Wednesday, April 9, 2014

150 Years Ago Slavery Ended on VA's Eastern Shore

Written by Kirk Mariner

This month contains a date which, while long overlooked, is crucial to our peninsula’s history. For it was on April 11, 1864 — one hundred fifty years ago this month — that slavery came to an end on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

New York Times, October 17, 1863
Provided by Kellee Blake.
It was not the Civil War that ended slavery here. Slavery continued even after the Union Army invaded and occupied the Shore in November 1861. It was not Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves, for his proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863, freed only those in areas then in rebellion against the United States, and specifically excluded, by name, Accomack and Northampton counties. Nor did the slaves of the two counties have to wait until December 18, 1865, when the 13th amendment to the Constitution ended slavery throughout the country.

Rather, the demise of slavery on the Eastern Shore came about quietly and undramatically.

Not all of Virginia seceded from the Union in early 1861, not Chincoteague and Tangier on the Eastern Shore, and not a number of counties in the western part of the state where slavery had never taken deep root. Delegates from these western counties met in Wheeling to set up a rival government to the “rebel” one in Richmond, and on June 25, 1861, Lincoln recognized them as the “reorganized and restored government of Virginia.” Thus throughout the rest of the Civil War there were two Virginias: Confederate Virginia, whose capital was Richmond, and “loyal” Virginia, whose capital was Wheeling. Loyal Virginia remained a part of the Union, represented in the U.S. Congress, throughout the war.

There were, in addition, other parts of Virginia that were in Union hands when the war began: Fort Monroe and its surrounding area in Hampton; Alexandria, Arlington, and parts of Fairfax County in Northern Virginia. These also were included in the restored government, and as the war progressed other parts of the seceded state that subsequently came under Union control were added to it.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia officially became a part of the restored government on November 23, 1861, exactly one week after the Union army occupied the peninsula, and for more than a year it sent representatives to the state capital in Wheeling. The western counties, however, were intent on forming their own state, and on June 20, 1863, the state of West Virginia was formed, taking most of the land mass and most of the people of the restored government with it. Virginia was thus reduced to several small, disconnected regions — Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, the Virginia Peninsula, and the Eastern Shore — which then looked to Alexandria as their capital.

When the legislature of the “Alexandria government” convened for the first time in December 1863, Gov. Francis H. Pierpoint identified to the legislators what he saw as the most pressing item of business for his truncated state: The need to bring slavery to an end in Virginia once and for all.

Pictured above are the proposed changes that were to be placed
 in the Virginia State Constitution under the "Slavery" section. 
The report was discussed and voted on on March 10.  Journal 
of the Constitutional Convention which convened at Alexandria
on the 13th day of February 1864 (Alexandria, 1864), pp. 16.
Provided by Kellee Blake.
In urging the end of slavery, the governor offered no religious or humanitarian rationale, but simple practicality, for the reality on the ground was that in virtually every place where the Alexandria government operated the Union army was also present, able and likely to interfere with the day-to-day functioning of slavery. Thus in February 1864 a special convention convened to draw up an amendment to the state constitution that would end slavery. Among its delegates were Arthur Watson and
William H. Dix from Accomack, and William P. Moore from Northampton. Eventually this convention not only amended but also re-wrote the constitution, abolishing slavery in the process.

On April 7, 1864, the convention voted 13 to 4 to adopt the new constitution, Dix voting for it, Watson and Moore against it. The following day it was resolved that instead of having the new constitution approved by the people in a referendum, it would take effect “and be in full force from and after the adjournment of the Convention.” The convention then adjourned four days after making the decision.

On that day — April 11, 1864 — slavery officially came to an end on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

It was sixteen months after the Emancipation Proclamation, a year before the end of the Civil War, twenty months before the 13th Amendment — and two hundred and forty-five years since Africans first set foot on Virginia soil.

For the list of sources please contact

No comments:

Post a Comment