Free Blacks and Slaveholders in the Alexandria
The tax assessments of 1787 through 1790 have at least two things in common. First, they are the earliest extant property tax records for the town of Alexandria. Second, they share the same tabular format, identifying free African Americans and containing a count of slaves in households with white heads of household. Following 1790, there is a five-year gap in the records, for several years after which African Americans are not recorded distinctly from whites.
Details about the slaveowners extraneous to the present purpose (such as numbers of white members of the household and personal property such as carriages) have been excluded. Thus, the tabular format of the original document has been simplified, and the remaining information may speak for itself. Keep in mind that some owners may have owned slaves who resided in other places, such as Washington, D.C. or farms in northern Virginia.
While most African Americans in town are not identified by name, this source has a value similar to the slave schedules of the federal censuses of 1850 and 1860. For one thing, they can provide statistical information. Also, used in conjunction with other sources, such as wills, deeds of sale and trust, manumissions, etc., these personal property records can help trace ancestors (particularly if the researcher can trace his or her ancestor to an individual owner and finds that that owner possesses only one slave).
For whatever reason, the assessments certainly under-represent the free black population of the time, containing only two single, adult black males (of course, free black children would not be listed under any circumstances, and free black women very seldom). The number of African Americans in white households was not necessarily exclusive of free African Americans. Particularly in this urban area, many free blacks were hired as servants, laborers or artisans, and many probably lived in white households, hence their "disappearance." Discrepancies in name spellings between the years' lists have been eliminating, favoring a common spelling for each name throughout all, based on a preferred or most common spelling appearing within the documents or from other sources. Tim Dennee
April 29th, 2007