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Matthew Ashby

Colonial Williamsburg interpreters portray colonial citizens interacting with a free black man.

  • Born by 1727
  • Mixed racial heritage
  • Free man
  • Purchased his own wife and children
  • Died 1771

Free man worked as a carter

Matthew Ashby, a free man of mixed racial heritage, worked as a carter and performed odd jobs around Williamsburg. Although his father was black, Matthew Ashby remained free, because his mother was a white indentured servant. In colonial times, a mother's status determined that of her child. The law required children born to indentured servant women to remain indentured until the age of 31, thus Matthew was indentured until he turned 31, and then he became a free man.

Purchased his own family out of slavery

Matthew married Ann Ashby, a slave of the bricklayer Samuel Spurr. Their two children, John and Mary, attended the Bray School. Over the years, Matthew Ashby amassed enough money to buy his wife and children from Samuel Spurr for 150 pounds. He successfully petitioned the Governor's Council for permission to free his family November 27, 1769.

When Matthew Ashby died in 1771, he left a sizable estate that included fashionable luxury items such as a silver watch and a tea board. The number of items in his will related to laundering suggests that Ann was a laundress. Shortly after Matthew's death, Ann married George Jones, but that marriage was unhappy and did not last long.

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