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2 Children of the Revolution Post-War Free Black Families, Property, and Community 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 the nineteenth century. Those same connections would also play a pivotal role at times for the families of free black veterans, who continued to receive military pensions even after the veterans themselves had died. The fact that the Revolution produced a period in which the racial hierarchy of the slave South temporarily weakened has been well documented by scholars. These same scholars argue that this brief postwar period ended rather suddenly when enthusiasm for Revolutionary doctrine faded in the early nineteenth century. The abortive Gabriel’s rebellion in the Richmond area, combined with reports of the excesses of the French Revolution and the successful slave rebellion in Haiti, supposedly put an end to a period of relative racial harmony. As the lives of these Albemarle free black Revolutionary veterans demonstrate, however, the door did not close so quickly on that period. And what about those free people of color who did not participate actively in the Revolution? What about those who were simply born too late even to consider getting involved? Did they merely experience a short postRevolutionary time when the racial hierarchy weakened a bit? Were they denied participation in the local community as a result? The children of the Revolutionary generation and those born too late to participate in the war made slow but steady progress toward greater property ownership, wealth, Children of the Revolution 43 and skills. It was a tough road to travel when their parents had had so few advantages. Those who remained in Albemarle, however impoverished, continued to demonstrate sustained interaction with the white community. They became known people, whose behavior was respectable enough in the eyes of whites to allow them wider latitude in their actions. The man of color Robert Battles and his family represent an excellent starting point for such a comparison . Robert Battles Sr. was born in 1771 in Albemarle. He was too young to participate as a soldier in the Revolution. He was, however, acquainted with free black Revolutionary War veteran Charles Barnett. In December 1793, Barnett gave bond for Robert’s marriage to Nancy Bowles. They were neighbors , living just south of Charlottesville. Until well into the nineteenth century, the documentary record of Robert Battles is sparse indeed. He appears yearly starting in 1794 on the county’s personal property tax lists. These documents do not reveal anything dramatic about his life. Until at least 1820, he owned little personal property in any given year. Battles does not appear on land tax lists for that period. His marriage to Nancy Bowles in 1793, however, reveals some details about the neighborhood in which he lived. The ceremony involved three free black families: Battles, Barnett, and Bowles. All lived on the same side of town in a neighborhood that included free black property owners, white and black itinerant laborers , slaves, and free whites from a variety of economic backgrounds. Robert Battles’s relationship with Barnett, clearly evincing a level of familiarity in 1793, quickly soured after that marriage ceremony. Less than three years later, Charles Barnett and his wife Lucy took Robert Battles to court. In May 1796, they charged him with assault and pleaded with the court for protection, fearing Battles’s continuing intent to injure them. Robert Battles answered the summons for the charges, appearing at the Charlottesville courthouse, denying the charges and pleading not guilty. The case was continued until later that summer. At the August court, both the Barnetts and the Battleses returned to the courthouse. Barnett’s case against Robert Battles was dismissed, and the Barnetts were ordered to pay all court costs. Both free men of color, contrary to the picture portrayed by much historical writing about free blacks, were ready, willing, and able to utilize the legal system in rural Virginia when it suited them. Neither had complied with state law by formally registering with the county as free black residents. That law had been in effect since 1793. Disregarding their apparent violation 44 Freedom Has a Face of the law, both men readily appeared in court: Barnett and his wife came first to...


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MARC Record
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