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.
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 #|
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.
- 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. ↩
- 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. ↩
- Fairfax County Will C2:180. ↩
- 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). ↩
- “FITZHUGH, ANNA MARIA Cong. #20 RAVENSWORTH,” Beth Mitchell, Abstracts of Claims for Civil War Losses, Fairfax County (publication information unknown), 18. ↩
- Virginia Emigrants to Liberia, (accessed September 28, 2017). ↩