Primary Resource

Petition from Citizens of Hanover County (December 11 and 14, 1831)

In a petition to the General Assembly, dated December 11 and 14, 1831, a group of Hanover County slaveholders warns lawmakers of the increasing black population and asks them to pursue a project to colonize African Americans outside the United States.

Transcription from Original

To the General Assembly of the commonwealth of Virginia. The memorial of the undersigned citizens of the county of Hanover most respectfully showeth:

Free and unrestricted by regulation or shackles, as the right of the citizens of this commonwealth to ask redress for supposed grievances at the hands of the General Assembly, has ever been considered; there has at all times existed among us a circumspection in the exercise of this right, which has tended greatly to preserve the peace and harmony of the community. It is from ho reckless disregard to this consideration that we now approach you on a subject of the liveliest and deepest interest to the future happiness and quiet of this State, as well as one of the most delicate natures.

An evil has existed among us from almost the first settlement of the commonwealth of the heaviest and most serious character. It has grown with us and in every moment of our advance; it has more than kept pace with us; until at last, the alarming truth bursts from every lip, "That if we wish peace and happiness, quietude and prosperity, this fatal, paralyzing, destroying mischief must be removed." Who requires to be informed to what we refer? Do not all know, it is the existing curse of slavery to whose mischiefs we allude? This is not the proper time or place for speaking abstractly on this serious subject, we are done with the past and should only look to, and act for the future. How, or by whose means, this heavy and alarming evil has been brought on the country may amuse the philanthropist and fill the pages of historians. It is for us to consider the character and extent of this evil, and to apply the most salutary, peaceful, safe, just, and efficacious means for its removal.

For this object, we approach you as the lawgivers of the land with no moral or Constitutional restriction on your powers in the accomplishment of this great and holy purpose. A purpose which when attained will be a blessing of forever-continuing effect on our Country and the unhappy and degraded race of Africans, whose presence deforms our land. Great and enduring will such a work be, and he who shall devise and have the fortitude and constancy to execute a system for its accomplishment will forever live as the first and most signal benefactor of his country.

Should the Legislature require any facts or arguments to convince them of the imperious necessity for taking some decided measures on this subject, we most respectfully submit to them the following as deserving particular consideration. We affirm that for the last forty years the Black population including therein free Negroes and Mulattoes, has been gradually, but surely, increasing to that part of the State East of the base of the Blue Ridge of mountains in a greater ratio than the white population in the same district of the State. We affirm that from having in 1790 been a minority in this district, in 1830 the black population considerably outnumbered the whites, and to sustain these assertions we submit the following facts:

By the census of 1790 there were of whites east of the blue Ridge 314,523
There were of blacks 289,425
Majority of whites 25,098
In 1800 there were whites 336,389
There were of blacks 339,393
Majority of blacks 3,004
In 1810 there were of blacks 386,942
There were of whites 338,553
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Majority of blacks 48,389
In 1820 there were of blacks 413,928
There were of whites 348,873
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Majority of blacks 65,055
In 1830 there were of blacks 457,013
There were of whites 375,935
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Majority of blacks 81,078

From these statements taken from the census made out at each of the periods above referred to, it appears that the white population with a majority of 25,098 in 1790, has been in ten years thereafter overtaken by the blacks who at the end of that period exceeded the whites 3,004, and who now exceed them in number 81,078. It is farther made manifest that,

From 1790 to 1800 blacks increased 49,968
The whites increased 21,866
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Gain of blacks in first period 28,102
From 1800 to 1810 the blacks increased 47,549
The whites increased 2,164
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Gain of blacks in 2nd period 45,385
From 1810 to 1820 the blacks increased 26,986
The whites increased 10,320
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Gain of the blacks in 3rd period 16,666
From 1820 to 1830 the blacks increased 43,085
The whites increased 27,062
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Gain of blacks 16,023
Thus the gain of the blacks was in the first period 29,102
in the second period 45,385
in the third period 16,666
in the fourth period 16,023
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106,176

Total gain of the black population in the last forty years 106,176.

Your memorialists forbear to anticipate in detail the future relative population between the whites and the blacks in this region of Virginia. It may be safely asserted, however, that the end of the next forty years will find a difference much, very much, greater in number in favor of the blacks. This anticipation is already inducing many of our most industrious and enterprising people to seek new homes, in distant and stranger states where they and their children may be exempt from the dangers and difficulties with which they are unfortunately beset in their native land, while others are making rapid preparations to follow their example unless some hope of relief is held out to them. We are conscious, yes deeply conscious, of the many difficulties that surround this subject; but we dare hope that a patriotic people and an enlightened legislature may greatly diminish them. There is a deep and pervading feeling among us on this subject, which we trust may in some degree forward your efforts. We know that there are many of our people who would voluntary surrender now, or at short time, all of this property owned by them, to the commonwealth, provided means were dedicated for their removal and comfortable maintenance out of the limits of the United States for a reasonable period. Those voluntary offerings for the public good would in a short time diminish considerably the numbers and excite a well founded expectation of the total eradication of this evil. To these individual contributions should be added an adequate and appropriate application of the public means for the removal of the others from the commonwealth. The public and individuals thus acting in concert much would be effected at no distant day.

To many such a plan we are fully apprised would be objectionable on the ground of the inadequacy of the means of the State to attain the object. To such it may be well answered what stay to this impending and horrible evil do you propose? Will you wait until the land shall be deluged in blood and look alone to the fatal catastrophe of the extinction of the black races by force as the only remedy? Or rather, will you begin the great and good work by kind, gentle, gradual, and sure means? Let one count the cost and see at once what we are to expend of our means to effect this high purpose.

In the last forty years, the actual increase of the black have been 107,588 being at this rate of 4,189 per annum. As indiscriminate removal, then, of this annual increase would, in the course of thirty years, so diminish the evil that thereafter by removal of one-half this number for thirty years more, an almost entire destruction of the mischief would be effected.

Your memorialists do not, however, anticipate such rapid and happy measures. Let but the commonwealth raise by a tax on the blacks, free as well as slave, a reasonable sum, sufficient to defray the expenses of the removal and maintenance for a time of such as individuals may voluntary surrender to the State and for the purchase of a hundred of the young and healthy of both sex and for their removal and maintenance in like manner. And we do not doubt the most happy and satisfactory effects from such a beginning and a final and full triumph over all difficulties.

But, these measures your memorialists confidently believe should be accompanied by some others. The first should be the total prohibition of emancipation by individuals, but upon the condition of removal from the State. The second should be the immediate classification of the free blacks and requiring at stated periods their removal, and where they are not possessed of adequate means to defray the expense of immigration the same should be paid by the public. Such measures, as these promptly adopted and faithfully and energetically executed, would save to this commonwealth many of best people and much of her fair domain from waste and abandonment.

Your memorialists are slaveholders; this is the County of their birth, and attached to it by every tie that can bind people to their native land and that of their ancestors, they have everything of interest or of feeling at stake in this their appeal to you. Humanity must weep over a continuance of our present condition, while patriotism, self-interest, and our own happiness and that of our offspring call equally strong fort his application of some remedy to remove this most appalling and increasing evil. Relying with most ample confidence on the wisdom, patriotism and known discretion and elevated public spirit of the General Assembly, we most earnestly entreat its attention to the subject of this memorial, and that it would adopt such measures in relation thereto as may seem best calculated to advance the happiness, the greatness, and the peace of the State.