African Americans

Photograph of African-American woman and child, 1869Locating information on African Americans in Virginia during the Civil War requires some persistence. References are included in personal papers, local records, and state records, but individual sources may not provide a significant amount of information. The best place to begin a search is the Library's in-house "Guide to Free Black and Slave Records," which is available at the reference desks in the East and West reading rooms and in the Manuscripts Room. This Guide lists many local records that are not included in the Library's Archives and Manuscripts Catalog and provides details on relevant state records that are not available in published guides or in the Library's online catalog.

How to Search the Catalogs:

Conduct a keyword or subject search heading in the catalog using the following examples of Library of Congress subject headings.

African Americans Virginia [Locality]
Freedmen Virginia [Locality]
Free Negro and slave records Virginia [Locality]
Slaves Virginia [Locality]
Slavery Virginia [Locality]

Selected Published Resources

Braxton-Secret, Jeanette. Guide to Tracing Your African American Civil War Ancestor. 3rd ed. Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1997.

Brewer, James H. The Confederate Negro: Virginia’s Craftsmen and Military Laborers, 1861–1865. Durham: Duke University Press, 1969.

Byers, Paula K. African American Genealogical Sourcebook. New York: Gale Research, 1995.

Jordan, Ervin L. Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995.

Kambourian, Elizabeth Cann. The Freedmen's Bureau in Virginia: Names of Destitute Freedmen Dependent upon the Government in the Military Districts of Virginia. Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1997.

Levine, Bruce C. Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Morales, Leslie Anderson, and Ada Valaitis. Virginia Slave Births Index: 1853–1865. 5 vols. Westminster, Md.: Heritage Books, 2007.

Plunkett, Michael. Afro-American Sources in Virginia: A Guide to Manuscripts. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990. (Click Here to View Online)

Saillant, John, ed. Afro-Virginian History and Culture. New York: Garland, 1999.

Smith, Franklin Carter. A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your African-American Ancestors: How to Find and Record Your Unique Heritage. Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books, 2003.

Selected Online Collections

Cohabitation Registers. (Click Here to View Registers)
A cohabitation register, or as it is properly titled, Register of Colored Persons…cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February 1866, was the legal vehicle by which former slaves legitimized both their marriages and their children. The information about an individual person contained in a cohabitation register is literally priceless as it is often the first time that a former slave appeared officially in the public record and because of the extensive kinds of information that the register recorded. Though recorded at the local level, registers may not exist for every Virginia county. Images of certain cohabitation registers are available here, along with accompanying full-text searchable transcriptions (pdf) of each. The Library is pleased to make registers in our collection or those that we can borrow available for public use as soon as we are able to digitize and index them. Check back often for new additions.

Selected Manuscript Collections

Telegram of Lemuel Jackson Bowden, 1862 NovemberLemuel Jackson Bowden. Telegram, November 1862. Accession 43370.
United States military telegram, 8 (?) November 1862, to Lemuel J. Bowden (1815–1864) stating that Mrs. Piggot[t], her family, and her slaves have been escorted to Richmond, Virginia, and that two or three slaves have escaped to Union lines. The Piggott family was a prominent family in James City County, Virginia.

Davis Family. Bible Record, 1864. Accession 40379.
Bible record, 1864, includes a list of slaves who were sent from Tredegar Iron Works (Richmond, Virginia) to work on the fortifications at Drewry's Bluff (Virginia). The list includes the slave’s name, his age, owner’s name, and where they lived. Areas covered are: Buckingham, Chesterfield, Essex, and Henrico Counties and Richmond, Virginia; and North Carolina and South Carolina. Other surnames include: Dangerfield, Gill, Hancock, Jones, Montigue, Page, and Taylor. (Available Online at

Theodore Gregg. Report, 9 August 1864. Accession 25689.
Report, 9 August 1864, written by Captain Theodore Gregg, 45th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, to Colonel Zenas Bliss, 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, IXth Army Corps, detailing the Battle of the Crater (Petersburg, Virginia). Includes information on the participation of the 45th Pennsylvania Infantry and African American troops in the assault. The report was published in the War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume XL, Part I, pp. 553–556 (Available Online at the Ohio State University's eHistory Website).

Promissory note Hopkins Family. Papers, 1863–1865. Accession 20056.
Papers, 1863–1865, of the Hopkins family of Henrico County, Virginia. Includes a 28 December 1864 promissory note from Edward Martin to Mary K. Hopkins for the hire of a slave named Lucy and a 1 January 1865, promissory note from B. E. Meade to Doctor A[ugustus] Hopkins for the hire of a slave named Willie.

Lynchburg (Va.). Circuit Court. Register of Free Negroes, 1843–1865. Barcode 1118856.
Registers of Free Negroes of Lynchburg, 1843–1865, list the name, age, color, stature, marks or scars, and in what court the person was emancipated or whether the person was born free. Some clerks recorded additional information not required by law. Registration began late in the eighteenth century and continued through the Civil War. (Search for additional Free Negro Registers under various County and City localities.)

Petition and letter of Lehman Ullman, 1861 Petition and letter of Lehman Ullman, 1861, page 2 Petition and letter of Lehman Ullman, 1861, page 3 Lehman Ullman. Petition and Letter, 1861. Accession 42884.
Petition, 1861, from the citizens of Charlotte County, Virginia, to Governor John Letcher (1813–1884) asking that the state draft all able-bodied free blacks to work on fortifications because they fear that free blacks forced into unemployment by war would become a danger to the safety of the community. A letter dated 1 May 1861, from Lehman Ullman (ca. 1828–1866) of Charlotte County to Governor Letcher discusses the petition.

United States. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. Miscellaneous Microfilm Reels 5526–5728. Accession 44121.
Records, 1865–1872, of the Virginia field offices of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen’s Bureau), including previously unfilmed records of the Virginia staff offices of the quartermaster and disbursing officer, and the subordinate field offices. The records consist of bound volumes and unbound material, including letters and endorsements sent and received, orders and circulars, monthly reports, and other records relating to freedmen's complaints and claims. A published guide is available.

Pay roll of slaves employed at Fort Boykin Virginia Engineer Department. Records of the Engineer Department, 1861–1865. Accession 36887. (Click Here for Finding Aid)
Records, 1861–1865, of the Engineer Department include an account book, correspondence, indexes, invoices, letters received, letters sent, a material book, payrolls, property returns, slave rolls, vouchers, and other sundry items. Of note are the Payrolls, May–October 1861, which contain payrolls of persons employed on fortifications, including separate rolls of free Negroes. Also of note are the Slave Rolls, May–October 1861, which contain payrolls of slaves employed for coast, harbor, and river defenses; and the Vouchers, Quarter Ending March 1862, which contain vouchers that document expenses such as lumber, food, services of a draughtsman, laborers, etc., occurring between 1 January and 31 March 1862.

Wythe County (Va.). Circuit Court. Registers of Colored Persons Cohabiting together as Husband and Wife, 27th February 1866. Barcode 1188967. (Click Here to View Register)
Also commonly called Wythe County (Va.) Cohabitation Register. This register records the name of the husband, his age, place of birth, residence, occupation, last owner, last owner's residence, name of the wife, her age, place of birth, residence, last owner, last owner's residence, name of children with the ages of each, and the date of commencement of cohabitation. There is no index. (Additional cohabitation registers exist for the following counties: Augusta, Caroline, Culpeper, Floyd, Fluvanna, Goochland, Henry, Louisa, Lunenburg, Prince Edward, Rappahannock, Richmond, Roanoke, Surry, and Warren.)

Wythe County (Va.). Circuit Court. Register of Children of Colored Persons Whose Parents had Ceased to Cohabit which the Father Recognizes to Be His, 1866. Barcode 1188968. (Click Here to View Register)
Also commonly called Wythe County (Va.) Cohabitation Register. This register lists the name of the child, age, place of birth, residence, last owner, residence of the last owner, residence of father, his age and last owner, residence of last owner of father, name of mother, her age, her residence if alive or noted if dead, last owner of mother, residence of last owner of mother, and the signature of the father. Comments under the column for the residence of the mother if alive include notations of a rough date of death, or that she has been sold away, left, or was immoral. County of residence is noted if known and is other than Wythe. There is no index. (Additional children's registers exist for the following counties: Augusta, Buckingham, Caroline, Culpeper, Floyd, Fluvanna, Prince Edward, Richmond, and Roanoke.)

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