The registration of free Negroes and Mulattoes began in Virginia in 1793 with passage of a law that required free persons of color to register with the Clerk of Court in the county where they resided and to carry their "free papers" with them at all times. Although the legal definition of Mulatto changed over time, as first enacted in 1705, the term Mulatto applied to a person who was one-eighth (or more) Negro or one-half Indian. By 1866 one-quarter Negro blood made a person “colored,” whereas one-quarter Indian blood made a person Indian. If records have survived registrations of free Negroes and Mulattoes commonly appear in two places; namely, in the court minute or order books recording the actions taken by the court when in session and in a separate register which lists registrants by their certificate number.
Pictured to the left: Reuben Brown (registered 21 MAR 1844), wife Susan W. Harris Brown (registered 20 JUL 1848) and their children, including sons Braxton and Powhatan (registered 18 OCT 1860). The Brown family left Charles City for Ohio before the start of the Civil War.
The earliest registers of Charles City free Negroes and Mulattoes have been lost, but a register begun in 1836 which re-recorded earlier granted certificates has survived and is available on microfilm through the Library of Virginia. The 1836 register identifies a total of 802 residents issued certificates of freedom prior to the Civil War.
The registrations contained in this digital archive – nearly 800 -- were abstracted from the Charles City County Court Minute and Order Books spanning the time period between 1823 and 1864. The abstracts were first published in the Charles City County Historical Society Newsletter, issues 9, 14, 15, 16 and 17 and are reproduced in this format with the express permission of the Historical Society. These registrations contain the same sorts of information that would have appeared in the registers as well as the names of the white residents who sponsored, or testified to the applicant's free status.
Pictured to the right: Alexander J. Bradby, Jr. (registered 17 OCT 1861) and family.
The surviving register and these abstracts contain somewhat different information. Certain individual registrants whose names appear in the Charles City Register of Free Negroes and Mulattoes do not appear in these abstracts and others who appear in these abstracts do not appear in the Register. Thus, both sources should be consulted when documenting an ancestor.
Click here to download registrations abstract (60 pages PDF - 1MB).