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Glossary: Slaves & Free Blacks

emancipate—to free an individual from slavery.

enslaved—forced to be a slave.

field slave—an unskilled slave who plants, tends, and harvests crops on a plantation.

free black—a person of African descent who is not enslaved.

gentry—in eighteenth-century Virginia, the people of the highest social class who owned large land tracts, large houses, and many slaves, and held high public office.

griot—an African term for a person who keeps and tells tribal histories and genealogies; a storyteller.

house slave—a slave who works in the master’s house.

indentured servant—a person who is legally bound to work for another person for a predetermined period of time. In the eighteenth century this period of time was often, but not always, seven years.

manumission—the act of releasing a person from slavery, usually done by the slave’s owner.

meritorious service—an act deserving of praise, reward, or honor. Prior to 1782 meritorious service was a required condition for manumission.

Middle Passage—the journey of slaves and slave ships from Western Africa to the West Indies and the American continents.

mulatto—an eighteenth-century term describing an individual with both African and European ancestry. In Virginia the term referred to any person with multiracial ancestry.

negro—a term used in the eighteenth century to describe a person of African descent.

overseer—a man, usually white, hired by the master to oversee the work of slaves in a business or on a plantation.

primary source—an artifact or written material such as a letter, journal, personal document, official document, or newspaper from a particular time period that can be used to learn more about that time period.

rebellion—open resistance to authority.

runaway slave advertisement—a newspaper notice describing a slave, indentured servant, or apprentice who has run away from his or her master.

slave laws—laws specifically governing the sale, use, and punishment of slaves.


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