Primary Resource

Petition from the Citizens of Buckingham County (December 16, 1831)

In a petition to the General Assembly, dated December 16, 1831, citizens of Buckingham County call on lawmakers to adopt a plan to gradually emancipate Virginia's slaves.

Transcription from Original

To the Legislature of Virginia:

The undersigners, citizens of the county of Buckingham, respectfully represent that we view with concern the rapid menace of the colored population. The Southampton massacre with the number of conspiracies, prove that our fears are well founded. If we are now exposed to these insurrections and butcheries whilst physical strength, and whilst numbers are on our side; what will be our situation at the expiration of forty or sixty years if some plan be not devised and executed that will prevent the rapid increase of their numbers? We see that the blacks east of the Blue Ridge increase much faster than the whites, notwithstanding the great numbers that are annually sold to the South. This difference must be greater still when we reflect that in a few years more the Southern states will cease to purchase our slaves.

When this event takes place, the larger slaveholders will be compelled to purchase the land of the non-slave holders, to find employment for their slaves, and the latter class will emigrate to the new states. We believe that it is necessary to take the subject into consideration and devise some plan that will quiet the fears of the people of the Commonwealth, or we shall lose numbers of our best citizens. We also believe that if this subject be delayed much longer that it will not be in the power of this Commonwealth ever to get rid of the evil of which we complain. To demonstrate this, suffer us to bring to your view the present number of the colored people in this commonwealth, and the probable number there will be in about sixty years.

At the last census, there were 576,827. The increase we will put at 15 percent for the next ten years, as many will be sent to the South during that time, say in round numbers 77,000 making 593,000 in the year 1820; before this period the South will refuse to receive our slaves, and then we may calculate upon their doubling their numbers in about twenty-seven years. According to this data, there will be 1,186,000 in the year 1867 and in the year 1894 the enormous number of 2,372,000 in that state alone.

We cannot reasonably believe that there will be any increase of the white population; for if the colored population remain with their menace, the whites will remove faster than they increase; (we find this expectation verified in this county in the year 1830 by upwards of 600 as in the year 1810), consequently at the end of sixty-three years there will probably be at least four colored to one white person.

We beg leave to call your attention to the plan suggested by Mr. [Thomas] Jefferson, that is, "by emancipating the afterborn leaving on due compensation with their mothers, until their services are worth their maintenance, and then putting them to industrious occupation until a proper age for deportation." The estimated value of a newborn infant is so low (say twelve dollars and fifty cents) that we do not see how masters who have the welfare of their country and families at heart, can object to give them up. "And who (says Mr. Jefferson) could estimate its blessed effects? I leave this to those who will live to see its accomplishments, and enjoy a beatitude forbidden to my age. But I leave it with this admonition, to rise and be doing."

We feel confident that the wisdom of the Legislation will be sufficient to devise the mode of procuring the necessary means for transporting them to Africa. Mr. Jefferson thinks that Congress of the United States ought to appropriate the proceeds of the public lands for this purpose; he says, he is aware this subject-involving constitutional scruples. But, a liberal construction, justified by the object may go far, and an amendment to the constitution the whole length necessary.

Your petitions entreat that something may be done by you if not for themselves, at least, for their posterity, and as in duty bound will every pray.