"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Martin Luther King


William Breedlove was born in Essex County around 1820 to a white father and a free black woman. Throughout his life he worked as a blacksmith and owned and operated a ferry on the Rappahannock River.

Free people of color usually lived inconspicuously in the years preceding the Civil War, but that became difficult when Virginia seceded from the Union. They faced the threat of being impressed to work on Confederate fortifications and likely also faced appeals for help from slaves attempting to escape to the North.

On November 2, 1863, Breedlove and another free black named William Chandler, his employee at the ferry, transported an African American man across the river under the impression that he had a pass authorizing him to travel, when in fact the man was attempting to escape from slavery. Breedlove and Chambers were arrested and on November 16, 1863, convicted in Essex County of assisting in a slave's escape. The penalty prescribed by law was that both convicted men be "sold into absolute slavery" themselves.

After appeals from the attorney who prosecuted him, justices who ruled in the case, and a letter attesting to his good character from the Lt. Governor - as well as his and Chandler's ignorance of the slave's deception - Governor John Letcher pardoned Breedlove in December 1863, and Governor William "Extra Billy" Smith pardoned Chandler in January 1864.

Breedlove went on to serve on as representative to the state constitutional convention. During the constitutional convention Breedlove sat on the Committee on Taxation and Finance. In his later years, he held positions on the town council of Tappahannock and as Postmaster of the town, He died of "brain fever" in 1871 at home with what was described as a "respectable and constructive" reputation.