Hector Davis was a prominent slave trader in Richmond in the years leading up to the American Civil War (1861–1865). Born probably in Goochland County, Davis moved to Richmond sometime in the 1840s and established there a slave trading business. He ran a so-called jail, where enslaved men, women, and children were confined awaiting sale. In 1859 his auction house alone did business the value of which exceeded all the flour and equaled all the tobacco exported from Virginia that year. Early in 1860 he and thirteen other men chartered the Traders Bank of Virginia, with Davis serving as the president. Davis never married, but he had several children with an enslaved woman he owned, Ann Banks Davis, whom he moved to Philadelphia about 1860 and freed in his will. Davis died in Richmond in 1863.
Author: Philip J. Schwarz
John Dabney (ca. 1824–1900)
John Dabney was a renowned Richmond-based caterer through much of the nineteenth century. Dabney began acquiring his reputation while enslaved, even serving one of his famed mint juleps to the future Edward VII during the prince’s 1860 visit to America. He was in the process of purchasing his own freedom when the American Civil War (1861–1865) and slavery ended. Known for his integrity, he could secure credit from banks, which he and his wife used to purchase several properties and open a restaurant. While outwardly conforming to the expectations of white society, he privately harbored no illusions about his clients’ racism. Dabney inwardly experienced the “two-ness” that the sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois described in The Souls of Black Folk (1903), of being “an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings.” Exemplifying his popularity, all four of Richmond’s daily newspapers reported his death.
George Boxley (ca. 1780–1865)
George Boxley was an antislavery leader who allegedly conspired to help slaves revolt in 1816. Born in Spotsylvania County, he farmed and ran a general store and himself owned slaves. His motivations for turning against slavery in 1815 remain unclear, although speculation has included everything from personal grievances to religious delusions. Boxley’s plans were exposed, a number of slaves were arrested, and he turned himself in. What resulted was the largest prosecution for insurrection between Gabriel’s Conspiracy in 1800 and Nat Turner’s Revolt in 1831. With the help of his wife, Boxley escaped jail and spent the next several years on the run, outwitting bounty hunters. He finally settled in Hamilton County, Indiana, where he died in 1865.
Billy (fl. 1770s–1780s)
Billy was an enslaved African American who became a principal in a court case during the American Revolution (1775–1783). In 1781, the Prince William County Court indicted him for waging war against the state from a British armed ship. Despite his testimony that he had been forced to board the vessel against his will and had never taken up arms on behalf of the British, the court convicted Billy of treason and sentenced him to be hanged. Two dissenting judges argued to Governor Thomas Jefferson that a slave, being a noncitizen, could not commit treason. Billy received a gubernatorial reprieve, and the General Assembly pardoned him on June 14, 1781. What happened to him after that is not known. Billy made his mark on history because his trial forced white leaders to confront the logic of slavery. Excluded from the protections conferred by citizenship, he was ultimately shielded from execution because Virginia’s law of treason could not logically apply to him.
Archibald Batte (d. by April 12, 1830)
Archibald Batte was a merchant and a registered free person of color in Chesterfield County who also owned more than a dozen slaves at the time of his death. Probably born in Prince George County, Batte may have been the son of an African American woman and a white farmer. He acquired the property, including land and slaves, after the farmer’s death. He eventually operated a grocery store in Bermuda Hundred, and his slaves—none of whom were close relations—likely worked in the store and on his farm. Batte was prosperous and respected enough to have once filed suit against a white man, which he lost. He died in 1830.