Summary of the Collection
Beginning in 1793, Virginia law required the state’s free black population to register with their local courts. Once they were registered free blacks would receive a copy of their registration which were commonly called “free papers” and were then required to reregister every three years. Free black registries generally had no formal format and the information recorded within them seems to largely be determined by who was writing them at the time, this is reflected in the registries of Botetourt County.
The free black registries in Botetourt County begin in 1801 and end sometime after 1836. The initial Botetourt registries lack the amount of detail found within the later records. These early registries only record the individual’s age, sex, number within the registry, place of residence, and either calling or age.
However, in 1809 the Botetourt registries begin to become increasingly detailed, as they now begin to record an individual’s physical features such as height, hair, skin tone, and scars. Additionally, these registers now begin to record where, when, and how an individual obtained their freedom.
Although these registries have a dark origin, they offer modern readers and historians a wealth of information. Through these registries we are able to gain insight into the family relationships of free blacks, and their relationships with the areas white population. Additionally, these registries provide information concerning the movement of free blacks within both the county of Botetourt and Virginia. Additional information concerning the type of professions open to free blacks, their quality of life, and the methods in which they were able to obtain freedom are also found within these registries.
It should be noted that the format of the transcriptions of the Botetourt County Free Black Registries is as close to the original as possible however, it was impossible for many of the transcripts to keep the same line spacing as found within the original documents. This change in format however, has not affected the word usage, capitalization, or spelling found within the transcripts.The registries found on this site have been organized by their authors, as several of the documents despite being written in the same year do not belong within the same registry.
The Botetourt Free Black Registries were transcribed and published on this website by Taylor Frasure.
Links to the Collection
Maps of Botetourt County
Although recorded in 1864 during the Civil War, the maps included in the links below, still show the properties of several individuals listed within the registry. Because several of the people listed within the registry live in unspecified locations along the banks of the various creeks or James River these maps can be especially useful in gaining a general idea of their locations.
It is difficult to determine the exact date of the registries end. One of the records lists 1841 as the year of registry, however this is thought to be a mistake as this is the only instance of this date being used and it was for only one individual. Further support for this being a mistake is taken from the location of the year discrepancy, the record of 1841 is found within the middle of one of the relatively consecutive listed registries.