From John Hennessy:
[First, a prelude: In light of the topic of this post, a couple of reminders about this weekend’s To Freedom event. Join us on Saturday night at 6:30 for “Bearing the Stones,” a community procession down
Bearing of Stones, 6:30 Saturday.
Sophia Street from Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) to the middle crossing site below city dock, where hundreds, perhaps thousands of slaves crossed in 1862. Then, at 7:30, we will present “10,000 Lights to Freedom,” an interpretive program of music, the words of those who were there, readings, and of course, the illumination of 10,000 lights on the Stafford shore. For more information on the weekend, click here.
Also, on Sunday at 1:30, I will be tracing a tour along the Trail to Freedom, from the Rappahannock to Aquia Landing–including the site of John Washington’s crossing, described below. This program is being sponsored by Eastern National. There is a fee ($20, to help with the bus), and the tour will last three hours. You can reserve a seat by calling 540 654-5543.
On Saturday on the hour from 11 till 3, we will be doing walking tours, “A Slave’s World and Beyond,” which includes many sites associated with John Washington. Meet at Market Square. These are free, presented by myself, Steward Henderson, and Donald Pfanz of the park staff.]
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Chances are, if you have spent much time here or on Fredericksburg Remembered, you have heard a bit about John Washington (see here). Washington was a slave who spent most of his life in bondage in Fredericksburg, and seven years after the war wrote a truly compelling memoir of his experience. His is an important voice–one of two complete memoirs from a Fredericksburg slave, and by far the best.
Of all the moments narrated in Washington’s remembrance, by far the most vivid–for him and for us his readers–is his passage across the Rappahannock to freedom in April 1862. Washington crossed just hours after the arrival of the Union army at Falmouth; indeed, he may have been the first to do so, the first of more than 10,000 to follow. Because his is one of just two accounts from a slave’s hand that narrates this passage (see the other here), his assumes immense historical significance. He conveys to us what must have been the sentiments of thousands of others.
Washington began his day that Good Friday tending bar at the Shakespeare House hotel on Caroline Street, where today’s Soup and Taco stands (with the best tortilla soup in town). With the arrival of the Union army (we wrote of Washington’s perception of that here), and while white residents rushed to flee or hide, Washington took to the streets.
He stopped first at his owner’s residence in the Farmer’s Bank building on Princess Anne Street. Washington is the classic example of a slave who humored those in authority, always taking care that they thought him willing and compliant. In his final act as a slave, he did so again. When he walked in the front door of the bank, his owner, Catherine Taliaffero, was busy packing to head to the country. “Child,” she said to this 24-year-old man, “you better come and go out in the country With me So as to keep away from the yankees.” Washington replied, “Yes madam,” but asserted that he needed to return the keys to the hotel to the hotelier’s wife. “I will come right back directly,” he said, and then walked out the door never to return as a slave.
From the National Bank building Washington proceeded to the river, likely up to what we know today as the upper crossing site, at the base of Hawke Street. Continue reading →