Black History Moment: Virginia’s Cohabitation Act of 1866

by Feb 8, 2021Blog0 comments

Good morning,
With the exception of Super Bowl Sunday, the past few days merely skimmed the surface on what the Black family unit had to endure during the era of chattel slavery in America.    To recap, the actions of Henry “Box” Brown and Madison Washington, were motivated by the following 19th century pre-Civil War realities impacting African American families:

1) Enslaved black men & women were considered property and not legal persons, thus marriage relationships between enslaved adults, were unprotected and recognized as illegitimate by plantation owners and (Southern) state governments
2) Enslaved black men, women, and children living on any Southern plantation, faced the ever-present danger of being forcefully separated for sale to another plantation owner
3) Free black men and women (born free and runaway) were at risk of getting kidnapped for transport to a slave-holding state
The wholesale practice of the realities described above, came to a legal end with the abolition of slavery (Emancipation) in 1865.   As such, today’s black history moment is a highlight on one Southern state’s adjustment to Emancipation.
Key Facts – Virginia’s Cohabitation Act of 1866
* On Feb. 27, 1866, the Virginia legislature passed this Act to legalize marriages between formerly enslaved black men and women in VA
Significance of Virginia’s Cohabitation Act of 1866
* Under this Act, children that were birthed from the marriages of formerly enslaved parents were now legitimate
* Other Southern states across the post-Civil War landscape, passed similar cohabitation laws to legalize African American marriages that began during the slavery era
Visit the below websites and/or conduct your own research to learn more about The Cohabitation Act of 1866:
Encyclopedia Virginia (Virginia Humanities) – Cohabitation Act of 1866
Reconstructing the Family Unit: Repairing Bonds Broken by Slavery
Genealogy Adventures Live video: “1866 Cohabitation Records (USA): Register of Colored Persons”