Butler, James: Petition, Petersburg
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To the Honorable the Speaker and member of the house of Delegates of Virginia The petition of James, a man of colour, humbly sheweth; that your petitioner altho' born an humble slave, has much comfort in the reflection that his morals have never been degraded by his situation; and that his conduct had been equally satisfactory to the three individuals who alone have been his owners in the course of his life, towit Mr Richard Bate, Capt Richard Williams deceased, and Mr John Osborne. That with the first named of these gentlemen, your petitioner lived many years as his principal miller in a manufacturing mill; and that the said Bate was so well pleased with his sobriety, honesty and general good Conduct, that he gave to your petitioner an assurance that on his continuing to perform his duty equally as well for ten years more, he the said Bate would emancipate him at the expiration of that time. This promise was made [illegible] before the late act of assembly was passed restricting the right [torn page] entire emancipation of slaves at the discretion of their owners; and would as your petitioner sincerely believes, have been strictly complied with, had [torn page] not your petitioner with divers [diverse] other slaves been recovered from the said [torn page] Bate in an action of Detinue by the above named Richard Williams, [page torn] second master. That the said Richard Williams feeling for the disappointment [page torn] your petitioner has experienced, promised him, that on your petitioners [page torn] -sing the sum of six hundred dollars, by honest labour, he would cause him to be emancipated on payment of that Sum; and at your petitioners instance, executed a bill of sale for him to his present owner John Osborne a gentleman in whose entegrety [integrity] and honor your petitioner resposed the fullest confidence, on a trust distinctly understood by all parties to the transaction, that Osborn[e] should execute a deed of emancipation to your petitioner, as soon as the said Sum of six hundred dollars should be fully discharged. This sum, to its last farthing your petitioner has accordingly paid: but unfortunately before the last payment was made, the act of assembly before alluded to was passed, declaring that Slaves emancipated by their owners, must either leave the state within twelve months afterwards, or return to a State of bondage. It is the belief of your petitioner that the legislature which enacted this law intended its operation to be purely prospective, and not to embrace the case of a miserable wretch who, confiding in the law of the land at the time, had ex[h]austed himself in honest efforts to to entitle himself under that law to the entire rights of a freeman.