Race and Slavery Petitions Project

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PAR Number 10385310

State: Delaware Year: 1853
Location: Kent Location Type: County

Abstract: Seventy-six citizens of New Castle County believe that an "Act of Assembly passed at Dover, March 5, 1851, entitled 'An act in relation to Free Negroes and Slaves,' in our opinion, works great injury to the white inhabitants of the State, as well as injustice to an unfortunate and degraded class of our population, and ought to be repealed." They argue that said law is driving free people of color out of Delaware and into New Jersey and Pennsylvania, "where their just rights are better protected"; the effect of this exodus results "in a scarcity of laborers and increase of wages." In addition, the petitioners point out that steamboat and vessel owners have suffered a loss in their revenue, as free people of color "now go to our sister States" to attend "their religious meetings;" The citizens ask that an act amending "An act concerning apprentices and servants" also be repealed as they believe said law is "unnecessarily oppressive and uncalled for." They therefore "ask the repeal of the above mentioned laws because they are operating adverse to the interests of the State."

PAR Number 10582301

State: Florida Year: 1823
Location: St. Augustine Location Type: County

Abstract: Noting that in the past they were "in the habit of enjoying the same privelages" as white inhabitants of the area, free blacks seek rights as "Citizens of the United States." The restrictions against their being able to assemble or walk the streets after nine o'clock in the evening, they said, were unfair.

PAR Number 11085201

State: Mississippi Year: 1852
Location: Wilkinson Location Type: County

Abstract: Wilkinson County residents request additional patrols and better enforcement of the laws. They argue that such measures are needed because of "a certain class of lawless and unprincipled persons, whose chief occupation is illegal traffic with negroes, bartering whiskey for pigs, poultry, meal, corn &c., &c., thus corrupting the morals and injuring the health of the negroes, to the great detriment of their owners, and the imminent danger of the community." They also note that "it is a common practice with shop-keepers, particularly during the Christmas Holidays, to have, in and about their shops, crowds of negroes, drinking, fiddling, dancing, singing, cursing, swearing, whooping, and yelling, to the great annoyance and scandal of all respectable and order loving persons." The petitioners ask the legislature to make it illegal to "encourage or allow any noisy or clamorous assembly of negroes, about his or her store or shop."

PAR Number 11281803

State: North Carolina Year: 1818
Location: Iredell Location Type: County

Abstract: Twenty-five residents of Iredell County complain that "they view as a grievance the Numerous quantity of Negroes which generally assemble at Regimental or Batalion Musters in our said County of Iredell which is productive of much vice & immorallity." They therefore pray that it be taken into consideration "the Numerous evils which proceed from said assemblages of Negroes & have a law pasd. either to prevent Negroes from assembling at musters or to punish them for so doing."

PAR Number 11283405

State: North Carolina Year: 1834
Location: Guilford Location Type: County

Abstract: Considering it the duty of government to permit the education of every class of citizen, the Quakers petition the "General Assembly to repeal all those laws, enacted by preceding Legislatures of this State, against the literary instruction of Slaves, making it a finable offence for any to be found teaching them to read." They also request the repeal of a recently enacted law that prohibits "all coloured persons in this State, bond or free, upon the penalty of corporal punishment, from public preaching, exhorting, &c. in their Respective Congregations of Societies." The Quakers purport that if said laws are not repealed "the difficulties and danger they were intended to prevent" will increase.

PAR Number 11284206

State: North Carolina Year: 1842
Location: Wake Location Type: County

Abstract: Commissioners in Raleigh address the "many defects [that] exist in the statute laws of the State relating to slaves and free persons of colour" and propose amendments that will better promote "the peace of the community .. and the happiness of slaves." They declare that "it is well known that for years past a band of unscrupulous fanatics ... have been using every exertion to produce discontent and ultimately to engender rebellion amongst the slaves of the South." They cite that the statutes passed in 1830 and 1831 "forbidding slaves to teach each other, and prohibiting their being taught by white persons, to read or write, figure excepted -- forbidding slaves to go at large as freemen or to preach or exhort in public -- requiring emancipated slaves to leave the state within ninety days after their emancipation -- forbidding the migration of free negroes into this state -- and prohibiting their intermarriage with slaves" were designed not only "to protect the value of slaves as property, but to preserve that due subordination amongst them, and the free negroes which was likely to be disturbed by occurrences in other sections of the country and by the machinations of the reckless spirit of Abolitionism which was springing up in the north." Not presuming to dictate how the laws might be changed, the petitioners "beg that such provisions may be made as will protect the community in which they live from the many evils” that will occur if the existing statutes, which are easily bypassed or laxly enforced, are not amended.

PAR Number 11382008

State: South Carolina Year: 1820
Location: Charleston Location Type: District/Parish

Abstract: Twenty-six Edisto Island residents react "with alarm" to "the number of free negroes & people of Colour who have emigrated into the State," thus "increasing thereby an existing evil." The petitioners put forth some "immediate measures" for consideration and adoption. They propose that "all Negroes, bond or free" be banished "from the limits of this State"; that persons be prohibited "from emancipating his, her, or their Slave or Slaves upon any pretence whatever"; that the establishment of churches "for the exclusive worship of negroes and coloured people" be banned; that curtailing the travel of "free negroes and coloured people, visiting the Eastern States for ordination, or other religious purposes and returning" is necessary in order to control this "grievous evil," as the newly ordained ministers "return to this State to disseminate sentiments highly inimical to the best interests of this Country"; and that the "suffering [of] Schools for negroes" be prohibited and the leaders of said enterprises "immediately be arrested & Banished from this State."

PAR Number 11382019

State: South Carolina Year: 1820
Location: Charleston Location Type: District/Parish

Abstract: One hundred and five Charleston residents express that they "have seen with anxious concern the number of Free negroes and coloured people, who have emigrated into this State from various quarters" and that they "have every reason to apprehend a daily increase of this alarming evil." The petitioners therefore propose certain restrictions be placed on the South Carolina free black and slave populations. They suggest a ban on "all free negroes and coloured people from migrating into this State"; that the owners be barred from emancipating their slaves unless "such emancipated slave or slaves shall within twelve months after such emancipation leave the State"; that churches be prevented from offering "exclusive worship of negroes and coloured people"; that free people of color who leave the state "shall be prohibited by Law, from ever returning"; and that the practice of "suffering schools or assemblages of negroes slaves to be taught reading and writing" be thoroughly denounced, as many of the school masters and teachers are "amply furnished with pecuniary means by abolitionist societies."

PAR Number 11382808

State: South Carolina Year: 1828
Location: Charleston Location Type: District/Parish

Abstract: Joseph Johnson, Intendant of the Charleston City Council, raises many concerns to the members of the House of Representatives, one such concern being "the number of Schools publickly kept for the instruction of persons of Colour in reading and writing." Johnson is of the opinion that instruction is "injurious to the Community." He purports that "to be able to read and to write is certainly not necessary to the performance of those duties which are usually required of our Slaves and on the contrary is incompatible with the public safety." Johnson further argues that "the knowledge of the art of writing will enable persons of this class to carry on illicit traffic, to communicate privately among themselves and to evade those regulations that are intended to prevent confederations among them," whereby it will be "impossible to distinguish between the free and the slave of our coloured population." He therefore knows "of no remedy so effectual and at the same time so little liable to objection as the absolute prohibition of all Schools for the instruction of Coloured persons." In addition, Johnson asks that the practice of owners and others in hiring slaves and free persons of color in their stores and shops be halted. In addition to denying employment to the white population, this situation introduces "the Coloured population and especially slaves into situations which are inconsistent with their Condition." The petitioner suggests "that the system of slavery is so interwoven with the constitution of our Society that even if our interests permitted it would be impossible to eradicate it." He believes, therefore, that "it becomes highly important that the regulations necessary for maintaining this state of things in peace and security should be permanently established and regularly maintained."

PAR Number 11382809

State: South Carolina Year: 1828
Location: Charleston Location Type: District/Parish

Abstract: Joseph Johnson, Intendant of the Charleston City Council, raises many concerns to the members of the Senate, one such concern being "the number of Schools publickly kept for the instruction of persons of Colour in reading and writing." Johnson is of the opinion that instruction is "injurious to the Community." He purports that "to be able to read and to write is certainly not necessary to the performance of those duties which are usually required of our Slaves, and on the contrary is incompatible with the public safety." Johnson further argues that "the knowledge of the art of writing will enable persons of this class to carry on illicit traffic, to communicate privately among themselves and to evade those regulations that are intended to prevent confederations among them," whereby it will be "impossible to distinguish between the free and the slave of our coloured population." He therefore knows "of no remedy so effectual and at the same time so little liable to objection as the absolute prohibition of all shools for the instruction of coloured persons." In addition, Johnson asks that the practice of owners and others in hiring slaves and free persons of color in their stores and shops be halted. In addition to denying employment to the white population, this situation introduces "the coloured population and especially slaves, into situations which are inconsistent with their condition." The petitioner suggests "that the system of Slavery is so interwoven with the constitution of our Society that even if our interests permitted it would be impossible to eradicate it." He believes, therefore, that "it becomes highly important that the regulations necessary for maintaining this State of things in peace and security should be permanently established and regularly maintained."

PAR Number 11383401

State: South Carolina Year: 1834
Location: Charleston Location Type: District/Parish

Abstract: Eighteen ministers and church officials from St. Philip and St. Michael's Parishes seek revision of the 1800 and 1803 laws requiring "a majority" of whites to be present at religious services for people of color after sunset. For thirty years, the minister’s note, people of color have had the privilege of religious instruction after sunset, subject only to regulations by the Charleston City Council. Like other statutes passed during crises, the laws governing white attendance at worship gatherings at night are "virtually obsolete" in every part of the state. The petitioners ask that religious gatherings of people of color be governed by the City Council, "whose local knowledge, personal interest, and immediate responsibility, would seem to secure all desirable vigilance and efficiency in the execution of the laws on this subject."

PAR Number 11385910

State: South Carolina Year: 1859
Location: Charleston Location Type: District/Parish

Abstract: Eight white master stevedores object to a bill before the legislature proposed by the "Committee on Collored Population" that would grant licenses and badges to slaves to act as stevedores. They submit that such a law would not only deprive whites of work, but it would also put southern slaves in direct contact with "any emisary the North may think propper to send amongst us." In addition, allowing slaves to act as stevedores would contravene laws prohibiting the assemblage of slaves since "on board ships they Can Collect from 40 to 60 at any time without any White Person among them." Noting that they have invested upwards of forty thousand dollars in the business on which they have to pay taxes, the petitioners ask the legislature to "place us on equality with Our fellow Citizens the Mechanics, and not to Class us with Slaves."

PAR Number 11484104

State: Tennessee Year: 1841

Abstract: Henry Brent and Walter Jones, residents of the District of Columbia, petition the Tennessee legislature to direct Tennessee representatives in Congress to support a redrafting of the District's charter to give greater attention to the activities of people of color. They report that the "existing charter" addressed having power to institute "an effective police over disorderly and dangerous persons of various descriptions, comprehending slaves by name" and in particular restraining and prohibiting "the nightly and other disorderly meetings of slaves, free negroes and mulattoes" and "to punish the slaves by whipping and imprisonment, the free negroes and mulattoes by pecuniary fines." They argue, however, that the framer of the new charter deliberately omitted the mention of slaves which would amount "to a disclaimer or renunciation by Congress of any such condition as slavery, of any such property as slaves" and it would "have been equivalent to an admission of the ... ultra doctrines of the most ultra abolitionists."

PAR Number 11677806

State: Virginia Year: 1778
Location: Cumberland Location Type: County

Abstract: Twelve members of the Anglican Church seek to control “some of the Dissenters from the Church by Law established” who minister to slave gatherings at night. The petitioners contend that these "meetings in the night of our slaves to receive the instructions of teachers without our Consent we apprehend could produce nothing but Deeds of darkness & which have already produced their proper fruits of disobedience & insolence to Masters." They therefore pray "that the Church may be maintained in all its legal rights" and that "some regulation may be adopted to make the Clergy of the established Church accountable for their conduct & be removed upon their misbehaviour."

PAR Number 11682302

State: Virginia Year: 1823
Location: Richmond Location Type: City

Abstract: Ninety-one "persons of colour residing in the City of Richmond" represent that "it has been the misfortune of your petitioners to be excluded from the churches, meeting Houses and other places of public devotion which are used by white persons." They point out that, with "no appropriate places being assigned for them," they have resorted to meeting in private Houses, "where they are much crowded and where a portion of their Brethren are unable to hear or to partake of the worship which is going on." The petitioners therefore pray that "your honorable body will pass a law authorising them to cause to be erected within this city, a House of public worship which may be called the Baptist African Church." Aware of the restrictions involved in such a venture, they "most chearfully ... submit" to the mayor's right to approve or reject their choice of any teacher. The petitioners further acknowledge that they cannot "reasonably expect to hold night meetings or assemblages for Baptizing but with the consent of that officer."

PAR Number 11682612

State: Virginia Year: 1826
Location: Spotsylvania Location Type: County

Abstract: With near hysteria following the escape from jail of a man named Boxley, accused of "instigating an unlawfull assembly among the slaves," a group of Spotsylvania County residents petitioned the General Assembly to have the Superior Court (where Boxley was to be tried) moved from the town of Spotsylvania to Fredericksburg. They succeeded. Now, another group of men, including some of the original petitioners, argue against the move, noting that Spotsylvania is in the middle of the county and Fredericksburg far to the northeast, a great distance for jurors and witnesses to travel. While they applaud the new superior court system--placing a higher court in every county--Spotsylvania is the only county in the state where this court is not located at the county seat. As for the escape, the jail was not the problem, but rather a jailer, who allowed prisoners too many liberties.

PAR Number 11683411

State: Virginia Year: 1834
Location: Richmond Location Type: City

Abstract: Eleven free men of color, "residing in the City of Richmond," represent "that by an act passed the 15th of March 1832, slaves, free negroes and mulattoes are prohibited from preaching, exhorting, conducting or holding any assembly or meeting for religious or other purposes; in consequence of which many coloured human beings are intered like brutes, their relatives and friends being unable to procure white ministers to perform the usual ceremony in the burial of the dead." The petitioners therefore pray "the passage of a law authorizing free persons of colour, as well as slaves, to perform the ceremony usual on such occasions by white ministers, provided they obtain a Licence for that purpose from the Pastor of the church to which they respectively belong for a limited period."

PAR Number 11684815

State: Virginia Year: 1848
Location: Mecklenburg Location Type: County

Abstract: Residents of Clarksville ask that John and Lewis Wimbish be permitted to operate a ferry across the Roanoke River. Currently, the only ferry is operated by James Somerville, who charges them the full sixteen cents permitted by law. They pay the same when they have business across the river at the court house. Moreover, Somerville "keeps no white persons at his ferry" and his slaves "are disorderly drunken and unaccomodating." The landing is a "rallying point for drinking & Gambling on the Sabbath day and of nights when large numbers of slaves from the surrounding Country Congregate and Carry on a Contraband trade." The petitioners believe that fifteen hundred dollars a year would be adequate to pay to the overseers of the two ferries.

PAR Number 20883520

State: Louisiana Year: 1835
Location: St. James Location Type: Parish

Abstract: James Adlum, overseer of Henry Johnson's plantation, alleges that the defendants, Joseph Cantrelle, Thomas B. O'Brian, Gervais Gaïennié, and William Dauphin, "pretending to be a patrol," recently entered his employer's plantation in the middle of the night, engaged in various "outrages and trespasses," alarmed the slaves, and finally dragged him to jail under a false arrest warrant. He claims that they forced the "jailor" to receive him as prisoner. Claiming that he has broken no law and was only engaging in the "lawful exercise of his duty," he asks $2,000 in damages from the defendants [Original in English and French].

PAR Number 21284605

State: North Carolina Year: 1846
Location: Orange Location Type: County

Abstract: William Lipscomb petitions for a writ of habeas corpus after his slave Anderson was arrested for stabbing another slave named Daniel. Related documents provide slave testimony about the source of the argument that arose between the two slaves involved, while walking from the meeting house back to their respective plantations, and give a description of the confrontation that led to the "affray" and the stabbing of one of the slaves.