Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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A Number of Valuable Slaves: Life as an Enslaved People

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  • Tredegar Iron Works, Records, 1845–1865, Accession 25744, Business Records Collection, Series 7, Anderson Family Bills of Sale for Slaves, 1842–1865, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia., LVA
    Bill of Sale
  • Benjamin Henry Latrobe, An Essay on Landscape, 1798–1799, Accession 25060, Personal Papers Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia., LVA
    Slaves Steering a Bateau
  • Broadside 1812 .T3 FF, Special Collections, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia., LVA
    An Advertisement for Slaves
  • Robert Harvey slave cabin [graphic] / Wm. C. Sponaugle. Photograph accompanies Virginia Historical Inventory survey report: VHIR/23/0393. Virginia WPA Historical Inventory Project, Library of Virginia, Richmond Virginia., LVA
    Slave Cabin, ca. 1830
  • Joseph D. Lee, Note, 13 August 1838. Accession 42684. Personal Papers Collection. The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia., LVA
    Permission for Amy to Attend Church
  • Tredegar Iron Works (Richmond, Virginia), Records, 1847–1907, Accession 42362, Business Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia., LVA
    Tredegar Strike
  • Doe, Charles, Letter, 22 February 1850, Accession 38743, Personal Papers Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia., LVA
    Letter about Danville Slaves
  • Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C., LOC
    Alexandria Slave Pen
  • Edwin Hergesheimer. Map of Virginia Showing the Distribution of its Slave Population from the Census of 1860. Washington, [D.C.: Henry S. Graham], June 13th, 1861. Map Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia., LVA
    Virginia Slave Population Map, 1860
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A Number of Valuable Slaves:
Life as an Enslaved People

The beginning of lifelong servitude or slavery in Virginia is very hard to trace. Although many of the laws restricting African Virginians were passed in the 1660s, slavery did not become codified in Virginia law until 1705. By 1830 in the United States, slavery was located primarily in the South. Slaves toiled on small farms, large plantations, inside homes, and in industrial settings. The traditional image of southern slavery is that of the large plantation, but, in fact, most Virginia slaveholders held only a few enslaved people.

In 1860, Virginia had the nation’s highest population of enslaved African Americans, nearly 500,000. As the nineteenth century progressed, industry’s reliance on enslaved labor grew, bringing white workers into conflict with slaveholders and the enslaved workers who competed for jobs. Urban industrial slavery provided slave owners with a steady income and manufacturers with a decreased cost of production.

As enslaved people, African Americans strove to create meaningful family and community relationships as well as a distinctly African American culture, though religion, music, education, and other social customs. They were thwarted, however, by severe restrictions and the ever-present fear of being sold away from their family, friends, and home.

People Featured in This Unit:

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  • William Breedlove (ca. 1820–1871)
  • Henry Box Brown (1815 or 1816–after 1878)
  • Gabriel (1776–1800)
  • Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865)
  • Joseph Jenkins Roberts (1809–1876)
  • Nat Turner (1800–1831)
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