“Nineteen Years A Slave”—Hardy Ferguson’s Freedom Papers|Greensville Court Records|August 6, 1838

Greensville County Court Day| August 6, 1838

At a Court of Quarterly Sessions held for the County of Greensville at the Court House thereof on Monday the sixth day of August in the year one thousand eight hundred and thirty eight

Prest: John Robinson, Thomas Spencer}

John M Stewart, Sterling R Murfee}


A List of deeds etc. admitted to record in the Clerk’s office of the County Court of Greensville since the last court to wit:

Greensville County, Virginia Court Order Book 9, page 463

Greensville County, Virginia Court Order Book 9, page 464

On the application of William Henry Gee to obtain free papers from this Court for a certain free negro named Hardy Ferguson who it appears to the satisfaction of the Court is the child of Polly Ferguson formerly of this County a free woman and which said Hardy Ferguson was carried to the state of Alabama by Thomas Turner formerly of Greensville County in the year 1819. Said boy from the description of said Gee is about thirty five years old yello complected about 4 feet 11 1/2 inches high and the Clerk of this Court is directed to issue free papers for the said Hardy according to the description above and deliver them to Wm. Richard H. Gee.

The above facts state that a certain Hardy Ferguson, being about thirty five years old in 1838, was carried to the state of Alabama by Thomas Turner in 1819. This even while Hardy’s mother, Polly Ferguson, was a free person of color. Since Polly was free, Hardy should have been, too.

This is per the 1662 Virginia Colony ruling of Partus sequitur ventrem.

Author and researcher, Jennifer L. Morgan, writes of Partus : “In 1662, legislators in the Virginia Colony passed a law that determined that, in the matter of sex between free English men and “negro women,” the legal condition of the child should follow that of the mother. Long understood as the law that codified hereditary racial slavery, this code reassured slaveowning settlers that, in the matter of enslaved people, enslaveability devolved through the mother: Partus Sequitur Ventrem or, literally, “offspring follows belly.”

Partus sequitur ventrem: Law, Race and Reproduction in Colonial Slavery

Many of us have heard of Twelve Years a Slave, the real-life saga written by Solomon Northup, a free man who was kidnapped in Washington D.C. 1841 and mercifully rescued in 1853. The obscure case of Hardy Ferguson, who was issued his free papers nineteen years after being “carried away” from his natural born freedom, highlights just how tenuous this “freedom” was for people of color. No doubt, there are examples untold of injustices of this sort. Just as sure, not all of the duped were able to find their way back to the freedom that should never have been denied any.

Was it possible that Hardy’s mother, Polly, had bounded out Hardy to Thomas Turner? Historians have researched how this practice was a type of resistance, welfare system, and protection for families.

Surviving Southampton
African American Women and Resistance in Nat Turner’s Community by Vanessa M. Holden

In the years following 1838, what became of Hardy Ferguson? What was the fate of his mother Polly? How was Hardy able to return to Virginia and get his freedom papers? Did Wm. H. Gee help him to do this?

January 30, 1819 Virginia Marriage Record of William Henry Gee and Susan B. Turner, on Ancestry.com

Concerning this William H. Gee’s marriage, it is very interesting to see that he married one Susan Turner. Remember, according to the facts associated with Hardy Ferguson, he was carried away by a man by the name of Thomas Turner. Could Susan be a relation to Thomas?

I will be sure to keep an eye out for any additional details, and hopefully this information connects to a Hardy/Polly Ferguson descendant. These are genealogy questions to consider and situations to acknowledge.

Our situation…

The Genealogy Situation Room

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