When Jacob Banks testified before the Goochland County, Virginia Court as part of his pension application, he stated that "he is a free man of color that he was born in the County of Goochland in August 1754, that he has seen his Register and obtains the information from that source..."
To the average researcher, the mention of his register as a source for birth data might not signify much. But to one more familiar with antebellum Virginia research, especially that of free Negroes, the statement is significant; and though brief, provides a key research lead.The register to which he referred was a volume which identified Goochland county Negro residents who claimed a free rather than slave status. Created as a measure to control the intrastate movement of free Negroes in Virginia, the 1793 law stipulated that a court clerk record the name, age, physical description, and manner in which each person claimed his/her free status, whether by birth or emancipation. After the initial registration, the law further stipulated that each county registrant renew their register on a tri-annual basis. Evidence from surviving records reveals that compliance with the law varied. Some free Negroes registered on a regular basis while others registered only once or twice during a period when they appeared in other county records on a consistent basis.
Virginia was one of a few southern states to require that these registers be kept. Registers like the Goochland County Free Negro Register include entries that began in the early 1800’s and continued until the years preceding the Civil War.
Many of the surviving registers are available on microfilm at the Library of Virginia in Richmond, or through interlibrary loan at the LDS Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Few registers are available in manuscript collections, but some county courthouses may still retain the original volumes.
Transcriptions and abstracts of some of these registers appear in articles in several Virginia genealogical and historical journals, while others are available in book form. During the 1990’s CeCe Bullard published a series of articles on Free Blacks in the Goochland County Historical Society Magazine. Her series included data from the microfilmed Goochland County Free Negro Register. Although the abstract provided scant information, it did record that Jacob Banks registered in 1818. Described as a man of color and aged 64, his year of birth could be calculated to be 1754. Thus the statement he made in 1832 as to his date of birth matched the calculated date from the 1818 Free Negro register.
Censuses, tax lists, and court records survive for Goochland County, Virginia, so that researchers have a variety of options for continuing research on Jacob Banks.