Manumission in Virginia has had a complicated past. Manumission is defined as the voluntary act of a master freeing a slave through his will or deed. At certain times, this act was illegal in Virginia. At other times, it was allowed but could still be a very difficult process as permission would have to be obtained from the courts. Often, the laws stated that a newly freed person would not be allowed to remain in Virginia and had to leave the state within a certain time period or risk being enslaved once again.
Of the three families to have owned slaves at Tuckahoe, we have found evidence of one that did manumit a number of enslaved workers: the Wight family. Hezekiah Wight died in 1837 and made specific instructions regarding a number of the enslaved workers in his will. He noted that Maria, Juda, and Cambridge should receive their freedom upon his death. He then said that two others (Wallace and Sally) would receive their freedom over a year later on December 31, 1839. Lastly, he specified that the children of Sally and Maria would also receive their freedom but only after they had reached 30 years of age. For some of these children, it would be over 20 years before they were granted their freedom.
On June 14, 1838, Juda, Maria, and Cambridge were registered on the list of “free negroes”. Each entry contains a brief description. Juda appears to have been the oldest at 68 and was described as having “no apparent mark or scar about her face, head or hands”. Cambridge (43) was also described in a similar fashion. Maria, who was 41, did have a scar on one of her thumbs and some sort of injury to her left eye. Due to the fact that they were singled out in Hezekiah’s will, it is possible that these three were considered trusted house workers who worked closely alongside Hezekiah and his family. Generally speaking, it was more common for an owner to free an enslaved houseworker rather than a field worker.
Hezekiah Wight left Tuckahoe to his son, Edwin. Years later, Edwin would also manumit one of his enslaved workers through his will. He noted that he wished for his “man James to be free and for the purpose of sending him out of the state of Virginia” left him $100. What became of James or anybody else freed by the Wights is not clear. Our research continues as we uncover more of the hidden stories of the lives lived here at Tuckahoe. If you have any questions or believe that you have any information that could help us tell these stories, please feel free to reach out to us!