In court documents from Lunenburg County Chancery Cause 1856-042, the petition of Araminta Frances reveals an interesting and life-changing request. On 10 March 1856 Araminta Frances, a free woman of color, petitioned the court asking to be enslaved.
Araminta was once the slave (along with at least two others) of James G. Richardson. Richardson’s last will and testament, probated 9 December 1850, left the majority of his estate, including finances, property, and slaves, to his daughter, Sarah A. Richardson, two nephews, and friend John L. Coleman. The provisions for the slaves were clearly spelled out. One negro male slave, Cezar, was to go to James G. Richardson’s nephew, James R. Walker, and John L. Coleman “to be taken care of by them and to be paid to him [Cezar] yearly by them the full amount of his yearly value.”
Richardson also stipulated that “my negro child Virginia and Minty’s [presumably Araminta] child yet unborn” should be emancipated and receive the sum of $500 each or $1,000 if his daughter Sarah should die without issue. Minty (or Araminta) would be emancipated should his daughter, Sarah, die without having married. A copy of James G. Richardson’s will was included with the petition as supporting documentation for Araminta’s case.
Also included in the case was a bill passed by the General Assembly on 20 December 1855 allowing Araminta to select a master of her own choosing as long as she filed a petition in the county court. Araminta, along with her chosen owner, would also have to appear before the court to be examined so that the court could determine that there was neither “fraud nor collusion between the parties.”
Missing from the case is Araminta Frances’ motivations for seeking re-entry into slavery. Pregnant at the time Richardson’s will was written, Araminta was presumably a mother by 1855. Was slavery the only option that would allow her to stay near her family? Or did she have another reason for wanting to become the property of John L. Coleman? Unfortunately, documents that shed light on a reason for Araminta’s petition, or provide a clue to her ultimate fate, have yet to be found.
A portion of the Lunenburg County Chancery Causes, 1743-1921, are available online through the Chancery Records Index. The remainder of the collection, including the Petition of Araminta Jones, 1856-042, is open for research but only available at the Library of Virginia.
-Joanne Porter, Local Records Archivist