Petition from the Citizens of Culpeper County,
December 9, 1831
In this petition, the inhabitants of Culpeper County expressed a belief that slaves were increasingly taking over the skilled trades, and that, as a result, white citizens were forced to migrate westward to look for work. To reverse this trend, they asked that a ban be placed on training African Americans, free or slave, in any skilled trade.
Slave Population, 1830: 11,417 (48% of total population)
To the General Assembly of Virginia:
Your memorialists, citizens of the County of Culpepper, ad[vanced] by a deep sense of the necessity that exists to prevent as practicable the migration of the laboring class of the whole population of Virginia, and believing the subject to be one of vital importance to the peace, happiness, and prosperity of the state generally, they deem it worthy of the consideration of your honorable body. Your memorialists have in common with these fellow citizens, deeply lamented the tragical occurrence which has been acted by a portion of the black population of Virginia, which circumstances has as your memorialists [verily] believe engendered to a certain extent, restless and insurrectionary gullings with the slave throughout this Commonwealth. Your memorialists reside in a remote part of the Commonwealth from the scene of the late disturbance, yet with the slaves amongst them, there is accidently an unfavorable impression made upon them, growing out of that occurrence, and other incidental causes, not the last of which is the unprecedented migration of the laboring class of our citizens this fall to the western states. Your memorialists [verily] believe that there has been a greater migration of that class this fall from their immediate vicinity than for the last ten years previous, and from reports they believe such removal to have been general. Your memorialists in submitting the subject, which they prosper to lay before you, conceive that they are discharging what they believe to be a duty to the community, themselves, and posterity, and that its importance [will merit], and will receive from your honorable body a deliberate consideration. The object of your memorialists is to [solicit] of you, interposition of your power, and authority, to stay as far as practicable the migration of the white population west of the Blue Ridge, which they believe you can do by a judicious course of legislation to a very great extent. It must be known to many of your body that the mechanick trades and arts are fast into the hands of the black population. Your memorialists [continue] to assist that the time is near at hand, without your interposition, when the most common and useful trades will be possessed and carried on by slaves. Within the knowledge of your memorialists, the blacksmiths' trade is at present almost exclusively carried on by slaves that the trades of stone mason, plasterer, painter, bricklayer, miller, carpenter, and cooper and not uncommon the trade of tanner, carrier, shoe and boot maker, distiller and in firm handicrafts of all kinds are executed by slaves, the effect of which is to throw out of employ the white mechanick; and to degrade his profession, depressing at the same time his labor below its fair value, and to cause him to be impoverished, and finally drive him from his home and nation state to find in the wish an asylum where he will be appreciated according to his honesty, industry, and ingenuity. As your memorialists, many of whom are slaveholders and some of us holders of mechanick slaves, in common with our fellow citizens, have not until recent circumstances transpired thought of the impolicy and impropriety of our slaves acquiring trades, has upon taking a view of our present and probable future situation, we are decidedly impressed with the belief that it is a course fraught with great danger, and viewing the innumerable evils which result from slavery, many of which we shall forbear to enumerate, and confine ourselves to the single remark that its effects upon the morals of our people are highly pernicious, and that its corrupting influence is on no instance more marked than in the increasing illicit trade and traffick with white people; that the necessary trades being much monopolized by the slaves produces and fosters in a great measure such connection. But inquiring as we do that the publick weal would be promoted, a class of citizens highly useful and meritorious in time of peace and [prosperity] restored and retained amongst us. And your memorialists pray your honorable body to pass a law for the encouragement and protection of the white mechanick by prohibiting any slave, free negro or mulatto, being placed as an apprentice in any manner whatsoever to learn a trade or art under severe and onerous penalty upon the owner of such slave or servant, as well as upon the white person who may undertake to teach such slave, from negro or mulatto his art or trade. And your memorialists as in duty bound will every pray.
From Erik S. Root, Sons of the Fathers: The Virginia Slavery Debates of 1831–1832 (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2010), 312-313.