Accomac County Population Distribution
Leading up to the Civil War
At the beginning of the 1800's, free blacks and slaves comprised about 38% of the total population of Accomac County. Of these, 26% were free blacks and 74% were slaves. By 1850, the black population had increased to 49.6% of the county totals, split 48:52 free:slave. That is, free blacks accounted for most of the increase. By 1778 (reiterated in 1819) the importation of slaves into the state was forbidden by Virginia law. Thus, despite the harsh conditions of life, the birth rate among indigenous African Americans apparently outstripped that of the white population; and increasing numbers of blacks gained their freedom through manumission. Taken together, these facts might suggest that large numbers of freed slaves were granted permission to remain in the state beyond the mandatory 1-year limit set by Virginia law in 1806. While the Accomac County Record books do show instances of the granting of such permission, the numbers do not appear to add up. What really occurred was that this law was only sporadically and selectively enforced. Free blacks deemed "of value" were not prosecuted, while those deemed "troublemakers" were indicted and either evicted from the state or sold back into slavery.