THE story, in its completeness, of the existence previous to the civil war, of a large number of free negro slaveholders in America has become for our generation practically a lost chapter. The fact has been almost forgotten. The full data have never been collected, and probably never will be in an exhaustive way. Much material on this subject has perished through the burning of court houses, state houses and similar depositories of documents. The generations that were familiar with this condition have gone. More than forty daily newspapers passed around from one to another during the summer of 1907 a few crumbs of information on this matter as items of curious news. Editorial comment was tinctured with surprise and in some cases with incredulity. The facts have not only their own kind of interest, but they throw light upon the economic and industrial condition of the free negroes before the emancipation proclamation.
When President Lincoln signed that paper he by the same pen reduced to comparative poverty many colored people who thus lost possession of their bondsmen. Some of these were pure blacks; some were mulattoes; while still others had in them only enough African to class them with that race, according to the social decree that a drop of African blood makes a negro, or as President Booker Washington phrases it, "makes him fall to their pile." Certain of these blacks owned from one to a dozen slaves, while others had in servitude from sixty to a hundred or two hundred men, women and children. These were to be found, at one period or another, in nearly all, if not quite all, the colonies or states where slaves were held. In some counties they were numerous, while in others they were unknown. In certain of the states this condition was at times forbidden by law, but often continued in spite of the law, tolerated or ignored; the laws upon the subject also varied from time to time. In other states, free negroes were given the privilege of being masters by special statute or this liberty was covered by general laws.
Certain of these slaveholders became such by inheritance through white relatives; others by gift; and still others by purchase after the manner of their Caucasian neighbors. In some instances they owned