Before 1723, any slave could only be freed based off of a special act of the Virginia General Assembly. Between 1723 and the end of the American Revolution only twenty three African Americans were emancipated in the state of Virginia. Francis Drake was the first African American to gain his freedom, in the City of Norfolk, after the Virginia General Assembly passed, “An Act to Allow the Manumission of Slaves” which allowed, “any person…to emancipate and set free, his or her slaves.” The 1782 act allowed slaves to be freed based off of the last will and testament or other writings of the slaveowner which could be proved by two other witnesses.
On May 23, 1782, a Deed for Manumission was granted to Francis Drake.
A historical marker deviated to Francis Drake was set in Norfolk, Virginia.