Published:June 7, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

The Library of Virginia notes that, on this day in 1781, the above petition, from Mann Page, was received by the House of Delegates. This petition “from Page, on behalf of an enslaved man, Billy, revealed that the slave had been sentenced to death for treason. Billy had been accused of fighting with the British against Virginia in April 1781. Page and two other white men argued to Governor Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) that a slave, as a noncitizen, could not commit treason. Billy was pardoned on June 14, 1781. Tensions were high during the Revolutionary War while some African American and white Virginians struggled with the incongruity that liberty and freedom did not extend to the enslaved population.”

Here’s a transcript of the petition:

To the honble the Speaker & Gentlemen of the House of Delegates,

The Petition of Mann Page one of the Executors of the Will of John Tayloe Esqr deceased, humbly sheweth, that Billy, alias Will alias William, a Mulatto Slave, late the Property of the said John Tayloe, was condemned to die for Treason by the Judgment of the Court of Prince William County; but upon Representation of the Proceedings of the said Court being made to his Excellency Thomas Jefferson Esqr the then Governour of Virginia, a Repreive was obtained for the said Slave ’till the last Day of the present Month. Your Petitioner sensible that a Pardon for Treason can only be obtaine granted by the Legislature, begs that he may be heard before a Committee on Behalf of the said Slave.