A War-Date Document in the Hand of Patrick Henry, Attesting to the Sale of a Tract of Land Near His Home Plantation, With a Slave Being Part of the Payment

A rare document, the only one we could find having reached the market, connecting slavery with the man who famously said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Patrick Henry was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1765 and soon became its leading radical member. He was one of that colony’s opponents of the Stamp Act, and proposed the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions that challenged the authority of Parliament. One of them, considered treasonous by many, held “that...

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A War-Date Document in the Hand of Patrick Henry, Attesting to the Sale of a Tract of Land Near His Home Plantation, With a Slave Being Part of the Payment

A rare document, the only one we could find having reached the market, connecting slavery with the man who famously said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Patrick Henry was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1765 and soon became its leading radical member. He was one of that colony’s opponents of the Stamp Act, and proposed the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions that challenged the authority of Parliament. One of them, considered treasonous by many, held “that the General Assembly of this Colony have the only and exclusive Right and Power to lay Taxes and Impositions upon the inhabitants of this Colony…” In 1774 Henry represented Virginia at the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia where he continued in the role of firebrand. In early 1775, he took an active leadership role in the Revolution, particularly at the second Virginia Convention at Richmond in March 1775. The Virginia delegates were divided between those who wanted only a peaceful solution to the imperial dispute and those who also were ready to prepare for military resistance. Henry led the call for resistance and introduced a resolution to that effect. He supported its passage with the legendary speech that closed with “Give me liberty or give me death!” Henry carried the day, but by no more than a half dozen votes. Henry was elected to the last of Virginia ’s revolutionary conventions, which met in Williamsburg on May 6, 1776. There he participated in drafting Virginia ’s resolution calling upon Congress to declare the colonies “free and independent states.”

After independence, Henry became the first elected governor of Virginia, initially serving from July 6, 1776, to June 1, 1779. At this time he worked closely with George Washington to raise and equip the soldiers who won American independence. In 1778 Governor Henry sent Virginia troops under George Rogers Clark to gain the Old Northwest from the British and their Indian allies. This action ultimately led to the addition of the Northwest to the new United States. Henry was succeeded as governor by Thomas Jefferson. Henry would later return as governor, being elected for two more terms from November 30, 1784 to November 30, 1786.

After leaving the Governor’s chair the first time, Henry was elected in 1780 to Virginia ’s assembly, the House of Delegates. He promptly emerged as one of its most influential members, rivaled only by Richard Henry Lee and James Madison. In 1782, worked to put the state on solid ground economically and morally.

In 1779, Henry and his family moved to the 10,000-acre Leatherwood Plantation in Henry County, Virginia. His eldest daughter Martha and her husband John Fontaine also lived with them on the plantation. Henry lived at Leatherwood from 1779 to 1784; he owned 75 slaves and cultivated tobacco. In 1782, according to the tax list, Henry owned 64 slaves, his son-in-law John Fontaine owned 18 (he and Henry’s daughter were living there as well), and his cousin’s husband George Waller also owned 18 slaves, making 100 total among the three men. Though he owned slaves, Henry denounced the institution as morally wrong, expressing a desire that it would someday be abolished.

In 1782, as the Revolutionary War was winding down but still ongoing, the General Assembly of Virginia enacted a major revision of the Commonwealth’s tax laws, which provided for statewide enumeration of property, but on the county level. The law delegated to the County Sheriffs, such as Peter Hairston, the responsibility for collecting the taxes. The Hairston family were a large clan of landowners, which centered around their Marrowbone Plantation, which takes its name from the river that runs through it.

Autograph document signed, in the hand of Patrick Henry, September 17, 1782, signed by Thomas Bush and Peter Hairston, with Henry signing as witness.

“Agreement between Thomas Bush and Peter Hairston of Henry County is as follows:

“The said Bush sells to the said Hairston in fee simple with a general warranty his Land on Marrowbone being one hundred acres for the consideration of three hundred pounds to be paid in the following manner. viz. For one negroe man Harry at the price of one hundred pounds, one wagon…, a stallion at fifty pounds, a geldingas as valuable as the stallion to be judged by Jonathan East and to discount fifty pounds with any creditor of Col. Pannill, in this state and to pay the said Bush’s taxes this year. The said Hairston is to have possession of the said land by 10 November next and to deliver the said wagon by that time and besides to let the said Bush have her three days and to carry in his corn. And in the meantime to have the said Hairston to have liberty to finish the dwelling house. If George Hairston should object to the title of the land so as the said Hairston chooses to annul this bargain he is at liberty to annul the same.”

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