Virginia Genealogical Society
Free Negro Registers Published in the Magazine of Virginia Genealogy
While extant Registers of Free Negroes provide chronological and sustained information on the Free Negro population of Virginia after 1793, when such registers were first required to be kept by the individual counties by act of the Virginia legislature, lists of Free Negroes in the various counties do not always survive. They often exist only for individual years and are generally scattered throughout the records housed within the Old Dominion’s courthouses. Where full registers do exist, the related surviving lists should be regarded as important sources of supplemental information. Where county registers have not survived, the lists should be regarded as absolutely invaluable sources of information for all researchers.[1]
On 10 December 1793, the Virginia legislature passed "An Act ... to restrain the practice of negroes going at large." The provisions of the act included the stipulation that "every free negro or mulatto, who resides in, or is employed to labour within the limits of any city, borough or town, shall be registered and numbered in a book to be kept for that purpose by the clerk of the said city, borough or town, which register shall specify his or her age, name, colour and stature, by whom and in what court the said negro or mulatto was emancipated; or that such negro or mulatto was born free . .. . a Copy . .. [was] to be annually delivered to the said negro or mulatto." Although county regulations do not mention a register, "no free negro or mulatto ... [was] to go at large or hire himself or herself to labour in any county, without having his or her certificate registered in the clerk's office of the county wherein he or she resides."[2]
Registration renewal was required yearly in the cities and every three years in the counties. Although the enforcement of this requirement varies dramatically by locality, the surviving Free Negro Registers provide valuable information of a genealogical and social nature about the people therein. The same is true for lists of free negroes and mulattoes that exist as a single item or as part of a larger manuscript collection.[3]
Published in the Magazine of Virginia Genealogy:
Free Negro and Slave Records, Alexandria County Circuit Court [1853, 1854, 1855, 1856], Leslie Anderson, MSLS
Bedford County Register of Free Negroes, 1803–1820, Dorothy Boyd-Bragg, Ph.D.
Register of Free Negroes and Mulattoes, Campbell County, 1801–1850, Dorothy Boyd-Bragg, Ph.D.
Handle with Care: County Loose Papers Cumberland County Free Negroes, 1837-1839, John S. Hopewell, Ph.D.
Another List of Free Negroes in Cumberland County, 1851, John S. Hopewell, Ph.D.
A List of Free Negroes and Mulattoes in the Lower District of Cumberland County in 1810, Dorothy Boyd-Bragg, Ph.D.
Register of Free Negroes Residing in the County of Dinwiddie 1 July 1850–20 February 1864, Dorothy Boyd-Bragg, Ph.D. 
Henry County Register of Free Negroes (1859) William L. Byrd, III
Lunenburg County, Virginia, 1814, Free Negroes and Mulattoes, William L. Bird, III
A List of Free Negroes and Mulattoes Residing in Nelson County, 1818, Deborah Harvey
Free Negro Delinquent Tax Lists, Norfolk County, 1822–1860, Leslie Anderson, MSLS
Extant Entries from the Orange County Register of Free Negroes [dates range from 1838 to 1851], Dorothy Boyd-Rush, Ph.D. 
Unpaid Taxes on Free Negroes, Portsmouth, 1858–1860, Leslie Anderson, MSLS
A List of the Free Negroes, Rockingham County [1815], Dorothy Boyd-Bragg, Ph.D.
Records Where You Least Expect to Find Them: A List of Free Negroes, Rockingham County, Virginia, 1849, Dorothy Boyd-Bragg, Ph.D.
Register of Free Negroes for Shenandoah County: An 1833 Entry, Dorothy Boyd-Bragg, Ph.D. 
Princess Anne County Free Negro Delinquent Tax Lists, 1812–14, 1849–1861, Leslie Anderson, MSLS
In addition to the Registers of Free Negroes published in the Magazine of Virginia Genealogy, see also the following published and online sources (alphabetical by author):
Boyd-Rush, Dorothy A. Free Negroes Registered in the Clerk’s Office, Botetourt County, Virginia 1802-1836. Athens, Georgia: Iberian Publishing Co., 1993.
Boyd-Rush, Dorothy A. Register of Free Blacks, Rockingham County, Virginia, 1807-1859. Heritage Books, 1992.
Burkett, Brigitte. Lancaster County Virginia Register of Free Negroes 1806-1860. Athens, Georgia: Iberian Publishing, Co., 1999. Available from the publisher.
Dickerson, Richard B. Entitled! Free Papers in Appalachia Concerning Antebellum Freeborn Negroes and Emancipated Blacks of Montgomery County, Virginia. National Genealogical Society, 1981. Available from Heritage Books.
Duncan, Patricia B. Abstracts of Loudoun County, Virginia Register of Free Negroes, 1844-1861. Heritage Books, 2000.
“Free Negro Registers from Virginia Untold Now Available on From the Page”, The Uncommon Wealth ( Library of Virginia blog article that includes a list of registers available on From the Page as of 30 March 2022. From the Page is the Library of Virginia’s transcription page. Visit to learn more about helping to transcribe the registers and other digitized Virginia records.
Free People of Color is a searchable database of free blacks in Albemarle County covering the years 1807 to 1865. Benjamin Ford researched the County Court Minute Books for this period and transcribed each entry for free black citizens into a spreadsheet that was then transformed into a searchable online database.
Griffith, Alva H. Pittsylvania County, Virginia Register of Free Negroes and Related Documentation. Heritage Books, 2007.
Hudgins, Dennis. Surry County, Virginia Register of Free Negroes. Richmond, Virginia: Virginia Genealogical Society, 1995. [out-of-print]
Ibrahim, Karen King, Karen Hughes White, and Courtney Gaskins. Fauquier County Virginia Register of Free Negroes 1817-1865. Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County, 1993. Available from Heritage Books.
Kegley, Mary B. Free People of Colour: Free Negroes, Indians, Portuguese and Freed Slaves. Wytheville, Virginia: Kegley Books, 2003. Covers Augusta, Carroll, Giles, Lee, Montgomery, Pulaski, Russell, Washington, and Wythe Counties. Available from the publisher.
Lattimer, Frances B. The Register of Free Negroes, Northampton County, Virginia, 1853-1861. Heritage Books, 1992.
Provine, Dorothy. Alexandria County, Virginia Free Black Register, 1797-1861. Heritage Books, 1990. 
Ruffin, C. Bernard. Norfolk [City], Virginia Registry of Free Negroes 1835-1861 (abstracts). Heritage Books, 2009.
Sutton, Karen E. Northumberland County, Virginia Registers of Free Blacks (1803-1858). Heritage Books, 1999.
Wynne, Frances Holloway. Register of Free Negroes and of Dower Slaves, Brunswick County, Virginia, 1803-1850. Privately published, 1983. Available from Heritage Books.
Additional resources for African American research in Virginia:
“African American Resources for Virginia,” FamilySearch Wiki (
Virginia Untold: The African American Experience (,

[1] Joanne Lovelace Nance, Magazine of Virginia Genealogy, vol. 33, issue no. 4, fall 1995, 265.
[2] Barbara Vines Little, editor, Magazine of Virginia Genealogy, vol. 39, issue no. 4, November 2001, 271. For the 1793 act see Samuel Shepherd, The Statutes at Large of Virginia, from October Session 1792 to December Session 1806 Inclusive, vol. 1 (1835, reprinted New York: AMS Press, Inc., 1970), 238.
[3] Barbara Vines Little, editor, Magazine of Virginia Genealogy, vol. 44, issue no. 4, November 2006, 328.