In the January 1850 Fairfax County Court session, the first of 61 formerly enslaved African Americans registered as free Blacks, who were manumitted under the provisions of William Henry Fitzhugh’s will. It had been 20 years since William Henry Fitzhugh died in 1830, when his will stated: “After the year 1850, I leave all my negroes unconditionally free…”

Forty-three registered in that first court session of 1850. Eighteen more registered in small groups throughout the following months, with the last person registering in February 1851. The youngest registrants at 21 would have been one year old in 1830.1 They appear in the table below arranged alphabetically by last name so that family groups are listed together, though it’s not certain that all sharing a common last name were related.

This information is from Registrations of Free Negroes Commencing September Court 1822, Book No. 2, and Register of Free Blacks 1835, Book 3.2 The editor’s Introduction is reproduced in this site, about free Black George Lamb (see the section entitled About The Register Of Free Blacks). It explains the Virginia law that all free Blacks were required to register every three years with the county court and that they leave Virginia. In reviewing the pattern of registrations from 1822 through 1861, the editor concludes that the law seemed not widely or uniformly enforced in the county.

List of Those Who Registered

In the table, in addition to the name and age columns:

  • # – identifies where in the sequence 1-61 the person registered.
  • Reg # – is the court-assigned registration number.
  • Court – identifies the month/year of the court session in which the person registered.
  • 1830 # – identifies correlations with names in the 1830 list of 83 Enslaved People at Ravensworth.
    • Whereas most of those in the 1830 list were identified by first name only, all but one who registered as free Blacks were recorded with both first and last names.
    • Many of the registration records state age as “about” a certain age. To judge whether a person was also in the 1830 list, first name and age within two years were compared.
    • There are 36 matches. the number in the “1830 #” column is the index number for the matched name in 1830 list.
# Reg # First name Last name Age Court 1830 #
45 342 Thomas Anderson 35 3/1850  
46 343 Rob Anderson 21 4/1850  
21 318 Sarah Ann Bennett 22 1/1850 21
53 352 Charles Brown 45 8/1850 26
54 353 Betty Brown 40 8/1850 43
32 329 William Burke 65 1/1850 11
33 330 Melinda Burke 58 1/1850 12
48 345 James Burke 55 5/1850 27
61 367 Violet Burke 53 2/1851 28
8 305 John Burke 51 1/1850 52
27 324 Hilliard Burke 34 1/1850 15
22 319 Wesley Burke 30 1/1850 16
37 334 Albert Burke 29 1/1850 17
2 299 Leah Burke 29 1/1850 69
20 317 Dulany Burke 27 1/1850  
14 311 Lorenzo Burke 25 1/1850 20
58 362 Washington Burrells 37 11/1850 24
7 304 William Butcher 62 1/1850 5
18 315 James Butcher 40 1/1850  
13 310 Louisa Butcher 40 1/1850 37
11 308 Lilly Butcher 25 1/1850 9
35 332 Ann Butcher 21 1/1850 10
50 347 Going Butler 65 5/1850  
25 322 Grace Cambrige 45 1/1850 39
24 321 Robert Clark 45 1/1850  
1 298 Betsey Dade 26 1/1850 26
12 309 Sally Dixon 25 1/1850 34
56 358 Bryan Douglas 30 9/1850  
9 306 Jesse Douglas 30 1/1850  
55 357 Emanuel Douglas 28 9/1850  
60 366 Shirley Douglas 28 12/1850  
57 359 Henry Douglas 26 9/1850  
39 336 Melinda Douglas 25 1/1850  
28 325 Stuart Douglas 23 1/1850  
40 337 Henry Geeson 33 1/1850  
41 338 Mary Geeson 30 1/1850 41
42 339 Sanford Gutler 26 1/1850  
16 313 Abraham Gwin 65 1/1850 51
23 320 Alfred Gwin 35 1/1850 57
34 331 Laura Gwin 28 1/1850 18
43 340 William Huff 28 1/1850  
30 327 John Jeffries 50 1/1850 47
26 323 Carter Lee 35 1/1850 76
10 307 Harry Parker 58 1/1850 55
52 349 Kitty Parker 56 5/1850 30
38 335 John Parker 27 1/1850  
44 341 George Parker 22 3/1850 35
47 344 John Rhodes 30 4/1850  
49 346 Henry Ross 55 5/1850  
51 348 Cynthia Ross 53 5/1850 23
36 333 Henry Ross 30 1/1850  
4 301 Caroline Smith 36 1/1850 75
17 314 Armistead Triplett 27 1/1850  
6 303 Virgil Ward 64 1/1850 65
3 300 Lelia Ward 37 1/1850  
29 326 Henry Ward 36 1/1850 59
15 312 Cato Ward 27 1/1850 70
19 316 Virgil Ward 23 1/1850 72
31 328 George Ward 21 1/1850  
59 365 Sally Williams 30 1/1851  
5 302 Lucinda (none given) 27 1/1850  

Going Forward in Freedom

It may be that some of the freed stayed on at Ravensworth as hired workers. At least three stayed with Anna Maria Fitzhugh as trusted servants and were acknowledged in her will. Jim and Violet Burke received an annual annuity of $150. William Burke received the house and lot he lived in on her Alexandria townhouse property.3 While Virginia law required that manumitted slaves leave the state upon receiving their freedom, it’s said that the law was not widely enforced. John Burke as well as Thomas Anderson jointly with Sally Dixon petitioned the Alexandria County Court for permission to remain in the state. All three were approved.4

William Henry’s will set aside money to pay “the expences of their removal to whatever places of residence they may select…” No records so far found tell who of the freed chose to relocate out of the area. It seems that some did in this statement by Charles F. Wood more than 20 years later. Referring to William Henry Fitzhugh he said, “He freed his slaves in 1850 and I passed a great many of them off North.” Wood identified himself as Anna Maria Fitzhugh’s agent in Alexandria who collected rents and paid taxes for her.5

In addition to transportation costs, the will also provided a $50 stipend to any freed slave who chose to emigrate to the African colony of Liberia. A search of the Virginia Emigrants to Liberia database found no name matching those in the list who registered as free Blacks or who were manumitted by a Fitzhugh.6

A search of Alexandria Gazette issues published in 1850 and 1851 found no mention of slaves registering as free Blacks. Apparently this was not considered newsworthy to print.


 

  1. The 1850 United States Census (Slave Schedule) for Fairfax County recorded nine enslaved people remaining in the widow Anna M. Fitzhugh’s household. Eight were males ages 19, 18 (2), 15, 12 (2) , 2, and 1; one a female age 8. All had been born after 1830. “United States Census (Slave Schedule), 1850 .” Index and images. FamilySearch. https://familysearch.org: accessed May 12, 2013.
  2. Donald Sweig, Registrations of Free Negroes Commencing September Court 1822, Book No. 2, and Register of Free Blacks 1835, Book 3: Being the Full Text of the Two Extant Volumes, 1822-1861, of Registrations of Free Blacks Now in the County Courthouse, Fairfax, Virginia (History Section, Office of Comprehensive Planning, Fairfax County, Virginia, 1977), 179–195.
  3. Fairfax County Will C2:180.
  4. Burke, John: Petition To Remain In The Commonwealth, Arlington County 1853, 1138014_0002_0003_0001.jpg, and Anderson, Thomas: Petition To Remain in the Commonwealth, Arlington Co 1852, 1138014_0002_0005_0001.jpg, Library of Virginia Digital Collections, African American Narrative, (accessed September 28, 2017).
  5. “FITZHUGH, ANNA MARIA Cong. #20 RAVENSWORTH,” Beth Mitchell, Abstracts of Claims for Civil War Losses, Fairfax County (publication information unknown), 18.
  6. Virginia Emigrants to Liberia, (accessed September 28, 2017).