Asa Coleman (d. after February 24, 1893)

Asa Coleman represented Halifax County in the House of Delegates (1872–1873). Little is known about Coleman's early life. He was born enslaved, most likely in North Carolina. In 1869 he appeared on Halifax County tax records, and three years later bought 150 acres of land. In 1871 Coleman was one of three Republicans who swept Halifax County's House of Delegates election. He did not seek a second term two years later, and he lost in an 1875 bid. Coleman remained active in local politics, eventually chairing the Halifax County Republican Party. Coleman married twice and died sometime after February 24, 1893, when he last appears in the public record. MORE...

 

Early Years

Coleman was born into slavery early in the 1830s, probably in North Carolina. The names of his parents are not known. He grew up on a Person County farm owned by William Bailey, who later sold him to Joseph Pointer, another county farmer who owned sixty-seven slaves in 1860 and who may have brought him to Virginia. Coleman learned to read but not to write. He was married, probably by 1858, to a woman named Amanda, a Tennessee native, born about 1839, whose maiden name is not recorded. They had at least one son. It is not known when or under what circumstances Coleman secured his freedom nor when he came to Virginia. His name first appears in the Halifax County tax records in 1869, and by the next year he was working as a carpenter. In June 1872 he bought at public auction 150 acres of land, for which he paid $982.50. The county court approved the deed and conveyed it to him in March 1875.

Political Career

In 1871 Coleman finished second in a field of seven candidates and won election as one of three Radical Republicans representing Halifax County in the House of Delegates. Serving in three sessions from December 6, 1871, to April 2, 1873, he sat on the Committee on Asylums and Prisons. Coleman supported an unsuccessful attempt to repeal an 1870 act that authorized chain gangs and voted with the minority to sustain a bill to prevent punishment by whipping. He sponsored a bill authorizing Halifax County residents to vote on purchasing a local bridge in order to eliminate its tolls, introduced a resolution petitioning Congress to set aside public lands for the education of African Americans living in the South, and proposed that the Committee on Schools and Colleges admit to white public schools all children of white fathers. In 1872 Coleman and other black legislators traveled to Washington, D.C., where they met with the president and sought his support for a civil rights bill then in Congress.

Of major concern to Coleman and the other House members was the crushing state debt created during the antebellum period to finance internal improvements. Conservatives were divided on how to pay the debt. One faction, called Funders, advocated full payment to preserve the state's honor and credit rating, while Readjusters proposed paying only a portion and funneling remaining resources to distressed sectors of Virginia society. The controversial Funding Act, passed in March 1871 to remedy the fiscal crisis, only deepened the state's financial woes. Coleman was on authorized leave when the House voted on December 15, 1871, to suspend the act, but on January 5, 1872, he voted with the majority in favor of a joint resolution to discontinue the issuance of bonds for funding the public debt. He voted with the majority on March 2 to override the governor's veto and pass a bill prohibiting the use of bond coupons to pay taxes and debts, thereby repealing a key provision of the Funding Act. Coleman did not stand for reelection in 1873. In November of that year he sat on a Halifax jury.

In August 1875 Coleman served on the Resolutions Committee at a Richmond convention called by black legislators to address the lack of jobs. About one hundred African American delegates from across the state formed a short-lived Laboring Men's Mechanics' Union Association, adopted a resolution supporting readjustment of the state debt, and called for better educational opportunities for black children. In November 1875 Coleman unsuccessfully ran for another term in the House of Delegates but finished fourth in a field of six candidates. He did not again seek a seat in the General Assembly.

Later Years

Although Coleman apparently did not hold any county offices, he remained politically active. Like many other African Americans, he abandoned the declining Republican Party and joined the Readjusters. Led by the former Confederate general William Mahone, the Readjusters broke with Conservatives, formed their own party, and at an 1884 convention declared themselves the new Republican Party of Virginia. Coleman was elected chair of the Halifax County Republican Party, and on May 11, 1888, he attended a meeting of Sixth District Republicans at Liberty (later Bedford City), in Bedford County. He campaigned on behalf of Patrick Henry McCaull, the district's nominee for the House of Representatives, and corresponded with Mahone on how best to manage party affairs, but McCaull lost the November election.

In June 1883 Amanda Coleman died of consumption (probably tuberculosis), and by April 1888 Coleman had married a woman named Mary, whose surname is undocumented. Asa Coleman last appears in the public record on February 24, 1893, when he deeded to his wife and his other heirs his remaining eighty-nine acres, his house, furniture, all personal property, and a cow and a calf. The date and circumstances of his death are not known. He was buried in the Coleman family cemetery near Virgilina, in Halifax County, but his grave marker is no longer legible.

Time Line

  • early 1830s - Asa Coleman is born enslaved, probably in North Carolina. The names of his parents are unknown.
  • 1858 - By this year, Asa Coleman has married a woman named Amanda, a Tennessee native.
  • 1869 - Asa Coleman's name first appears in Halifax County tax records.
  • December 6, 1871–April 2, 1873 - Asa Coleman serves in three sessions of the House of Delegates representing Halifax County. He sits on the Committee on Asylums and Prisons.
  • June 1872 - Asa Coleman buys at public auction 150 acres of land, for which he pays $982.50.
  • November 1875 - Asa Coleman, of Halifax County, unsuccessfully runs for another term in the House of Delegates, finishing fourth in a field of six candidates.
  • June 1883 - Amanda Coleman, wife of Asa Coleman, dies of consumption (probably tuberculosis).
  • May 11, 1888 - Asa Coleman, chair of the Halifax County Republican Party, attends a meeting of the Sixth District Republicans at Liberty (later Bedford City), in Bedford County.
  • February 24, 1893 - Asa Coleman deeds to his wife and his other heirs his remaining eighty-nine acres, his house, furniture, all personal property, and a cow and a calf. He dies sometime after and is buried in the Coleman family cemetery near Virgilina, in Halifax County.
Further Reading
Dailey, Jane. Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
Gunter, Donald. "Coleman, Asa." In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 3, edited by Sara B. Bearss, et al., 356–358. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006.
Moore, James Tice. Two Paths to the New South: The Virginia Debt Controversy, 1870–1883. [Lexington]: University Press of Kentucky, 1974.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Gunter, D. W., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Asa Coleman (d. after February 24, 1893). (2013, December 11). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Coleman_Asa_d_after_February_24_1893.

  • MLA Citation:

    Gunter, Donald W. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Asa Coleman (d. after February 24, 1893)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 11 Dec. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: May 3, 2013 | Last modified: December 11, 2013