Hampton Roadsâ€™ Cannonball Trail and the Underground Railroad 400 Years o
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Hampton Roadsâ€™ Cannonball Trail and the Underground Railroad
ollow the Cannonball Trail through 400 years of Norfolk and American
history. The Trail winds along the shoreline of the Elizabeth River and
Norfolk. Walk the cobbled streets of West Freemason – the earliest residential streetscape in Norfolk; stroll downtown, where turn-of-the-century buildings stand in the shadows of modern structures. Throughout downtown, narrative plaques mark places and events of historic interest. Visit Windows on History and explore Hampton
Other historic attractions along the Cannonball Trail include The MacArthur Memorial, Hampton Roads Naval Museum at Nauticus, the Moses Myers House, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the Hunter House Victorian Museum and the Norfolk History Museum at the WilloughbyBaylor House. Discover the Cannonball Trail by following granite inlays and medallions in the sidewalk. Narrative plaques mark places and events of historic interest along the route. Allow a minimum of two hours to walk the entire trail. Please add additional time if you wish to visit the Heritage site attractions of your choice. Please use the maps to guide you on your tour. As you can see, the Cannonball Trail correlates to Norfolk’s Underground Railroad. See map on opposite flap for Underground Railroad points of interest.
cannonball trail map CHARLOTTE ST
E ST MOR DUN
FREEMASON HISTORIC DISTRICT
FREEMASON STREET BAPTIST CHURCH 3
MOSES MYERS HOUSE
FREEMASON STREET RECEPTION CENTER
WINDOWS ON 10 HISTORY
KIRN MEM. PUBLIC LIBRARY
WATERSIDE CONVENTION CENTER
ARMED FORCES MEMORIAL
U.S. CUSTOM HOUSE
TOWN POINT PARK
10 CONFEDERATE MONUMENT
HAMPTON ROADS NAVAL MUSEUM & USS WISCONSIN
ELIZABETH RIVER FERRY
ST. PAUL ’S BLVD
VE ALL A
ST. PAUL’S CHURCH
TAIWAN FRIENDSHIP PAVILION
WELLS THEATER 41
TAZEWELL ST 22
HAMPTON ROADS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
E FREEMASON ST
GRANBY MUNICIPAL BUILDING
EPWORTH METHODIST CHURCH
T TE S HUNTER
CIRCUIT CT BUILDING CITY HALL
cannonball trail map KEY
Freemason Street Baptist Church
Trail Route Freemason Street Reception Center 401 Freemason Street Heritage Sites Narrative Plaques Public Parking
29. Camp-Hubard House
2. Old Norfolk Academy
30. Addington-Petty-Dickson House
Norfolk History Museum at the
31. William E. C. Ellis House
32. James W. Hunter House
4. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 5.
Windows on History
(open to the public) 33. Purdie-Taylor-Whittle House
6. The MacArthur Memorial
34. Old Second Presbyterian Church
35. Epworth United Methodist
8. Old Hampton Roads Maritime 9.
36. James Madison Hotel
Bronze Sculpture at Dillard’s
37. Granby Theater
10. Monticello Arcade 11. McKevitt Building (now Anders-Williams)
38. Jeanne and George Roper Performing Arts Center 39. Virginius D. Groner House
12. Norfolk Police Museum
40. Martin Building
13. The Royster Building
41. Wells Theater
14. The Fairfax Apartments
42. Moses Myers House
15. Tradewinds Building 16. The Virginia Club (Southern Bank) 17. U.S. Customhouse 18. TowneBank Building 19. Selden Arcade & d’Art Center 20. Armed Forces Memorial (open to the public) 21. The Hampton Roads Naval Museum and USS Wisconsin (open to the public) 22. Taiwan Friendship Pavilion 23. Dr. William B. Selden House 24. John Cary Weston House 25. Charles Rollins Grandy House 26. Old Norfolk Public Library 27. A. A. McCullough Row 28. George Wisham Roper House
(open to the public) 43. Bronze Sculpture
1. Freemason Street Baptist Church East Freemason & Bank Streets (B. 1850) Norfolk’s oldest existing Baptist house of worship was designed by Thomas U. Walter (U.S. Capitol Dome) in 1848. Featuring a tower and buttresses, it is one of the most ornamental buildings in the city. The steeple of this large Gothic Revival church toppled in 1879, and was replaced by a steel one in 1897. 2. Old Norfolk Academy 420 Bank Street (B. 1840) This excellent example of Greek Revival architecture was designed by Thomas U. Walter (U.S. Capitol Dome). The strong, masculine temple-form building was perfect for the boys’ academy that was housed here until 1915. During the Civil War it served Union troops as a hospital. Edgar Allen Poe gave his last lecture here in September 1849. 3. Norfolk History Museum at the Willoughby- Baylor House 601 East Freemason Street (B. 1794) This Federal townhouse, built by Captain William Willoughby, was saved from the wrecking ball in the 1960s, restored, and turned over to the City of Norfolk as a house museum. Inside, permanent and changing
6 10 9
5 11 12
exhibits in intimate gallery space feature vignettes of Norfolk history and point the way to other historical venues nearby. Free and open to the public.
Norfolk and environs from its earliest settlements in 1585 to the late 20th century. Elaborately illustrated with images and artifacts, the Windows capture watershed moments of the region’s history.
4. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 201 St. Paul’s Boulevard
6. The MacArthur Memorial 421 East City Hall Avenue
(B. 1739) Built to replace Chapel of Ease, erected on the same site in 1641, St. Paul’s is Norfolk’s only tangible link to her Colonial roots. The church was the only structure in Norfolk Borough to survive the bombardment and fires of January 1776. A British cannonball embedded in the wall of the church is a reminder. Open to the public.
(B. 1850) The final resting place of General Douglas MacArthur. The building’s consulting architect, Thomas U. Walter, designed the dome and the House and Senate wings of the U.S. Capitol. This four-building complex, situated in a landscaped square, contains a museum, theater, exhibition galleries, and archives. Open to the public.
5. Windows on History Along City Hall Ave. at MacArthur Center
7. Confederate Monument Main Street at Commercial Place
Four hundred years of Hampton Roads history are showcased in 16 exterior display windows of MacArthur Center. The Windows trace
The Confederate Monument was erected by the Pickett-Buchanan Camp of the Confederate
Veterans in 1898. The Confederate Soldier, the bronze statue topping the base, was executed by Norfolk native William Couper, perhaps the most eminent contemporary American sculptor at the time. The statue was completed in 1906 and dedicated to “our Confederate dead” in 1907 during the Jamestown Exposition. 8. Old Hampton Roads Maritime Association Building 127 Bank Street (B. 1912) This Classical Revival temple-style building is constructed of limestone. Built to house the Merchants and Mechanics Savings Bank, it was the only Norfolk bank to survive the Civil War. 9. Bronze Sculpture at Dillard’s East City Hall and Monticello Avenues A bas-relief sculpture set in the ground depicts cultural landmarks, historical events, architectural points of interest and entertaining facts about the Hampton Roads region. This sculpture provides an opportunity to create a bronze rubbing as a keepsake of your visit. 10. Monticello Arcade 208 East Plume St.& 211 East City Hall Ave. (B. 1908) Designed by Neff & Thompson in the Beaux Arts Classical style, the Monticello Arcade is one of only two shopping arcades standing in Virginia. It features elaborate
terra cotta decorative elements, and, at the time it was built, the center skylight was one of the country’s largest. Novelty products from around the world were sold here in “apartment” stores. 11. McKevitt Building (now Anders-Williams) 201-203 East City Hall Avenue (B. 1916) Designed by James W. Lee with an ornate marble and terra cotta facade, this reinforced concrete structure was the first fireproof building erected in Norfolk. It was built for Michael McKevitt, a colorful saloon keeper and real estate speculator, on land he acquired from the Anheuser-Busch Company. 12. Norfolk Police Museum 100 Brooke Avenue The Norfolk Police Museum occupies the six-floor-high atrium lobby of the circa 1912 Tazewell Building. Displays highlight the Museum’s extensive collections of badges, patches, firearms, uniforms, images and other memorabilia that tell the story of more than 250 years of police activity in Norfolk. For more information, please call 757-423-6592.
and Roman Temple elements. The structure served as a bank from construction until 1977. In 1997 it became the home of the venerable Virginia Club, an exclusive organization founded in Norfolk in 1873.
13. The Royster Building 201 Granby Street (B. 1912) One of Norfolk’s first commercial high-rise structures, built in the Sullivanesque style with extensive use of decorative terra cotta. Built on reclaimed land from the Elizabeth River, it was considered an engineering marvel. Though hard to detect with the eye, this structure is tilted slightly off its perch.
17. U.S. Customhouse 101 East Main Street (B. 1858) Designed by Ammi B. Young, this Classical Revival structure remains one of Norfolk’s most impressive buildings. It has housed both customs offices and the post office, and was used by Federal troops as a dungeon between 1862 and 1865. It was built to replace a dilapidated 1825 structure several blocks away, where a grand ball honoring General Lafayette had been held in 1824.
14. The Fairfax Apartments 117 West City Hall Avenue
(B. 1906) Designed as a hotel by Benjamin Franklin Mitchell and Charles Parker Breese for the 1907 Jamestown Exposition, this Classical Revival style building was advertised as “absolutely fireproof.” Following a fire in 1976, it was renovated into residential apartments.
18. TowneBank Building 109 East Main Street
15. Tradewinds Building 112-114 Granby Street
(B. 1899) This eight-story brick and terra cotta Roman Classical structure was, at the time of its construction, Norfolk’s tallest building. Its interior features marble paneling, ornate columns, mosaic floors, rich woodwork and chandeliers. Ships moored in the harbor set their clocks by the rooftop “Time Ball” which was lowered every day at noon.
(B. 1900) This Classical Revival building is noted for its elaborate high style stone facade and ornamental leaded glass windows. The frieze between floors features four limestone lions’ heads. 16 . The Virginia Club (Southern Bank) 101 Granby Street (B. 1908) This Classical Revival building is noteworthy for its eclectic mixture of Greek
19. Selden Arcade 208 East Main Street (B. 1931) The Arcade takes its name from Dr. William Selden, who once owned the site. Retailers and financiers prospered here into the 1980s; but many storefronts were vacant by 1995. The City of Norfolk purchased the Arcade in 2003 and renovated it in 2005 to serve as studio space for the more than 40 artists of the dâ€™Art Center. Open to the public. 20. Armed Forces Memorial Town Point Park The Armed Forces Memorial is connected to Town Point Park by two foot bridges. The memorial features excerpts from 20 letters written home by U.S. personnel who died during military service. The letters are cast in thin sheets of bronze, and are scattered across the ground as if blown there by the wind. Open to the public.
21. The Hampton Roads Naval Museum Inside Nauticus The Hampton Roads Naval Museum showcases over 200 years of local maritime history. The museum features an impressive array of exhibits, models and archaeological artifacts. Free and open to the public. 22. Taiwan Friendship Pavilion Friendship Park at Freemason Harbor The Taiwan Observation Tower was a gift to the Commonwealth of Virginia and the City of Norfolk from the Taiwan Provincial Government, Republic of China, as a result of a sister state relationship established with Taiwan in 1981. The Tower was built around the pillars that previously supported a 500,000 gallon molasses tank. All materials for the tower were manufactured in Taiwan and shipped to Norfolk for assembly.
23. Dr. William B. Selden House 351 Botetourt Street (B. 1807) Originally built in the Federal style, this house has many Victorian additions. While Dr. William B. Selden served as Surgeon General of the Confederate Army, his home served as headquarters for Union occupation troops. A grand reception was held here in 1870 for General Robert E. Lee. 24. John Cary Weston House 358 West Freemason Street (B. 1870) This High Victorian Italianate house with a Mansard roof features an ornamental cast iron veranda. John Cary Weston was one of the founders of the Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal Company. He built this as a summer residence following the Civil War. 25. Charles Rollins Grandy House 355 West Freemason Street (B. 1900) This Georgian Revival-style house served as the home and office of Dr. Charles Rollins Grandy, a pathologist and leader in the fight against tuberculosis. The combination of Flemish bond brickwork and graceful portico with Ionic columns creates a lovely facade. 26. Old Norfolk Public Library 345 West Freemason Street
(B. 1904) This Beaux Arts Classical library was built with a $50,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie. The land was donated by the Selden and Grandy families. The lintel cornice has a frieze engraved with the names of famous authors. 27. A. A. McCullough Row 338-346 West Freemason Street (B. 1889) This Italianate block of row house apartments was constructed by a prominent Norfolk coal and lumber dealer. Projecting bays give an undulating appearance and provide interest and continuity to the complex. 28. George Wisham Roper House 320 West Freemason Street (B. 1901) This Colonial Revival residence was built by the founder of the Norfolk shipbuilding and Drydock Corporation. His wife, Matilda Secor Roper, was a noted painter. The two adjoining homes were built for their daughters. The cast iron gate leads to the Roper Memorial Garden. 29. Camp-Hubbard House 308 West Freemason Street (B. 1852) This classic example of the Greek Revival architectural style features a one-story
portico flanked by paired Ionic columns. In 1851, William S. Camp helped organize the Merchants and Mechanics Savings Bank, the only local bank to survive the Civil War. The original cast iron fencing is considered to be of museum quality. 30. Addington-Petty-Dickson House 300 West Freemason Street (B. 1852) Originally built as a two-story house in the Greek Revival style, a Mansard roof and third story were added in 1870. The home features distinctive iron fencing, and the original carriage house can be seen in the rear. 31. William E. C. Ellis House 256 West Freemason Street (B. 1869) This Italianate brick house features a heavy cornice with paired brackets which is typical of this architectural style. The house became the home of Judge Thomas Hamlin Wilcox, who served as Norfolk’s
Commonwealth Attorney from 1886-1894, when he was appointed Corporation Court Judge. 32. James W. Hunter House 240 West Freemason Street (B. 1894) Designed by Boston architect W.D. Wentworth, this Romanesque-Gothic edifice features porticos, turrets and a gargoyle atop the front gable. A leading Norfolk family, the Hunters could trace their local roots back to 1678. This house belonged to James Hunter’s children until 1965. Open to the public as a Victorian Museum. 33. Purdie-Taylor-Whittle House 227 West Freemason Street (B. 1791) One of the finest examples of Federal houses in Virginia, this house was built by George Purdie, a Norfolk merchant. It was bought in 1803 by Richard Taylor, the progenitor of a long line of distinguished Virginians including Captain Richard Page, the nephew of “Light Horse” Harry Lee. 34. Old Second Presbyterian Church 209 West Freemason Street
(B. 1873) Typical of Richardsonian Romanesque Revival architecture and featuring granite ashlar with brownstone trim, the building was used as a Presbyterian church until 1902. It served as a Christian Science church and later as an Odd Fellows Hall before being converted to a restaurant in 1988. Open to the public as a restaurant. 35. Epworth United Methodist Church 124 West Freemason Street
(B. 1896) This Richardson Romanesque church of granite and limestone was designed by Norfolk architects, Carpenter and Peebles. Its bell tower features pinnacles and a Romanesque arched motif. It was given the name Epworth
in honor of the English home of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church. 36. James Madison Hotel 339-349 Granby Street (B. 1906) Designed by John K. Peebles in the Classical Revival style, this was one of several hotels built to house the influx of visitors to the 1907 Jamestown Exposition, and one of only two that still operates as a hotel. Originally the Lynnhaven, it was renamed the Commodore Maury Hotel in 1954 to honor Virginian Matthew Fontaine Maury, a commodore in the Confederate States Navy. Mark Twain stayed here in 1909. 37. Granby Theater 423 Granby Street (B. 1916) The Granby Theater was designed by the local architectural firm Neff & Thompson
to replace a 1901 vaudeville house of the same name located behind todayâ€™s Federal Building. The Granby Theater was originally affiliated with Paramount Films. Patronage declined in the mid-20th century, and the theater closed in 1987, however it was reopened in April 2005. 38. Jeanne and George Roper Performing Arts Center 340 Granby Street (B. 1926) Movies and vaudeville shared the stage when Loewâ€™s State Theater opened here in 1926. Tidewater Community College lovingly restored the theater, and reopened in 2000 as The Jeanne and George Roper Performing Arts Center, a state-of-the-art performance venue hosting the range of the performing arts, films and convocations.
39. Virginius D. Groner House 112 College Place (B. 1872) This two-story Classical Revival residence was built for Civil War General Virginius Despeaux Groner. Groner had the distinction of transmitting the telegram to General Beauregard ordering the attack on Fort Sumter. He was named a Commissioner of the World Columbia Exposition in 1893. 40. Martin Building 300-306 Granby Street (B. 1913) This limestone Italianate structure with terra cotta trim was first built as a furniture store. From 1922-1988, it housed the locally owned Smith & Welton Department Store. Following the closing of the store, the Martin family donated the building to the City of Norfolk, for Tidewater Community College’s Norfolk campus. 41. Wells Theater 108-116 Tazewell Street (B. 1913) The Wells Theater, built by Jake and Otto Wells, is an outstanding example of Beaux Arts Classical architecture. Originally built to enhance the performing arts in Norfolk,
many of America’s leading entertainers performed on its stage. Today, the refurbished theater continues its mission as the home of the Virginia Stage Company. Open for performances. 42. Moses Myers House 331 Bank Street (B. 1792) Moses Myers was one of the country’s first shipping magnates. This stately Georgian style townhouse exhibits 70 percent of the furnishings that originally belonged to the Moses Myers family who were Norfolk’s first Jewish settlers. Free and open to the public with ongoing restoration a part of the tour. 43. Bronze Sculpture North Entrance to MacArthur Center Mall An historical bas-relief sculpture set in the ground with a map depiction of downtown Norfolk in 1851. The map contains a rich texture of cultural landmarks, historic events, architectural points of interest and entertaining facts. This sculpture provides an opportunity to create a bronze rubbing as a keepsake of your visit.
HERITAGE SITES IN GREATER NORFOLK 1. Historic Architecture of the Norfolk Naval Station
Naval Station Norfolk was established in 1917 on the site of the 1907 Jamestown Exposition, which celebrated the 300th anniversary of the landing of the first permanent English settlers in America. Twenty-one states erected buildings. In 1934, some surviving state buildings were moved and converted to housing for senior naval officers, and today form a promenade known as Admiralsâ€™ Row.
2. The Hermitage Foundation Museum 7637 North Shore Road
Naval Station Norfolk Historic Tour 757-444-7955
The Hermitage Foundation Museum 757-423-2052
Fort Norfolk 757-642-8311
St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Basilica 757-622-4487
St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church 757-625-2713
First Baptist Church Bute Street 757-622-6701
Elmwood and West Point Cemeteries 757-441-2653
Attucks Theatre 757-664-6464
Ocean View Station Museum 757-531-0445
Virginia Zoological Park 757-441-2374
Norfolk Botanical Garden 757-441-5830
This Tudor style home, nestled in a lush, wooded setting along the Lafayette River on a 12-acre estate, was built as a summer retreat in 1908. It is alive with treasures from the past, including Italian and French textiles and laces, European ceramics and paintings, handpainted German glass, ivory carvings, Persian rugs and ritual bronzes and ceramic tomb figures from China.
3. Fort Norfolk 810 Front Street
Fort Norfolk has been an American fort since 1794 and has been called the best preserved War of 1812 location in America. During the Civil War, the fort changed hands twice and supplied ammunition for the Confederate Ironclad Virginia (originally the Merrimac) in her battle with the USS Monitor in 1862. Please call 757642-8311 for hours.
4. St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Basilica 232 Chapel Street
(B. 1858) Gothic Revival in design, St. Maryâ€™s is the oldest parish community in the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. Catholicism in Norfolk
dates from August 1791 when the Abbé Jean Dubois arrived in Norfolk from revolution-torn France. Three years later, the “Roman Catholic Society of Norfolk Borough” purchased the property on which St. Mary’s now stands.
8. Attucks Theatre 1010 Church Street
5. St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church 545 E. Bute Street
(B. 1888) St. John is the only surviving structure associated with Charles M. Cassell, one of Norfolk’s leading architects of the period, and is typical of the Romanesque Revival style popularized in this country by H. H. Richardson. Tracing its roots to 1840, St. John is known as the “Mother Church for African Methodism in Virginia.”
6. First Baptist Church – Bute Street 418 E. Bute Street
(B. 1906) The congregation of this church was established in 1800 as an interracial congregation, including whites, free blacks and slaves. This brick church features pink roughhewn granite trimmed with Indiana limestone and was constructed on the site of the original 1830 church.
7. Elmwood and West Point Cemeteries Princess Anne Road
(B. 1853) Imposing mausoleums and Victorianperiod sculptures at Elmwood Cemetery mark the burial places of many prominent Norfolk citizens, including Walter Herron Taylor, Civil War aide to General Robert E. Lee. West Point Cemetery, created from Elmwood as an African American burying ground, includes a section honoring local veterans.
(B. 1919) Financed, designed, constructed and operated entirely by African Americans, the Attucks Theatre served as an entertainment and cultural center for Norfolk’s African American community from its opening in 1919 until it closed in 1953. The theatre was named for African American Crispus Attucks, the first Patriot killed in the 1770 Boston Massacre.
9. Ocean View Station Museum 9623 Granby Street
Ocean View Station Museum houses a collection of images, memorabilia and oral histories documenting past times in the beaches, neighborhoods and commercial districts of Ocean View. Portions of the collection are displayed in the Mary D. Pretlow Anchor Branch of Norfolk Public Library, 9640 Granby Street. Please call 757-531-0445 for hours.
irginia’s Underground Railroad
network succeeded in sending hundreds, if not thousands, of runaways to areas as far away as the Ontario province of Canada. While we have identified and secured photographs or illustrations of wharves, steamships, and schooners on which fugitives departed, safe houses (especially churches and neighborhoods) that were used, conductors who assisted, and enslaved African Americans who ran away, we have to travel to a few northern and Canadian sites to secure the final pieces of the journey. Comparing earlier with current sites is crucial to helping people connect with history. Because the majority of those leaving Virginia found residence in Philadelphia, Boston, New Bedford, and the Ontario province, visually connecting Virginia’s Underground Railroad beyond the state’s borders is necessary. Those who escaped to points north and Canada transformed those areas to some degree. While some fugitives, like Thomas Bayne from Norfolk and John Henry Hill from Petersburg, returned home after the Civil War, the majority remained in their new homes. Although we have largely completed our research on the UGRR from local archives, we will need to travel to these sites to review the archival materials that have been identified as relevant to Virginia escapees. While the general public is familiar with Richmond native Henry “Box” Brown’s daring and inventive escape, this and other cases are usually studied in
textbooks and taught by teachers in isolation. Although a great deal of information is available about the Underground Railroad in Virginia, little of it has been collected and presented to teachers in a comprehensive format. Although the National Underground Railroad Museum has collected countless stories from cities and counties throughout Virginia, what is lacking is a comprehensive discussion that connects these individual accounts as an important part of the story of the Underground Railroad in the U.S. With its complex and interwoven waterways, Virginia functioned as the gateway for eastern North Carolina and provided a starting point for thousands of slaves. So concerned were Virginia’s authorities that fugitives were escaping in large numbers from the Old Dominion that countless ordinances were passed from 1820 until the eve of the Civil War granting power to local authorities to search and seize vessels (especially those from
North) that entered Virginia’s waterways. Scholars are familiar with the case involving Shadrach Minkins, a runaway slave from Norfolk. The nation’s attention turned to Boston when abolitionists stormed the Court House in 1851 to “free” Minkins. While this case was typical of appeals made by slaveholders for the return of their property, it was the first one adjudicated using the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The Keziah affair, involving a Delaware ship captain whose schooner, the Keziah, was captured in 1855 after leaving Petersburg with five fugitive slaves aboard. Although Captain William Baylis’ supporters petitioned the court to reduce the 40-year sentence meted out to him for this offense, he remained in Virginia’s penitentiary until March 1865. And then there are the important accounts preserved by Philadelphia’s most noted station master, William Still. Of the 785 accounts cited in his book, 40 percent involved Virginia’s fugitives. For the past several decades, scholars throughout Virginia have investigated the activities of the Underground Railroad network. This Commonwealth, with its four large urban slave centers (Norfolk, Portsmouth, Richmond, and Petersburg), provided a fluid environment for enslaved Africans and African Americans. Many of the slaves lived apart from their masters and were able to move freely throughout the town. This mobility allowed African Americans, especially those who were enslaved
and hired out, to segue into a variety of portrelated occupations. Like most of the industrial, commercial, or trade centers of the mid-19th century, many African Americans were wellinformed about local and national events. These four cities had daily and/or weekly papers, in addition to the publications available through local churches, temperance societies, and abolitionists. These newspapers included the Norfolk Landmark, the Virginia Gazette, the Petersburg Intelligencer, the Liberator, the Norfolk Intelligencer, the Southern Argus, the Republican, the Southside Democrat, the Daily Express, and others. As slaves moved through the streets of these cities in the 1840s and 1850s, reports came in from newspapers creating the perception that a clandestine organization was making considerable headway in undermining slavery in Virginia. One of America’s most active agents for the Underground Railroad, William Still, recorded accounts of runaways who passed through his station. Because of clues about agents and transportation resources it provided, The Underground Railroad became the most widely circulated work on the anti-slavery network and an important source of information for those studying the operation of the Underground Railroad. While
Still’s account highlighted only a small crosssection of actual Underground Railroad activities, the actual numbers may never be known. However, those activities were perceived to be persuasive enough to warrant laws and numerous newspaper articles warning citizens to be observant of suspicious activities. Needless to say, Underground Railroad activities were particularly disturbing for slaveholders and slavery supporters in port areas. Rumors circulated that ships’ captains were secreting slaves out of the area, and that a very active Underground Railroad was in operation. So threatening were the efforts of abolitionists that a local Norfolk newspaper, the Beacon, sarcastically noted the apprehension of three runaway slaves in 1855, claiming that their capture resulted from the Underground Railroad being “out of order.” Other newspaper accounts suggested that the activity was so great that the state legislature passed an act requiring all ships to be boarded and searched prior to departure. The source of most of the problems in these cities was the presence of active agents/conductors. These conductors were often skilled slaves, free
Blacks, or Whites. For example, two active agents who have been identified were Henry Lewey and William Bagnall. Lewey was a Norfolk slave who used the nom de plume, “Bluebeard,” to hide his identity until he escaped 1856 when word circulated that he was a suspected Underground Railroad agent. Bagnall was a White Virginia Bank bookkeeper who may have been married to a light-skinned African American. He was credited by fugitives in William Still’s book with assisting in the escapes of numerous slaves and passing correspondence between those who had escaped and enslaved family members still living in Hampton Roads. Concurrent with agent operatives in Virginia was the identification of steamships listed by Still as providing assistance to escapees. While some runaway slaves were secreted aboard vessels, unbeknownst to their captains and crews, most received assistance, either from captains and/ or stewards of these steamships. William Still’s book listed the City of Richmond, the Pennsylvania, and the Augusta steamships, as well as the Keziah schooner, as vessels that plied the local waterways, transporting runaways to points north. A person named John Minkins was identified as a steward aboard the City of Richmond and the Pennsylvania who covertly worked as an UGRR conductor, along with Captains William Baylis, Fountain, and Henry Lee. Newspapers and city directories identified departure points in escapee accounts. Most significant was the relative isolation of Higgins’ and Wright’s Wharves in Norfolk that allowed fugitives some degree of anonymity and protection as they sought passage aboard one of the many schooners and steamships docked in port.
Underground Railroad Sites in Norfolk and the Waterfront of Portsmouth 1. Higgins’ Wharf was located at the far end of Widewater Street near New Castle Street. The owner of the wharf was John A. Higgins, a commission agent and former owner of Shadrach Minkins, who worked on Widewater Street opposite Market Square. Steamships, such as the City of Richmond with Captain Mitchell and the Pennsylvania with Captain Teal, were Union Pacific Steamship Company vessels that left from Higgins’ Wharf every Tuesday and Thursday at noon throughout the 1850s. 2. Wright’s Wharf, located at south end of King’s lane, had steamships and schooners departing, sometimes with fugitives aboard. One steamship used to secret slaves to the North was the Augusta, captained by William C. Smith. This vessel left every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 6:30 a.m. from Wright’s Wharf. 3. Fugitives may have been assisted in their escape by the Norfolk and Western Railroad whose track ran down Widewater Street and past every major wharf along the waterfront in downtown Norfolk or by the all-Black crew operating the ferries that ran between Norfolk and Portsmouth. 4. The DeBree Home is where Shadrach Minkins, a fugitive slave in 1851, worked as a house servant. This home was located at 117 E. Main Street, a fashionable district near the Marriott hotel today. Formerly, Minkins was owned by John Higgins (who owned Higgins Wharf ) until 1849. Minkins escaped from John DeBree, a prosperous landowner and former navy man who worked as a purser at the Gosport Navy Yard. It is believed that Minkins departed Norfolk aboard either the Alvaro Lamphir or the Vesper schooners destined for Boston. Minkins eventually escaped to Montreal after he escaped from capture in Boston, living out the remaining years in Canada.
5. Slaveowner Dr. Charles F. Martin, dentist, had an office located at 31 E. Main, lived in the rear of 23 Holt Street (at the corner of Talbot Street). His slave and dental apprentice, Sam Nixon, alias Thomas Bayne, worked as a conductor on the UGRR. Sam was described as a darkcomplexioned slave who, because he substituted for the doctor in all aspects of the dental trade, was able to travel about the city at all hours without being questioned. Sam eventually came under the suspicion of the slaveholders, and escaped in 1855 and went to Philadelphia. Eventually, he moved to New Bedford, MA. He would later return to Norfolk, set up his practice as a dentist, and within four years, he was elected to the city council of that city. He opened an office in New Bedford, and sought to improve himself in his profession by studying medicine, served in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War, returned to Norfolk in 1865 and entered politics, serving as the Norfolk representative to the 1868 Virginia Constitutional Convention. 6. Slaveowner Andrew Sigourney lived in the rear at 70 W. Main Street. His slave, Eliza McCoy, escaped to Philadelphia in November 1854 to join her husband, Robert McCoy, who left a month prior. She escaped because of the many things she suffered. She had been a slave on the auction block and had endured cruelties under the hand of her slave mistress. Eliza was a beautiful 38-year-old mulatto who fretted “under hardships” so much that she “always wanted to be free.” She escaped from her owner seven months before she secured
passage aboard a steamer. Eliza said that when she went into close quarters of concealment, she fully understood what was meant and all the liabilities thereto. She had pluck enough to endure unto the end without murmuring. The martyrs in olden times who dwelt in “dens and caves of the earth,” could hardly have fared worse than some of these way-worn travelers. 7. William W. Hall owned Hall’s slave pen where many caught fugitives and those awaiting sale. He lived at 10 Brewer Street where Eliza McCoy’s husband, Robert McCoy worked. According to Robert, he had constantly been in the clutches of the “Negro-trader” and speculator, William W. Hall. Robert was a 28-year-old, medium sized, dark mulatto of singular intelligence whose harsh experiences resulted in chronic rheumatism and symptoms of consumption. His duties had been confined to the house, and not to the slave pen. The trader had threatened to sell Robert, and to prevent it Robert (thus) “took out.” Although he had to leave his wife, he got aboard a steamer and arrived in Philadelphia whereupon the Vigilance Committee forwarded him to New Bedford. 8. George Latimer* became the property of James B. Gray, a 33 year old machinist from Norfolk. Gray owned a steam saw mill that was located on South Duke Street near the west end of Upper Washington Street in Norfolk. Interestingly, this area was next to an inlet on the Elizabeth River where a few warehouses were located and some schooners and other small vessels were able to navigate. Latimer escaped from Norfolk in 1842 and went to Boston. He was recognized on a Boston street by a Norfolk visitor and his owner, James B. Gray, was contacted. Gray went to Boston and had Latimer arrested. A mob of 300 people crowded the court house to prevent him from being carried out of the city. Gray was so overawed by the strong show of support for Latimer that he accepted $400 for the man for whom he had previously paid $800. He was afraid that the court or the mob would free
George, and his wife Rebecca, moved to Chelsea where they had three sons and one daughter. Their youngest son, Lewis Latimer, became an electrical engineer and famous inventor. *Photo courtesy: Massachusetts Historical Society
9. Slaveowner B. T. Bockover was a commissioning merchant and grocer whose business was located at 25 Roanoke Square. He owned Thomas and Frederick Nixon who escaped to Philadelphia in November 1855 aboard the famous Captain Alfred Fountain’s vessel, along with 19 other people. Thomas Nixon was about 19 years of age, of a dark hue, and quite intelligent. He had not much excuse to make for leaving, except, that he was “tired of staying” with his “owner,” as he “feared he might be sold some day,” so he “thought” that he might as well save him the trouble. Thomas was a member of the Methodist Church; his master was of the same persuasion. Frederick Nixon was about 33 years of age, and belonged truly to the wide-awake class of slaves, as his marked physical and mental appearance indicated. He had a more urgent excuse for escaping than Thomas; he declared that he fled because his owner wanted “to work him hard without allowing him any chance, and had treated him rough.” Frederick was also one of Mr. Bockover’s slaves who left his wife, Elizabeth, with four children in bondage in Eatontown, North Carolina. 10. Slaveowner March Seth, sold groceries, iron, and agricultural instruments at 13 W. Widewater Street (near 21 and 22 Rothery’s Lane). He lived in the rear of 31 N. Cumberland Street. His slave, Henry Washington, alias Anthony Hanly, escaped
to Philadelphia in June 1855. Henry was a 50-yearold dark-skinned slave who left Norfolk and a “very mild master” out of sheer disgust for the patriarchal institution. Henry was only allowed to keep $1.50 per week to pay his board, clothe him, and defray all other expenses. This left no room for him to provide for his wife Sally, who was also enslaved. After passing through William Still’s station, he settled in St. Catharines, Canada, with the assistance of the Reverend Hiram Wilson. While there, he received word that his wife had died from Joseph G. Selden, a friend in Norfolk, who informed him that his clothing was forwarded to him by Jupiter White. 11. In November 1855, Captain Alfred Fountain left for Philadelphia with 21 fugitive slaves. His schooner, loaded with wheat, was located probably docked at the wharf in Roanoke Square because of the number of hay, wheat, and grain dealers. The owner of Thomas and Frederick Nixon, B. T. Bockover, was a commissioning merchant and grocer at Roanoke Square. After the Nixon brothers boarded Fountain’s schooner, a group of city leaders, led by Mayor William Lamb, boarded the ship to search for escaped slaves. Fountain’s bravado saved the day when the men came aboard with axes to tear the ship apart. He said, “Now if you want to search,” he continued, “give me the axe, and then point out the spot you want opened and I will open it for you very quick.” While uttering these words he defiantly struck his ship with the axe several times, splinters flying everywhere. Soon, the men were convinced that no slaves were on board and Fountain left Norfolk with 21 fugitives. 12. Norfolk Ferry that landed at Market Square where fugitives disembarked from Portsmouth to find a schooner or steamship from which to escape. This ferry began operation in 1829. 13. High Street Ferry (operational after 1856—still in service) was the site of the ferry from Portsmouth after 1856. When relocated, it was in the heart of the business district at the end of High Street.
14. North Street Ferry in Portsmouth was operational until 1856. It lay at the end of a three mile waterfront stretch that transported residents and visitors only a quarter mile across the Elizabeth River to Market Square in Norfolk. Originally the ferry was established in 1705 on North Street (originally called Ferry Street), a remote section of town. 15. Crawford House was a boarding house, located near the corner of Crawford Parkway and High Street that was frequented by ships captains, crews, and passengers arriving on the schooners and steamships. Underground Railroad operative and slave, Eliza Bains, worked in the Crawford House. Although initially a residence, the Crawford House was later transformed into a large hotel and boarding house around 1835. The house was located five blocks from the North Street ferry dock and across from the post office on the southwest corner of Queen and Crawford Streets. City records indicated that at least 55 ship captains resided in Portsmouth during this period. Many of those owned their own vessels and stayed at the Crawford House while others owned their own homes in the downtown district. The Crawford House located on Crawford Parkway, ca. 1960s. The building was demolished in July 1970. This four storied building housed many visitors, especially captains of schooners and steamships, to Norfolk and Portsmouth.
Information on the Underground Railroad compiled and written by Cassandra Newby-Alexander. For more information, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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