Free African Americans of the Colonial Southeast

As a rule, I don’t publish book reviews in NGS Monthly, nor have any of my predecessors. Within the National Genealogical Society, book reviews are the purview of NGSQ and its review editor, Christopher A. Nordmann, PhD. While this is no formal review, I can’t keep myself from bringing attention to Paul Heinegg and the research he’s conducted over more than two decades, culminating in the recent publication of his sixth edition of the three-volume set, Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina, from the Colonial Period to about 1820.

I’m not alone in recognizing his work. Previous editions have won the North Carolina Genealogical Society’s Award of Excellence in Publishing and the American Society of Genealogists’ Donald Lines Jacobus Award.

The first paragraph of Ira Berlin’s foreword touches on the significance of Heinegg’s work:

If the family is the building block of society, it is also the keystone of historical understanding. Nowhere is this more evident than in the study of Black people who were free in the slave societies of the Americas. Often the product of relationships between slaves and free people of various admixtures of African, European and Native American, the free Blacks’ familial origins and subsequent domestic connections determined their legal status and shaped, in large measure, their social standing. No one has made this point more forcefully than Paul Heinegg, who, during the last twenty years, has meticulously constructed and reconstructed the genealogies of free people of color, first in Maryland and Delaware and then in Virginia and North Carolina. Now, with this expansion of his earlier book on North Carolina and Virginia, Heinegg has extended his work to South Carolina. Taken together, Heinegg provides the fullest discussion of the familial origins of free people of color in the Anglophone colonial South.[1]

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