Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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Ferguson family

Union or Secession
  • Richmond Hustings Court declares John E. Ferguson and his family "are not negros"
On July 11, 1853, the Richmond City Hustings Court declared that because John E. Ferguson, his wife Harriet, and their six children, all had less than one-fourth African ancestry they were by the definition of an 1833 Virginia law "not negros."
Related documents:
  • William Ferguson on trial
    The son of John E. Ferguson, though legally not a Negro, is also not white
Related Biographies:
  • John E. Ferguson (1810–1859)
    John E. Ferguson
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Richmond Hustings Court declares John E. Ferguson and his family "are not negros"

Richmond City Hustings Court Minute Book 20:401, Library of Virginia.

John E. Ferguson and Harriet F. Crump Ferguson were prosperous members of Richmond's free black community. He owned and operated a barber shop near the city's fashionable hotels and bought and sold real estate. Classified as free persons of color, Ferguson and his family were under many legal restrictions that did not apply to free white people. If arrested, for example, they would have been tried without a jury and would have had little or no right to appeal a verdict or court ruling. In July 1853 they petitioned the Richmond City Hustings Court to declare that because they all had less than one-fourth African ancestry they were "not negros" as defined by an 1833 Virginia law. Five years later, another Richmond court refused to allow Ferguson's son William the legal rights of a white person in spite of the Hustings Court's documentation that he was not a Negro.

Extract from the July 11, 1853, proceedings of the Richmond City Hustings Court. Richmond City Hustings Court Minute Book 20 (1852—1853), 401.
The Court being satisfied, that John E. Ferguson and Harriet Ferguson, his wife, and Maria Louisa Ferguson, William Ferguson, Brittania Ferguson, Arthur Wellsley Ferguson, Joseph Ferguson and Rachael Ferguson, children of the said John E. and Harriet Ferguson, have each less than one fourth black blood, they certify that they are not negros.