By Roberta Jestes at Native Heritage Project
Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA. Every county should have a Mary Kegley. Mary, an attorney, specializes in Wythe County, Va. records. I love it when attorneys write books, because I know they are going to be well documented and sourced, and indeed, this one is no exception.
Her book, Free People of Colour: Free Negroes, Indians, Portuguese and Freed Slaves documents lawsuits filed in and involved with Wythe County, but the tendrils of the trees reach far back into colonial Virginia. She does not limit the book to Wythe County records which are covered in Chapters 2, 3 and 5. Chapter 4, Lawsuits, include families in Washington, Lee and Montgomery Counties in Virginia. Chapter 6 focuses on Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski and Carroll Counties in Virginia. Chapter 7, Powhatan, Chesterfield, Henry, Louisa and Goochland Counties. There is no Chapter 8, but the pages are consecutive, so Chapter 9 is apparently simply mis-numbered. Chapter 9 focuses on Scott Co., Va.
But let’s let Mary tell the story. Excerpting now, from her book:
“Indian slavery, a condition relatively unknown or written about today, was a common practice in colonial times in all of the American colonies. It was practiced by the Indians themselves, the Spanish, French and the English. Colonial Virginia was no exception.
Indian slaves were often obtained by warfare and barter but many were captured in the Carolinas and were taken elsewhere, including Virginia.
In 1676 the General Assembly declared, “enslavement of Indians for life to be legal,” and although this act was repealed and revived in 1691, legal enslavement of Indians was prohibited but only by implication.
The exact number of Indian slaves is impossible to determine anywhere, but this was especially difficult in the South because Indians were often classified as Negroes. And there was great treachery and betrayal by whites who refused to give up the Indians claiming that they were Negro slaves instead. They were recognized as property and were openly bought and sold and could be transferred by will or as a distribution in connection with an estate. Several examples are mentioned in this publication.
The number of Indians, whether enslaved or not, was greatly diminished by white man’s diseases. In addition, there was mixture of Indian and negro blood to such an extent that the Negro majority left the Indian marked for oblivion.
By 1780 many southern Indian tribes were extinct or greatly reduced. For example, the Catawbas of South Carolina were reduced to only 70-80 men. Another major reason Indian slavery diminished was because of the introduction of indentured white servants, very much desired by the colonists. Negroes soon outnumbered Indian slaves and the sources for the Indians was greatly diminished and meant danger to the traders or those attempting to procure them. In addition, Indians were not as valuable as Negroes.
After 1705 Indian slavery in Virginia was illegal but it was not until 1777 that it was decided by the legislature that no Indian brought into Virginia since the Act of 1705 could be slaves. Only four colonies, Virginia, South Carolina, Rhode Island and New York declared Indian slavery to be illegal. Several Virginia cases for freedom of the Indian slaves were interpreted under the Act of 1705, including some in Wythe County, Va.”
Mary’s book transcribes court cases and related depositions involving free people of color.
This book and others are available on her website: http://www.kegleybooks.com
These records are a godsend to Native researchers and genealogists. The Indian women captured after 1705 were often children, eventually married to others who were enslaved, and had passed on by the time suits were filed in the 1800s. The suits claimed that the descendants of these women, generally grandchildren or even great-grandchildren were held illegally because they descended from an Indian woman who was illegally held in slavery. Many suits were found in favor of the plaintiffs. The depositions in the cases, not only of the slaves, but of the white families who bought and sold them, and the history of the families’ migrations, by choice or not, are often clearly documented. This information would never be available any other way or for any other reason.
Often these suits are buried in the undocumented and unindexed chancery suits in Virginia Counties. By the 1800s, many of the descendants had been dispersed far and wide, some being taken outside of Virginia. Some slaves went so far as to ask to be taken into the possession of the sheriff while their suits were being heard because they were afraid that their masters would sell them “down the river” or move them outside of the jurisdiction of the court. It was risky, at best, for a slave to file a suit against their master. In this case, the reward though, if found in their favor, was the ultimate Holy Grail….freedom… a gift from their Indian ancestor.
In the now digitized editions of “Answerin’ News”, an early portion of the Cherokee Agency Pass Book has been transcribed. This portion covers from July 1801 to October 28, 1804 at Southwest Point, now Kingston, Tennessee. If you wanted to travel through or trade in Cherokee Country, you had to obtain a pass. In these records are found a few Indian and Indian trader names, as follows:
- Wm. Green Wood (Indian)
- David Roe (Indian)
- Return Jonathan Meigs (Indian Agent)
- Timothy Meigs (Indian Agent’s son)
Given that Cherokees would not have needed to have a pass, these Indian men must have been from another tribe.