The History of Waterford, Virginia
A National Historic Landmark

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AFRICAN-AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Education
Faith and family
Slavery and freedom
Segregation, struggle, and success
Work and play
ON THIS PAGE
1800's
Working in Waterford
Segregation
Timeline

Waterford's African-American Experience & Timeline

Written by Bronwen and John Souders for the Waterford Foundation.

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Read African-American recollections of John Divine, a historian who grew up in Waterford »

A simple one-room school on a shady street, a picturesque frame church overlooking a mill, tilting tombstones in a segregated cemetery. These are the most evocative monuments that remain of African-Americans who for 150 years made up a quarter of this old village-and contributed immeasurably to the building, the life, and the character of Waterford. They are all gone now-along with nearly all of the old white families-but their descendants cherish stories of a rich and remarkable past in this unusual Southern town.

1800'S

More on slavery in Waterford »

Second Street School class in 1920
Mr. Winton Walker and his Second Street School pupils, circa 1920 More »

By the early 1800s, Waterford was home to several free black families. Some owned their own homes. A number learned to read and write in defiance of Virginia laws prohibiting the teaching of African Americans. One, Nathan Minor, was buying' a half quire (12 pages) of writing paper in 1816. In 1854 he wrote out his own will, a rarity for black people of the time. It was witnessed by three white men, two of them Quakers.

Waterford slave auction notice

Waterford slave auction notice, March 11, 1823

Nevertheless, life was rarely easy for African Americans in this southern village. Main Street saw more than one slave auction as men from surrounding farms gathered to buy and sell laborers. But there were also manumissions, and local Quakers campaigned actively for the abolition of slavery.

Working in Waterford  Top of page

More on working in Waterford »

Meanwhile, through the 19th and 20th centuries, blacks and whites lived and worked closely together. The African-American men and boys plied their crafts and skills as fence builders and farm workers, coopers, millers, tanners, and blacksmiths. Nearly all the black women also worked, as cooks, maids, nurses, and washer-women. (An early resident recalled, smiling, that on washing day, "The bushes were all white with sheets spread out to dry.") Through the years several African Americans served village women of both races as midwives.

Prices, Scotland Farm, Waterford, 1890
Hiram, Rosella, and Leanna Price, Scotland Farm, c. 1890

While the economic relationship was usually one of black employee and white employer, there were many instances over the years of deep respect and friendship between adults, as well as children, of the two races. And, in contrast with most Loudoun County towns, there was no "black section": Main, Water, High and Janney Streets all had black ownership at one time or another from the early 1800s on.

Segregation  Top of page

More on segregation in Waterford »

Still, there was segregation. One resident, who lived across from the school for white children, wondered why he had to walk several blocks to the "colored" school. And all children, black and white, while they played with each other and went through each other's kitchen doors, were made to understand when they reached their teen years that they had to associate with their own race. African Americans had their own school from the end of the Civil War until 1957. They built their own church-John Wesley Methodist Episcopal-in 1891 (though both the white and black Methodists had balconies in their churches for visitors of either race). They buried their dead in their own half of the segregated cemetery on Fairfax Street.

waterford black populationAt the beginning of the 21s' century, the African-American presence is mostly in memory. As the older generation aged, their children and grandchildren left for opportunity elsewhere. Mary Elizabeth Wallace, the last African American to live here, died in 1999, at 79; Sam Palmer, the final trustee of the John Wesley Church, died in 2001.

The black community continues to look to the village for a sense of family and place. Former residents have generously shared letters, freedom papers and photographs, as well as family records and personal recollections to ensure that this rich history not be lost to the present and future of Waterford and to their descendants.

 Top of page

African-American Timeline
See also Loudoun County timeline

1733
Amos Janney, other Quakers founded Waterford (originally called Janney's Mill)
1776

Declaration of Independence signed; Quakers prohibit members from owning or hiring slaves.

1785

William Lane born free in Waterford area.

1793
Virginia law requires "Free Negroes" and mulattoes to register with town clerk.
1810
Four free black families living in Waterford.
1815
American Colonization Society (ACS) formed to return freed slaves to Africa.
1817
"Free Negro" Nathan Minor buys lot in Waterford.
1818
Nero Lawson buys lot; Waterford Quakers, others form Loudoun County chapter of ACS.
1820
10 free black families living in Waterford.
1820's
African Americans Peter Boggess, Samuel Jackson, Nathan Minor, and James Grimes buy town lots.
1824
Local Quakers found Loudoun Manumission and Emigration Society.

1830

17 free black families living in Waterford.

1831

Nat Turner leads bloody slave revolt in southern Virginia. State outlaws the assembling of whites to teach free blacks and slaves to read.

1832

Virginia prohibits African Americans from preaching or holding meetings for religious purposes.

1835

James Lewis buys town lot.

1850

18 free black households in Waterford.

1854

Nathan Minor writes his own will. William Robinson purchases the "Weavers Cottage."

1860

21 free black household in Waterford; slaves listed separately in the federal census.

1861

Waterford votes against secession from the Union 220 to 31, but Virginia joins Confederacy; Civil War begins.

1863

Lincoln issues Emancipation Proclamation, authorizes the formation in Massachusetts of the first Negro regiment.

1864

Waterford's "Web" Minor serves with Union's Loudoun Rangers, James Lewis with 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, Henson Young with 1st US Colored Infantry.

1867

African Americans, Freedmen's Bureau, Quakers build school on Second Street. Reconstruction Act of Congress gives blacks right to vote.

1870

Virginia readmitted to the Union.

1873

Web Minor buys James Moore House on Big Hill.

1891

John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church constructed; Loudoun Emancipation Society formed in Hamilton.

1896

U.S. Supreme Court sanctions "separate but equal" in Plessy v. Ferguson.

1900

Noble and Emma Gaither Robinson living at Weavers Cottage with eight children.

1910

Waterford's Forest Gaskins serves with 9th US Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers) at Fort D.A. Russell, Wyoming.

1936

Great Depression forces Waterford to give up town charter after 100 years of self-government.

1941

U.S. enters World War II; Waterford's African Americans again march off to fight.

1948

Former slave Lloyd Curtis dies; African-American Odd Fellows Hall on Big Hill demolished.

1954

Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education leads to eventual school integration.

1957

School on Second Street closes; African-American students are bussed to Leesburg.

1968

Waterford Elementary School integrated. Segregated Douglass High School in Leesburg closes. Martin Luther King, Jr., assassinated.

1970's

Final services held at John Wesley Community Church.

1977

Waterford Foundation buys school on Second Street.

1984

Living history program launched at Second Street School.

1990

L. Douglas Wilder elected governor of Virginia, first African-American governor in U.S.

1999

Mary Elizabeth Wallace dies at 79, last African-American living in village. Waterford Foundation buys John Wesley church in trust for descendants,

2000

Waterford Foundation places preservation easement on John Wesley church.

2001

Sam Palmer dies, last trustee of John Wesley church.

 

 

 

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