Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Gov. Almond Road, Orange County, VA
The folks that live in and around the Lake of the Woods (LOW) area of Orange County are very interested in learning more about the African American families that settled there after Emancipation. Last Friday, I enjoyed an opportunity to speaking about a few facts that have been gleaned from a variety of records in a PowerPoint presentation for the LOW Civil War Study Group.
I am sharing with you some of the highlights of the talk in hopes of drawing out some local knowledge. We have a long path to follow and all assistance we receive from family histories, oral or otherwise, will be most appreciated.
It is useful to set the stage that was Orange County, Virginia in 1860, at least as it reflects the nature of the population. The census for that year reported Orange County having 10,851 inhabitants: 4,740 of those were listed as free with an estimated 97percent of those being white. 6,111 or 56.3 percent of the population were enslaved people of color.
One of the guests at the presentation later commented that it was stunning that though more than 50 percent of those that lived and worked in the county presumably for generations were black, there was a scarcity of history if any at all.
Questions were abundant. Did they stay in the county after Emancipation? Where did they live, work and worship? Do some of their descendants remain in the area? Did they have businesses, professions and/or farms? Inquiring minds want to know!
Checking the 1870 Census for Orange County, Virginia reported an estimated population of 5,200 African Americans to a population of 5,198 whites. These figures are not exact.
We have unearthed a few names from the Personal Property Tax Records of 1868. The following names were African American men 21 years of age or older who were listed as working for one of two gold mines in the LOW area.
At the Vaucluse Mine: Allen Campbell, Winston Morton, Robert Raglan, Peter Raglan, Guy (?) Watson and Beverly Weeden
At the Melville Mine: John Mosley, Ned Scott, and Lawrence Scott.
We have yet to examine the 1869 records or look for the connections with other mines in the area i.e. the Grasty Mine, but we must start somewhere. Tracing these men should provide some direction as to their lives and possible descendants after 1868.
The next step in determining who else might have settled in the area is to place on a map the early churches for the freedmen and the proximate locations of the largest former slaveholders. Off the top of my head, here are some examples: Pilgrim Baptist Church, established in 1877, and the farms that once belonged to the Jones-Lacy families, the Willis family and certainly others.
Pilgrim Baptist Church, est. 1877 in Locust Grove, Virginia
Another example would be the area surrounding Mount Zion Baptist Church on Gov. Almond Road (see featured photo). Their website www. http://mntzion.org/ has a wealth of information, including the names of a few of the early congregants known as the “Prayer Band”: Armstead, Broads, Brooks, Carter, Cottoms, Henderson, Johnson, Lewis, Minor, and Vass. The website also names a few of the communities that are worthy of further investigation: Lewistown, Peter Bottom, Fox Neck, and Flat Run. The church, under the leadership of Pastor Sanford Reaves Jr., Deacon William Washington, and Trustee Clayton Tyler, has provided an exemplary history of the church.
All information is welcome and there will be more stories to follow.
Originally published in the Orange County Review on May 3, 2018