“In the aftermath of the Civil War, numerous former slaves came to Fredericksburg where there was already an established free black community. Many freedmen took work as laborers and servants. Others brought artisan skills they had practiced in slavery. The area in front of you and to your right became one of several African-American neighborhoods in Fredericksburg. The local economy, however, had been devastated by the war and did not provide many opportunities for skilled workers. Available jobs were primarily in mills and factories. Educational opportunities were limited to a segregated school. Still, many African-American small businesses flourished. These blocks were Fredericksburg’s black center of commerce until the 1970s. Restaurants and boarding houses initially appeared among the residences, catering to the local community as well as to travelers. There were also professional offices, retail stores, barber and beauty shops, a grocery store, a funeral homes and two hotels. (Sidebar) Constructed in 1884, the Fredericksburg Colored School was located to your left, where the fire station now stands.”
At the time of the Civil War, though in some places it may not seem to be, the state of Virginia was a Southern-state. However, prior to the American Civil War many slaves who earned freedom from the British during the Revolution lived in communities in the cities of Norfolk, Williamsburg, Petersburg, Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Alexandria.(1) The first black community to be founded in Fredericksburg is called Liberty Town, located roughly 1 mile from this marker, centered around Barton Street, George Street, and Liberty Street. The area that is now used by Matthew Fontaine Maury High School used to be a potter’s field and African-American cemetery for Liberty Town.
After the Revolutionary War alone, Fredericksburg saw a drastic increase of freed blacks moving to the city. In 20 years – between 1790 and 1810 – there was a 492% increase in the number of freed-blacks in Fredericksburg whereas there was only
a 59% increase in the number of slaves in Fredericksburg.(3) The increase of freed slaves coming to these towns was partially due to urban attraction and the need for jobs, however, many newly freed slaves returned or moved to the cities that had family connections.
The first freed-black community in the city of Fredericksburg was located on the other side of downtown Fredericksburg from where this marker stands – creating a block formed by Washington Avenue, Lewis Street, Amelia Street, and Douglas Street.(2) This community was established due to its proximity to Kenmore Plantation, as many freedmen and freedwomen continued to work at Kenmore for a wage.
Though many freed slaves returned to field labor for a wage, other slaves did not. Other freed slaves attempted to enjoy their new leisure time; but the general unpreparedness among freedmen loomed over Fredericksburg.(4) To combat this unpreparedness, and the resulting problems between the whites and blacks in Fredericksburg, the Freedman’s Bureau located it’s Rappahannock subdistrict headquarters about three blocks from where this marker is currently standing. In June 1865, the National Bank of Fredericksburg – now Foode – became the
Rappahannock chapter of the Freedman’s Bureau.(5) To the front-right of this marker is the Shiloh New Site Baptist church. After the back wall of the Shiloh Old Site Baptist Church fell in 1886, community members decided to house the new church in this spot. This became the Colored Church of Fredericksburg, as the White community moved to the Fredericksburg Baptist Church – now
on the corner of Amelia Street and Princess Anne Street.(6)
Life in the greater Fredericksburg Are as a whole began to normalize thanks to the homecoming of veterans, and the establishment of the Freedmen’s Bureau which assisted in the restructuring of the lives of freed slaves. In 1866, Fredericksburg repealed all city laws that regarded slavery. (7) The freedmen community in Fredericksburg was treated well, compared to other states during the Reconstruction. Churches remained to be the center for freed blacks, and the community only flourished around it. One reason the freedmen community began where it did in Fredericksburg was because of it’s proximity to the old site Shiloh Baptist church on Sophia Street; once that old church had fallen, the community decided to build the church within their community on Princess Anne Street.
(1) Nicholls, Michael L. “Strangers Setting among Us: The Sources and Challenge of the Urban Free Black Population of Early Virginia.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 108, no. 2 (2000): 156.
(2) Fitzgerald, Ruth Coder. A Different Story: A Black History of Fredericksburg, Stafford, and Spotsylvania, Virginia (Chicago, IL: Unicorn Publishing Gourp, 1979), 203.
(3) Nicholls, 2000, 158.
(4) Fitzgerald, 1979, 101.
(5) Fitzgerald, 1979, 102.
(6) “Church History,” Shiloh Baptist Church (New Site), (2014). http://www.shilohnewsite.com/about-us/church-history
(7) Fitzgerald, 1979, 102.