In the communities of free Negroes . . . families took on an institutional character. Economic competency, culture, and achievement gave these families a special status and became the source of a tradition which has been transmitted to succeeding generations.
E. Franklin Frazier, The Free Negro Family
Most free black families in South Carolina in the early part of the nineteenth century descended from free ancestors. Some were the descendants of slaves who gained their freedom during the colonial era. Others had been freed during a brief period of liberalization inspired by the Revolution. In addition, many light-skinned "free people of color," like many of their white countrymen, fled Toussaint L'Ouverture's Haitian revolution in 1792 and, despite bans on the "French Negroes," entered through the ports of Charleston and Savannah. Furthermore, the economic uncertainty between the collapse of the indigo trade and rise of the cotton culture encouraged a few masters to free slaves. The majority of the free black population, however, derived from the manumission of mulatto children (usually the result of unions between masters and their slave mistresses). Some masters acted out of affection; others, to exculpate their guilt.
After the prohibition of manumission in 1820, most requests to the state legislature for a slave's freedom were denied.1 One of the most fervent appeals to the state legislature for the manumission of a South Carolina slave was made during the excitement of the Mexican War. Edgefield legislator B. C. Yancey brought David L. Adams's petition to free his slave Charles before the General Assembly in 1847. The petition told how Adams's son Lt. David Adams, one of the Edgefield Volunteers of the Palmetto Regiment, had been killed in action in Mexico. Charles stood vigil over his dead master's body day and night, leaving his side only to help with the wounded on the battlefield. The petition was rejected, however. After 1820 increase in the free black population came from children born of white mothers and free black women.2