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.
After the American Revolution, some Virginians freed some of their enslaved laborers, and by 1800 the population of free Black men and women had increased to nearly 20,000, primarily in urban areas like Richmond and Petersburg. Many white Virginians feared that their presence would disrupt the state's racial hierarchy. After Gabriel's Conspiracy to plan a slave rebellion was thwarted in 1800, the General Assembly sought to place more restrictions on emancipation.
A law passed in 1806 also required that once an enslaved Virginian was freed, he or she was required to leave the state within one year's time. Those who remained in the Commonwealth more than a year could be sold back into slavery. The law was not always followed, however, and many freed men and women remained safely in their communities because white residents chose not to enforce the law. Some freed men and women received permission to remain from the local courts to remain in Virginia, and some petitioned the General Assembly for permission to remain. Petitions to the General Assembly were the primary catalyst for legislation in the Commonwealth from 1776 until 1865 and in addition to petitions for public improvements such as establishing a town or turnpike, individuals also petitioned for personal reasons, such as divorce, pensions, or freedom.
In December 1812, Jenny Parker was emancipated following the death of Josiah Wilson as indicated in his will. She explained that "all her children and friends" lived in Surry County, where she wished to remain. In addition, one of her children had been previously emancipated and owned real estate, personal property, and provided for two of her other children. As she was no longer young and wished to remain in Virginia with her family, she petitioned for special permission allowing her to stay in the state. Relatives of her enslaver and white neighbors supported her petition, but the General Assembly rejected her request. Whether Jenny Parker was re-enslaved, or forced to leave, or managed to remain safely in Surry County is not known.
Citation: Petition of Jenny Parker, Surry County, 1813, Legislative Petitions Digital Collection, Library of Virginia.
Scan It: Scan the transcript of the document. What information does it provide about the basis for the petition?
Think About It: Why would Virginia require freed people to leave the state? Consider that Gabriel's Rebellion occurred in 1800 and how this event which included the threat of an uprising amongst enslaved people impacted public opinion. How might that event have affected lawmakers' decisions to place restrictions on newly freed people?
Another Perspective: What is significant about Jenny Parker’s petition? What made her situation unique?