Caroline County, Virginia Free Black Community, 1733-1874


One evening, having finished indexing a manuscript about the lost wills for Caroline County, my curiosity led me to examine the 1850 through 1870 Federal Census records. Having always been careful to record any information on the enslaved community, I had recently seen a register for another county of its free black residents which was the catalyst for my curiosity. No such register is known to exist for this county, so I went through page after page of the census records looking for Caroline’s free black residents.

What a surprise! I expected to find a few isolated individuals, but there existed a large number of people all across the county. This led to more searching in many other records and I knew exactly what my next book would be!

The documents revealed two lawyers, a woman who owned and ran her own house of private entertainment, [which is a place to eat, drink, play cards, billiards or other legal games of entertainment], a gentleman who was a steamship captain, who ran the ferry at Port Royal, along with owning a store and having a freight hauling company. There were blacksmiths, brick masons, shoemakers, carpenters along with the farmers, laborers and ditchers. This does not mean to say that these were not hard and difficult times, they were. It gave me so much hope, until I started searching the 1870 Federal Census. Whether you were a long time free individual or newly freed, the majority of the county residents were in difficult circumstances. The aftermath of the war leveled everything for everyone and occupations were for the most part farmer or laborer for all.

I can only imagine the courage, determination and perseverance it took to continue into the future. Continue they did, with the election and appointment of the first African-American county officials. Eventually many descendants spread to all sections of the country.

It is my hope that many who are looking for their African-American families will find them with the help of this work. Some of the records notated if an individual was a free black, but many did not. Working with the records I eventually came to recognize the free individuals and gathered anything that obviously was related to them. If you do find your family line here please look for additional records as I am confident more information will be found in the future.

Kimberly Curtis Campbell