Tag Archives: free negroes

Were Free Negroes Enslaved to Confederate Service?

From a claim made to the Southern Claims Commission by Exum White, a free “colored” man of Nansemond County, Virginia, the following statement:

“White was a colored man.  The Magistrate of Nansemond Co. in Jany ’62 sentenced him & 100 other colored men to work on the rebel works on railroad near Manassas for 60 days worked by compulsion and got no pay, taken sick & sent home on sick leave. He afterwards worked for the Union army on works around Suffolk for 2 or 3 months. Daniel White and Benjamin Turner attest his loyalty which we find proven.”

Is it possible that 101 free negro men were guilty of crimes that warranted sentencing at the same time?  Was the magistrate at Nansemond technically enslaving free negroes to perform work on behalf of the Confederate military?

This is likely nothing new to historians, but it’s the first time I’ve read that “free” people were used in this way by southern courts.

From Wikipedia –

The Southern Claims Commission (SCC) was an organization of the executive branch of the United States government from 1871-1873 under President Ulysses S. Grant. Its purpose was to allow Union sympathizers who had lived in the Southern states during the American Civil War, 1861–1865, to apply for reimbursements for property losses due to U.S. Army confiscations during the war.