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.