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Lucy Jarvis Pearman Scott, Freedom Paper, 1848


Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 


In 1801, following Gabriel's failed slave rebellion, the Virginia General Assembly decreed that county commissioners of the revenue were to return a complete list of all free Black men and women in their districts on an annual basis. The list was to contain their name, gender, residence, and trade of each person. A copy of the list was to be posted on the door of the county court houses to inform the general public of the free Black people in their counties. If a registered free Black person moved to another county, then magistrates there could issue a warrant for them unless they were employed. Otherwise, the person would be jailed as a vagrant.

Free Black people were given certificates that they were required to carry on their person at all times. Lucy Jarvis was born free in York County. She received this certificate in York County, but relinquished it when registering in Henrico County a few months later. Later in her life, Lucy Jarvis Pearman Scott moved with her husband, William C. Scott, to Ohio and then to Canada.


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Suggested Questions

Preview Activity
Scan It: Scan the transcribed document. What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?

Post Activities
Current Connections: Although Lucy and her parents had never been enslaved, they were bound by the requirement to carry identification papers stating their free status. Can connections can be made to today’s society? If so, what?

Take a Stand: As Lucy (an adult, married, Black female), write an argument to be delivered to the Virginia State Legislature arguing against the need to carry such identification papers. As a member of the Virginia State Legislature, write a response to such an argument. Does this identification paper protect free Black people? Explain.

Be the Journalist: Although technically “free,” free black people were not offered the same rights as free white people in both Virginia and in other states. For example, a Virginia law passed in the early 1830s prohibited the teaching of all black people to read or write. Free Black people throughout the South were banned from possessing firearms or preaching the Bible. Later laws prohibited Black people who went out of state to receive an education from returning. Free Black people could not testify in court -- if a slave catcher claimed that an individual was a slave, the accused could not defend herself or himself in court. You are a journalist in the 21st Century who wishes to tell Lucy’s early story in Virginia. Write an op-ed or opinion column, explaining how you feel about the use of the lists used to identify free Blacks and how it may relate to issues in modern society. Be sure to include examples and relevant references in your column.