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Free Blacks


According to the census, there were 1,745 free black people living in Southampton County in 1830. Legally free African Americans thus made up about 10.9% of the total population in the county. That meant nearly 4% of the free black population in the state of Virginia lived in Southampton County. 


White Virginians frequently expressed uneasiness about the free blacks living in their midst. They believed they set a bad example for enslaved African Americans, who might get the idea that they too deserved their liberty. Several free black men were suspected of involvement in the Southampton rebellion; Thomas Haithcock, Billy Artis, Arnold Artis, Exum Artis, Berry Newsom, and Isham Turner were arrested. Only Berry Newsom was found guilty and executed. Haithcock, Exum Artis, Newsom, and Turner were acquitted of the charge of conspiracy. Billy Artis seems to have committed suicide while in jail.


Both before and after the revolt, the Virginia General Assembly passed laws restricting the rights of free black residents. There was also an active colonization movement among white Virginians, and several ships left for Liberia in the 1820s and 1830s with free black colonists aboard. Life in West Africa was difficult, and many of the African Americans who relocated there died within a short time of arrival. Others, including former Southampton resident Anthony W. Gardiner, who became the ninth president of Liberia.

Background image:

Free men of color, Virginia, by

William A. Pratt,


For scanned images of the 1830 census for Southampton County, see USGenWeb Archives Census Project.

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