Aged stiff books covered with elegant handwriting in brown ink fill a tiny first-floor room of the Fairfax County Courthouse and provide a "Roots" - like look into the reality of slave life in Virginia before the Civil War.
They are the minute books of Fairfax Court, dating from 1749.
On the time-worn pages, now being meticulously catalogued and microfilmed by the Fairfax County History Commission, one can read about Dick, a slave owned by George Mason. Mason brought Dick to court because he had run away and "it appearing that he stole goods from several persons," Dick was ordered "set in pillory and one of his Ears nailed thereto and cut off."
Six months later a terse entry appears in the court records on Aug. 15, 1754. It says: "George Mason presented a petition for an allowance for a Negro named Dick who died in custody of a person carrying him to the officer after being outlawed." Dick's certified value was set at 40 pounds and paid to Mason.
Perusing these records, one can also learn that in a span of 54 years (1749-1803) there were only two recorded hangings in the county. Both were of blacks whose crime was raping white women.
In 1959, Toney, a slave owned by Presley Thornton of Northumberland County, valued at 65 pounds, was convicted of stealing and rape and sentenced to be hanged and then "his body hung in chains."
In 1803 a runaway from Kentucky named Luke was found guilty of the rape of Lucy Ann Steel and the court order reads that he was to be "hanged by the neck until he is dead, dead, dead."
Six years earlier the court ordered a black named Harry castrated for an attempted rape.
And in then-rural Fairfax during the same 54-year period there were six murders and one attempted slaying in the county. In three cases the victims were slaves and in one a free black woman named Pegg. None of the accused in these four cases - all whites - was found guilty or given an recorded punishment.
One of the early lawsuits heard in the Fairfax court was against the Alexandria slave trader Joseph Bruin. Among Bruin's papers impounded by the court for the suit are numerous printed receipts much like the ones received for paying rent - from people who sold their slaves to Bruin. A slave's name and price were written into the appropriate blanks on the receipt.
On Oct. 3, 1840, Bruin paid William Davis $300 for Ned who was warranted "sound and healthy, with the exception of his three fingers and a slave for life."
Betsey, "between the ages of 13 and 14" was sold by T. Baldwin to Bruin for $400 on Sept. 3, 1840. And for 14-month-old Harriet, Bruin paid $25 to W. T. T. Mason.