In a course of an in depth research for writing a book I discovered a common practice I had never heard of. The system had many unknown nooks, that are just now seeing the light of day. It was indeed an evil, peculiar institution. And remnants of it still plague the world today.
Between the 1620’s to 1863 there really were not as many ‘free’ African Americans as the census have listed. What I mean by free is that no one has claim to your life. Nor can make a claim on it.
On the census, the house deed or even on the farm deed, the person is often listed as a ‘free person of color’. But I found there was a dark under current to this fragile claim. They were not wholly free in the sense as a white indenture servant who paid his or her debt was free.
How I discovered this is I looked whites whom bared the same names and carefully researched the death writs or wills of many people such as those like the Woodards plantation owners of North Carolina and compared it to many others and learned the women nor their bi-racial children were wholly free.
And I started seeing a pattern of what I call ‘leased freedom’. I can’t think a better name for the deception of freedom.
Most often their freedom was tied to the original progenitor’s/ master’s life span. As long as he was alive they were free. He never fully emancipated her, her children, nor grand children.
Sure, she and her bi-racial children may had often lived in town instead of on the plantation where his wife and other slaves lived.
Sure, the bi-racial sons may had ran plantations of their own. But he still held the writ to their freedom and ‘could’ sell these ‘so-called’ free people off as easily as those on the plantation.
I had never heard of this aspect of slavery until I researched old wills and such.
Usually when he passed away he left the writ of guarantor in the care of his family, usually a wife or son. He assigned them as these people guarantors. Meaning they could testify that these people were free as long as the guarantors saw that it was favorable that they remain free. Free to physically to live the life they lived. In most case the surviving wife had no more reason to restraint her murderous jealousy. The ire that’s been churning for years was released in it fullness. Never mind these ‘allegedly free people’ had no control over her husband’s actions. These people were blessed if they and their homes were sold. Too often, the vengeful widow took out her injured pride laced with fury out on them and they were killed.
Despite the fact this practice was quite common and gave the appearance of a larger ‘free’ black population than actually existed. It was still slavery wrapped in a more appeasing package. It was a more appeasing package to the slave master, not the victimized woman and her bi-racial children.
Many people perhaps believe their ancestor were a free black man or woman whereas that may had not been the full truth. These people were not allowed to leave the area anymore than those living on the plantation.
Despite the fact many were educated and lived far better than their plantation dwelling brothers and sister, their freedom was equally as fragile. When the need arrived to raise resources. They had an almost equal chance of standing on the auction block as those dwelling on the plantation. The value of these homes and plantations and the kinship of the resident held no barrier to the slavers…..like during the Civil War, these people and homes were the first the planters sold off to support the war.
Below is the book I was doing research for when I discovered this. Well, one of them.