Apr 3, 2024 - News

Conservation group makes land purchase to protect part of the Richmond Slave Trail

A small wooden bridge next to a sign that says Richmond slave trail

A portion of the now protected part of the Richmond Slave Trail. Image: Courtesy of Capital Region Land Conservancy

A local conservation group purchased 4.5 acres of riverfront land to help preserve part of the Richmond Slave Trail while growing the James River Park System.

Why it matters: The trail is a critical part of the city's broader vision to preserve and interpret sites that tell the full story of Richmond's role in the slave trade.

The big picture: The Capital Region Land Conservancy recently closed on a 130-foot wide and 2,300-foot long strip of land between I-95 and Ancarrow's Landing in Manchester.

  • The purchase was funded with a $150,000 grant from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, which requires a 1:1 match.
  • Friends of the James River Park System committed $30,000 and is asking the public to help fund it.
  • Ownership will be transferred to the city, and the site will become part of the James River Park System.

Zoom in: The South Richmond tract had been privately owned by the railway company Norfolk Southern in some capacity since 1849. That includes in 2011, when the Richmond Slave Trail Commission unveiled 17 markers that help define the walking trail.

  • These markers help tell the story along the exact path of the tumultuous journey that tens of thousands of men, women and children were forced to take in Richmond for more than 100 years.

It began at the former Manchester Docks, now Ancarrow's Landing, where human beings — shackled and bound together — began the nearly 3-mile trek along the riverfront to the Mayo Bridge, where they crossed and made their way to Shockoe Bottom and the holding pens and auction houses.

Three city-owned pedestrian bridges and one of those markers, Creole Revolt, were on the privately owned site.

  • Creole Revolt tells the story of Madison Washington, an enslaved man who in 1841 walked the trail in reverse, was sold out of Richmond was and destined for an uncertain future in New Orleans.

Yes, but: Washington had other plans. Scholars speculate that he was part of an extensive underground communication network developed by enslaved people, per the marker.

  • Through it he'd learned enough about maritime law, navigation and international emancipation decrees that he correctly figured that if he could gain control of the ship and redirect it to the British-ruled Bahamas, he could gain his freedom.
  • Washington, along with 18 of the other enslaved people on board, waited until they were in international waters to seize control of the ship, demand its reroute to Nassau and were declared free by the British once they arrived.

The latest: The marker that shares his story, and the land it sits on, now officially belongs to Richmond.

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