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Very active in the affairs of his native county, he was a member of the Virginia Assembly of 1832 which came within a few votes of abolishing slavery in the state. As the largest slave-owner in America - he reportedly owned nearly three thousand - Mr. Bruce voted against the measure which would have brought about emancipation on a gradual basis. When he returned home he was quite surprised to learn that some of the other slave-owners of Halifax County had not approved of his negative vote.

Years afterward Mr. Bruce expressed extreme regret that he had voted for the perpetuation of slavery in 1832. In a speech in Danville, which attracted considerable attention at the time, he declared that the greatest harm of slavery was to the white people, not the blacks, as the institution "cheated the planters with a semblance of wealth."

James Coles also represented Halifax in the Virginia Secession Convention of 1861, where he served with distinction on the very important Federal Relations Committee. In the early days he was opposed to secession, but when Lincoln issued his first call for troops he voted to break with the Union. Thereafter his personal contributions to the Confederacy amounted to more than $150,000.

On 28 March, 1865, while the fighting around Petersburg was signaling the beginning of the end for the South, death came to James Coles Bruce in his chamber at Berry Hill. He was buried in the family cemetery beside his beloved wife, Elizabeth Douglas Wilkins Bruce. The daughter of William