Convicted enslaved Black man is reprieved by Virginia governor Thomas Jefferson.
1781 (May 8)
Known as Billy, Will, or William, the mixed-race enslaved Black man of John Tayloe of Virginia was sentenced to death by the Court of Oyer and Terminer, Prince William County, for aiding in the seizure of an armed vessel and feloniously and traitorously waging war against Virginia. Billy argued that his part in the attack was not of his own free will. Two Justices, Henry Lee and William Carr, dissented with the court on grounds that, because Billy was enslaved, he owed no allegiance and, therefore, could not be guilty of treason. Virginia governor Thomas Jefferson moved to pass a reprieve to June 30 through the state legislature. The reprieve was apparently granted, a move that may have evidenced a sense of justice in a slave-holding state, as well as Jefferson's hypothesized anti-slavery views.