The labor of these slaves was generally voluntarily "hired" by their masters for a term of eight years; however in one case a runaway named Bristol who had been caught attempting to join "Lord Dunmore's fleet when at Gwynn's island" was sent to the mines as a prisoner. Bristol's lost wages were petitioned for by his former owner, William Mountague of Lancaster County, Virginia in 1779. Bristol again attempted to gain his freedom in 1785 and a runaway ad for him was published in the Virginia Gazette.
Virginia Gazette or American Advertiser (Hayes), Richmond, May 14, 1785.
TWENTY POUNDS REWARD WILL be given, for apprehending and delivering to me, two negro men, CAESAR and BRISTOL, alias BRISTER, or Ten Pounds for each of them. Caesar is about 5 feet 7 inches high, of a square athletic make, and supposed to be near 30 years of age; he had on, a blue regimental coat, faced with white, and I believe, a white cloth waistcoat and breeches. He was purchased by the State, of William Robinson, Esq; of Princess Anne, the agent of John Hancock, and has for some years past been employed at the lead mine. BRISTOL, or BRISTER, is about 5 feet 9 inches high; of a spare make, and about the age of CAESAR. He was formerly the property of Mr. William Mountague of Lancaster, and has been employed for some years at the lead mine. He wore at the time he ran away, an old brown cloth coat, and an old pair of leather breeches. He carried with him, a new blue coat faced with white or red, a new white cloth waistcoat and breeches, and a new blanket.
THOMAS MERIWETHER. Richmond, May 10, 1785.
The names of the enslaved workforce were recorded in a manuscript now held in the Library of Virginia and are included below in hopes that they will be properly remembered for their contribution to our Nation as an integral part of the forging of our Republic, even while being denied freedom and the fruits of their labor themselves.
A List of the Negroes at the Lead Mines
These are able & fit for Labor when well }
Old & Super annuated
Dick Run away
Clothing and bedding was issued to the enslaved workers from the Virginia Public Store (excerpts from Colonial Williamsburg MS)
Virginia Public Store Daybook June 1, 1778-Nov. 13, 1778 M-1016.1
Williamsburg 6th Nov. 1778
Lead Mines per Order Governor Dr
To Sundry Clothing for 33 Negroes imployed in that work del Colo. Charles Lunch Viz
To 264 Yds Tartaine
231 do Linen
33 pr Stockings
allowing [illeg] shirts [per] man...
Lead Mines Ord Board of Trade
Sundr furnished Negroe Dick belonging to the Mines Vizt.
1 pr Breeches
3 1/2 Yd Linen 1pr Stockings
1 Cap 1 pr Shoes
1 Baize Blanket
Daybook Williamsburg Public Store
July 1, 1779-July 12,1780
[Nov. 3 1779]
"...Publick Lead Mines and B. of Trade
Sundr. for Clothing the Negroes at the Mines: Viz.
195 Yds 5/8 Coarse Cloth @ 25/... 243..15-
32 1/2 do. Green baize @ 10/... 16..5-
35 Pair Stockings @ 15/ 26...5-
30 hunting shirts @ 12/6 18..15..-
4 Baize blankets @ 90/ 18..
8 Small dutch do. @ 9L... 72..-...-
23 better do.
2lb Sewing thread
8 doz Pewter butts
30 ditto vest
Pr Christopher Irvine
Richmond 28th November 1780 p138
Public Lead Mines pr Ord Governor
For Sundry Clothing furnished for the use of Thirty Three Negroes belonging to the Public [illeg] works at the Mines-Vizt
10 Sailor's Jackets
45 Yds coarse Cloth for 15 uper Jackets
33 Sailors under Jackets
33 pr Breeches
261 Yds Osnabrigs for 66 Shirts & Linings
for 20 pr Breeches
7 yds Negroe Cloth
40 yds do do
Pr Harry Terrece [?]
CHAP. III. [Chapter CXC in original.] An act directing the emancipation of certain slaves who have served as soldiers in this state, and for the emancipation of the slave Aberdeen.
Chan. Rev. p. 210. I. WHEREAS it hath been represented to the present general assembly, that during the course of the war, many persons in this state had caused their slaves to enlist in certain regiments or corps raised within the same, having tendered such slaves to the officers appointed to recruit forces within the state, as substitutes for free persons, whose lot or duty it was to serve in such regiments or corps, at the same time representing to such recruiting officers that the slaves so enlisted by their direction or concurrence were freemen; and it appearing further to this assembly, that on expiration of the term of enlistment of such slaves that the former owners have attempted again to force them to return to a state of servitude, contrary to the principles of justice, and to their own solemn promise. Preamble reciting that many slaves, during the war, were enlisted into the army, as substitutes, being tendered as free men. II. And whereas it appears just and reasonable that all persons enlisted as afosesaid, who have faithfully served agreeable to the terms of their enlistment, and have thereby of course contributed towards the establishment of American liberty and independence, should enjoy the blessings of freedom as a reward for their toils and labours; Be it therefore enacted, That each and every slave, who by the appointment and direction of his owner, hath enlisted in any regiment or corps raised within this state, either on continental or state establishment, and hath been received as a substitute All slaves so enlisted, by appointment of their masters, and serving their term, emancipated.
Colonel Charles Lynch, who managed the lead mine during the Revolution, became an advocate of manumission in his later years. A 1792 document signed by Lynch read:
“All men who are by nature free and agreeable to the command of our Lord and Savior Christ believe it is our duty to do unto all men as we would have them do unto us.”
My sincere thanks to April Danner, Sarah Nucci, Michael Gillman, Spenser D. Slough and Joel Anderson for their generosity in sharing primary source information on this often overlooked topic.