The Civil War and African-Americans

The African American history in Loudoun County is varied and rich. From individuals who were enslaved to those who fought to gain and sustain equality, their stories are told in our museums, historical markers, and at historic sites. Here you will find sacred spaces, communities, and the stories of remarkable people who left their indelible marks on our nation. For example, Aldie Mill interprets the stories of enslaved and free people of color working together before the outbreak of the Civil War. One story is about an enslaved “mill boy” named Daniel Dangerfield whose escape to Pennsylvania, capture, fugitive slave hearing, and release in 1859 fanned sectional animosity in both states. In Quaker communities like Goose Creek and Waterford you can see schools built with the help of the Freedman’s Bureau, created to assist freed slaves, during Reconstruction. In Middleburg, African American community life centered around the town’s two churches, and the work of Middleburg’s African American inhabitants—enslaved or free laborers and skilled craftsmen—can be seen throughout the town today. Oatlands plantation is a site in the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program which interprets the history of plantation life before and after the American Civil War. At the turn of the twentieth century a gentleman named Bill Pierce, who was born in Purcellville, educated at nearby Storer College in Harpers Ferry, WV and Howard University in Washington, D.C., opened a dance studio in New York City that attracted clientele like Fred and Adele Astaire. He has been credited with such dances as the Charleston and Black Bottom that became worldwide sensations. He is buried in nearby Lincoln, also a Quaker community.

But it is perhaps at the Loudoun County Courthouse in Leesburg that the struggle for equality is most poignantly told. Slave auctions were held on the steps and two free black men were tried for helping women and children escape from slavery at the courthouse. But it is also where Charles Houston became the first African American attorney to argue a major case in a southern courtroom in 1933. Later, Charles Houston became known as “the man who killed Jim Crow” when his legal strategy led to Brown v. Board of Education and the Supreme Court decision that segregated schools were not equal, ending state-sanctioned segregation at public schools.