“Free Negroes” and “Mulattoes” of Gloucester County and the Tidewater Area of Virginia Prior to 1800

“Free Negroes” and “Mulattoes” of Gloucester County and the Tidewater Area of Virginia Prior to 1800

Renegade South: histories of unconventional southerners

The following guest essay by Wayne K. Driver expands upon my own research on the Morris Family of Gloucester County, Virginia.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

By Wayne K. Driver

Throughout my years of researching my family from Gloucester County and the Tidewater Area of Virginia, I have noted that several families, including my own, were listed as “free Negroes” or “mulattoes” prior to 1800. This discovery ignited my interest; I wanted to know more about these families and how they fit into a society in which most people of African descent were slaves and where those of European descent dominated. I wondered if these free people of color had any rights, if they owned property or had the freedom to move about without being harassed.  Since my focus was on the years prior to 1800, I also wondered how they felt about the Revolutionary War.  Which side did they support? Which side promised a better future for them?

Families with the names ALLMOND/ALLMAN, BLUFORD, DRIVER, FREEMAN, GOWEN/ GOING, HEARN, KING, LEMON, MEGGS, MONOGGIN, and MORRIS are identified in various documents as living free from slavery.  “Free” did not necessarily mean, however, that they were as free as those of full European ancestry.  These “free” people did not have slave masters, but they did have limitations place upon them and hardships that would not be understood by my generation.

The above families of color, as well as others not cited in this essay, contributed to America by serving in wars, participating in religious movements, and working in many trades. At the same time, they strove for greater freedom of access to education, property ownership, and social equality.  Too often, these pioneers are forgotten in the history books; rarely are they recognized for their work in shaping the counties in which they lived.  When I drive through Gloucester, to my knowledge there is no physical memorial that bears witness to their service in the Revolutionary War, or their contributions to their communities.  I can find all types of negative propaganda concerning “free Negroes,” such as recommendations for their forced removal from the county, or punishment for not paying taxes. My hope is that someday the leaders of these communities will recognize free families of color and teach generations to come about their positive contributions…

Read the entire article here.

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