The Roots of Enterprise: Black Owned Businesses in Virginia, 1830-1880

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Loren L. Schweninger, Emeritus Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: In the three decades before the Civil War, even the most resourceful free blacks confronted formidable obstacles in seeking to establish a business. Often illiterate, lacking skills, and mired in poverty, they struggled merely to survive. Some had spent their most productive years in bondage; others had expended their small earnings to purchase loved ones out of slavery; most found it nearly impossible to obtain credit, acquire capital, or borrow money.4 During the period 1830 to 1845, they faced not only unfavorable economic conditions—a depression (183743), soil exhaustion, inadequate currency, poor transportation, and slow industrial growth—but also a web of legal restrictions. Free blacks were forbidden to travel without a pass, sell their crops without written permission, trade or barter with slaves, retail liquor in certain locations, acquire slaves except by descent, or testify in court against whites. This latter statute meant that they could not "prove their accounts," or use the judicial system to challenge whites for payment of debts. Even as the state's economy turned upward during the late 1840s and 1850s, free blacks continued to confront laws and institutions designed to keep them in a subordinate economic position.

Additional Information

Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 100 (October 1992):515-542
Language: English
Date: 1992
Free Blacks, Pre-Civil War, Business

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