Reply To: Free Blacks in the Confederacy


The first blacks known to have lived in the English colonies arrived at Jamestown in what is now Virginia in 1619. As indentured servants, they were free. I assign students in my university course in “America to 1877” the book MYNE OWNE GROUND by Breen & Innes. That book is about free blacks on the Eastern Shore in 17th-century Virginia. Its brevity and the relative obscurity of the information make it quite a bracing text for them. Those people always had been free, and the book tells the story of how slavery became legal in Virginia. I think that story will surprise you.

No, there weren’t any particularly “notable” ones in 17th-century Virginia, if by “notable” you mean men of letters, architects, statesmen, etc. It wasn’t long before Virginia adopted slave law assuming that most blacks would be slaves, whites free.

There were always free blacks in all the colonies, from the time there were any blacks in each of the colonies. That’s true even for South Carolina. The literature on the subject is vast. The most famous on the part of it that you’re interested in is Jordan’s BLACK CONFEDERATES AND AFRO-YANKEES IN CIVIL WAR VIRGINIA.