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Freedom Has a Face

Freedom Has a Face: Race, Identity, and Community in Jefferson's Virginia

Kirt von Daacke
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Freedom Has a Face
    Book Description:

    In his examination of a wide array of court papers from Albemarle County, a rural Virginia slaveholding community, Kirt von Daacke argues against the commonly held belief that southern whites saw free blacks only as a menace. Von Daacke reveals instead a more easygoing interracial social order in Albemarle County that existed for more than two generations after the Revolution-stretching to the mid-nineteenth century and beyond-despite fears engendered by Gabriel's Rebellion and the Haitian Revolution.

    Freedom Has a Facetells the stories of free blacks who worked hard to carve out comfortable spaces for existence. They were denied full freedom, but they were neither slaves without masters nor anomalies in a society that had room only for black slaves and free white citizens. A typical rural Piedmont county, Albemarle was not a racial utopia. Rather, it was a tight-knit community in which face-to-face interactions determined social status and reputation. A steep social hierarchy allowed substantial inequalities to persist, but it was nonetheless an intimately interracial society. Free African Americans who maintained personal connections with white neighbors and who participated openly in local society were perceived as far more than stereotypical dangerous blacks.

    Based on his work building a cross-referenced database containing individual records for nearly five thousand documents, von Daacke reveals a detailed picture of daily life in Albemarle County. With this reinsertion of individual free blacks into the neighborhood, community, and county, he exposes a different, more complicated image of the lives of free people of color.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3310-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, in his systematic studyAmerican Negro Slavery,stated that “the main body of the free negroes were those who whether in person or through their mothers had been liberated purely from sentiment and possessed no particular qualifications for self-directed careers. . . . Wherever they dwelt, they lived somewhat precariously upon the sufferance of whites, and in a more or less palpable danger of losing their liberty.” By liberty, Phillips meant simply not being slaves—self-ownership. Phillips’s statement loudly declares his belief in black inferiority and condemns free people of color to a well-deserved status of slaves...

  5. 1 The Right Hand Men of the Revolution Albemarle’s Free Black War Veterans
    (pp. 11-41)

    Albemarle County, Virginia, situated in central Virginia just east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was home to a few thousand whites, a few thousand slaves, and more than one hundred free blacks during the Revolutionary War.¹ It was a rural farming community producing tobacco, wheat, and corn as its cash crops. The county was home both to yeoman farmers working their own land and to plantation owners heavily dependent upon slave labor. Seventy miles west of the capital in Richmond, the county was neither part of the Virginia frontier nor central to the locus of political and economic power in...

  6. 2 Children of the Revolution Post-War Free Black Families, Property, and Community
    (pp. 42-74)

    The Revolutionary generation of free blacks in Albemarle County forged solid and enduring connections with the white community. Their participation as soldiers in the war counted for something in their neighbors’ eyes. In particular, the deeply personal connections that were created by serving together in combat would prove very useful to free black veterans well into the nineteenth century. Those same connections would also play a pivotal role at times for the families of free black veterans, who continued to receive military pensions even after the veterans themselves had died. The fact that the Revolution produced a period in which...

  7. 3 Good Blacks and Useful Men Reputation and Free Black Mobility
    (pp. 75-112)

    Many scholars have argued that the immediate post-Revolutionary years in the South represented a unique moment when the egalitarian principles promulgated during the Revolution challenged the slave system and the way of life that it supported for masters. Slavery at the time faced another assault from Quakers and from evangelical Christian thought propagated in particular by Baptists and Methodists. For a short time, many historians have written, this combination of secular and religious egalitarian ideals appeared to be on their way to ending slavery. Master after master, spurred by the apparent contradiction between those lofty ideals and the act of...

  8. 4 “I’ll Show You What a Free Negro Is” Black-on-White Violence in Albemarle
    (pp. 113-138)

    So far, this study has examined the life experiences of a number of people of color in Albemarle, men and women, young and old. Whether male or female, light-skinned or not, all of these people successfully navigated the social system in a rural antebellum southern county. None acted as if they lived in a police state that saw their presence as a threat to the racial and social order. They did not hide; they participated openly in the community. Their face-to-face interactions with area whites oft en displayed a fairly high level of familiarity and even intimacy and at times...

  9. 5 Bawdy Houses and Women of Ill Fame Free Black Women, Prostitution, and Family
    (pp. 139-169)

    On July 9, 1821, the free woman of color Fanny Barnett came to the Albemarle County court house in Charlottesville to file a fifty-dollar recognizance guaranteeing her appearance at the next month’s county court to answer charges of a “breach of the peace and for a riotous and unlawful assembly.” The white resident Benjamin Austin acted as surety for Barnett, filing his own fifty-dollar bond for her appearance. Also charged for the same offense that day were the white men Edmund Wade, Joshua Grady, and Bennett Wheeler. Two whites—Andrew McKee and Solomon Ballard—posted security for those men. Finally,...

  10. 6 An Easy Morality Community Knowledge of Interracial Sex
    (pp. 170-199)

    Richard Thomas Walker Duke Jr., writing his memoirs in the early twentieth century, painted a fascinating portrait of Charlottesville and Albemarle County in the antebellum period. Born in 1853, Duke recollected his childhood in an important family in the county. He grew up learning from his father about the histories behind the faces, white and black, that they saw daily. The world Richard Duke remembered was not a world of only black and white, however, nor was it a world of strict separation of the races. His memories illustrate clearly the routine nature of contact among whites, blacks, and mulattos,...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 200-206)

    In 1781, Thomas Jefferson wrote hisNotes on the State of Virginia.In this lengthy disquisition on American exceptionalism and superiority, Jefferson addressed the issue of race at length. In Query XIV, Jefferson stated plainly his belief in black inferiority. Jefferson “compared them [people of color] by their faculties [to whites]. . . . In reason,” he wrote, “[they are] much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous. . . . This unfortunate difference of colour, and perhaps faculty,...

  12. Appendix
    (pp. 207-210)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 211-244)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-258)
  15. Index
    (pp. 259-270)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-272)