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Nancy, Petition to Remain in Virginia, Loudoun County, 1815


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 had to leave the state within one year. Those who remained in Virginia more than a year could be sold back into slavery. 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.

In 1815, a Loudoun County resident named Nancy petitioned the General Assembly to remain in Virginia. She stated in her petition she had been freed at age twenty-five by her enslaver, John Alexander Binns. However, her three children were to remain in slavery until they each turned twenty-one. She appealed to the sympathies of the legislators, asserting that if she was compelled to leave Virginia and her children it would be "almost as severe as the loss of life." Members of the Binns family and other white men and women who knew Nancy signed the petition to attest to her good character. Although her request was described as "reasonable," no bill allowing her to remain was passed at that session of the legislature. Whether or not Nancy remained without permission or left the state is not known. 

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.

Learn more about legislative petitions in the Your Humble Petitioner exhibition.

Citation: Petition of Nancy, December 6, 1815, Loudoun 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 petition? 

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 Nancy’s petition? What made her situation unique?