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Freedom Has a Face

Race, Identity, and Community in Jefferson's Virginia

Kirt von Daacke

Publication Year: 2012

In his examination of a wide array of court papers from Albemarle County, a rural Virginia slaveholding community, Kirt von Daacke argues against the commonly held belief that southern whites saw free blacks only as a menace. Von Daacke reveals instead a more easygoing interracial social order in Albemarle County that existed for more than two generations after the Revolution—stretching to the mid-nineteenth century and beyond—despite fears engendered by Gabriel’s Rebellion and the Haitian Revolution.

Freedom Has a Face tells the stories of free blacks who worked hard to carve out comfortable spaces for existence. They were denied full freedom, but they were neither slaves without masters nor anomalies in a society that had room only for black slaves and free white citizens. A typical rural Piedmont county, Albemarle was not a racial utopia. Rather, it was a tight-knit community in which face-to-face interactions determined social status and reputation. A steep social hierarchy allowed substantial inequalities to persist, but it was nonetheless an intimately interracial society. Free African Americans who maintained personal connections with white neighbors and who participated openly in local society were perceived as far more than stereotypical dangerous blacks.

Based on his work building a cross-referenced database containing individual records for nearly five thousand documents, von Daacke reveals a detailed picture of daily life in Albemarle County. With this reinsertion of individual free blacks into the neighborhood, community, and county, he exposes a different, more complicated image of the lives of free people of color.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Series: Carter G. Woodson Institute Series

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-8

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pp. ix-xi

Over the many years of working on this project, I have compiled a long list of people and organizations to whom I owe thanks. I could not have produced this book without all of their help— I am grateful beyond words for all of the assistance, love, and support they provided and doubt that their I was blessed with two professors who were academic mentors of the ...

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pp. 1-10

Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, in his systematic study American Negro Slavery, stated that “the main body of the free negroes were those who whether in person or through their mothers had been liberated purely from sentiment and possessed no particular qualifications for self- directed careers. . . . Wherever they dwelt, they lived somewhat precariously upon the suff erance ...

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1 The Right Hand Men of the Revolution

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pp. 11-41

Albemarle County, Virginia, situated in central Virginia just east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was home to a few thousand whites, a few thousand slaves, and more than one hundred free blacks during the Revolutionary War.1 It was a rural farming community producing tobacco, wheat, and corn as its cash crops. The county was home both to yeoman farmers working their ...

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2 Children of the Revolution

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pp. 42-74

The Revolutionary generation of free blacks in Albemarle County forged solid and enduring connections with the white community. Their participation as soldiers in the war counted for something in their neighbors’ eyes. In particular, the deeply personal connections that were created by serving together in combat would prove very useful to free black veterans well into ...

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3 Good Blacks and Useful Men

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pp. 75-112

Many scholars have argued that the immediate post- Revolutionary years in the South represented a unique moment when the egalitarian principles promulgated during the Revolution challenged the slave system and the way of life that it supported for masters. Slavery at the time faced another assault from Quakers and from evangelical Christian thought propagated in par-...

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4 “I’ll Show You What a Free Negro Is”

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pp. 113-138

So far, this study has examined the life experiences of a number of people of color in Albemarle, men and women, young and old. Whether male or female, light- skinned or not, all of these people successfully navigated the social system in a rural antebellum southern county. None acted as if they lived in a police state that saw their presence as a threat to the racial and ...

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5 Bawdy Houses and Women of Ill Fame

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pp. 139-169

On July 9, 1821, the free woman of color Fanny Barnett came to the Albemarle County court house in Charlottesville to file a fifty- dollar recognizance guaranteeing her appearance at the next month’s county court to answer charges of a “breach of the peace and for a riotous and unlawful assembly.” The white resident Benjamin Austin acted as surety for Barnett, ...

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6 An Easy Morality

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pp. 170-199

Richard Thomas Walker Duke Jr., writing his memoirs in the early twentieth century, painted a fascinating portrait of Charlottesville and Albemarle County in the antebellum period. Born in 1853, Duke recollected his child-hood in an important family in the county. He grew up learning from his father about the histories behind the faces, white and black, that they saw ...

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pp. 200-207

In 1781, Thomas Jefferson wrote his Notes on the State of Virginia. In this lengthy disquisition on American exceptionalism and superiority, Jefferson addressed the issue of race at length. In Query XIV, Jefferson stated plainly his belief in black inferiority. Jefferson “compared them [people of color] by their faculties [to whites]. . . . In reason,” he wrote, “[they are] much inferior, ...


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pp. 221-224


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pp. 211-244


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pp. 245-258


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pp. 259-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780813933108
E-ISBN-10: 0813933102
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813933092
Print-ISBN-10: 0813933099

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 1 map, 2 charts, 1 table
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Carter G. Woodson Institute Series
Series Editor Byline: Deborah E. McDowell See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 867739172
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Freedom Has a Face

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Free African Americans -- Virginia -- Albemarle County -- History -- 19th century.
  • Free African Americans -- Virginia -- Albemarle County -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Albemarle County (Va.) -- Race relations.
  • Albemarle County (Va.) -- History -- 19th century.
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