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Abimeleck is a name you don’t forget. So when Greg Crawford came across this name in records from the same region as the much-written-about Jane Webb—he knew there had to be a connection. In 2012, we published a blog story about Jane Webb that, to date, has received the most comments of any Virginia Untold blog ever posted. Jane Webb was a determined woman with a clear understanding of the law. She also was not afraid to speak her mind when the time called for it. It turns out that her son was not so different.

It was 1750 on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Twenty-nine-year-old Barbary White and free “Mulatto” man Abimeleck (also written as Abimelick, Abimileck, and Abimelech) Webb were milling corn and discussing the local news of the week. Webb asked White if Colonel Eyre had “come over the bay.” Webb likely referred to Littleton Eyre, descendant of the wealthy planter family with roots in Northampton dating to 1623. Littleton Eyre would later build Eyre Hall in 1759 (still standing in Northampton County today). White was unaware that Eyre had left the Eastern Shore and Webb replied that Eyre had orders to “sett the Negroes free…but he would not do it.” Webb continued by stating that the “Negroes” might as well go free. When Barbary White questioned how that was possible, Webb was clear at how such purpose would be accomplished: “with their one [sic] Indeavor [sic] and god almightys assistance or blessing for what would it be for the negroes to go through this Country in one nights time.” The word spelled as “one” could have been a misspelling of the word “own,” meaning that with their [the Negroes’] own pursuit and God’s blessing, the Black people of Northampton County could achieve freedom. The words carried heavy meaning and they struck fear into Barbary White and the legal authorities in Colonial Virginia. Webb was declaring the possibility of Black rebellion.

Rips and tears in the original document make it difficult to make out what seems to be “indeavor” spelled with an “I” in the fifth line down. Do our readers have thoughts on what this word could be?

The actual crime for which Abimeleck Webb was charged is unclear from the court documents; there is no indictment paper. The General Assembly passed laws in the 1680s, 1723, and 1748 around “Negro insurrection,” “tumultuous meetings of Negroes,” and “Negroes” harming their enslavers.1 More than likely, Webb was charged with uttering dangerous words “tending to the breach of the peace.” Note that Abimeleck Webb was free, not enslaved. But regardless of his legal status, Webb was a Multiracial man speaking out for the freedom of people of color. This was not the first time a Webb was accused of such a crime. In 1726, Abimeleck’s mother, Jane Webb, was charged with uttering dangerous words following the Northampton County court’s refusal to release Abimeleck and his siblings from servitude to a white man named Thomas Savage. Jane expressed her frustration in public declaring “if all Virginia Negros had as good a heart as she had they would all be free.” For daring to express freedom for the Black people of Virginia, the court ordered that she receive ten lashes “well laid” on her bare back at the whipping post immediately.2 Almost twenty-five years later, her son Abimeleck was sentenced to the same punishment for openly expressing Black freedom, just as his mother did.

Northampton is one of the few localities for which Colonial Era records survive. In fact, records from Northampton County dating to 1632 represent the longest unbroken set of local court records in the United States. We prioritized digitizing the criminal records related to enslaved and free Black and Multiracial people for Virginia Untold, along with a few other localities that are now available as of 2023. You might notice that Webb’s crime is not against the Commonwealth of Virginia, but rather against the King—an important distinction for criminal records in this time period.

A week ago today, this country celebrated Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating June 19, 1865, when people still being held in slavery in Galveston, Texas, finally learned of their freedom. But what did freedom from legal slavery mean for Black Americans already considered to be “free?”

The front docket of Webb’s criminal papers reads “The King vs Webb.” On September 11, 1750, the court ordered him “to be Whipped &c”

What would Juneteenth have meant to Jane Webb? Perhaps the freedom to mother her children without fear of enslavement. What would Juneteenth have meant to Abimeleck Webb? Perhaps the freedom to speak his mind without fear of retribution from white men.

Even with the official outlawing of chattel slavery in the United States, the struggle for freedom continued. Almost immediately following the Civil War and Reconstruction, white-controlled state governments passed more laws aimed at curbing newly gained Black freedoms. As we see from this story, these resisters were not only fighting; they were passing down that desire for equal treatment under the law to their children. Just like Jane Webb and her son Abimeleck, Black Americans of the post-Reconstruction generation passed down to their descendants a strong resolve aimed at gaining full freedom and equality. In the 1960s, these descendants lifted their voices in places like Selma, Birmingham, Washington DC, and Danville, Virginia. They marched, they sang, and they prayed out loud, and just like Jane and Abimeleck Webb, they were punished by white authorities for “uttering dangerous words.” In Danville, for example, authorities used an 1859 law, enacted after John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, to indict five protest organizers for “conspiring to incite the colored population of the State to acts of violence and war against the white population.”

If we’ve learned anything from reading these documents and listening to their stories, we’ve learned that those seeking freedom will keep getting up after getting knocked down because, in the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Greg Crawford and Lydia Neuroth


  1. Northampton County Courthouse Historic District,” Virginia Department of Historic Resources.  Accessed June 18, 2024.
  2. Guild, June Purcell. Black Laws of Virginia. Fauquier County: Afro-American Historical Society, 2011.

Header Image Citation

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. “Nat Turner & his confederates in conference” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed June 25, 2024.

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