In 1801, the Virginia State Legislature decreed that county commissioners of the revenue were to return a complete list of all free "Negroes" in their district on an annual basis. This list was to contain names, gender, residence, and trade of each free African American. A copy of the list was to be posted on the door of the county court house. If a registered free African American moved to another county, then magistrates there could issue a warrant for him unless he was employed. Otherwise, he would be jailed as a vagrant.
Beginning in 1806, the Virginia State Legislature required all free African Americans to register in their county of residence. Free African Americans were given certificates that they were required to carry on their persons. 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, Lucy Jarvis Pearman Scott moved with her husband, William C. Scott, to Ohio and then to Canada.
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?
In Their Shoes: As Lucy (an adult, married, African American female), write an address 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 African Americans? Explain.
Advice Column: Although technically “free,” free African Americans were not offered the same rights as free whites in both Virginia and in other states. For example, a Virginia law passed in the early 1830s prohibited the teaching of all African Americans to read or write. Free African Americans throughout the South were banned from possessing firearms or preaching the Bible. Later laws prohibited African Americans who went out of state to receive an education from returning. Free African Americans could not testify in court -- if a slave catcher claimed that a free African American was a slave, the accused could not defend himself in court.
As Lucy or another free African American, write to an advice column, explaining how you are being discriminated against.