Free People of Color

Free People of Color - From Naming to Knowing
Piece of the 1834 image with red arrows pointing towards names of free People of Color
This excerpt of the 1834 Commissioner's Report shows the names of free People of Color.

Free People of Color or Free Black people also worked on the construction of the Capitol. Research indicates some of the people listed in the building’s construction records as “laborers” – including Young Evans, Daniel Evans, Billy Dunston, Willis Dunston, Hugh Harp, and Warren Harp – could be Free People of Color. 

The term “Free People of Color” included many different types of people. Some were born free and others were emancipated. North Carolina followed the birth-mother rule to determine the status of non-White people: if your mother was free, then you were free at birth. Biracial children born to a White mother were considered free. Descendants of Native Americans were also categorized as Free People of Color. Additionally, someone could be born enslaved and then freed through the process of manumission, though this was difficult. Enslaved people could purchase themselves from their enslavers. Sometimes enslavers chose to free the people they enslaved, either willing it at their death or by manumitting during their lifetimes.

In 1860 just before the Civil War, around 30,000 Free People of Color lived in North Carolina. While many of these individuals lived in eastern counties like Craven (where before the war, nearly one fifth of the population of People of Color was free), Free People of Color did also live and work in Wake County. However, even free individuals were affected by slavery and the system of racial subjugation it created and reinforced. They faced discrimination, as well as many laws restricting their interactions with both White people and enslaved African Americans. They were considered legally superior to enslaved people, who had very few legal rights. Free People of Color had legal personhood and recognized connections to their families. 


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