A small slip of paper on display in the Library of Virginia’s latest exhibition You Have No Right: Law and Justice in Virginia, running 24 September 2012-18 May 2013, was of immense importance to twelve people. It discloses, even though it does not state the fact in so many words, that on 2 May 1772 they gained their freedom after being held in slavery since each of them was born. The piece of paper and the fates of those Virginians illuminates a disturbing and little-known part of Virginia’s history, the enslavement of American Indians.
The paper came into the possession of the Library of Virginia in 1988 when it acquired a copy of volume two of John Tracy Atkyns, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the High Court of Chancery in the Time of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke . . . (London, 1765–1768) that had once been in the library of the colonial government in Williamsburg. One of the librarians in the cataloguing section showed it to me, knowing of my interest in that library. When she lifted it from her desk to hand it to me, a piece of paper that had been slipped between leaves in the middle of the volume fell out and fluttered to the floor. We were surprised, and I was even more surprised when I saw what … read more »
INTRODUCTION The two transcribed letters below are found in the Prince Edward Chancery case Gdns. of Jacob Michaux vs. William Smith, 1788-001. The case has been scanned and is available through Virginia Memory.
The first letter is from William Tompkins, a London silk weaver with mercantile aspirations, and is written to Jacob Michaux, his wife’s cousin in Cumberland County, Virginia. (The part of Cumberland County in which Michaux lived became Powhatan County in 1777.) Tompkins’ wife was a member of the Michaux family, Huguenots who fled France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and settled in England and in Virginia. Tompkins lived in Spittlefield, an area of London with a high concentration of Huguenot weavers. His letter concerns family matters and a recent shipment of goods he made to Virginia. Unfortunately the shipment arrived a few days before the flood of 1771, one of the worst floods in eighteenth-century Virginia.
The second letter is Jacob Michaux’s reply to William Tompkins. Jacob Michaux, grandson of Abraham Michaux of the Manakin Town (Virginia) Huguenot settlement, was a planter and ran a ferry across the James River. Michaux’s letter describes in detail the flood of 1771, the loss of Tompkin’s goods, consumer tastes along the upper James River, and family matters.
Chris Kolbe, Archives Reference Coordinator