Free People of Colour: Free Negroes, Indians, Portuguese and Freed Slaves by Mary B. Kegley

Every county should have a Mary Kegley.  Mary, an attorney, specializes in Wythe County, Va. records.  I love it when attorneys write books, because I know they are going to be well documented and sourced, and indeed, this one is no exception.

Her book, Free People of Colour: Free Negroes, Indians, Portuguese and Freed Slaves documents lawsuits filed in and involved with Wythe County, but the tendrils of the trees reach far back into colonial Virginia.  She does not limit the book to Wythe County records which are covered in Chapters 2, 3 and 5.  Chapter 4, Lawsuits, include families in Washington, Lee and Montgomery Counties in Virginia.    Chapter 6 focuses on Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski and Carroll Counties in Virginia.  Chapter 7, Powhatan, Chesterfield, Henry, Louisa and Goochland Counties.  There is no Chapter 8, but the pages are consecutive, so Chapter 9 is apparently simply mis-numbered.  Chapter 9 focuses on Scott Co., Va. 

But let’s let Mary tell the story.  Excerpting now, from her book:

“Indian slavery, a condition relatively unknown or written about today, was a common practice in colonial times in all of the American colonies.  It was practiced by the Indians themselves, the Spanish, French and the English.  Colonial Virginia was no exception.

Indian slaves were often obtained by warfare and barter but many were captured in the Carolinas and were taken elsewhere, including Virginia.

In 1676 the General Assembly declared, “enslavement of Indians for life to be legal,” and although this act was repealed and revived in 1691, legal enslavement of Indians was prohibited but only by implication.

The exact number of Indian slaves is impossible to determine anywhere, but this was especially difficult in the South because indians were often classified as Negroes.  And there was great treachery and betrayal by whites who refused to give up the Indians claiming that they were Negro slaves instead.  They were recognized as property and were openly bought and sold and could be transferred by will or as a distribution in connection with an estate.  Several examples are mentioned in this publication.

The number of Indians, whether enslaved or not, was greatly diminished by white man’s diseases.  In addition, there was  mixture of Indian and negro blood to such an extent that the Negro majority left the Indian marked for oblivion.

By 1780 many southern Indian tribes were extinct or greatly reduced.  For example, the Catawbas of South Carolina were reduced to only 70-80 men.  Another major reason Indian slavery diminished was because of the introduction of indentured white servants, very much desired by the colonists.  Negroes soon outnumbered Indian slaves and the sources for the Indians was greatly diminished and meant danger to the traders or those attempting to procure them.  In addition, Indians were not as valuable as Negroes.

After 1705 Indian slavery in Virginia was illegal but it was not until 1777 that it was decided by the legislature that no Indian brought into Virginia since the Act of 1705 could be slaves.  Only four colonies, Virginia, South Carolina, Rhode Island and New York declared Indian slavery to be illegal.  Several Virginia cases for freedom of the Indian slaves were interpreted under the Act of 1705, including some in Wythe County, Va.”

Mary’s book transcribes court cases and related depositions involving free people of color. 

This book and others are available on her website:  http://www.kegleybooks.com

These records are a godsend to Native researchers and genealogists. The Indian women captured after 1705 were often children, eventually married to others who were enslaved, and had passed on by the time suits were filed in the 1800s.  The suits claimed that the descendants of these women, generally grandchildren or even great-grandchildren were held illegally because they descended from an Indian woman who was illegally held in slavery.  Many suits were found in favor of the plaintiffs.  The depositions in the cases, not only of the slaves, but of the white families who bought and sold them, and the history of the families’ migrations, by choice or not, are often clearly documented.  This information would never be available any other way or for any other reason.

Often these suits are buried in the undocumented and unindexed chancery suits in Virginia Counties.  By the 1800s, many of the descendants had been dispersed far and wide, some being taken outside of Virginia.  Some slaves went so far as to ask to be taken into the possession of the sheriff while their suits were being heard because they were afraid that their masters would sell  them “down the river” or move them outside of the jurisdiction of the court.  It was risky, at best, for a slave to file a suit against their master.  In this case, the reward though, if found in their favor, was the ultimate Holy Grail….freedom….a gift from their Indian ancestor.

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About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Slaves, Virginia. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Free People of Colour: Free Negroes, Indians, Portuguese and Freed Slaves by Mary B. Kegley

  1. Scott Trent JR. says:

    Yes, Mary is and was a precious heritage leader to and in SWVA! We are very proud of her!

  2. Chris Gray says:

    I was wondering about surnames of removed Native Americans in the Wythe county area. My ancestor Rachel Hill is listed as mulatto as is one of her sons General Hill, but the rest of her children as Black in 1850 living with Leonard Phelps. He was listed as White with no wife.

    • I don’t show a Hill from Wythe that is Native, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there.

      • Chris Gray says:

        I spoke with Paul Heinegg about them because they move back and forth from Wythe to Surry NC. He seems to think that those particular FPOC Hills LIKELY originated from Halifax Va. then Caswell, Surry NC, and finally Tenn. According to what my 2xgreat grandmother and siblings claim on their Guion Miller applications, Absalom and Thomas Hill were interpreters for the Indians. It claims that they were NEVER slaves and were accepted as members of the tribe. The 1860 TENNESSEE Census shows them as Indian born in NC with an “I” beside their names along with many OTHER Hills nearby. In 1870 it goes on to list them as White strangely enough. There were also Hills in Kentucky labeled as Indian around the same time.

        They also claimed to be Indian through a man named John Johns(Polly Stewart) out of Va. Goochland and Amherst. My family is actually settled around Stokes , Surry, and Yadkin Counties where it seems a LOT of FPOC migrated to.

        I have a FPOC set of gps by the name of Lucy Mitchell and Benjamin Evans from Granville County N.C. who settled in Stokes NC. around 1810

        I have a FPOC set of gps Monroe Turner and Laura Gibson who lead back to Isaac Gibson and Elizabeth Wynne

        Ihave another set that are Jim Richardson and Mariah Martin-Gwynn that are from Rockingham Cty NC.

        “Paul Heinegg
        To Christopher Gray Sep 7, 2014
        Hi Christopher. Your email was detected as junk mail by my program, so I am glad I happened to check.
        I would guess it likely that the branch of the family that was in Halifax County, Virginia, and Caswell County, North Carolina (Zachariah among them) would have passed through Surry County and Wythe County since they show up in Tennessee.
        Paul”

  3. adrienne says:

    I have been building a tree on ancestry.com and doing great research on my family in wythe county. My father remembers his grandmother as a native american woman and for years my family is listed as mulatto in the census. how would i go about finding out more about them? the interesting thing is they are a big “mulatto” family who owned land for quite some time, and they lived around white people. i’m very curious and am constantly searching to find out more…

  4. Virginia Johnson says:

    I contacted Mrs. Kegley and she said the book is out of print and she has no plans to republish it. I am researching the Hale family. Is there anyone who can check the book for that name for me? Thanks.

    • Claudetta Milton says:

      I am a descendant of the Hale family!!! Please contact me! I know that my Hale ancestors applied on the Guion miller rolls. I also have a tree on ancestry.com

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