John E. Ferguson was a businessman of mixed-race ancestry. He worked as a barber in Richmond and rose to the elite of that city’s free black community, serving prosperous white men and even owning enslaved people. He bought and sold real estate and by 1859 owned more than a dozen properties. In 1853, after arguing he was only one-quarter black, Ferguson received from a Richmond court a certificate that freed him of certain legal restrictions that came with being African American. Nevertheless, when he faced criminal charges three years later, he was treated as black. He was acquitted, but when his son ran afoul of the law, too, he was convicted and fined with evidence that would not have been used against a white man. Ferguson died in 1859.