Written by guest blogger Kevin Dulany Grigsby 

Get a glimpse into the life of Loudoun’s former enslaved community and their journey to freedom following the Civil War during an April 11 special program entitled “Reclaim Your Story” at Oatlands Historic House and Gardens.  The program will feature the dedication and unveiling of a Civil War sign at 3:00pm, commemorating African American history at Oatlands. The grounds of the property will also be open free to the public with displays and presentations (from 10:00am-2:00pm) that focus on the life of Loudoun’s once enslaved population. It will be an amazing educational experience for those who attend. A second program will follow later that evening that remembers the history of the freedmen settlement of Gleedsville.

Oatlands1

 

Oatlands Historic House and Gardens

 

Why is the April 11, 2015 such an important event?

April 9th is the day when General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox, bringing an end to the Civil War. For Civil War buffs, we know that other armies of the Confederacy would gradually surrender between April and June 1865. Nonetheless April 9th is in many respects symbolically viewed as the end of the war.

Basil Turner- Slave turned wage worker at Oatlands

 

Basil Turner- Slave turned wage worker at Oatlands

The April 11th program at Oatlands focuses on what the close of the war meant to the nearly four million men, women, and children who had been held in bondage at the start of the war. The close of the war marked a new and, in many cases, a terrifying beginning. The painful march towards civil rights and the pursuit of equality for African-Americans is a journey that continued 100 years after Lee’s surrender to Grant.

While African-Americans had been a part of Loudoun since its establishment the end of the war signaled an opportunity for former slaves to carve out new lives as free people. As a descendant of these newly freed people, I realize that the steps of those ancestors who ventured into the unchartered waters of freedom would be the beginning of a journey that ultimately led to many of the opportunities I have been able to receive. It is fitting that “Reclaim Your Story” is being held at Oatlands, which was once the place of bondage to over 130 men, women and children in 1860. The program will in many respects be a remembrance service to those who never experienced freedom, but also to those who would begin their journey of freedom in April 1865. Even if it was a journey marked by terror, racial oppression, and discrimination, it was still the beginning of a journey. The story of communities, which sometimes ranged from a few families to a little over a hundred residents, like Howardville, Conklin (where present day South Riding is), Gleedsville, Willard (the land now occupied by Dulles airport), and many others is the story of survival and ultimately progress. You can read more about these communities here. The history of these communities is an integral part of Loudoun’s history.

Freedmans Bureau

 

Freedmans Bureau

Following the program at Oatlands, a second program will be held, beginning at 4:30pm, which will remember the rich history of Gleedsville, a community founded by former slaves from Oatlands. The second marker will be dedicated at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Gleedsville, 20460 Gleedsville Road, Leesburg, Virginia, VA.

From place of bondage to a place of reclaiming your story: What does that mean?

Oatlands was once a place that represented what slavery meant beyond forced servitude. Slavery often sought to deny individuals their culture and identity. For African-Americans today it is often extremely difficult to research one’s ancestry beyond the wall of 1870, as it was not until that time that former enslaved men and women would finally appear on census records. The birth, deaths, marriages, last names are many times untraceable due to the enslaved population being viewed as property and not as human beings. This is often a source of great anguish for African-Americans attempting to trace their ancestry. In a project that is still evolving, the education staff at Oatlands under the direction of its education director Lori Kimball has created a database that has important information about the lives of those once enslaved at Oatlands and its sister plantations. In some cases these records (including birth and death records) go back to the late 1700s, including a diary kept by the former master at Oatlands. Sometimes this information can provide a descendant with the name of an ancestor, a name in which a debt of thanks is owed for surviving the horrible chapter of American history called Slavery.

 

Author bio:

Kevin graduated from Loudoun County High School in 1991. He holds a bachelor’s (Delaware State University) and master’s degree (University of Maryland) in social work. Since 1994, he has worked with children and families in a variety of settings in the United States and Bermuda. Kevin’s family roots run very deep in Loudoun, which go back to at least the late 1700s. These roots have inspired him to write two books about Loudoun County history, which are Howardsville: The Journey of an African-American Community in Loudoun County, Virginia (2008) and From Loudoun To Glory: The Role of African-Americans from Loudoun County in the Civil War (2013). He was also a contributing author of Four Centuries of Friendship: America-Bermuda Relations 1609–2009 (2009). Kevin presently resides in Loudoun County where he works as a social worker. He hopes to release his third book by December 2015.