Mann Page Defends A Slave Against Treason For The Wrong Reason
Mann Page was a member of the House of Burgesses during the onset of the American Revolution.
Page worked closely with many of the most influential Founders, but kept himself mostly to Virginia politics.
I’ve written before about Virginia Governor John Page and today I’d like to take a closer look at the family by exploring the life of his brother Mann.
Mann Page was born into extraordinary wealth and, as such, found himself a member of Virginia’s colonial government, the House of Burgesses.
When the Royal Governor refused to allow the Burgesses to sit, Page was a member of the First Virginia Convention. This extralegal body met in an effort to continue conducting the government of the colony. This was unwittingly one of the first steps toward the American Revolution.
The Association of Members of the Late House of Burgesses
Mann Page was one of the men who signed the Association of Members of the Late House of Burgesses. This document was one of the first to issue a call for the First Continental Congress and a boycott of British tea. (It is often mistakenly called the first to do so, but Pennsylvania had sent out a letter of this nature the week before. There were actually several sent out that same week from around the colonies, so the sentiment was everywhere.)
The Association outlines specifically all of the major grievances the colonists had, as well as recommending what might be accomplished by a Continental Congress. It is interesting to note what this room full of 89 Virginia men agreed were reasonable expectations. This resolution can be read here.
As a side note, I’d like to point out how great the name Association of Members of the Late House of Burgesses is. First of all, they used the word ‘of’ three times, which seems excessive. More humorously, I really enjoy how they called it the ‘Late’ House of Burgesses. Like its dead. As if the Royal Governor killed it. Comedy Gold.
As for Mann Page, closing in on 60 years old, he played a small role in the local Virginia Government throughout the Revolution.
He did continue to consult with and act as an adviser to many of the younger men who signed the Association. Some of these rebels included the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee and Patrick Henry.
Can A Slave Commit Treason?
Page’s most notable moment of the Founding Period was his defense of a runaway slave. However, the conditions of this defense were strange.
The slave, known as Billy, ran away to join the British in the American Revolution. This was common, as the British were allowing slaves to leave their masters and fight to suppress the rebellion in exchange for their freedom.
Billy was captured by the Patriots and brought back to Virginia where he was tried and convicted of treason. Sentenced to death, Billy’s cause was taken up by Mann Page, himself a slaveowner.
Page’s defense had little to do with Human Rights. Actually, he believed Billy should not be hung because slaves did not have the rights of citizens and, therefore, could not be convicted of a crime like treason.
Mann wrote a note to his old friend Governor Thomas Jefferson who stayed Billy’s execution. The State Legislator then pardoned Billy. You can read Page’s letter to Jefferson here.
Though we don’t know what happened to Billy after this incident, we know that Mann Page passed away later that year. He left behind a Revolutionary, if little known, legacy.
Although Mann Page does not have a biography of his own, I am currently reading ‘First Founding Father’ about Richard Henry Lee. So far, this book gives a great overview of Virginia on the brink of Revolution and if you are interested, it will give you good insight into the world in which Page lived. You can pick up a copy through the Amazon affiliate link below which will help support this website at no additional cost to you.
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