Enslaved and Free African Americans

During the early 1800s, the majority of Africans in America were enslaved. However, there were also free persons of color living in America from the beginning of this country. Some had never been indentured nor enslaved. Some had escaped enslavement, while others had purchased their freedom or had been freed by the plantation owner.

Certificate of Freedom icon
Certificate of Freedom Solomon Salisbury, 1811

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Statistical Map
Statistical Tables and Map of free and enslaved Africans 1850 Census

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Official Register of Free Persons of Color, Richmond County, Georgia, 1819

Although these African Americans were free according to the law, they did not have all the rights and priviledges of Americans of European descent. Many states did not acknowledge that free African Americans were citizens, and did not permit them to vote or give evidence in court. They were discriminated against in other ways: they often held less desirable jobs, were turned away from some schools, and were restricted to living in certain neighborhoods. Freedom was never taken for granted, since free African Americans were sometimes captured and sold into enslavement. Many states demanded that free persons of color carry certificates of freedom to prove that they were not enslaved.

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