The Free Blacks of Virginia: A Personal Narrative, A Legal Construct

38 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2015 Last revised: 9 Mar 2017

See all articles by Sherri L. Burr

Sherri L. Burr

University of New Mexico - School of Law

Date Written: 2015


The Free Blacks of Virginia are a mostly unknown group in United States history. The common narrative is that all Africans were brought to this country as slaves with no rights, and systematically received legal privileges after the Civil War in the 1860s and the Civil Rights struggle in the 1960s. The reality differs from this assumption. The first Africans who landed on the shores of Virginia in 1619 began their lives as indentured servants similar to many European immigrants. After finishing their term of service, these Africans were accorded liberties such as the right to vote, own property, and import both European and African servants. The mid to late 1600s brought the legal transformation of Africans from servants for a term to servants for life, or slaves with no rights. The author employs her own family’s history in Virginia to illustrate how the initial cluster of Free Blacks grew through manumissions and births at the same time as their legal rights were systematically and dramatically restricted.

Keywords: Free Blacks of Virginia, indentured servants, slavery

Suggested Citation

Burr, Sherri L., The Free Blacks of Virginia: A Personal Narrative, A Legal Construct (2015). UNM School of Law Research Paper 2015-09; Journal of Gender, Race and Justice, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2016. Available at SSRN: or

Sherri L. Burr (Contact Author)

University of New Mexico - School of Law ( email )

1117 Stanford, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM 87131
United States

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