April 1: Slave Surnames in Jefferson’s Virginia

This talk is being held at Monticello during our regularly scheduled CVHR meeting so instead of holding a separate meeting, please join us at this public talk. Below is the description from Monticello. Please note they are asking folks to RSVP for the talk (see the link below). Also note that a pre-talk reception begins at 3:30.

Cassandra Pybus, professor of history at the University of Sydney, will give a talk, entitled “Calling Himself William Lee”: The Meanings of Slave Surnames in Jefferson’s Virginia, on the reluctance of slave owners such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to acknowledge or record the surnames of enslaved workers. The stance of these “enlightened” owners implies there was something novel about enslaved people having surnames. Pybus argues that the use of surnames was widespread among the enslaved of Virginia by the second half of the 18th century. By interrogating the unique dataset available for about 1,000 enslaved people from Virginia listed with surnames in the Book of Negroes in 1783, it is possible to tease out the importance of surnames; the ways in which surnames were chosen; how surnames were deployed; and why slave masters would choose to ignore them. Reception at 3:30. The talk begins at 4 p.m. at Monticello’s Jefferson Library. The talk—offered as part of the ICJS Distinguished Lecture Series—is free, but space is limited. Please e-mail to register.

5 Responses to “April 1: Slave Surnames in Jefferson’s Virginia”

  1. carol wheeldin warren says:

    I have been hoping to discover that my elusive WEELDON ancestors were among those who
    migrated to Nova Scotia in 1783 as that would answer the question perhaps, of why they
    cannot be found in the states.
    Find the WEEDON surname, which is one of the 26 spellings for the surname, in the BOOK OF
    NEGROES, but alas, no one has claimed kinship to my line in 13yrs.
    I have made no connections and am at my wit’s end as to how to make any progress or find kin.
    I would so appreciate being notified, if possible, if there is any further discussion on the
    carol wheeldin warren.

  2. admin says:

    Report on April’s meeting:

    April: Lecture instead of regular meeting.

    A good number of our members attended the lecture of Cassandra Pybus, “Calling Himself William Lee”: The Meanings of Slave Surnames in Jefferson’s Virginia. Pybus, professor of history at the University of Sydney, Australia, and author of Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty (2006), focused principally on the eighty-seven people who had been enslaved by John Willoughby of Norfolk and who ran away to Lord Dunmore in 1776. She currently theorizes that surnames primarily derived from previous owners; in the case of the Willoughby slaves, surnames link to an extended network of Willoughby relations. Her principal sources are Norfolk County tithable lists (and Willoughby records); the Book of Negroes, a list compiled by the British of people evacuated from New York City in 1783; and the Birchtown Muster (1784) of African Americans taken by the British to Nova Scotia.

    For further information, see the Black Loyalist website http://www.blackloyalist.info.

  3. andrea says:

    Hello, how did you get a birth/ppl database. I would like too either start one or buy one for my state of interest?

  4. Shawn L. Harvey says:

    I’m Looking for a slave owner by the Name of Doolin, Dooling, Dowlin, or some derivative of the name and plantation or farm records from Richmond Virginia. Slaves Name was Rebecca Richardson or Dooling not sure if this is a plantation or not
    Thank you
    Shawm L. Harvey

  5. admin says:

    Hi – Our group doesn’t focus on Richmond .You might want to try the Library of Virginia and/or the Virginia Historical Society. Both repositories have online resources for locating enslaved individuals.

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