 Parish Censuses of Albemarle County Free Blacks, Mr. Ervin L. Jordan Jr. writes that "in accordance with the act by the [Virginia] state legislature, the Albemarle County Court ordered the commissioners to report a complete list of all Free negroes or mulattos in their respective districts."6. Albemarle County was just one of Virginia's counties to follow this decree; it wasn't the first time nor the last that this happened in Virginia and the United States. The repercussion and or implication, to say the least, of such an exploit is far reaching. It, by far, provides an "unofficial" Census of "free blacks and mulattos" in Virginia. The registration of these particular individuals in the early to mid-eighteen hundreds, despite the defacto mandate that the federal census schedules only enumerate white males, gave, even though the objective was deportation, a better sketch of the lives of people of color compared to their counterparts, namely white Virginians. Mr. Jordan, in The History Magazine of Albemarle County, illustrates this with great importance. He says, "these censuses are in several ways more detailed than the federal censuses [of 1830]." In fact, Virginia's action or reaction to slave rebellions left a record in time which perhaps set the model for census taking in federal schedules. A True and Just Account states that "they [those charged with the task] record[ed] names, gender, families, occupations, length of county residence, places of residence, if before or after the first day of March ,1833 "7 All the questions asked of "black and mulatto" Virginians only appears in all federal census schedules after 1850.
This 1833 document, housed at the University of Virginia and written about by Mr. Jordan in 1995, has many consequences. One of the consequences is evidence of which "free black and mulattos" stayed in Albemarle County and which ones left. This allows some genealogist to trace their ancestors at least to that specific record and time. It also illustrates black migration patterns within the United States; for example some black and mulattos" who registered in this Albemarle County "census", choose to stay home in Virginia, while on the other hand, some "free black and mulatto" Virginians took, or were perhaps compelled to take, even after resisting the threat of systematic deportation back to Africa, a chance on migrating to other areas in the United States.
There were many events going on the United States during this era. The nearly forty year old country, in 1803, made the Lousana Purchase. Prior to doubling the size of the country, the United States government sent surveyors to the Northwest Terroritory. The Mississippi and Ohio River valleys were mostly unsettled by citizens in what is known as the United States. Some black and mulatto Virginians went or were forced to go south. Some went west to the Northwest Terroritories and still others stayed home in Virginia. The rivers served as barriers and a means of travel and escape. The Ohio River, which borders West Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Illinois and the southern and western part of Ohio was one likely the route some of these individuals, after the legislation of unwieldy Virginia laws, choose to take.
Indeed, "people such as Jane West [who] owned...property"8 in Albemarle County kept themselves planted on Virginia soil while others like Michael A. Goins of the same county picked themselves (along with their families )up and left. Mr. Goins, according to his 1886 obituary from Belmont County, Ohio, was born in Albemarle County circa 1806. He entered the Northwest Territory (then named Ohio), according to his marriage license in Belmont County, circa 1835. Furthermore, the first census that Mr. Goins appears in says that his home state was Virginia. The 1850 Muskingum County, Ohio Census includes his wife Verlinda Payne Goins and their thirteen children. Again, this Census schedule says that Mr. Goins and his wife were Virginians of color living in Ohio. Looking through the annals of time, even though this article only cites a few reasons and examples of why and how black and people of color, whether they were free or under the heavy weight of slavery, moved, migrated and sometimes disappeared from many and all records in the United States.
1 A Chapter from Herbert Aptheker's Master's thesis completed at Columbia Univestity circa 1937 and in Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory edited by Kenneth S. Greenberg
2 An essay, "Nat Turner and Sectional Crisis" by Louis P. Masur in Chapter nine in Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory edited by KennethS. Greenberg
3 Ibid., 2
4 Ibid., 2
5 Ibid, 2
6 A Just and True Account, Two 1833 Parish Censuses of Albemarle County Free BlacksThe Magazine Of Albemarle History volume fifty-three, 1995