African American

African-American history began at Fort Monroe in 1619, when a ship carrying, as colonist John Rolfe reported, “20 and odd Negroes, which the Governor and Cape Merchant bought for victualle,” made a stop on its way to Jamestown at Old Point Comfort, the present site of Fort Monroe. The Africans aboard were the first to be introduced into an English coastal colony, and whether they were slaves or indentured servants, their arrival marked the beginning of America’s “peculiar institution.”

Almost exactly 200 years later, some of the victims of this now flourishing institution were contracted out by their owners to begin the construction of Fort Monroe.
Then a generation later, in the first months of the Civil War, the fort which slavery had helped to build suddenly became a beacon of freedom. On May 24, 1861, three escapees from bondage– Frank Baker, Sheppard Mallory and James Townsend–made their way by boat to Fort Monroe and asked for sanctuary. The Fugitive Slave Act was still in force, but the post commander Major General Benjamin Butler decided that it no longer applied in Virginia, which had seceded from the Union. So instead of handing the escapees over to the Confederate emissary who came the next morning to claim them, he declared them to be “contraband of war.”

Word spread quickly among African Americans in the surrounding area and the region, and by July nearly a thousand of them had made the journey to “Fort Freedom.” By the end of the war, 10,000 or more were living at the fort and in houses they had built on the ruins of Hampton, burned by the Confederates to keep it out of Union hands. According to historian Robert F. Engs, author of “Freedom’s First Fortress: Black Hampton, Virginia, 1861-1890,” this risk-taking resettlement was the first “mass freedom incident” of the Civil War and the beginning of freedom for all Americans. It was also at Fort Monroe that many African American spirituals, one of the richest aspects of American culture, were transcribed for the first time. Among these was “Go Down Moses” or “Let My People Go.”*

In some ways, the contrabands were no better off than they had been under slavery. They were physically abused, denied food, and often cheated out of the wages for their Union jobs by their supposed protectors, and though many of them may not have realized it at the time, they were excluded from the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which was directed at slaves in rebel-held territory. Technically, they remained the property of the Union until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.

They regarded themselves, however, as free and independent, and their attitude of self-reliance led them to create, in that part of Hampton known as the Grand Contraband Camp, a uniquely vibrant post-war black community. In the words of Robert F. Engs, “By 1890 they had made tremendous strides toward achievement of their goals: half of the businesses on Hampton’s main street were black owned, Hampton blacks participated fully in the political process throughout the 1880s, electing black officials and delegates to the state legislature. Blacks held jobs across the entire spectrum from common laborer to professional; nearly half were the category of skilled craftsman or above. Hampton blacks saw to the education of their children, supporting the public elementary school and a private secondary school. Many sent their children to [Hampton] Institute thereafter…. Many went on to colleges and graduate schools in the North, and returned to become involved in local and state politics. Finally, blacks established a whole set of community institutions to serve the people: five churches, various fraternal organizations, women’s associations, young people’s groups, and temperance societies. The Hampton black community by 1890 was an elaborate one which shared the styles, values, and problems of many other American communities, whatever the geographical location or racial composition.”

Another consequence of “Fort Freedom” was the establishment in 1868 of Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, by missionaries who had come down from the North during the war to help the contrabands. Hampton Institute provided an important educational resource for black Hamptonians, but it also promoted what many of these same people considered a wrong-headed strategy of accommodation to white prejudices and paternalism. Thus Hampton, according to Engs, was also a microcosm of the decades-long national debate among African Americans about the best way to achieve full equality.

After 1890, whites reasserted control of city politics, and black Hampton lost much of what it had gained. But the flowering that had followed Fort Monroe’s transformation into “Fort Freedom” did not entirely cease, says Engs: “The forces of repression ultimately engulfed black Hampton just as they had the rest of the black South, but the twenty years of respite enjoyed by Hamptonians made a crucial difference. During that period a whole new generation of blacks had reached maturity in a community in which parents owned property, voted, held elective office, and knew more about the outside world than many white Hamptonians. Even in political and economic defeat, black Hampton’s first free generation could look with pride at its major achievement: its children. They were well educated, ambitious, sophisticated in business, in education, and in the ways of the world, white as well as black, Northern as well as Southern. They and their descendants would continue to play a major role in American black life long after accommodation had been repudiated.”

* Although usually thought of as a spiritual, the earliest recorded use of the song was as a rallying anthem for the Contrabands at Fort Monroe sometime before July 1862. Early authorities presumed it was composed by them. [4] Sheet music was soon after published, titled “Oh! Let My People Go: The Song of the Contrabands” and arranged by Horace Waters. L.C. Lockwood, chaplain of the Contrabands, stated in the sheet music the song was from Virginia, dating from about 1853.[5] The opening verse, as recorded by Lockwood, is:
The Lord, by Moses, to Pharaoh said: Oh! let my people go.
If not, I’ll smite your first-born dead–Oh! let my people go.
Oh! go down, Moses,
Away down to Egypt’s land,
And tell King Pharaoh
To let my people go. (from Wikipedia)

African-American Luminaries of the Contraband Period
*Mary Peake, a free black woman living in Hampton, became a teacher in the 1850s, and during the early days of the Civil War she taught the Contraband ex-slaves who had come to Fort Monroe. She died of tuberculosis in 1862. A Hampton school and street are named after her, and there is a Mary Peake Center.
*George Scott, a runaway slave from a plantation near Yorktown, furnished information about Confederate positions to General Butler of Fort Monroe. Scott was one of many African-American spies for the Union Army whose “black dispatches,” as they were called, were a crucial source of information.
*William Roscoe Davis, an important figure in the Contraband community, “served as pastor of a church on Lincoln Street in Hampton, then established an elementary school in the building. He became active in politics but refused suggestions that he run for Congress because he felt his education was lacking. Davis served as a door keeper at the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867 and was appointed as lighthouse keeper at Old Point Comfort, a position he held for a decade.” (The Virginian Pilot) One of Davis’s descendants is the American writer Thulani Davis.

Text contributed by Scott Butler.

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How Slavery Really Ended in America

By ADAM GOODHEART

On May 23, 1861, little more than a month into the Civil War, three young black men rowed across the James River in Virginia and claimed asylum in a Union-held citadel. Fort Monroe, Va., a fishhook-shaped spit of land near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, had been a military post since the time of the first Jamestown settlers. This spot where the slaves took refuge was also, by remarkable coincidence, the spot where slavery first took root, one summer day in 1619, when a Dutch ship landed with some 20 African captives for the fledgling Virginia Colony.
Two and half centuries later, in the first spring of the Civil War, Fort Monroe was a lonely Union redoubt in the heart of newly Confederate territory. Its defenders stood on constant guard. Frigates and armed steamers crowded the nearby waters known as Hampton Roads, one of the world’s great natural harbors. Perspiring squads of soldiers hauled giant columbiad cannons from the fort’s wharf up to its stone parapets. Yet history would come to Fort Monroe not amid the thunder of guns and the clash of fleets, but stealthily, under cover of darkness, in a stolen boat.
Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory and James Townsend were field hands who–like hundreds of other local slaves–had been pressed into service by the Confederates, compelled to build an artillery emplacement amid the dunes across the harbor. They labored beneath the banner of the 115th Virginia Militia, a blue flag bearing a motto in golden letters: “Give me liberty or give me death.”

 
After a week or so of this, they learned some deeply unsettling news. Their master, a rebel colonel named Charles Mallory, was planning to send them even farther from home, to help build fortifications in North Carolina. That was when the three slaves decided to leave the Confederacy and try their luck, just across the water, with the Union.
It cannot have been an easy decision for the men. What kind of treatment would they meet with at the fort? If the federal officers sent them back, would they be punished as runaways–perhaps even as traitors? But they took their chances. Rowing toward the wharf that night in May, they hailed a guard and were admitted to the fort.
The next morning they were summoned to see the commanding general. The fugitives could not have taken this as an encouraging sign. Having lived their whole lives near the fort, they probably knew many of its peacetime officers by sight, but the man who awaited them behind a cluttered desk was someone whose face they had never seen. Worse still, as far as faces went, his was not–to put it mildly–a pleasant one. It was the face of a man whom many people, in the years ahead, would call a brute, a beast, a cold-blooded murderer. It was a face that could easily make you believe such things: a low, balding forehead, slack jowls and a tight, mean little mouth beneath a drooping mustache. It would have seemed a face of almost animal-like stupidity had it not been for the eyes. These glittered shrewdly, almost hidden amid crinkled folds of flesh. One of them had an odd sideways cast, as if its owner were always considering something else besides the thing in front of him. These were the eyes that now surveyed Baker, Mallory and Townsend.
The general began asking them questions: Who was their master? Was he a rebel or a Union man? Were they field hands or house servants? Did they have families? Why had they run away? Could they tell him anything about the Confederate fortifications they had been working on? Their response to this last question–that the battery was still far from completion–seemed to please him. At last he dismissed the three brusquely, offering no indication of their fate.

 

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Franklin Butler arrived at the fort only a day ahead of the fugitive slaves, greeted at the esplanade by a 13-gun salute. That morning, Butler sat down to compose an important initial report. When an adjutant interrupted to inform him of the fugitives, Butler set down his pen. The War Department could wait. The three ragged black men waiting outside were a more pressing matter.

 
Butler was no abolitionist, but the three slaves presented a problem. True, the laws of the United States were clear: all fugitives must be returned to their masters. The founding fathers enshrined this in the Constitution; Congress reinforced it in 1850 with the Fugitive Slave Act; and it was still the law of the land–including, as far as the federal government was concerned, within the so-called Confederate states. The war had done nothing to change it. Most important, noninterference with slavery was the very cornerstone of the Union’s war policy. President Abraham Lincoln had begun his inaugural address by making this clear, pointedly and repeatedly. “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists,” the president said. “I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

 
Yet to Fort Monroe’a new commander, the fugitives who turned up at his own front gate seemed like a novel case. The enemy had been deploying them to construct a battery aimed directly at his fort–and no doubt would put them straight back to work if recaptured, with time off only for a sound beating. They had just offered him some highly useful military intelligence. And Virginia, as of 12 or so hours ago, was officially in rebellion against the federal government, having just ratified the secession ordinance passed a month before. Butler had not invited the fugitives in or engineered their escape, but here they were, literally at his doorstep: a conundrum with political and military implications, at the very least. He could not have known–not yet–that his response that day might change the course of the national drama that was then just beginning. Yet it was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that an unanticipated bureaucratic dilemma would force the hand of history.
Despite his rank, General Butler had been a professional soldier barely four weeks. In private life, back in Massachusetts, he was a lawyer, and a very successful one–although he grew up poor, the swamp Yankee son of a widow who kept a boardinghouse in Lowell, the textile-mill town. Unable to attract clients through social connections or charm, he became an expert quibbler: a man who knew every loose thread in the great tangled skein of common law and who could unravel an opponent’s entire case with the gentlest of tugs. By his early 40s, he had also built a successful career as a state legislator and harbored larger political ambitions.
A fellow officer once called Butler “less like a major general than like a politician who is coaxing for votes.” Race-baiting was red meat to many of his working-class constituents in Lowell, and he had always been glad to toss morsels in their direction. But after barely 24 hours at Fort Monroe, the new commander had already sized up his new constituency. The garrison was made up predominantly of eager volunteers from New England, many with antislavery sympathies. How was Butler to win the confidence–or even obedience–of such men if his first act as their commander was to send three poor blacks back into bondage?
Butler’s features may have been brutish and his manners coarse, but inwardly, he nursed the outsize vanity of certain physically ugly men–vanity often manifest in a craving for approval and adulation. He also possessed a sympathetic, even occasionally sentimental, heart.
Still . . . sentiment was a fine thing; so was the admiration of one’s subordinates. Ultimately, though, his duty was to his commander in chief. With a few strokes of his pen, Lincoln had made Butler a major general; the president could just as easily unmake him, sending him back to Lowell in disgrace–and with another stroke, for that matter, send the blacks back to their master as slaves.
Whatever Butler’s decision on the three fugitives’ fate, he would have to reach it quickly. He had barely picked up his pen to finally begin that report before an adjutant interrupted with another message: a rebel officer, under flag of truce, had approached the causeway of Fort Monroe. The Virginians wanted their slaves back.
Waiting before the front gate was a man on horseback: Maj. John Baytop Cary of the 115th. With his silver gray whiskers and haughtily tilted chin, he appeared every inch the Southern cavalier.
Butler, also on horseback, went out to meet him. The men rode, side by side, off federal property and into rebel Virginia. They must have seemed an odd pair: the dumpy Yankee, unaccustomed to the saddle, slouching along like a sack of potatoes; the trim, upright Virginian, in perfect control of himself and his mount.
Cary got down to business. “I am informed,” he said, “that three Negroes belonging to Colonel Mallory have escaped within your lines. I am Colonel Mallory’s agent and have charge of his property. What do you mean to do with those Negroes?”

 
”I intend to hold them,” Butler said.
”Do you mean, then, to set aside your constitutional obligation to return them?”

Even the dour Butler must have found it hard to suppress a smile. This was, of course, a question he had expected. And he had prepared what he thought was a fairly clever answer.
”I mean to take Virginia at her word,” he said.  “I am under no constitutional obligations to a foreign country, which Virginia now claims to be.”

 

“But you say we cannot secede,” Cary retorted, “and so you cannot consistently detain the Negroes.”


”But you say you have seceded,” Butler said, “so you cannot consistently claim them. I shall hold these Negroes as contraband of war, since they are engaged in the construction of your battery and are claimed as your property.”

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Ever the diligent litigator, Butler had been reading up on his military law. In time of war, he knew, a commander had a right to seize any enemy property that was being used for hostile purposes. The three fugitive slaves, before their escape, were helping build a Confederate gun emplacement. Very well, then, if the Southerners insisted on treating blacks as property, this Yankee lawyer would treat them as property, too. Legally speaking, he had as much justification to confiscate Baker, Mallory and Townsend as to intercept a shipment of muskets or swords.
Cary, frustrated, rode back to the Confederate lines. Butler, for his part, returned to Fort Monroe feeling rather pleased with himself. Still, he knew that vanquishing the rebel officer was only a minor victory, and perhaps a momentary one if his superiors in Washington frowned on what he had done.
The following day, a Saturday, Butler picked up his pen and resumed his twice-interrupted dispatch to Washington. Certain questions had arisen, he began, “of very considerable importance both in a military and political aspect, and which I beg leave to herewith submit.”

 
But before this missive reached its destination, matters would become even more complicated. On Sunday morning, eight more fugitives turned up at Union lines outside the fort. On Monday, there were 47–and not just young men now, but women, old people, entire families. There was a mother with a 3-month-old infant in her arms. There was an aged slave who had been born in the year of America’s independence.
By Wednesday, a Massachusetts soldier would write home:  “Slaves are brought in here hourly.”

 
”What’s to Be Done With the Blacks?” asked a headline in The Chicago Tribune. That was the question now facing the Lincoln administration. Within days after the three fugitive slaves crossed the river, their exploits–and their fate–were being discussed throughout the nation. At first the newspapers played it more or less as a comic sketch in a minstrel show: a Yankee shyster outwits a drawling Southern aristocrat. But Lincoln saw things in a more serious light. The president realized he might now be forced to make a signal verdict about matters he previously tried to avoid: slavery, race and emancipation.
Lincoln and his cabinet gathered to address Butler’s decision–and ended up punting. While reminding Butler that “the business you are sent upon . . . is war, not emancipation,” they left the general to decide what to do with fugitive slaves–including whether or not to continue declaring them contraband of war. Unfortunately, no detailed account of the deliberations survives. But a letter from one cabinet secretary, Montgomery Blair, suggests they were driven by a motive as common in Washington then as it is now:  desire to escape responsibility for acting at all at this time.  By that point, the administration had already received a second dispatch from Butler, describing the influx of women and children. With this in mind, Blair–a member of a slaveholding Maryland family–suggested one pragmatic “modification” to Butler’s policy. “You can . . . take your pick of the lot and let the rest go so as not to be required to feed unproductive laborers or indeed any that you do not require,” he urged. As to the slaves’ eventual fate, Blair wrote, of course no one was suggesting that they be set free. Perhaps at the end of the war, those who belonged to men convicted of treason could be legally confiscated and sent off to Haiti or Central America. (The New York Herald, meanwhile, proposed that the federal government should wait until the war ended and sell all the slaves back to their owners, at half-price, to finance its cost.)
Yet Butler realized what Blair did not: events were unfolding far too quickly for any of that. Despite the counsels from Washington, Butler was not turning away “unproductive” fugitives. He replied: “If I take the able-bodied only, the young must die. If I take the mother, must I not take the child?” By early June, some 500 fugitives were within the Union lines at Fort Monroe.
”Stampede Among the Negroes in Virginia,” proclaimed Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, with a double-page spread of dramatic woodcuts showing black men, women and children crossing a creek under a full moon, then being welcomed heartily into the fort by General Butler himself (or rather, by the artist’s trimmer, handsomer version of him). One correspondent estimated that “this species of property under Gen. Butler’s protection [is] worth $500,000, at a fair average of $1,000 apiece in the Southern human flesh market.”

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Journalists throughout the Union quipped relentlessly about the “shipments of contraband goods” or, in the words of The Times, “contraband property having legs to run away with, and intelligence to guide its flight”–until, within a week or two after Butler’s initial decision, the fugitives had a new name: contrabands. It was a perfectly composed bit of slang, a minor triumph of Yankee ingenuity.

 

Were these blacks people or property? Free or slave? Such questions were, as yet, unanswerable–for answering them would have raised a host of other questions that few white Americans were ready to address. Contrabands let the speaker or writer off the hook by letting the escapees be all those things at once.  “Never was a word so speedily adopted by so many people in so short a time,” one Union officer wrote. Within a few weeks, the average Northern newspaper reader could scan, without blinking, a sentence like this one: “Several contrabands came into the camp of the First Connecticut Regiment today.”

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As routine as the usage soon became, however, a hint of Butler’s joke remained, a slight edge of nervous laughter. A touch of racist derision, too: William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, carped, justly enough, that it was offensive to speak of human beings that way. Yet in its very absurdity, reflecting the Alice-in-Wonderland legal reasoning behind Butler’s decision, the term also mocked the absurdity of slavery and the willful stupidity of federal laws that, for nearly a century, had acknowledged no meaningful difference between a bushel of corn and a human being with dark skin. Eventually, even black leaders adopted it.
Back at Monroe–dubbed “the freedom fort”–fugitives continued arriving daily. Each morning, dozens lined up to pitch in with manual labor. Soon they seemed almost like members of the garrison. A Times correspondent wrote: “Their shovels and their other implements of labor, they handle and carry as soldiers do their guns. . . . I have no doubt they would make fair or even excellent soldiers.” Moreover, as the garrison’s medical chief remarked, “they are the pleasantest faces to be seen at the post.”

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Many of the Union soldiers had never really spoken with a black person before; the Vermont farmboys had perhaps never even seen one before leaving home. Now they were conversing with actual men and women who had been (and perhaps still were) slaves: people who had previously figured only as a political abstraction. Some fugitives shared horrific accounts; one man described “bucking,” a practice in which a slave, before being beaten, had his wrists and ankles tied and slipped over a wooden stake. Almost all spoke of loved ones sold away; the most chilling thing was that they said it matter-of-factly, as if their wives or children had simply died.
Perhaps most surprising of all–for Northerners accustomed to Southern tales of contentedly dependent slaves–was this, in the words of one soldier: “There is a universal desire among the slaves to be free. . . . Even old men and women, with crooked backs, who could hardly walk or see, shared the same feeling.”

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General Butler grew ever more adamant in the defense of “his” contrabands, to a degree that must have shocked his old associates. By July, he began pressing the Lincoln administration to admit that the contrabands were not really contraband: that they had become free. Indeed, that they were–in a legal sense–no longer things but people: “Have they not by their master’s acts, and the state of war, assumed the condition, which we hold to be the normal one, of those made in God’s image? . . . I confess that my own mind is compelled by this reasoning to look upon them as men and women.”

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It would take another 14 months–and tens of thousands more Union casualties–before the Lincoln administration was ready to endorse such a view.
”Shall we now end the war and not eradicate the cause?” the general wrote to a friend in August. “Will not God demand this of us now [that] he has taken away all excuse for not pursuing the right?” (During the rest of the war, Butler’s support for black civil rights– and harsh treatment of rebel sympathizers–made him hated throughout most of the South, where he won the nickname Beast Butler.)
More and more people had begun to share Butler’s conviction that the fugitives at Monroe stood in the vanguard of a larger revolution. “I have watched them with deep interest, as they filed off to their work, or labored steadily through the long, hot day,” a Northern visitor to the fort wrote. “Somehow there was to my eye a weird, solemn aspect to them, as they walked slowly along, as if they, the victims, had become the judges in this awful contest, or as if they were . . . spinning, unknown to all, the destinies of the great Republic.”

 
Earthshaking events are sometimes set in motion by small decisions. Perhaps the most famous example was when Rosa Parks boarded a segregated bus in Montgomery, Ala. More recently, a Tunisian fruit vendor’s refusal to pay a bribe set off a revolution that continues to sweep across the Arab world. But in some ways, the moment most like the flight of fugitive slaves to Fort Monroe came two decades ago, when a minor East German bureaucratic foul-up loosed a tide of liberation across half of Europe. On the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, a tumultuous throng of people pressed against the Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie, in response to an erroneous announcement that the ban on travel to the West would be lifted immediately. The captain in charge of the befuddled East German border guards dialed and redialed headquarters to find some higher-up who could give him definitive orders. None could. He put the phone down and stood still for a moment, pondering. “Perhaps he came to his own decision,” Michael Meyer of Newsweek would write. “Whatever the case, at 11:17 p.m. precisely, he shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, “Why not?” . . . “Alles auf!” he ordered. “Open ‘em up,” and the gates swung wide.”

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The Iron Curtain did not unravel at that moment, but that night the possibility of cautious, incremental change ceased to exist, if it had ever really existed at all. The wall fell because of those thousands of pressing bodies, and because of that border guard’s shrug.
In the very first months of the Civil War–after Baker, Mallory and Townsend breached their own wall, and Butler shrugged—slavery’s iron curtain began falling all across the South. Lincoln’s secretaries John Hay and John Nicolay, in their biography of the president, would say of the three slaves’ escape, “Out of this incident seems to have grown one of the most sudden and important revolutions in popular thought which took place during the whole war.”
Within weeks after the first contrabands’ arrival at Fort Monroe, slaves were reported flocking to the Union lines just about anywhere there were Union lines: in Northern Virginia, on the Mississippi, in Florida. It is unclear how many of these escapees knew of Butler’s decision, but probably quite a few did. Edward Pierce, a Union soldier who worked closely with the contrabands, marveled at “the mysterious spiritual telegraph which runs through the slave population,” though he most likely exaggerated just a bit when he continued, “Proclaim an edict of emancipation in the hearing of a single slave on the Potomac, and in a few days it will be known by his brethren on the gulf.”

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In August, Lincoln’s War Department tried to bring some clarity to the chaos by asking Union commanders to collect detailed information on each fugitive: not just name and physical description but “the name and the character, as loyal or disloyal, of the master”– since whether the master supported the Union or the Confederacy was, of course, essential to determining whether the particular man or woman counted as legitimate contraband. Such a system would let the federal government assure slaveholders that their “rights” were protected, and possibly return the slaves to their proper owners once the rebel states had rejoined the Union.
But how were officers supposed to tell whether a master they had never laid eyes on was loyal or disloyal–even assuming that the slave was telling the truth in identifying him? Besides, didn’t the military have more pressing business at the moment, like fighting the war? The new contraband doctrine was utterly unenforceable almost from the moment it was devised, but it became hugely influential precisely because it was so unenforceable: it did not open the floodgates in theory, but it did so in practice.
And it did so with very little political risk to the Lincoln administration. Indeed, preposterous as the contraband doctrine was as a piece of law, it was also–albeit inadvertently–a masterstroke of politics; indeed, it satisfied nearly every potential theoretical and political objection while being completely unworkable in the long run. “There is often great virtue in such technical phrases in shaping public opinion,” Pierce observed. “The venerable gentleman, who wears gold spectacles and reads a conservative daily, prefers confiscation to emancipation. He is reluctant to have slaves declared freemen but has no objection to their being declared contrabands.”

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The system was eminently practical in other terms. Regiments needed labor: extra hands to cook meals, wash clothes and dig latrines. When black men and women were willing to do these things, whites were happy not to ask inconvenient questions–not the first or the last time that the allure of cheap labor would trump political principles in America.

 

Blacks were contributing to the Union cause in larger ways. Not just at Fort Monroe but also throughout the South they provided Northerners with valuable intelligence and expert guidance. When Lincoln’s master spy, Allan Pinkerton, traveled undercover through the Confederacy, he wrote, “My best source of information was the colored men. . . . I mingled freely with them, and found them ever ready to answer questions and to furnish me with every fact which I desired to possess.”

 

They were often the only friends the Yankees encountered as they groped their way anxiously through hostile territory.
Just as influential was what did not happen: the terrible moment–long feared among whites–when slaves would rise up and slaughter their masters. It soon became apparent from the behavior of the contrabands that the vast majority of slaves did not want vengeance: they simply wanted to be free and to enjoy the same rights and opportunities as other Americans. Many were even ready to share in the hardships and dangers of the war. Millions of white Americans realized they did not actually have to fear a bloodbath if the slaves were suddenly set free. This awareness in itself was a revolution.
Most important, though, was the revolution in the minds of the slaves themselves. Within little more than a year, the stream of a few hundred contrabands at Fort Monroe became a river of tens–probably even hundreds–of thousands. They “flocked in vast numbers–an army in themselves–to the camps of the Yankees,” a Union chaplain wrote. “The arrival among us of these hordes was like the oncoming of cities.”

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When Lincoln finally unveiled the Emancipation Proclamation in the fall of 1862, he framed it in Butleresque terms, not as a humanitarian gesture but as a stratagem of war. On the September day of Lincoln’s edict, a Union colonel ran into William Seward, the president’s canny secretary of state, on the street in Washington and took the opportunity to congratulate him on the administration’s epochal act.
Seward snorted. “Yes,” he said, “we have let off a puff of wind over an accomplished fact.”

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”What do you mean, Mr. Seward?” the officer asked.

 
”I mean,”the secretary replied, “that the Emancipation Proclamation was uttered in the first gun fired at Sumter, and we have been the last to hear it.”

This article is adapted from “1861: The Civil War Awakening,” by Adam Goodheart (agoodheart2@washcoll.edu), published by Knopf this month. Mr. Goodheart is the author of “1861: The Civil War Awakening,” from which his article in this issue is adapted. He is director of Washington College’s C. V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, and contributes frequently to The Times’s online Civil War series, “Disunion.” Editor: Sheila Glaser (s.glaser-MagGroup@nytimes.com).

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Historians answer the question:   How novel was Gen. Butler’s decision to treat escaped slaves as contraband and did he do it for humane or military reasons? From the Washington Post (June 2011): 

1. Brag Bowling,

Director of the Stephen D. Lee Institute

 

The problem with political generals is that, well–they tend to be political. There can be few finer examples of political generals than Benjamin “Beast” Butler, the beau ideal of pragmatic opportunists. Butler never showed any great ability as a military leader but as a politician, he fared better. He understood where his bread was buttered and was found all over the board politically. Prior to the war, attorney Butler served in the Massachusetts legislature as a Democrat. At the 1860 Democratic Convention, he even supported Jefferson Davis for president. A somewhat moderate Democrat, he became a strident abolitionist and Republican as the war progressed. By wars end, Butler was firmly in the Radical Republican wing of the party, a 180 degree turn around.

Today, there is very little about Butler’s memory that is positive. As a military leader, he was an abject failure. But, as a lawyer and politician, with an eye to advancing his own self interest, he was superb. President Lincoln’s government, faced with the problem of violating its own Fugitive Slave Law when dealing with newly liberated slaves, found a hero in Butler who devised the legal stratagem which became known as “confiscation” and actually provided the first real wartime opportunity to free slaves in occupied enemy territory. Of course, this was in actual opposition to the policies of Lincoln and Congress but it did relieve the problem posed by the Fugitive Slave Act.

 

Fresh off a stinging military defeat at Big Bethel, Butler was forced back into the safe confines of Ft. Monroe. Three escaped slaves from a neighboring plantation sought haven at Ft. Monroe. Butler discovered that they had been used in constructing fortifications for the Confederate Army. Butler used the novel legal approach of viewing them as “property” and calling them “contraband of war”. This enabled Butler to ignore both the Constitution and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which would have required that they be returned to their owners. It was his theory that the escaped slaves had given or could give aid and comfort to the Confederacy, which he chose to view as a nation and not as states in rebellion which was Lincoln’s position.

Butler obviously had not consulted with his Congress or his Commander-in-Chief. Lincoln had made it abundantly clear that his war aims did not include abolition. In both his First Inaugural Address and subsequent speeches and writings, Lincoln sought foremost to preserve the Union. He was not pleased with Butler but allowed it to happen. Other generals were not so fortunate. Lincoln overrode John C. Fremont and David Hunter who issued general emancipation proclamations in their respective Departments. Lincoln disavowed their actions and even fired former Presidential candidate Fremont, dismaying the Radical Republicans and European nations.

 

On July 22, 1861, the Johnson-Crittenden Joint Resolution was overwhelmingly passed in both the Senate and House giving a sense of the Congress. The resolution emphatically declared the war was not fought over slavery, or to subjugate the South, but to preserve the Union.

As late as 1863, Butler wrote that he and Lincoln discussed Lincoln’s idea of colonizing the slaves. A new book, “Colonization after Emancipation,” proves that Butler and Lincoln were planning on deporting freed slaves even up to three days before Lincoln’s death. Butler is perhaps best known for his nicknames -”Beast Butler” and “Spoons Butler” for his ruthless occupation of the City of New Orleans. He was so unpopular with Southern citizens that Jefferson Davis branded him a “felon” deserving of capital punishment and that he should be hanged immediately.

A popular item selling in New Orleans at that time were chamber pots with Butler’s image inside the pot.

 

2. Frank Williams,

Chairman of The Lincoln Forum

 

Major General Benjamin F. Butler, in command at Fort Monroe at the tip of the Virginia peninsular and surrounded by Confederate territory, set a precedent when he classified as “contraband of war” slaves who escaped to Federal lines for safety within six weeks of the firing on Fort Sumter. To lawyer Butler, as with Abraham Lincoln a year later, the slaves were property and could be treated as contraband taken from the enemy in war time. But what should Butler do with them as the influx of these contrabands would tax him and the federal government.

 

These African-American slaves, in the absence of and before any emancipation, were in legal limbo and constituted logistical as well as humane challenges. Butler, known for his impetuosity, was not afraid to take the initiative so he put these escaped slaves to work building fortifications and picking cotton, receiving minimal wages of 25 cents a day plus rations.

 

Contrabands becoming free men became increasingly common after Congress passed the first Confiscation Act on August 6, 1861 even though the requirement that a federal court adjudicate the African-American’s status was rarely – if ever – followed. While not considered legally emancipated, they were effectively free as Butler refused to return them to their owners, telling one slaveholder, that he would return his slaves if the owner took a loyalty oath to the Union and the Constitution. None would do so.

 

Northern abolitionists considered contrabands synonymous with emancipation even before Lincoln’s final Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. General Butler’s treatment of the contrabands, while mired in legal, political and cultural issues, was closely linked to the role of emancipation. When freedom did come to the slaves still in Confederate territory, the Union lines were flooded with the newly freed causing the U. S. government to implement new policies to provide them shelter, food, clothing and even some health care – all in part – because of Butler’s decisions at the beginning of the Civil War.

 

3. John Marszalek,

Giles Distinguished Professor Emeritus of history at Mississippi State University

 

The well-known photograph of Benjamin F. Butler, Massachusetts attorney, politician, and army general, shows him practically bulging out of his Union uniform. “Spoons” was his nickname because he allegedly stole silverware from Confederate homes. “Beast” was another name he carried, this one because he treated New Orleans women as ladies of the evening for insulting Union officers and men. When he commanded troops during Ulysses S. Grant’s overland Virginia campaign in 1864, he was a military failure. When told to capture Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1865, he failed again.

 

Yet, early in the war, on May 23, 1861, the very day that Virginia seceded from the Union, Butler made one of the most fateful decisions of the Civil War. Three local slaves working on Confederate Army fortifications escaped into Fortress Monroe. They had no desire to go back. Yet, the Fugitive Slave Law was still in existence, and the United States government was still handling the South with kid gloves.

 

A Confederate officer appeared at the fort and fully expected Butler, its commander, to turn over the slaves as other Union officers had been doing since the war’s beginning a few weeks previously. He was shocked at Butler’s refusal. Knowing full well that the slaves were playing an important role in the Confederate war effort, Butler bluntly refused to turn them over, twitting his opposite that, since Virginia claimed to be part of a separate nation, it had no rights under the Fugitive Slave Law. The Confederate was outraged, even more so when Butler said that the slaves had been aiding the South’s war effort, so they were a “contraband of war.”

Butler did not dispute the legality of slavery, but he did say that the slaves had a different legal status during the war — contraband. The slave population quickly took advantage of this reasoning, and they escaped into Union lines in droves, beginning slavery’s demise.

Butler might have been called “Spoons” and “Beast,” but “Contraband” was a more deserved name. He saw a military opportunity to attack slavery, and he took it — just like Abraham Lincoln did thirteen months later.

 

4. Chandra Manning,

Associate professor of history at Georgetown University

 

Armies are not and do not behave as humanitarian organizations, but they can be momentous forces for change. When a slave-holding Confederate officer approached General Benjamin Butler for return of slave “property” under terms of the Fugitive Slave Law, Butler did not resolve the question of escaped slaves’ status, but rather realized that no simple resolution of that question was possible for a U.S. Army officer in 1861, who had taken an oath promising defend the U.S. and uphold its “rules and articles,” which in 1861 included a Fugitive Slave Law and a Constitution that recognized slaveholders’ rights to slave property.

 

There was no question that Butler had to be perceived as proceeding from military necessity, a truism that held throughout the conflict, sometimes aiding and sometimes impeding emancipation. Recall the military situation on May 23, 1861: North Carolina had left the Union just three days earlier. Retaining the slave states of Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, (Delaware less so) loomed large among Union war objectives in 1861 because doing so was necessary to winning the war. For Union forces to appear to disturb slavery as white citizens of the Border States contemplated secession could tip the balance. Whatever Butler’s innermost reasons (unknowable, given Butler’s distinctive opportunism, but unlikely to have been humanitarian), no U.S. Army officer acting as an officer could interfere with slavery for “humane” reasons in 1861. Instead, Butler used the very ambiguity that would frustrate abolitionists throughout the war to deprive a Confederate officer of useful laborers and in so doing used the power of the U.S. government against rather than in support of slavery. In 1861, that was novel.

 

Two groups of people bypassed debate over motives to focus on the opening thereby created. The first were African American fugitive slaves who flocked to Fort Monroe and named it Freedom’s Fort, along with additional thousands who ran to Union lines throughout the occupied South. The fates those refugees met varied widely, but whatever they were, they were not ownership by another human being and slaves recognized the difference. The second group consisted of enlisted Union soldiers, many of whom, regardless of their attitudes toward slavery before the war, were changed by their experiences of war and their interactions with slave refugees so dramatically that they concluded that the only way to save the Union was to destroy the problem that caused secession in the first place; if Butler’s plan of treating escaped slaves as “contraband” helped, motives mattered little to them.

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What Lincoln Meant to the Slaves

By STEVEN HAHN (NYT Disunion blog)

The enormous excitement and anticipation of the 1860 presidential election campaign spread into unexpected corners of the United States. Indeed, during the months surrounding the contest, and especially after Americans learned of Abraham Lincoln’s victory, reports circulated across the Southern states of political attentiveness and restlessness among the slaves.

Southern newspapers noted the slaves’ attraction to “every political speech” and their disposition to “linger around” the hustings or courthouse square “and hear what the orators had to say.” But even more significantly, witnesses told of elevated hopes and expectations among the slaves that Lincoln intended “to set them all free.” And once Lincoln assumed office and fighting erupted between the Union and Confederacy, hopes and expectations seemed to inspire actions. Slaves’ response to the election of 1860 and their ideas about Lincoln’s intentions suggest that they, too, were important actors in the country’s drama of secession and war, and that they may have had an unappreciated influence on its outcome.

Scholars and the interested public have long debated Lincoln’s views on slavery and how they influenced his policies as president. How committed was he to abolition? What was he prepared to do? Could he imagine a world in which white and black people lived together in peace and freedom? For many slaves, at least at first, the answer was clear: Lincoln’s election meant emancipation.

On one Virginia plantation, a group of slaves celebrated Lincoln’s inauguration by proclaiming their freedom and marching off their owner’s estate. In Alabama, some slaves had come to believe that “Lincoln is soon going to free them all,” and had begun “making preparations to aid him when he makes his appearance,” according to local whites. A runaway slave in Louisiana told his captors in late May 1861 that “the North was fighting for the Negroes now and that he was as free as his master.” Shortly thereafter, a nearby planter conceded that “the Negroes have gotten a confused idea of Lincoln’s Congress meeting and of the war; they think it is all to help them and they expected for ‘something to turn up.’”

The slaves, of course, had no civil or political standing in American society on the eve of the Civil War; they were chattel property subject to the power and domination of their owners, and effectively “outside” formal politics. But they were unwilling to accept their assignment to political oblivion. Relying on scattered literacy, limited mobility and communication networks they constructed over many years, slaves had been learning important lessons about the political history of the United States and Western Hemisphere. They heard about the Haitian Revolution and the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies; they knew of a developing antislavery movement in the Northern states and of slaves escaping there; and they heard of a new Republican Party, apparently committed to ending their captivity.

Some slaves discovered that John C. Fremont was the first Republican candidate for president in 1856 and, like William Webb, a slave in Kentucky and Mississippi, held clandestine meetings to consider what might come of it. But it was Lincoln, four years later, who riveted their imaginations. Even as a candidate he was the topic of news and debate on countless plantations. In the view of one slaveholder, slaves simply “know too much about Lincoln . . . for our own safety and peace of mind.” News spread quickly, recalled Booker T. Washington, who grew up in western Virginia: “During the campaign when Lincoln was first a candidate for the presidency, the slaves on our far-off plantation, miles from any railroad or large city or daily newspaper, knew what the issues involved were.”

Of course, the slaves’ expectations that Lincoln and the Republicans were intent on abolishing slavery were for the most part misplaced. Lincoln’s policy in 1860 and 1861 was to restrict the expansion of slavery into the federal territories of the West but also to concede that slavery in the states was a local institution, beyond the reach of the federal government. At the very time that slaves were imagining Lincoln as their ally, Lincoln was assuring slaveholders that he would uphold the Constitution and the Fugitive Slave Law and make no moves against them and their property.

Yet slaves were fortified in their beliefs by the dire predictions many slaveholders were making and by the secessionist movement that led to the creation of the Confederacy. They knew as well as anyone else in the country that the likelihood of civil war was growing and, by sharing information and interpreting the course of political events, they readied themselves to act – not only to escape their bonds, but to do their part to make the war about their freedom, whether the North wanted it that way or not.

Thus the case of Harry Jarvis. Born a slave on the eastern shore of Virginia, Jarvis took to the woods for several weeks after the Civil War began, where he survived owing to fellow slaves who brought him news and food. Then, seizing an opportunity, Jarvis headed to Fort Monroe, 35 miles away, where Union troops were stationed, and asked commanding General Benjamin Butler “to let me enlist.” Although Butler rebuffed Jarvis and told him “it wasn’t a black man’s war,” Jarvis stood his political ground: “I told him it would be a black man’s war before they got through.”

Library of Congress,

A wood engraving of “contraband” slaves escaping to Fort Monroe, Va.

Like many other politicized slaves, Jarvis seems to have understood the stakes of the Civil War far better than the combatants themselves. And by testing their expectations, they began to reshape federal policy. By the time of the first Battle of Bull Run, General Butler had declared fugitive slaves within Union lines to be “contrabands of war,” and the Congress soon confirmed him. Before too much longer, as Northern armies moved into the densely populated slave plantation districts of South Carolina and the lower Mississippi Valley, slaves crossed the Northern lines by the thousands, at once depriving the Confederacy of needed labor and forcing the Lincoln administration to reevaluate its position on slavery.

By the early fall of 1862, Lincoln had decided to issue an Emancipation Proclamation and enroll African Americans in the Union Army and Navy. Bold initiatives these were, revolutionary in effect, and wholly unimagined when the war began: except by the slaves whose actions helped bring them about. Lincoln’s political sensibilities had finally caught up to theirs.

Steven Hahn is a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration” and “The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom.”

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Becoming the Party of Freedom

By MARC EGNAL
The New York Times
July 31, 2011

Republicans began the Civil War as the party of Union, not the party of Freedom. They did not become the celebrated destroyers of slavery until almost two years into the war, with the Emancipation Proclamation, issued Jan. 1, 1863. But during the summer of 1861 the direction of change was unmistakable, as Republicans took the first, crucial steps in a mounting attack on the South’s “peculiar institution.” Long-held beliefs about the immorality of slavery combined with the challenges posed by an escalating conflict, explain the evolving outlook of the Republicans.

Along with a strong commitment to expanding the Northern economy, the Republican Party had always emphasized its opposition to slavery: both the 1856 and 1860 platforms cited the Declaration of Independence with its ringing affirmation of liberty for all. Many of the individuals leading the new party had long denounced bondage. Representative Owen Lovejoy, whose abolitionist brother had been killed by a pro-slavery mob, labeled the institution “the sum of all villainy”; Abraham Lincoln remarked that he favored free soil “because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself.” Most mainstream Republicans shared this outlook.

And yet that cauldron of antislavery sentiment bubbled alongside the carefully restrained policies the party enunciated. Republicans promised to respect slavery where it existed. They agreed to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. Seeking to rule a nation of property owners, the new party eschewed lawless actions, even those committed in opposition to slavery. Indeed, before 1861 the only step the Republicans advocated to speed the demise of slavery was restricting its spread into the territories. But, free soil was not abolition, and Republicans recognized that barring slavery from the West would lead to its ultimate extinction only far in the future.

Had the Civil War been brief, the Republicans’ reverence for property rights – rather than their profound antislavery convictions – would have prevailed, and Southern institutions would likely have emerged unscathed. During April and May 1861 federal forces captured and returned the hundreds of African Americans who rushed to the Union troops in Maryland or crossed the Mason-Dixon Line into Pennsylvania. A Maryland editorialist remarked that more fugitives had been recovered since Lincoln took office “than during the whole of Mr. Buchanan’s presidential term.”

But as the clash continued, new circumstances gradually led the Republicans to rethink their cautious policies. The beginnings of change came toward the end of May, when Gen. Benjamin Butler accepted three fugitives at Fort Monroe in Virginia. Butler wrote to the War Department for advice, leading Lincoln to discuss the matter with his cabinet. Many in Washington, like General in Chief Winfield Scott (who chortled at “Butler’s fugitive slave law”), expected a simple reaffirmation of the administration’s commitment to returning slaves.

Instead, in response to Butler’s request Lincoln and his cabinet mapped out a policy that moved the North away from strict adherence to the fugitive slave law. The president had to strike a careful balance. On the one hand, he knew that various concerns reinforced the Republicans’ defense of property rights. To win the war and preserve the republican “experiment” Lincoln had to keep together an unwieldy coalition. It included not only Republicans but also Democrats and Border State Unionists who demanded a strict adherence to the Constitution. On the other hand, Lincoln and other members of the cabinet could hardly ignore their long-held antislavery beliefs and the wonderful opportunity offered by Butler’s initiative.

The result? Butler was told that his decision to harbor the slaves was “approved,” but he was given no indication whether these individuals, and the many others now arriving at “Fortress Freedom,” were considered free. Similarly mixed messages were provided to other commanders. Hence some officers welcomed numerous “contrabands” into their camps, while others, like Henry Halleck and George McClellan, returned runaways to their masters. Not until March 1862 did Congress order the Army to keep all fugitives.

The Northern defeat at Bull Run on July 21 led Republicans to take yet another step toward emancipation. In the immediate aftermath of the battle, lawmakers accepted a resolution, put forth by John Crittenden of Kentucky, affirming that the Union would not interfere “with the rights or established institutions” of the South. But many Republicans soon had second thoughts about any effort to protect slavery. Northerners now recognized that the conflict would be a prolonged one and that slaves were an important resource for the Confederates. More than ever before, Republicans voiced long-held antislavery feelings, and expounded the moral, economic and strategic reasons for emancipation.

The most visible result was that on Aug. 6 Congress passed the Confiscation Act, which allowed Union officers to take and free those slaves the Confederates had used for military purposes. This measure, which moved a step beyond what Butler had done, worried Lincoln, who feared it might alienate the Border States. He signed the bill, according to the New York Times, “with great reluctance.”

The next step in the radicalization of Republican, and Northern, opinion came with John C. Fremont’s proclamation at the end of August. After suffering a series of reverses, Fremont, who commanded federal forces in Missouri, declared that he would emancipate the slaves owned by his Confederate opponents. Republicans across the North cheered this bold move. “Everybody of every sect, party, sex, and color approves it,” declared Senator James Grimes of Iowa. But Lincoln, acutely aware of the impact the proclamation would have on the pivotal state of Kentucky, first requested and then ordered Fremont to revoke his decree. A few weeks later he removed the general.

Despite Fremont’s removal, by the fall of 1861 Lincoln’s views and the outlook of most Republicans had become far more radical. While as yet only a minority of senators and congressmen called for emancipation, that chorus had grown mightily since the beginning of the war. When Congress reconvened in December it refused to reaffirm the Crittenden resolution. In his State of the Union address Lincoln set forth his own plan for ending slavery. Although the proposal would prove unworkable, resting as it did on voluntarism, compensation and colonization, the plan displayed Lincoln’s newfound belief that the status quo was unacceptable.

The boldness of the slaves themselves and the escalating war helped drive this change. But “events” are not a sufficient explanation. Democrats and Border State Unionists, who traditionally had been less vehement in their opposition to bondage, resisted each of the steps. Only when changing circumstances are combined with the beliefs of a party that had long condemned (in Lincoln’s words) the “vast moral evil” of slavery does the march toward freedom become understandable.

 

Fort Monroe’s Lasting Place in History

Famous for accepting escaped slaves during the Civil War, the Virginia base also has a history that heralds back to Jamestown

By Andrew Lawler
Smithsonian.com, July 05, 2011

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Fort-Monroes-Lasting-Place-in-History.html#ixzz1RkGvPOcm

As a white child in southern Virginia, I thought his first name was “Beast” because everyone called him that. Gen. Benjamin Franklin Butler was our nemesis—the Union commander of Fort Monroe, at the entrance to southeastern Virginia’s vast natural harbor; the churl who ordered the women of New Orleans to yield the sidewalk whenever Yankee soldiers approached; the officer who returned to oversee the occupation of Norfolk. But I was never told how Butler and Fort Monroe figured in one of the pivotal moments of the Civil War.

When he arrived on May 22, 1861, Virginians—that is, those white men who qualified—were voting to secede from the Union. That night, three slaves slipped away from the nearby town of Hampton and sought asylum at the immense granite fort on the Chesapeake Bay. They told Butler that they were being sent to build Confederate defenses and did not want to be parted from their families. He allowed them to stay.

Two days later, their owner, a Virginia colonel, demanded their return. Butler’s answer changed American history: the self-taught Massachusetts lawyer said that since Virginia had voted to secede, the Fugitive Slave Act no longer applied, and the slaves were contraband of war. Once word of Fort Monroe’s willingness to harbor escaped slaves spread, thousands flocked to the safety of its guns.

“It has been so overlooked, but this was the first step toward making the Civil War a conflict about freedom,” says John Quarstein, Hampton’s historian. Soon, the escaped slaves were calling the forbidding stone structure “Freedom’s Fortress.” Butler found them work, established camps and provided food, clothing and wages. Some former slaves were taught to read and some joined the U.S. Navy.

At first, President Abraham Lincoln balked at the idea, but on August 6, 1861, Congress approved an act allowing the confiscation of slaves used for military purposes against the United States. The next day, Confederate Col. John Magruder—who had read a New York Tribune report that Butler was planning to turn Hampton into a refuge for former slaves—had his troops burn the town to the ground.

Butler by then had been sent on to other theaters of the war—he suspected Lincoln relieved him of his Fort Monroe command because of his response to the Virginia colonel—but the fort remained a Union stronghold deep in enemy territory throughout the Civil War. Afterward, the fort’s dank casemate served as a prison for Confederate President Jefferson Davis while freed slaves such as Harriet Tubman enjoyed the liberty of the military base. The fort served a strategic purpose until after World War II, when it became a post for writers of Army manuals.

And now the Army is preparing to abandon the fort in September 2011.

That move has been planned since 2005, as part of a Pentagon belt-tightening exercise. The state-chartered Fort Monroe Authority will take over, turning the historic site into a residential community and tourist destination. “We intend to keep it a vibrant and active community,” Bill Armbruster, the authority’s director, told me when I paid a call at Quarters No. 1, just inside the fort’s high walls.

A pounding storm had just passed, and wind whipped across the island as Armbruster, a former civilian Army executive, took me for a tour in the fading light. The fort sits on a spit of land totaling 570 acres, connected to the mainland by a short bridge and bordered on one side by swamp and on the other by the Chesapeake Bay.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Fort-Monroes-Lasting-Place-in-History.html#ixzz1RkGz9Wis

Captain John Smith had seen the strategic potential of the site four centuries ago. “A little isle fit for a castle” is how he described the arrowhead-shaped piece of land pointing to the entrance of Hampton Roads, southeastern Virginia’s harbor. By 1609, the colonists had built a plank fort there and equipped it with seven pieces of artillery. It was there, at Fort Algernon, that a Dutch ship offloaded African slaves in exchange for supplies in 1619—the first recorded arrival of Africans in English North America.

Fort George, made of brick, replaced Algernon in the 1730s. “No ship could pass it without running great risks,” Royal Virginia Governor William Gooch wrote in 1736. But 13 years later, a hurricane devastated the structure.

After the British burned Hampton during the War of 1812, using the island and its lighthouse as a temporary base, Congress allocated money for a substantial fort. An aide to Napoleon, Gen. Simon Bernard, designed what is the largest moated fort in North America, a star-shaped masonry structure with 10-foot-thick walls enclosing 63 acres and, by the 1830s, bristling with more than 400 cannon. In time, it became known as the “Gibraltar of the Chesapeake.”

Now, the paint is peeling on the exterior of Quarters No. 1, an elegant 1819 building—the oldest on the post—but the interior retains its grandeur. The Marquis de Lafayette entertained his Virginia friends in the parlor during his triumphant return in 1824. Robert E. Lee, a precocious Army officer, reported for duty at the fort in 1831 to oversee its completion.

During the Civil War, Fort Monroe served as the key staging ground for Northern campaigns against Norfolk, the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the Southern capital of Richmond. “It was a keystone in the Lincoln administration’s strategy to wage war in Virginia and the Carolinas,” says J. Michael Cobb, curator at the Hampton History Museum. “If Fort Monroe had fallen to Southern forces when Virginia seceded from the Union, the war would have no doubt lasted significantly longer.”

The latest in experimental guns, balloons and other military technologies were tried there. In early 1865, soldiers watched from the ramparts as Lincoln and senior Confederate officials failed to reach a peace agreement during a shipborne conference. It was from Fort Monroe a few months later that the news was telegraphed to Washington that Richmond was finally in Northern hands.

But the fort was also hailed, both before and after the Civil War, as one of the nation’s most prominent resorts, Quarstein says. Presidents Andrew Jackson and John Tyler summered there. And at the adjacent Hygeia Hotel, Edgar Allan Poe gave his last public recitation in 1849 and Booker T. Washington later worked while he studied at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural School. So the Fort Monroe Authority’s redevelopment plan doesn’t mark a complete departure from the past.

Armbruster sees a future in which birders, Civil War enthusiasts and those drawn to the water will come to visit and even live at the fort. With nearly 250 buildings and some 300 housing units, there is plenty of room. As we finished our tour, he pointed at one long, stately building. “Those were Lee’s quarters,” he said in the casual way only a Virginian could muster. “And they are still occupied.”

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Fort-Monroes-Lasting-Place-in-History.html#ixzz1RkH3HPhE

 

Civil War anniversary stirs interest in Fort Wool

Bereaved presidents retreated there to mourn, plan war strategy

By David Macaulay, dmacaulay@dailypress.com | 247-7838

11:18 p.m. EDT, July 4, 2011

HAMPTON — Long before his audacious victories during the Civil War Robert E. Lee was sent to Fort Wool, a manmade island in the middle of Hampton Roads, to battle against the elements.

He wasn’t entirely successful back in the 1830s according to Michael Cobb, curator of Hampton History Museum. Cobb has been giving tours of the three-acre rocky outcrop for more than 25 years.

The Fort Wool experience has been enhanced by a new outdoor “theater” at the fort funded by Dominion Virginia Power with benches built by New Horizons, a program that trains young people in the building trade.

Melanie Rapp Beale of Dominion said the recently built open air theater was funded with a grant of $2,500. “We asked them what would be helpful,” she said. “They have picnic tables but this gives people a place to sit.”

Cobb said the theater/classroom blends into the environment.

Fort Wool was off limits from 2003 to 2006 after Hurricane Isabel wrecked the pier where nearly 20,000 visitors a year would disembark. Today Miss Hampton II Harbor Cruises runs two trips a day to Fort Wool from downtown Hampton.

In a year in which Fort Monroe is making headlines as the Army prepares to leave in September, Fort Wool remains a ruined backwater, the sort of place Monroe’s future custodians don’t want the historic post to become.

The Army left Fort Wool in 1967 and the property reverted to the commonwealth of Virginia. The city of Hampton leases the fort from the state and runs it as an historic park.

Cobb remains committed to telling the Fort Wool story and believes a fort that fired more shots during the Civil War than Fort Monroe will see an upsurge in interest during the 150th anniversary of the conflict.

Cobb told a group of visitors Thursday that Fort Wool was built to deter the British after the War of 1812 in which the British attacked Hampton up the Hampton River and went up the Elizabeth River. “These waterways were avenues of invasion,” he said.

Work began in 1819 when crews started dumping tons of granite boulders into the water. Four years later a 6-foot tall island rose from the water as part a building program that saw 41 forts completed. Cobb said the forts including Fort Monroe and Fort Wool were designed by Simon Bernard, a Frenchman who had served under Napoleon.

Cobb said the early engineers toiled in harsh conditions. “Can you imagine how hot it was? It was like a skillet. There was no grass out here — just stone.”

The fort was dedicated in 1826. It was originally named Fort Calhoun after John C. Calhoun, who was the Secretary of War.

By 1834 Fort Monroe was completed but Fort Calhoun faced continuing problems because its foundations were settling. “This fort was never finished,” said Cobb. The plan was a “massive fortification” with 232 cannons and more than 1,000 men, Cobb said.

“Many think it would have been more effective than Fort Monroe,” he said.

Lee was given the task of overseeing the stabilization of the fort in 1834 as his first independent command. “In the early 1830s they found after making two tiers of casemates, that this artificial island of stone could not hold the weight of the fort,” Cobb said.

More stone was brought in to stabilize the fort than was used to build the fort itself, Cobb said. Despite the stabilization effort, the fort never reached the size it was planned to be. “He laid a lot of the stone but I don’t think it ever worked,” Cobb said of Lee’s project.

Cobb said Fort Wool also has a little-known association with presidents. President Andrew Jackson, broken hearted after the death of his wife and in frail health, came to Fort Wool in the late 1820s and the 1830s.

Cobb said Jackson made the fort his “White House.” Ironically Calhoun had become the president’s arch rival by this stage by threatening to pull South Carolina out of the union. Cobb said Jackson built a hut and would watch ships from on the island. He even made key policy decisions from the fort with cabinet advisers.

Later President John Tyler took sanctuary on the island after the death of his wife.

Abraham Lincoln was also at the fort — which was still only half built by the time of the Civil War. Soon after the battle of the ironclads the Monitor and the Merrimack near the fort on Hampton Roads, the federal government renamed the fort after John Ellis Wool, who was commanding Fort Monroe.

Fort Wool even has an association with the actor Sir Alec Guinness who was grounded in a minefield off the fort in World War II. The comedian Red Skelton also showed up at Fort Wool during the war to entertain troops.

“All great men touch Fort Wool at one time or another,” said Cobb.

Much of the old fort was torn down when a concrete fort was built in the early 20th century, although Cobb shows visitors many of the older features that remain on the island.

Cobb said about 10,000 to 12,000 people a year visit Fort Wool. “Most museums today will not draw this many people on the Peninsula. We expect a surge of interest in the Civil War because it has a great Civil War history,” he said.

“The island’s often overlooked, but it’s a great story.”

Fort Wool

The military left Fort Wool in 1967. It’s owned by the commonwealth of Virginia but leased by the city of Hampton and administered by the Parks and Recreation Department.

 

How the civil war unravelled slavery

By Eric,Foner guardian.co.uk
8:00 p.m. BST, May 17, 2011

One hundred fifty years ago this week, one month into the American civil war, three slave men made their way to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, where General Benjamin F Butler commanded Union forces. The three fugitives told Butler that they were about to be sent “to Carolina” to build fortifications for the Confederate army. Needing manpower himself, Butler decided not to return them; instead, he put them to work. Shortly thereafter, an agent of Colonel Charles K Mallory, their owner and the Confederate commander in the area, arrived under a flag of truce asking for the return of his human property. Butler refused.

When Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861, inaugurating the civil war, Charles Sumner, the radical senator from Massachusetts, rushed to the White House to tell President Lincoln that, under the Constitution’s “war power”, he now had the right to emancipate the south’s slaves. But Lincoln, seeking the broadest base of popular support in the north, insisted that the war’s purpose was to restore national unity. Indeed, he promised that the “utmost care” would be taken to avoid interference with property rights in the seceded states. In the first weeks of the war, military commanders returned to their owners slaves who sought refuge with the Union army.

War, however, destabilises slavery. It strips away its constitutional protections. Contending sides make slavery a military target to weaken their opponents. They enlist slave soldiers. This happened many times in the western hemisphere, including during the American Revolution, and it would happen during the civil war.

Butler called the three escaped slaves “contrabands of war”. He claimed to be drawing on international law, even though the term “contraband” means goods used for military purposes that a neutral country ships to one side in a conflict, and which the other combatant may lawfully seize. Nonetheless, Butler had introduced a new word into the political vocabulary. Soon, there would be “contraband camps” for fugitive slaves, “contraband schools” and extended debate about the status and future of “the contrabands”. Butler’s actions did not imply a broad attack on slavery. He recognised the fugitives as property but used that very status to release them from service to their owners.

But word of his action spread quickly among local slaves. On 27 May, 47 more, including a three-month-old infant, arrived at what blacks now called the “freedom fort”.

Butler at that point requested instructions from Washington. Lincoln privately supported what Butler had done. He laughingly called his action “Butler’s fugitive slave law”. On 30 May 1861, after a cabinet meeting, the secretary of war informed Butler that his policy “is approved”. But no public announcement was issued – and other army officers continued to return fugitive slaves.

By the end of July, there were nearly 1,000 fugitives at Fortress Monroe. “Are these men, women, and children slaves?” Butler wondered. “Are they free?” For the moment, no answer was forthcoming. But together, the actions of runaway slaves and of a Union army commander had initiated the long, complex process of wartime emancipation.

 

Fort Monroe becomes crucial Union linchpin

Fort Monroe becomes crucial Union linchpin

By Mark St. John Erickson, merickson@dailypress.com | 247-4783
10:32 p.m. EDT, April 15, 2011

In the anxious days before the start of the Civil War, few places loomed larger than Fort Monroe in the minds of the soldiers preparing to fight. Rising at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and the entrance to Hampton Roads, the nation’s biggest masonry fort commanded not only the channel leading to the port of Norfolk but also water and land approaches to the future Confederate capitol in Richmond.

Its deep-water wharf at Old Point Comfort lay within a day’s steam of Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York to the north and the southern coast as far as Savannah.

That’s why the Richmond Daily Dispatch — in a fiery March 12 editorial urging Virginians to secede — railed at the delays that were enabling the federals “to make Old Point impregnable.” It’s also why U.S. General-in-Chief Winfield Scott – a Virginian who knew Fort Monroe well — quickly reinforced the strategic beachhead that would prove so valuable in bottling up the South’s most populous state.

Just three days after Richmond’s fateful April 17 vote to secede, two regiments of Massachusetts volunteers steamed into the wharf — their guns fully loaded.

“After Fort Sumter fell, Fort Monroe became a household name across the country – and it did so very quickly,” says Hampton History Museum curator Michael Cobb.

“Everything in the early days of the war seemed to be unfolding here in Hampton Roads – while the rest of the North and South held their breath and watched.”

Inside the fort, the small garrison of 320 men led by Lt. Col. Justin Dimick had already played roles in the failed attempt to relieve Fort Sumter and the successful stand against demands to surrender Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Fla. But with the threat of attack moving close to home, the Connecticut officer and his men began hauling the guns and ammunition stored in the yard outside the moat to the fort’s well-protected interior. Then they cut off the bridges, closed all but the southwest gate and began training guns normally aimed at Hampton Roads on the stronghold’s land approaches.

“Everyone knew how important Fort Monroe was – and there was this great initial fear of besiegement,” says historian Paul Morando, curator of the fort’s Casemate Museum.

“But they weren’t prepared for a land attack. Most of the guns were pointed at Hampton Roads. And it was the first time anyone had to figure out how to defend the fort from the other direction.”

That uncertainty added to the growing feeling of isolation and suspense as the Union troops labored to move their guns into a defensive position.

Even then, Dimick could muster only a fraction of the 2,625 defenders intended for the massive 63-acre-fort. He also had only 41 guns in a bastion designed for more than 400.

“An attack upon the fort is expected at any moment,” a New York Times correspondent reported.

“The garrison is anxiously waiting for reinforcements.”

Similar fears dogged the 4th Massachusetts Volunteers as they steamed overnight from New York to Old Point, their rifles and cannon loaded against a rumored attack by a rebel gunboat from Norfolk.

But at 6 a.m. on April 20 they docked to the cheers of the tired troops manning Monroe’s ramparts.

Five hours later, the 3rd Massachusetts disembarked after an equally nerve-wracking trip, boosting the garrison to 1,300.

“Fort Monroe grew very, very quickly,” historian John V. Quarstein says, describing the build-up that – in less than a year — led to the largest amphibious expedition ever seen in North America.

“And this was just the beginning.”

Watching it all unfold from the top of the Chesapeake Female Seminary near Hampton were the local militiamen led by Col. Charles King Mallory, who only weeks before had been elected as a Unionist delegate to Virginia’s secession convention.

Despite former Virginia governor’s Henry Wise’s call for a siege, Mallory’s men and the other Peninsula troops serving under College of William and Mary President Benjamin S. Ewell lay low, knowing they were outgunned.

“They would have needed at least 10,000 men and heavy guns,” Quarstein says. “Fort Monroe became one of very few federal forts in the South to remain in Union hands.”

As a result, the Southerners could do little as Union warships moored off Fort Monroe began a blockade that bottled up Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond. Outrage was their only reply when Dimick — making room for more troops — ventured outside the walls and across the Mill Creek bridge to establish Camp Hamilton, sparking indignant charges in Richmond and the Southern press of having “invaded the Sacred Soil of Virginia.”

“They could see the Union ships in the harbor. They could see the Union guns at Fort Monroe. They could see the Union tents filling the fields of the Segar farm at Strawberry Banks,” Cobb says.

“In just a matter of days, the war and this deep sense of being invaded were not abstract anymore. It was real.”

 

NEW YORK TIMES

April 4, 2011
By SHEILA GLASER

If you enjoyed the story about Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler and how he came to shelter fugitive slaves within Fort Monroe (an excerpt from Adam Goodheart’s book “1861: The Civil War Awakening”) in the April 3 issue of the magazine, you may be interested in a column Goodheart wrote a few weeks back for the Opinionator, which reminds us how much Butler’s position went against the conventions of the time. In it, Goodheart describes what happened to a young slave, likely a teenager, who paddled a canoe for several hours in the dark, across open water, to seek refuge in Fort Sumter.

“He had not undertaken the trip lightly,” Goodheart writes. “His master had nearly beaten him to death before he managed to escape, he said. Now he trusted the Northern ‘gentlemen’ of Sumter to shelter and protect him. That young slave’s faith turned out to be misplaced. Those Northern gentlemen promptly sent him back to his lawful owner, and to an uncertain fate.” This was a common response. One commander, at Fort Pickens in Florida, ”reported to the War Department that the runaways ‘came to the fort entertaining the idea that we were placed here to protect them and grant them their freedom. I did what I could to teach them the contrary. In the afternoon I took them to Pensacola and delivered them to the city marshal to be returned to their owners.’”

Luckily for the slaves who made their way to Fort Monroe, Butler had different ideas. His motives may not have been pure, but his actions still had desirable results. Of the first three who made it to the fort, Goodheart wrote to me: ”Baker and Townsend both remained illiterate laborers after the war. Shepard Mallory, however, learned to read and write, and – saving money he earned as a carpenter and school janitor – bought a house of his own on Lincoln Street in Hampton. He last appears in the census in 1920, aged about 80 and still working, self-employed.”

 

First Africans

Mark St. John Erickson

Feb 1, 2011, Daily Press

 

When the first Africans landed at Old Point Comfort in August 1619, they didn’t know they were making history. But the “20 and odd Negroes” described by colonist Thomas Rolfe were merely the vanguard of an African wave that would become an indelible part of the American character.

Recently identified as captives from a war in Angola, the first Africans were being held aboard a Portuguese slave ship in the West Indies when it was captured by Dutch and English privateers. Nine went to work in the Jamestown households of the colony’s governor and cape merchant, where they most likely served as indentured servants rather than slaves.

Scholars believe these Africans may have been Christians who shared a common homeland and tongue as well as long familiarity with Europeans. They also included women, enabling them to form families, and within a few years many of them were not only free but also owned land.

————————————————————————————————————

Hampton’s forgotten legacy

October 06, 2010 | By David Squires | Urban Affairs
Daily Press

I like to tell people that Hampton Roads is so rich in talent, resources and diversity that it should be setting national examples in such areas as education, public safety and economic development.

I like to say that there should be not a single poor person in Hampton Roads and that this area should not have any ghettos or bad neighborhoods.

Now after hearing a recent lecture at the American Theater in Phoebus, I’m wondering if I lived another life in 19th century Hampton, an apparent happy time that most historians have ignored, according to Robert F. Engs, Professor Emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania, who has also served as a visiting professor at William & Mary.

Engs described a Hampton that was predominantly black, but diverse – even largely bi-racial – and which was very serious about politics and education. And he shrugged as he pondered how today’s African-American leaders seemed to have dropped the ball, not to mention how too many local African-Americans are ignoring their own history, much of which Engs detailed in a 1979 book, “Freedom’s First Generation: Black Hampton, Va., 1861-1890.”

Engs visited Hampton recently as keynote lecturer for “the Birth of Africa in America,” which was sponsored by the Hampton 400th Anniversary Committee. Engs said that the true contraband slave story gives hints to the society of black Hampton in the 1800s, and he said historians have purposely obscured the story to make a hero out of Gen. Benjamin Butler at Fort Monroe — rather than the three men who sought their freedom.

He said the three men — Shepard Mallory, Frank Baker and James Townsend — believed they had rights, and thus they showed up at the fort to exercise those rights.

Eventually the three men were joined by 900 other local slaves, then another 10,000 by the end of the war.

“Mallory, Baker and Townsend already thought and acted like free men, no matter what the law was. Their courage – indeed one might even call it their arrogance — in defense of their rights should make us probe more deeply into the kind of society in which they evolved.”

“The non-white residents of Hampton were more American than African, even down to the color of their skin,” Engs said. “All this was possible because of the close interaction between black and whites in the shared public spaces, work place, in homes in churches and even in boudoirs of the county.

“The contraband of Hampton were not the happy darkies of Old South myth,” Engs said. “These were real men and women who had forced their white owners into concessions that transcended written law.

“This didn’t happen in slavery elsewhere, not even in Norfolk.”

He said it was important to note that “for a few decades, Hampton got it right, and that truth has largely been ignored and almost denied.”

——————————————————————————————————————-

Fort Algernoune

Paul Clancy’s story

Oct. 18, 2009

In mid-October 1609, George Percy, the hapless and sickly Jamestown leader, sent Captain John Ratcliffe and a contingent of men to Point Comfort “for to build a forte there” to guard against possible Spanish attacks. He named it “Algernourne Fort” in honor of a long-distant relative.

At first just a simple earthwork, but soon a sturdy, heavily armed wooden bastion, the fort endured. It was destroyed by fire and storms on numerous occasions, but its rebuilt ramparts presided over the entrance to Hampton Roads for decades.

Artist’s sketch of what Fort Algernourne might have looked like. Courtesy of the Casemate Museum.

That presence, 400 years ago this week, marked the real beginning of the city of Hampton, some contend. And more importantly, they believe, it established England’s maritime and commercial power in the new world. Not Jamestown, mind you, not that hellhole of pestilence and death, but this long-forgotten fortress.

This has been the theme of an ambitious symposium going on this weekend at Fort Monroe, the successor of the original outpost. Prominent scholars and archaeologists from around the region and beyond are there to share conclusions about the significance of this spot as the Army prepares to finally abandon it. Fittingly, the conference is sponsored by the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority, the entity that has been shaping the plan for Fort Monroe’s future.

One of the most intriguing questions is whether any traces of the original fort can be found, and the more experts pronounce this impossible, the more William Kelso is convinced it isn’t.

Kelso, the director of archaeology for Preservation Virginia’s Jamestown Rediscovery, is credited with finding the remains of James Fort, which was assumed to have been lost to the James River. To those who say that Fort Algernourne (aka Algernoune and Algernon) can’t be found because Fort Monroe was built there, he laughs. “That sounds familiar. People said that about Jamestown. It’s not necessarily true that it’s gone.”

He assumes that, since the fort was built by the same folks who build James Fort, that it might be a similar three-sided structure, although smaller and not as elaborate.

Kelso believes there should be systematic excavations in likely places on the grounds of Fort Monroe that might lead to artifacts or signature markings by fort timbers. But before the first spade goes in the ground, there would have to be a thorough document review. “At the very least,” he adds, “I could prove it isn’t there.”

The importance of the fort, conference participants stress, is that wasn’t Jamestown. Dorothy Rouse-Bottom, a self-described “conference junky” who spearheaded the gathering, writes that it “introduced to the New World English maritime law, imposed the nascent customs system, regulated commerce, and enforced allegiance to the British crown. Most importantly, it created a visible symbol of England’s bid for sovereignty over vast stretches of the Atlantic shoreline.”

Karen Ordahl Kupperman, a New York University scholar who has written extensively about Jamestown, calls Algernourne “Virginia’s gateway to the Atlantic.”

One of the odd things about Jamestown, she says, is that many Americans still don’t see it as the beginning of their country, preferring the story of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. That’s because, aside from the period when John Smith was in charge, Jamestown was a dismal failure. “We focus so heavily on Jamestown, but if you start to look at places like Kecoughtan [the village near the fort]…what you see is the beginning of real communities.”

Fittingly, when Percy sent a detachment to build and occupy the fort, Jamestown was about to enter “the starving time,” the winter of 1609-10. Of the 500 or so men and women under his care, only about 60, mostly near cadavers, survived.

When the clueless Percy went to visit Point Comfort, he was amazed – and then outraged – to find the 40 or so men who occupied the fort were fat and healthy, living on fish, crabs and oysters, that they had used this bounty to feed their hogs and were hoarding the rest so they could escape and sail back to England, “not regarding our misery and wants at all.”

Instead of stringing them up, he announced that he’d send the Jamestown survivors to the fort – half at a time – to feed and cure them. If that didn’t work, he’d send them all at once.

But on the next tide, relief ships began arriving. And, although they almost pulled up stakes immediately to return to England, Lord De La Ware showed up and whipped the colony back into shape.

Percy then goes into a long description of how one of the starving colonists confessed – after being strung up by the thumbs – to killing his wife, chopping her up and eating her.

See what I mean about how unfun the Jamestown story is? Give me Fort Algernourne any time.

 

Army post at peace

   

Construction on the Chapel began in 1856 and the Chapel was consecrated May 3,1858. (Bill Tiernan | The Virginian-Pilot)

Built: 1858
Where: In Hampton on Fort Monroe off Bernard Road Pastor Chaplain (Lt. Col) Juan M. Crockett Worship 7:45 a.m. Episcopalian service 09:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Protestant services Sunday School at 9:30 a.m.

Contact: (757) 788-2611 – Chapel office
Tours Call Carol Hanson: (757) 788-3391

By Krys Stefansky
The Virginian-Pilot
© March 22, 2009

Col. Stanford Polonsky arrived at Fort Monroe in Hampton in 1967 for what would be his final tour of duty in the Army Corps of Engineers. He had served across the United States and Europe and in the Far East, building military camps, doing repair and maintenance on military installations, even constructing missile launching silos in Roswell, N.M.

The Chapel of the Centurion at Fort Monroe is according to their web site “Army’s oldest wooded structure in continuous use for religious services.”

This time his help was sought by Fort Monroe’s chaplain, Harry G. Campbell Jr. He led Polonsky to a wooden building.

” ‘Stan,’ he says, ‘we’ve got some kind of problem with this wall,’ ” Polonsky said, remembering that long-ago meeting at the Chapel of the Centurion. “I realized there’s some settlement going on, the foundation is giving way and the wood will snap eventually.”

The chapel is a beloved landmark on the historic military installation and holds the distinction of being the Army’s oldest wooden structure continually used for religious services.

Built in 1858, it was honored at different times by the attendance of President Woodrow Wilson and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Brass plaques mark where they each sat.

The wooden chapel with board and batten siding has a steep roofline and Gothic-style stained-glass windows, three by Tiffany Studios. Events in the history of the fort and the nation can be traced in the windows and the furnishings, donated to mark the lives, achievements or sacrifices of military members and, in some cases, their families.

Polonsky’s initial diagnosis led to a challenging conclusion: “We said let’s do this church over, but without major changes apparent to the eye.”

Recently, the retired Army colonel, 88, stood in the sanctuary again and scanned the interior, now so familiar. He swept an arm over the view – the high ceiling, the exposed trusses, the precious glass – remembering what had occurred to him back in the ’60s.

“Some of these windows had not been touched for 100 years,” he said. He had to keep them safe, keep the entire chapel safe, all while raising it 4 feet to work on it.

To preserve the church’s obvious beauty, its many treasures and architectural details, Polonsky sought information on its construction, why it looked the way it did and what its builder had wanted to say with the architecture.

He learned that the chapel traces its name to a Roman centurion, Cornelius, brought to Christianity by Peter, a disciple of Jesus. A window behind the altar shows the Roman commander in helmet and armor.

Polonsky found the building’s plans in a book written by Richard Upjohn in the mid-1800s. Upjohn emigrated to the United States from England and became an architect, building a reputation for grand structures that featured Gothic characteristics: pointed arches, peaked roofs, massive side walls. Among them is Trinity Church in Manhattan, a grand example of neo-Gothic or Gothic Revival architecture.

“He built a church that people were in awe of,” said Polonsky, who retired in 1970 after nearly 30 years of military service. Polonsky has told this tale many times while leading tours as chapel docent for the past 25 years. As Upjohn was practicing his craft, farther south Fort Monroe remained without a church.

Then an accident brought the chapel into existence.

On the 22th of June in 1855, Julian McAllister, a young lieutenant stationed at the fort, was making munitions in the arsenal with two other men. Something went wrong, and in the explosion that followed, McAllister was wounded and his two companions killed.

“He wondered why the Lord had saved his life,” Polonsky said. “He was a fairly religious man, and he thought what the Lord was trying to tell him was to build a church.”

And so the grateful and humbled McAllister helped raise $6,000 with his company commander, Capt. Alexander B. Dyer, a tremendous sum in the mid-1800s. It was not enough, of course, to build a grand stone church. Nor would that have been appropriate at Fort Monroe.

Instead, a more modest design of Upjohn’s was just right.

In the book “Buildings of Virginia; Tidewater and Piedmont” by Richard Guy Wilson, the architecture of the Chapel of the Centurion is identified as Carpenter’s Gothic, a subcategory of Gothic Revival popular from about 1840 to the 1870s. The style was used in rural areas, repeating in commonly available wood the Gothic features normally interpreted in stone – the pointed arches and steep gables.

Some Carpenter’s Gothic buildings were heavily ornamented with gingerbread trim and other machine-made decorations – but not Fort Monroe’s church. That is why its unornamented appearance leads Polonsky to define the building’s style as simply Gothic Revival.

The chapel’s construction began in 1856 and was complete by 1858.

More than a century later Polonsky appreciated the value of what had been entrusted to his hands, particularly a window dedicated to McAllister, the chapel’s grateful fundraiser.

“The first time I ever came through this church, it didn’t look like a Tiffany window to me,” Polonsky said. “Then I realized it’s not painted. It’s layered glass. The cannonballs seem to swell. These are not precious stones, they’re cut glass, and the color changes as the sun goes through them.”

Polonsky became familiar with the other windows, too – one that celebrates the chapel’s centennial, one memorializing a chaplain’s wife who died of typhus, one dedicated to Rene Edward DeRussy, another member of the Army Corps of Engineers. Making them unique for a church, most of the chapel’s windows contain military motifs – swords, cannons, even a missile. Poignant inscriptions memorialize soldiers who died in the service of their country.

When his work began in April 1968, Polonsky had all the windows removed. He peeled 60-year-old tiles from the roof then used 18 jacks to lift the building 4 feet and built a new foundation at the 3-foot level. He stashed a heating and air-conditioning system in the resulting crawl space.

“There was a lot of talk at the time because it was expensive,” he said, “but raising the building gave them heat and air and also got it out of reach of floods.”

As the work went on, Polonsky studied the old craftsmanship. The narrow windows are deeply set, giving visual weight to the plaster walls of the wooden church. White pine, tongue-and-groove boards panel the ceiling and lead the eye to the deep apse. Pointed wooden trusses feature trefoil cutouts and finials on the ends.

The result is a feeling of vast space. “It was designed to give beauty, and to give a small congregation something they could afford. This guy, Richard Upjohn, was a magician,” Polonsky said.

But somewhere along the way, the engineer started thinking that something looked odd.

“I wondered about the balcony, which was not in the plan,” he said, turning to face the rear of the church. “It turned out that in 1915, someone decides they want a choir loft.”

Whoever put it there made little effort to emulate Gothic style or maintain the integrity of Upjohn’s aesthetic.

So Polonsky found another Upjohn design close by, Christ Church in Raleigh, N.C. He drove there to take a look. What he found was a neo-Gothic main structure of stonework and an exterior shape that echoes the chapel at Fort Monroe.

“They had a balcony. It was stone, of course, but I copied it in wood,” he said, proudly looking at his result in the chapel – a wooden balcony, decorated along its face with Gothic arches.

Polonsky imagines that, if he were still alive, Upjohn might walk into the Chapel of the Centurion and be able to recognize his own style. “I wanted him to be able to say, ‘Hey! That’s my balcony,’ “the retired engineer said, “and I’d say, ‘That’s right, but you had one hell of an assist from Stan Polonsky.’ ”

 

 

Slavery had beginning, end at Fort Monroe

The first slaves were sold at the site, and a fort commander protected runaway slaves.

By LARA C. CHAPMAN | 247-4731
February 9, 2009
HAMPTON -

Fort Monroe has a story to tell.

The story goes back to 1619 when Africans arrived by ship on American soil. They were the first of their kind, and they came as objects of trade. The ship by which they traveled headed toward Jamestown at Old Point Comfort. But their captor, a British privateer, made a stop at the newly fortified site. There, the black foreigners were introduced as slaves, and an American institution was born.

Then, 242 years later, three runaway slaves found freedom at Fort Monroe. On the night of May 23, 1861, Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory, and James Townshend appeared at the fort after fleeing Confederate forces. Their owner, Col. Charles K. Mallory, demanded their rightful return.

Instead of granting the colonel’s requests, Union commander Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler declared the men “contrabands of war.”

Butler’s bold act sparked a chain reaction throughout the South. And by the end of the war, 10,000 contraband slaves were set free at “Freedom Fort.”

“Fort Monroe is our Ellis Island,” said Gerri L. Hollins, contraband slave descendant and CEO of the Contraband Historical Society. “It marks the beginning of slavery and the beginning of the end of slavery.”

According to Hollins, the preservation and retelling of Fort Monroe’s story should be at the forefront of African-American history. “This powerful legacy reaches beyond the walls of ‘Freedom Fortress,’ and more people need to understand the value in it.”

Although the Casemate Museum has served as Fort Monroe’s historical mouthpiece since opening in 1951, the contraband story is merely a sidebar. Most exhibits focus on the fort’s vital role in securing the Union victory during the Civil War. That will change when the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority gains sovereignty over the historic post once the army leaves in 2011.

“We haven’t yet identified a master plan, but the contraband story will be highlighted,” said the authority’s Deputy Director Conover Hunt. “Much of that history has yet to be interrupted and a great deal of research still needs to be done.”

For African-American historians and contraband descendants, stories like this shouldn’t be ignored.

“It’s been 147 years since the first contrabands were declared free, and we don’t even have a monument in Hampton” Hollins said. “There isn’t enough respect for this story — and that needs to change.”

——————————————————————————————————————-
Bottom: John Wise, John La Mountain, and Thaddeus Lowe fight a storm in the Atlantic. Credit: 2001 National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution (Videodisc No. 2B-30739).

Hampton’s forgotten legacy

October 06, 2010 | By David Squires | Urban Affairs
Daily Press

I like to tell people that Hampton Roads is so rich in talent, resources and diversity that it should be setting national examples in such areas as education, public safety and economic development.

I like to say that there should be not a single poor person in Hampton Roads and that this area should not have any ghettos or bad neighborhoods.

Now after hearing a recent lecture at the American Theater in Phoebus, I’m wondering if I lived another life in 19th century Hampton, an apparent happy time that most historians have ignored, according to Robert F. Engs, Professor Emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania, who has also served as a visiting professor at William & Mary.

Engs described a Hampton that was predominantly black, but diverse – even largely bi-racial – and which was very serious about politics and education. And he shrugged as he pondered how today’s African-American leaders seemed to have dropped the ball, not to mention how too many local African-Americans are ignoring their own history, much of which Engs detailed in a 1979 book, “Freedom’s First Generation: Black Hampton, Va., 1861-1890.”

Engs visited Hampton recently as keynote lecturer for “the Birth of Africa in America,” which was sponsored by the Hampton 400th Anniversary Committee. Engs said that the true contraband slave story gives hints to the society of black Hampton in the 1800s, and he said historians have purposely obscured the story to make a hero out of Gen. Benjamin Butler at Fort Monroe — rather than the three men who sought their freedom.

He said the three men — Shepard Mallory, Frank Baker and James Townsend — believed they had rights, and thus they showed up at the fort to exercise those rights.

Eventually the three men were joined by 900 other local slaves, then another 10,000 by the end of the war.

“Mallory, Baker and Townsend already thought and acted like free men, no matter what the law was. Their courage – indeed one might even call it their arrogance — in defense of their rights should make us probe more deeply into the kind of society in which they evolved.”

“The non-white residents of Hampton were more American than African, even down to the color of their skin,” Engs said. “All this was possible because of the close interaction between black and whites in the shared public spaces, work place, in homes in churches and even in boudoirs of the county.

“The contraband of Hampton were not the happy darkies of Old South myth,” Engs said. “These were real men and women who had forced their white owners into concessions that transcended written law.

“This didn’t happen in slavery elsewhere, not even in Norfolk.”

He said it was important to note that “for a few decades, Hampton got it right, and that truth has largely been ignored and almost denied.”

——————————————————————————————————————–

Fort Algernoune

Paul Clancy’s story

Oct. 18, 2009

In mid-October 1609, George Percy, the hapless and sickly Jamestown leader, sent Captain John Ratcliffe and a contingent of men to Point Comfort “for to build a forte there” to guard against possible Spanish attacks. He named it “Algernourne Fort” in honor of a long-distant relative.

At first just a simple earthwork, but soon a sturdy, heavily armed wooden bastion, the fort endured. It was destroyed by fire and storms on numerous occasions, but its rebuilt ramparts presided over the entrance to Hampton Roads for decades.

Artist’s sketch of what Fort Algernourne might have looked like. Courtesy of the Casemate Museum.

That presence, 400 years ago this week, marked the real beginning of the city of Hampton, some contend. And more importantly, they believe, it established England’s maritime and commercial power in the new world. Not Jamestown, mind you, not that hellhole of pestilence and death, but this long-forgotten fortress.

This has been the theme of an ambitious symposium going on this weekend at Fort Monroe, the successor of the original outpost. Prominent scholars and archaeologists from around the region and beyond are there to share conclusions about the significance of this spot as the Army prepares to finally abandon it. Fittingly, the conference is sponsored by the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority, the entity that has been shaping the plan for Fort Monroe’s future.

One of the most intriguing questions is whether any traces of the original fort can be found, and the more experts pronounce this impossible, the more William Kelso is convinced it isn’t.

Kelso, the director of archaeology for Preservation Virginia’s Jamestown Rediscovery, is credited with finding the remains of James Fort, which was assumed to have been lost to the James River. To those who say that Fort Algernourne (aka Algernoune and Algernon) can’t be found because Fort Monroe was built there, he laughs. “That sounds familiar. People said that about Jamestown. It’s not necessarily true that it’s gone.”

He assumes that, since the fort was built by the same folks who build James Fort, that it might be a similar three-sided structure, although smaller and not as elaborate.

Kelso believes there should be systematic excavations in likely places on the grounds of Fort Monroe that might lead to artifacts or signature markings by fort timbers. But before the first spade goes in the ground, there would have to be a thorough document review. “At the very least,” he adds, “I could prove it isn’t there.”

The importance of the fort, conference participants stress, is that wasn’t Jamestown. Dorothy Rouse-Bottom, a self-described “conference junky” who spearheaded the gathering, writes that it “introduced to the New World English maritime law, imposed the nascent customs system, regulated commerce, and enforced allegiance to the British crown. Most importantly, it created a visible symbol of England’s bid for sovereignty over vast stretches of the Atlantic shoreline.”

Karen Ordahl Kupperman, a New York University scholar who has written extensively about Jamestown, calls Algernourne “Virginia’s gateway to the Atlantic.”

One of the odd things about Jamestown, she says, is that many Americans still don’t see it as the beginning of their country, preferring the story of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. That’s because, aside from the period when John Smith was in charge, Jamestown was a dismal failure. “We focus so heavily on Jamestown, but if you start to look at places like Kecoughtan [the village near the fort]…what you see is the beginning of real communities.”

Fittingly, when Percy sent a detachment to build and occupy the fort, Jamestown was about to enter “the starving time,” the winter of 1609-10. Of the 500 or so men and women under his care, only about 60, mostly near cadavers, survived.

When the clueless Percy went to visit Point Comfort, he was amazed – and then outraged – to find the 40 or so men who occupied the fort were fat and healthy, living on fish, crabs and oysters, that they had used this bounty to feed their hogs and were hoarding the rest so they could escape and sail back to England, “not regarding our misery and wants at all.”

Instead of stringing them up, he announced that he’d send the Jamestown survivors to the fort – half at a time – to feed and cure them. If that didn’t work, he’d send them all at once.

But on the next tide, relief ships began arriving. And, although they almost pulled up stakes immediately to return to England, Lord De La Ware showed up and whipped the colony back into shape.

Percy then goes into a long description of how one of the starving colonists confessed – after being strung up by the thumbs – to killing his wife, chopping her up and eating her.

See what I mean about how unfun the Jamestown story is? Give me Fort Algernourne any time.

 

Army post at peace

   

Construction on the Chapel began in 1856 and the Chapel was consecrated May 3,1858. (Bill Tiernan | The Virginian-Pilot)

Built: 1858
Where: In Hampton on Fort Monroe off Bernard Road Pastor Chaplain (Lt. Col) Juan M. Crockett Worship 7:45 a.m. Episcopalian service 09:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Protestant services Sunday School at 9:30 a.m.

Contact: (757) 788-2611 – Chapel office
Tours Call Carol Hanson: (757) 788-3391

By Krys Stefansky
The Virginian-Pilot
© March 22, 2009

Col. Stanford Polonsky arrived at Fort Monroe in Hampton in 1967 for what would be his final tour of duty in the Army Corps of Engineers. He had served across the United States and Europe and in the Far East, building military camps, doing repair and maintenance on military installations, even constructing missile launching silos in Roswell, N.M.

The Chapel of the Centurion at Fort Monroe is according to their web site “Army’s oldest wooded structure in continuous use for religious services.”

This time his help was sought by Fort Monroe’s chaplain, Harry G. Campbell Jr. He led Polonsky to a wooden building.

” ‘Stan,’ he says, ‘we’ve got some kind of problem with this wall,’ ” Polonsky said, remembering that long-ago meeting at the Chapel of the Centurion. “I realized there’s some settlement going on, the foundation is giving way and the wood will snap eventually.”

The chapel is a beloved landmark on the historic military installation and holds the distinction of being the Army’s oldest wooden structure continually used for religious services.

Built in 1858, it was honored at different times by the attendance of President Woodrow Wilson and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Brass plaques mark where they each sat.

The wooden chapel with board and batten siding has a steep roofline and Gothic-style stained-glass windows, three by Tiffany Studios. Events in the history of the fort and the nation can be traced in the windows and the furnishings, donated to mark the lives, achievements or sacrifices of military members and, in some cases, their families.

Polonsky’s initial diagnosis led to a challenging conclusion: “We said let’s do this church over, but without major changes apparent to the eye.”

Recently, the retired Army colonel, 88, stood in the sanctuary again and scanned the interior, now so familiar. He swept an arm over the view – the high ceiling, the exposed trusses, the precious glass – remembering what had occurred to him back in the ’60s.

“Some of these windows had not been touched for 100 years,” he said. He had to keep them safe, keep the entire chapel safe, all while raising it 4 feet to work on it.

To preserve the church’s obvious beauty, its many treasures and architectural details, Polonsky sought information on its construction, why it looked the way it did and what its builder had wanted to say with the architecture.

He learned that the chapel traces its name to a Roman centurion, Cornelius, brought to Christianity by Peter, a disciple of Jesus. A window behind the altar shows the Roman commander in helmet and armor.

Polonsky found the building’s plans in a book written by Richard Upjohn in the mid-1800s. Upjohn emigrated to the United States from England and became an architect, building a reputation for grand structures that featured Gothic characteristics: pointed arches, peaked roofs, massive side walls. Among them is Trinity Church in Manhattan, a grand example of neo-Gothic or Gothic Revival architecture.

“He built a church that people were in awe of,” said Polonsky, who retired in 1970 after nearly 30 years of military service. Polonsky has told this tale many times while leading tours as chapel docent for the past 25 years. As Upjohn was practicing his craft, farther south Fort Monroe remained without a church.

Then an accident brought the chapel into existence.

On the 22th of June in 1855, Julian McAllister, a young lieutenant stationed at the fort, was making munitions in the arsenal with two other men. Something went wrong, and in the explosion that followed, McAllister was wounded and his two companions killed.

“He wondered why the Lord had saved his life,” Polonsky said. “He was a fairly religious man, and he thought what the Lord was trying to tell him was to build a church.”

And so the grateful and humbled McAllister helped raise $6,000 with his company commander, Capt. Alexander B. Dyer, a tremendous sum in the mid-1800s. It was not enough, of course, to build a grand stone church. Nor would that have been appropriate at Fort Monroe.

Instead, a more modest design of Upjohn’s was just right.

In the book “Buildings of Virginia; Tidewater and Piedmont” by Richard Guy Wilson, the architecture of the Chapel of the Centurion is identified as Carpenter’s Gothic, a subcategory of Gothic Revival popular from about 1840 to the 1870s. The style was used in rural areas, repeating in commonly available wood the Gothic features normally interpreted in stone – the pointed arches and steep gables.

Some Carpenter’s Gothic buildings were heavily ornamented with gingerbread trim and other machine-made decorations – but not Fort Monroe’s church. That is why its unornamented appearance leads Polonsky to define the building’s style as simply Gothic Revival.

The chapel’s construction began in 1856 and was complete by 1858.

More than a century later Polonsky appreciated the value of what had been entrusted to his hands, particularly a window dedicated to McAllister, the chapel’s grateful fundraiser.

“The first time I ever came through this church, it didn’t look like a Tiffany window to me,” Polonsky said. “Then I realized it’s not painted. It’s layered glass. The cannonballs seem to swell. These are not precious stones, they’re cut glass, and the color changes as the sun goes through them.”

Polonsky became familiar with the other windows, too – one that celebrates the chapel’s centennial, one memorializing a chaplain’s wife who died of typhus, one dedicated to Rene Edward DeRussy, another member of the Army Corps of Engineers. Making them unique for a church, most of the chapel’s windows contain military motifs – swords, cannons, even a missile. Poignant inscriptions memorialize soldiers who died in the service of their country.

When his work began in April 1968, Polonsky had all the windows removed. He peeled 60-year-old tiles from the roof then used 18 jacks to lift the building 4 feet and built a new foundation at the 3-foot level. He stashed a heating and air-conditioning system in the resulting crawl space.

“There was a lot of talk at the time because it was expensive,” he said, “but raising the building gave them heat and air and also got it out of reach of floods.”

As the work went on, Polonsky studied the old craftsmanship. The narrow windows are deeply set, giving visual weight to the plaster walls of the wooden church. White pine, tongue-and-groove boards panel the ceiling and lead the eye to the deep apse. Pointed wooden trusses feature trefoil cutouts and finials on the ends.

The result is a feeling of vast space. “It was designed to give beauty, and to give a small congregation something they could afford. This guy, Richard Upjohn, was a magician,” Polonsky said.

But somewhere along the way, the engineer started thinking that something looked odd.

“I wondered about the balcony, which was not in the plan,” he said, turning to face the rear of the church. “It turned out that in 1915, someone decides they want a choir loft.”

Whoever put it there made little effort to emulate Gothic style or maintain the integrity of Upjohn’s aesthetic.

So Polonsky found another Upjohn design close by, Christ Church in Raleigh, N.C. He drove there to take a look. What he found was a neo-Gothic main structure of stonework and an exterior shape that echoes the chapel at Fort Monroe.

“They had a balcony. It was stone, of course, but I copied it in wood,” he said, proudly looking at his result in the chapel – a wooden balcony, decorated along its face with Gothic arches.

Polonsky imagines that, if he were still alive, Upjohn might walk into the Chapel of the Centurion and be able to recognize his own style. “I wanted him to be able to say, ‘Hey! That’s my balcony,’ “the retired engineer said, “and I’d say, ‘That’s right, but you had one hell of an assist from Stan Polonsky.’ ”

 

 

Slavery had beginning, end at Fort Monroe

The first slaves were sold at the site, and a fort commander protected runaway slaves.

By LARA C. CHAPMAN | 247-4731
February 9, 2009
HAMPTON -

Fort Monroe has a story to tell.

The story goes back to 1619 when Africans arrived by ship on American soil. They were the first of their kind, and they came as objects of trade. The ship by which they traveled headed toward Jamestown at Old Point Comfort. But their captor, a British privateer, made a stop at the newly fortified site. There, the black foreigners were introduced as slaves, and an American institution was born.

Then, 242 years later, three runaway slaves found freedom at Fort Monroe. On the night of May 23, 1861, Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory, and James Townshend appeared at the fort after fleeing Confederate forces. Their owner, Col. Charles K. Mallory, demanded their rightful return.

Instead of granting the colonel’s requests, Union commander Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler declared the men “contrabands of war.”

Butler’s bold act sparked a chain reaction throughout the South. And by the end of the war, 10,000 contraband slaves were set free at “Freedom Fort.”

“Fort Monroe is our Ellis Island,” said Gerri L. Hollins, contraband slave descendant and CEO of the Contraband Historical Society. “It marks the beginning of slavery and the beginning of the end of slavery.”

According to Hollins, the preservation and retelling of Fort Monroe’s story should be at the forefront of African-American history. “This powerful legacy reaches beyond the walls of ‘Freedom Fortress,’ and more people need to understand the value in it.”

Although the Casemate Museum has served as Fort Monroe’s historical mouthpiece since opening in 1951, the contraband story is merely a sidebar. Most exhibits focus on the fort’s vital role in securing the Union victory during the Civil War. That will change when the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority gains sovereignty over the historic post once the army leaves in 2011.

“We haven’t yet identified a master plan, but the contraband story will be highlighted,” said the authority’s Deputy Director Conover Hunt. “Much of that history has yet to be interrupted and a great deal of research still needs to be done.”

For African-American historians and contraband descendants, stories like this shouldn’t be ignored.

“It’s been 147 years since the first contrabands were declared free, and we don’t even have a monument in Hampton” Hollins said. “There isn’t enough respect for this story — and that needs to change.”