Primary Resource

Petition from Inhabitants of Washington County (December 17, 1831)

In a petition to the General Assembly, dated December 17, 1831, citizens of Washington County ask lawmakers to gradually emancipate and colonize the state's African Americans.

Transcription from Original

To the honorable the General Assembly of Virginia:

The petition of the undersigned inhabitants of Washington County respectfully represents—That in the opinion of your petitioners the time has arrived, when, it is not only proper, but has become the imperious duty of the General Assembly, to require the removal from the Commonwealth, of all the free people of color, except such as have been emancipated, for making known insurrections or attempts at insurrections. These people may not be more prone to engage insurrectionary movements that the slaves:—but they are generally a great nuisance in our society and their presence makes the slaves more discounted. All must have observed this.

Your petitioners are further of opinion that it is the duty of your honorable body to make provision for a gradual reduction of the number of slaves in the Commonwealth, by purchase and removal out of the limits of the United States. Your petitioners would be willing that the Constitution of the United States should be so amended, as to authorize that Government, with the assent of any State to assist in the great work of removal.

Your petitioners further states that two cases have occurred in this county where masters have been required to give security for their slaves keeping the peace and being of good behavior—and in both instances the slaves were released by the judge of the Superior Court on writs of Habeas Corpus, upon the ground that a slave could not be held to security for his good behavior or for keeping the peace; or his master for him. If such is the law, your petitioners pray that it may be amended, so that the master may be made responsible for the good behavior of his slave or for his keeping the peace, as he would be for that is his child or apprentice. Why should a slave be the only lawless human being in the community? If the master is unwilling to be bound for him, he must be dangerous and ought to be sent out of the country. Your petitioners pray that suitable laws may be passed on all the above subjects and as in duty bound will pray.