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“F” is for Free persons of color.

“F” is for Free persons of color. Also known as free Blacks, free persons of color occupied an anomalous position in the race-based slave society of antebellum South Carolina. During the colonial era and the early nineteenth century, the owners of enslaved persons manumitted (freed) enslaved persons by last will and testament. Enslaved persons who accumulated money trade or hired word could sometimes purchase their freedom. Meritorious service to society (such as developing a cure for snakebite) could also result in freedom. Free Blacks never exceeded two percent of the state’s pre-1860 population and the majority of them lived in the countryside. As the nation edged toward civil war, the plight of free Blacks became even more precarious. The legislature in 1859 and 1850 considered bills to expel or re-enslave free persons of color.

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Dr. Walter Edgar has two programs on South Carolina Public Radio: Walter Edgar's Journal, and South Carolina from A to Z. Dr. Edgar received his B.A. degree from Davidson College in 1965 and his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1969. After two years in the army (including a tour of duty in Vietnam), he returned to USC as a post-doctoral fellow of the National Archives, assigned to the Papers of Henry Laurens.