In the list below are notes on pre-1820 manumissions of individuals drawn from the extant deed and will books of Dinwiddie, Prince George, Chesterfield, Charles City, Isle of Wight, Southampton, Surry, and Sussex Counties. Note that few records survive for this era from Dinwiddie, and Prince George Counties. Gathered as part of a larger study of the origins of the free black population of Petersburg, these counties were home to many of the free people of color who later moved to and registered in Petersburg.
The notes contain the page number on which the document begins in the deed or will book; the date of the document and of its recording; the name of the manumitter, the names of those freed, and their ages, if given. Included too, are abstracts of any statements of reason for the emancipation and specific instructions as to timing, payment etc. We also noted any wills of free people of color or of other documents appearing in these books where a person was described as free ie, as a purchaser or seller of property or in an inquisition on the death of an individual. What a clerk happened to record beyond deeds and wills in these books varied from county to county.
In our notes on deeds of manumission we have inserted an "X" in the name of the author if the individual is recorded as using a mark rather than signing his or her name. We have not generally done that in wills since feebleness and ill health prevented some from writing their names, leaving the mark a less reliable indicator of literacy. In the interest of economy we abbreviated some common terms: exec for executor, admin for administrator, dau for daughter, rec for recorded, etc and for the months of the year.
Given the boilerplate nature of many of these deeds and wills, the abbreviations are largely self-evident. Our notes are summaries of essential information rather than verbatim transcriptions. Names were sometimes spelled in more than one way, even within the same document. We have not tried to be consistent in the spelling of words including those like labor/labour or color/colour.
Each document note carries a page number, listed under the single reference to the particular deed or will book in which it appears. As noted above, we have not included the range of page numbers the document might cover, but only the page on which it begins. Each will or deed book is identified with title and dates as listed in the Library of Virginia’s title and with the reel number of the microfilm of that county’s records as assigned by the Library. Users should easily be able to find the document on the microfilm should you want to read the complete record.
Michael L. Nicholls, Professor Emeritus of History
Lenaye Howard, Presidential Research Fellow
Department of History
Utah State University
Logan, UT 84322-0710
We believe we have found nearly all of the manumissions appearing in these books and would welcome any additions or corrections to what is posted here.