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Clara Robinson, Petition to Remain in Virginia, Henrico County, 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 1806, the General Assembly placed restrictions on emancipation and required that once an enslaved Virginian was freed, he or she was required to leave the state within one year's time or Those who remained in the Commonwealth more than a year could be put on trial by the state, and if found guilty, would be re-enslaved and sold. Often, however, the law did not always operate to full effect. Some people petitioned the General Assembly to remain, some received permission from the local courts, and sometimes the community simply looked the other way.

Petitions to the General Assembly were the primary catalyst for legislation in the Commonwealth from 1776 until 1865. Public improvements, military claims, divorce, manumission of slaves, division of counties, incorporation of towns, religious freedom, and taxation were just some of the concerns expressed in these petitions. Frequently, the petitions contain supplementary support documents useful in research, including maps, wills, naturalizations, deeds, resolutions, affidavits, judgments, and other items.

Clara Robinson was 60 years olde when she petitioned the General Assembly in 1848. She asked to remain in Richmond after she was emancipated by Elizabeth Gibson. As an established and successful midwife, who had been trained to assist women in childbirth, supporting statements were made by several physicians who had utilized her midwife services. The House of the General Assembly referred the petition to the committee on the Courts of Justice, which supported her request. In January 1849 a “bill for the relief” of Clara Robinson’s petition was submitted and passed in February of that same year.  The bill was stalled until March 1850 which the General Assembly finally passed legislation which allowed Clara Robinson to remain and reside in Richmond. There is no further information about her life after the passage of the bill.

See the petition here

Citation: Petition, Clara Robinson, December 20, 1848, Henrico County, Legislative Petitions of the
General Assembly, 1776-1865, Accession 36121, Library of Virginia.


Social Studies: VS1, USI.1, USI.8, VUS.6

Suggested Questions

Preview Activity
Scan It: Scan the transcript of the document. What information does it provide about the basis for the

Post Activities 
Think About It: Why would Virginia law require freed people to leave the state? How might have this law
impacted emancipated former enslaved people and their families?
Another Perspective: What is significant about Clara Robinson’s petition? What made her situation