Tag Archives: Campbell County

Pleasant Roane (Rowan) and the road to manumission in Lynchburg

I’ve been meaning to write about Pleasant Roane for quite a while.  I’ve always felt badly that other research and other stories commanded my attention more, and overshadowed his tale.  Well, as much of his tale as I’m aware of. It’s quite the interesting tale.

I’ve also been surprised that I see to be the only Roane family descendant researching Pleasant. Mine is the only family tree in which he appears. This, in part, probably has to do with the obscurity of his origins. Any Roane would be proud to claim him.

So what prompted my interest?  He is one of a handful of my enslaved ancestors who sued for his freedom…and then sued the State of Virginia to be allowed to remain in the state once he was freed.

Virginia had a statute on the books that slaves freed after 1806 had to leave the state or suffer re-enslavement (see http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/_An_ACT_to_amend_the_several_laws_concerning_slaves_1806).  The only means by which a person freed from slavery after 1806 had to remain in-state was to sue the state and hope the state would find in their favour.  This was by no means guaranteed. The reason why they would wish to remain is pretty simple:  while they were free, other members of their family (i.e. spouse, children, siblings, etc) remained in slavery.

Access to the court wasn’t simple and straightforward for African-descended people.  A 19th Century person of colour, by law, could not sue the state or a person of European heritage. Not at the State or Federal level. A person of colour needed a European-descended person to bring a suite on their behalf, or act as their guardian and act as a proxy in order for a suit to be heard in court.  In the eyes of the law, people of colour had a legal status similar to a minor. That’s the short form backdrop to Pleasant’s story.

I know little about Pleasant’s origins. He’s believed to have been born in Bedford County, Virginia.  An approximate year of birth remains elusive. His first child with a known birth year, Charles, was born around 1815. Estimating that Pleasant was around 20 years old when Charles was born, a plausible birth year for Pleasant would be somewhere between 1780 and 1795.

His court papers provide some of his history.  He was enslaved by John Depriest, his first verified enslaver, in Campbell, Virginia.  There will be an earlier – and as of yet undiscovered – link to the Roane family. He saved Depriest from drowning.  There’s no known indication regarding how Depriest felt about this selflessness.  However, not long afterwards, Pleasant was sold and entered Robert C Steptoe’s household.

DATE:  Aug 1823 (proved 25 Aug 1823)

PARTIES:  Pleasant HAYTHE, Cornelius CRENSHAW and RandolphDEPRIEST, of Campbell County to Robert C. STEPTOE of Bedford County

DOCUMENT TYPE:  Bill of Sale

SOURCE:  Bedford County Courthouse, Bedford VA, Deed Book 18, p363

SLAVES NAMED IN DOCUMENT:    “a male slave named Pleasant,otherwise Pleasant Rowan”

COMMENTS:  Pleasant Rowan was sold to Robert C. Steptoe for $390.

Steptoe was resident in Bedford County, and closely allied with the slave owning Roane family, which provides some initial and interesting indications of how Pleasant was related to the Roane family.

I don’t know whether it was Pleasant or Steptoe who had the idea of freeing Pleasant from slavery. What is known is that a suit for Pleasant’s freedom was filed in Campbell County, the county where Lynchburg is situated, in 1824.

DATE:  1 April 1824

PARTIES:  Robert C. STEPTOE to Pleasant ROWAN

DOCUMENT TYPE:  Deed of Emancipation

SOURCE:  Bedford County Courthouse, Bedford VA, Deed Book 19, p43

SLAVES NAMED IN DOCUMENT: Pleasant ROWAN

COMMENTS:  “for and in consideration of the general good character and conduct of Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan now my slave and especially for and in consideration of an act of extraordinary merit done and performed by the said Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan in the life-time of his former master and owner John Depriest, late of the County of Campbell, in endeavoring to secure and save the life of the said John Depriest at the imminent peril and hazard of his own:

Wherefore I the said Robert C. Steptoe for and in consideration of the premises & especially the act last mentioned:  Have liberated, emancipated & from the shackles of slavery set free, and by these presents do liberate, emancipate and from the shackles of slavery forever set free the said Pleasant Roane alias Pleasant Rowan.”

James Hendrick and Nathan Read were witness to this deed.

Lynchburg

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An image of the  view of the Old Marketplace in Lynchburg, dated 1875. Image from King’s The Great South, published in 1875.

It appears that Pleasant, a skilled carpenter, was already resident in Lynchburg shortly before he was freed in 1824. Reviewing records, he seemed to have a great deal of liberty within the confines of enslavement under Stepoe. He hired himself out, an arrangement that Steptoe seems to have encouraged. He also appears to have had his own household, again, apparently with the blessing of Steptoe. While not free, he certainly moved with a great deal of freedom within Lynchburg.

Another suite was brought in 1826 for Pleasant to remain in Virginia, near his wife, Nancy Stewart, and the four children who were born prior to 1826.  Nancy and Pleasant’s 4 children remained enslaved. His wife and children were free by 1830 census.  I’m assuming at this point that, he had saved enough money, through his hard work and industry, to buy their freedom. His children who were born after 1830 were all born free.

There are a few things that stand out in his 1826 suit to remain in Virginia. The first is the number of European-descended people who vouched for his good character and industry. It’s a slight exaggeration, yet, it seems as though half the European-descended population of Lynchburg came out in defense of Pleasant to remain as part of their community. Beloved may be over-egging the pudding.  Nonetheless, their testimony paints a picture of a man who was indeed respected, admired, and valued by many within his community.

I don’t know what prompted Robert Steptoe from taking this course of action. Perhaps, one day, one of his descendants can fill in this part of the story.  I, for one, thank the cosmos that he did. It was far, far from being a straightforward endeavour.

Pleasant’s children and descendants would become part of the African American bourgeoisie, as well as leaders within the religious and Civic spheres of Lynchburg.

As you read through the court records (with transcripts) that follow below, I’d ask you to keep this thought at the back of your mind:  this is what a African-descended person of good, sober, and unblemished conduct had to endure in order to remain in the state of his or her birth once freed from slavery.

Manumission document

I haven’t been able to access the original records in order to make better copies than those which appear below. You will find the original filings and court papers along with an accompanying transcriptions for each image. The original images are small and difficult to read (hence the transcriptions). However, I am mightily indebted to the Library of Virginia for digitizing these records and making them available for free online via http://www.virginiamemory.com/transcribe/scripto/transcribe/13404/40948.

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Robert Steptoe’s Manumission Petition for Pleasant Roane

Transcription:

To the Honorable the Speakers and members of the Senate and House of Delegates of Virginia – The petition of Pleasant Rowan a freeman of Color respectfully sheweth [sic] – That on the first day of April in the year 1825, your petitioner was in due form of law emancipated by Robert E. [Steploe?] Esqr of the county of Bedford (in Virginia). As will fully appear by reference to the original deed of emancipation herewith exhibited and marked – From an inspection of that document, it will be found that in addition to his general good character and conduct an act of extraordinary merit was likewise one of the inducements to his emancipation, and from this Your Honorable bodies might with some plausibility conclude that his present application should in strict [propriety?] have been addressed to the court of the county in which he was emancipated, and not to the Legislature. Upon this point your petitioner begs leave to be indulged with a few words of explanation. Your petitioner in common with a majority of the people of his condition has never been blessed with the [lights?] and advantages of learning and education, and savoring the little information he has picked up in his unequal intercourse with the enlightened part of society, he is yet in the condition of native ignorance. In such circumstances prudence seems to dictate the propriety of relying upon the counsels of the better informed. By these he had been advised that the provisions of the law which conferd [sic] on the county courts power & jurisdiction to hear and determine applications like the present are so [illegible] limited & restricted as to promise nothing but defeat and [discon?], results which are rendered infinitely more intolerable by the reflection, that the same law especially inhibits a second application, no matter from what cause the first failure may have proceeded – For the [illegible] of these remarks your petitioner begs leave to refer generally to the 62nd Section of the act” concerning Slaves, free negroes [sic] and mulattoes” 1.Vol.Rev:Code of 1819.h43b, but more especially
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Leave to remain in Virginia Court affidavits

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Transcript:

[written on left side of page]
to that part of the section quoted which requires the presence of a majority of the acting magistrates of the county whenever such application shall be acted upon – Your petitioner is advised that in almost every other instance in which the laws require the presence of a majority of the justices to act upon a specified subject, they at the same time provide for the contingency of their failure to [illegible], by declaring that a summons duly executed requiring their attendance for the contemplated [illegible], shall be held to be a [illegible] compliance with the law, and that the justices attending the [illegible] that a majority may proceed in the discharge of the prescribed duty – But in a case like the present, when an application is made in behalf of a manumitted slave for leave of residence; no matter how [illegible] all the forms of law may [illegible] been complied with, no matter what [illegible] may have been made to procure their attendance, yet if the required majority be not actually present, the court have no authority to proceed – Your petitioner need I [casualy?] remind your honorable body of the degraded condition of most of that unfortunate race of people with which it is his misfortune to be connected – Denied the use and enjoyment of many of the most valuable rights and priveleges [sic] of free men: Subjected in all cases of offences to the most [illegible] as actions of penal law; and sunk by long settled and inveterate opinion into a state of contempt & degradation the most deplorable, their personal influence, unaided by legal coercion, [illegible] hope to do but like towards convencing [sic] a majority of the justices of a county, even when the most interesting publick [sic] sessions, much less where such convention concerned their own personal interest – Yet not withstanding these appalling difficulties your petitioner was prompted in order to afford a more complete foundation for his present application, to attempt the [illegible] prescribed by law of applying to the county court for relief, he accordingly at the last March [illegible] of the county court of Campbell applied to the said court for an
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[written on right side of page]
order directing the magistrates of said county to be summoned to take into consideration his petition for leave to reside in said county – as well fully appear by reference to a copy of said order herewith exhibited [illegible]
they were accordingly summoned but failed to attend and thus the anticipation of your petitioners advisers were fully [illegible] – From hence if evidently appears that all hope of bringing his application before the county court is utterly vain unless [illegible] some occasion of publick [sic] interest should call together majority of the justices, a contingency not to be relied upon [illegible] any safety, especially by one whose liberty is every moment [illegible] to for future under the existing laws – Your petitioner trusts that in the considerations thus suggested our honorable body discern a reasonable excuse for his present application – He is well aware of the strong prejudices, almost universally prevalent against people of his condition, insomuch that they are generally regarded as a nuisance rather than a benefit to society. Yet he [illegible] that however [illegible] this opinion may [illegible] in General. The respectable testimonials herewith exhibited [illegible] be sufficient in your minds to make him an Honorable [illegible].
Your petitioner in conclusion would respectfully state that many years prior to his emancipation, he intermarried with a slave the property of Mr. Richard Walker of Bedford, by and with the consent of her master, that he has by her four small children for whom he cherishes a fond & [illegible] affection and this connection it is hoped will have its due weight in and of the present application; should it fail, he will be reduced to one of two dire alternatives, either he must forfeit his freedom [continued in the next image and transcription below].
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Transcript:

so likely acquired or preserve it by removeing [sic] to a distant state and at once burst [assunder?] those tender ties of affection & feelings which are most deeply implanted in the Human heart –

In [illegible] consideration of the premises your petitioner prays that a law may be passed by the legislature authoriseing [sic] him to reside in the county of Campbell, Virginia, under such conditions the [illegible] [at?] to the legislature may seem [illegible] And as in duly bound your petitioner will ever pray [illegible]
Pleasant Rowan [his mark]

]written in meddle of page]
Petition of Pleasant Rowan for Leave to reside in the County of Campbell
Decr[sic] 28th 1826 ref’d to Ct of J
Wm M Rives
1827 Jany [sic] 2. Reasonable
Bill drawn
[written on right side of page]
[Pleasant] on P Rowan [illegible][illegible] for several years [illegible][illegible] of [illegible][illegible] by whom he had several children. The [illegible] has [illegible] [illegible] to [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] attention to his conduct, with [illegible] him to be [illegible] [illegible] as a likable carpenter. I have [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] of a [illegible]. Rich’d Walker [illegible]
I add my testimony to that of Mr. Walker in stating that the character of Pleasant stands uncommonly fair as a peaceable, sober, industrious and honest man – His [illegible] in [receiving?] matters is as good as that of any white person of moderate circumstances. He is entirely humble in his deportment nor have I ever heard a vice of any kind alleged against him. He has a wife, the slave of Mr. Richard Walker, in my immediate neighbourhood [sic], and I believe five young children from whom he will be separated unless he be permitted to remain in the State of Virginia.
Wm Radford

Bedford County
November 15th 1825
I have been acquainted with the above named Pleasant for several years and have employed at [illegible] times to [illegible] work for me in his line of business, and always considered him an honest respectable man, and have never heard anything to his prejudice and thinks he deserves the character given him by the Gentlemen above named. Given under my hand this [illegible] of November 1825. John Waltz
The above [illegible] on P Rowan, (some years ago) did some Carpentry work for me and he appear’d while doing it, a very Sober, Industrious, honest man. Given this 16th Nov. 1825. Harlan Reid
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Transcript:

[written on left side of page]
Pleasant or Pleasant Rowan, a free Man of Colour [sic], has worked for me for some years past as a Carpenter – I consider him a Man of uncommon worth. Js. Steploe Nov. 17. 1825
Pleasant or Pleasant Roan a free man of Colour [sic] I have known from his Infancy first as a slave and him as a free man in both capacitys [sic] he has always supported a good character. I have even considered him a remarkable well behaved honest Industrious sober man. I believe him to be a valuable carpenter. I know of no coloured [sic] man more deserving a residence in the State – William Clements Campbell County November 21st 1823
Certificates J. Steploe & others

[written on right side of page]
Pleasant is a colour’d [sic] man that I have long known, first as a slave & hence, as free man in both capacitys [sic] he has at all times supported a good character as a well behaved, honest, Industrious Man, he is a good mechanic as a Carpenter, & presume he whould [sic] be a loss to the neighbourhood [sic] in which he resides if remov’d [sic] therefrom – given in Campbell County – 12 Novr 1825 M Lambeth ~ Jacob White
I have been acquainted with Pleasant [illegible] numbers of years and think he deserves the characters given him by the gentlemen above named. John [illegible] 15. Nov. 1825
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Transcript:

[written on right side of page]
Campbell County Va November 2nd 1825
I have Rec’d the [illegible] Certificates obtained by Pleasant a free man of colour [sic] and I can only add that he is deserving the character given him by the Gentlemen that [has?] given him their certificates of his character and have long known him both as a slave and [since?] he has been emancipated and never knew or heard anything to his prejudice. Given November 1825 John [Alexander?]
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Transcript:

[written on left side of page]
Certificates
M Lambeth [illegible]
[written on right side of page]
Campbell April Court 1826
On the petition of Pleasant Rowan It is ordered that the Justices of this County be summoned to appear at the next Term of this court to take into consideration the petition of said Rowan for leave to reside within this commonwealth it appearing to the Court that such notice of his petition has been given as the law required. Teste John Alexander Clk [sic]
Upon which order the Sheriff made the following return “Executed on William C. McAllister, Edward B Withers, John E Woodson, Adam Clement, Thomas Harvey, Richard Harvey, Richard Perkins, James Bullock, Meredith Lambert, Thomas Callaway, Henry T Early, Joseph McAllister, Alexander Austin, Samuel Pannill – Rich’d Morgan DS for [illegible] West Shff” [illegible] Teste Jno Alexander Clk
I James Hendrick to hereby certify that I was the counsel of Pleasant Rowan in his application to the county court for leave to reside in the State of Virginia – I do further state that I was present at Campbell May Court 1826 & that a majority of the court did not attend at that term according to the summons as annexed & furthermore I do certify that from my experience in such matters it is exclusively difficult if not impossible to get a competent court in such cases – J. Hendrick 13 Decem. 1836
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Transcript:

[written on left side of page]
Order for Pleasant Rowan ~~
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[written on right side of page]
I have know Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan a free man of color for several years, which times, I have had many opportunities to observe his general conduct and deportment. The result of my observation is a belief that he is an honest, industrious, sober, and discreet man – I know him to be a useful mechanic – and as far as concerns myself I should regret his being compelled to leave the neighborhood – Given under my hand this 26th Novr 1825 J. Hendrick
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Transcript:

[written on left side of page]
J. Hendricks Certificate
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[written on right side of page]
To all & singular persons to whom these [illegible] shall [illegible] by [illegible] – Know ye That I Robert C Steploe of the County of Bedford & State of Virginia for & in consideration of the general good conduct and character of Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan now my slave, and especially for and in consideration of an act of extraordinary merit done and performed by the said Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan in the life time of his former master and [illegible] John Depriest late of the county of Campbell, in endeavoring to reserve and save the life of the said John Depriest at the imminent peril & hazard of his own, Therefore, I the said Robert C Steploe for and in consideration of the promise especially the act last mentioned have Liberated, Emancipated from the shackles of Slavery forever set free the said Slave, Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan – In testimony whereof I the said Robert C Steploe have hereunto set my hand & seal this the first day of April in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred & twenty four Signed, sealed & delivered In presence of J. Hendrick
Robt C Steploe seal
N. Reid
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Transcript:

[written on left side of page at bottom]
At a Court held for Bedford County at the Courthouse the 27th day of December 1824. This [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] was exhibited in Court proved by the oaths of James Hendrick and Nathan Read subscribing witnesses & ordered to be recorded – Teste [illegible] Steploe C.B.C.
Robert C. Steploe to Pleasant Rowan
Disp of Emancipation
1824 December 27th
Rec’d & Ord to be rec’d
Recorded Page 43 Book L & Ex’d

[written on right side of page]
I hereby certify that I have been acquainted with Pleasant Roan free man of colour [sic] and a carpenter by trade for several years and do now consider him an honest, industrious, and good conditioned man and have heard many persons speak highly of him and never heard any thing otherwise. Rich’d [illegible] Bedford [illegible] Nov 1825
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Court ruling on Pleasant’s leave to remain in Virginia

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Excerpt from Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia
By Virginia. General Assembly. Published by House of Delegates. Courtesy of Google Books https://books.google.com/books?id=HVhNAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA87&lpg=PA87&dq=%22pleasant+rowan%22,+petition&source=bl&ots=BvHIV0znuv&sig=Jk23k-MV5Z1b-OFTP3ot2kqfICA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiuu7vAoOXRAhVF5YMKHYIpCusQ6AEIOzAG#v=onepage&q&f=false

Transcript:

Resolved, as the opinion of this committee, That the petition of Pleasant Rowan, a man of colour, of the county of Campbell, who has been lately emancipated, praying that he may be allowed by law to remain as a free man in the said county, where he has a wife and children who are slaves, is reasonable.

 

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