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Where are the Women:
Examples from the LVA Collections



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This petition to the General Assembly from Nancy, of Loudoun County, asked for a special bill to be passed to allow her to remain in Virginia with her children. Freed by the will of her former master, John Alexander Binns, she fell under the mandate of an 1806 law that required freed slaves to leave the state within one year. That meant leaving behind her three children, who under the terms of the will were not be freed until each reached the age of 21. Nancy's petition appealed to the family sympathies of the legislators, asserting that if she had no legislative relief she would be compelled to leave Virginia and her children, "from whom she will be torn which will be almost as severe as the loss of life."

Binns's widow and other local women endorsed the petition: "We do not doubt that if she is permitted to Remain that she will behave herself with equal Rectitude and Industry and Maintain herself in a respectable manner."

Docketing on the bill indicates that the House of Delegates ordered that a bill be drafted to allow Nancy to remain in Virginia, but no bill passed. This episode reveals that there were competing values at work in Virginia. The harsh 1806 law exhibited an unwillingness to allow a large number of manumissions or a large increase in the number of free African Americans in Virginia. That the assembly (and sometimes county courts) made some exceptions indicates that the rigidity of the state's slave economy and society allowed some small leeway for responsible freedpeople who posed no threat to society and were not likely to become needy poor. In Nancy's case, the assembly remained indecisive, and she was forced to chose between her freedom and her children.

Like Nancy, Lucinda petitioned the General Assembly to remain in Virginia. Lucinda noted in her petition that her late mistress, Mary Matthew, of King George County, had freed her slaves at her death. Most of the former slaves moved to Tennessee, but Lucinda elected to remain in Virginia to be near her husband, who was owned by Col. William H. Hooe, also of King George County. Under Virginia law, Lucinda was required to move out of state or face being sold into slavery again. Lucinda chose to relinquish “all the advantages of freedom” to remain with her husband. She asked the General Assembly to enact a law giving her to her husband’s owner and directing the Overseers of the Poor for King George County to stop any proceedings against her. A note by a secretary indicates that the petition was tabled.

Petition of Nancy. 6 December 1815. Manuscript. RG 78, Legislative Petitions, Loudoun County.

Petition of Lucinda.  27 November 1815. Manuscript. RG 78, Legislative Petitions, Loudoun County.