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Trail To Freedom - Aquia Landing VA
Posted by: Groundspeak Regular Member La de Boheme
N 38° 23.369 W 077° 18.940
18S E 297757 N 4251568
Quick Description: Three historical markers stand at Aquia Landing which was a gateway for slaves on the Trail to Freedom.
Location: Virginia, United States
Date Posted: 2/19/2011 5:24:13 PM
Waymark Code: WMARQ6
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member saopaulo1
Views: 1

Long Description:
In 1862, with the arrival of the Union army in Stafford County, VA, slaves from Fredericksburg and surrounding counties saw their opportunity for freedom and began a mass exodus across the Rappahannock River on their way to emancipation. The Trail To Freedom traces the route of an estimated 10,000 slaves which culminated at Aquia Landing.

Aquia Landing is a small peninsula where Aquia Creek meets the Potomac River. It was here that thousands of slaves were boarded on steamships and taken up the Potomac River to Washington, D.C.

There are three historical markers at Aquia Landing.

Early Escape Route:

"For a few moments, silence prevailed. My master [Ellen] looked at me, and I at him, but neither of us dared to speak a word, for fear of making some blunder that would tend to our detection. we knew that the officers had the power to throw us in prison..."
— William Craft, Dec. 24, 1848.

"The joy of the friends was very great; when they heard that I was alive they soon managed to break open the box, and then came my resurrection from the grave of slavery. I rose a freeman...."
—Henry Box Brown, Mar. 30, 1849

The opening of the rail line to Aquia in 1842 provided opportunity for slaves seeking freedom. In 1848, slaves William and Ellen Craft of Georgia embarked on their dangerous journey to escape. Ellen, born of a slave mother and a white father, disguised herself as a white man seeking medical treatment in the North. William assumed the role of her body servant. They traveled by train, carriage, and steamship from Georgia to Philadelphia, passing unchallenged through Aquia Landing. They reached Philadelphia — and freedom — on Christmas day 1848.

Three months later, Henry "Box" Brown became one of the most famous fugitives in American history. A slave in Richmond, Brown packed himself in a wooden box to be mailed to freedom. By wagon, train, and steamboat, Brown traveled north, sometimes upside down. After 27 hours and undetected passage through Aquia Landing, the Express Mail box carrying Henry Box Brown was delivered in Philadelphia, its occupant a slave no more.

Gateway to Freedom:

"I bounded across the Gang plank and concealed Myself for a while until the Steamer got off from the Wharf. I then came out and arrived Safe at 6th Street Wharf in Washington D.C. on the Night of September 1st, 1862 in a hard rain."
—John Washington

"…There was a continuous black line of men, women, and children moving north along the [rail]road, carrying all their worldly goods on their heads. Every train running to Aquia was crowded with them…I think it is safe to estimate that the number of contrabands that have passed by this route since we took possession of the road at 10,000."
—W.W. Wright, Superintendent, U.S. Military Railroad Report, Sept. 17, 1862.

During the Civil War, most white Stafford residents greeted the arrival of the Union army in April 1862 with outrage and fear. But many slaves throughout the region rejoiced at the opportunity for freedom. Thousands left their houses, farms, and plantation, heading north toward the Union army.

Some "contrabands" (as the army called them), took jobs with the Union army, often as paid servants to officers. They earned between 25 and 40 cents per day, plus a ration. But for most former slaves, their journey to freedom continued to and culminated a Aquia Landing. Soldiers shepherded them onto steamboats for the short journey up the Potomac to Washington, D.C.

When the Union army evacuated the area in September 1862, a final burst of freedom-seekers flooded Aquia Landing. Among them was Fredericksburg slave John Washington, who slipped aboard the Washington-bound steamer Keyport. That spring and summer, as many as 10,000 slaves made the journey into Union lines—to freedom.

Steamships, Stages and Slave Trade:

"In the forenoon the steamer reached Aquia Creek. There the passengers took stages — Burch and his five slaves occupying one exclusively. ...He told me to hold up my head and look smart. That I might, perhaps, get a good master if I behaved myself. I made him no reply."
— Solomon Northrup, 1841

"Reaching the steamboat, we were quickly hustled into the hold, among barrels and boxes of freight...After sunrise...we were called up on deck to breakfast. Burch took our hand-cuffs off. ...Breakfast over, the hand-cuffs were restored."
— Solomon Northrup, 1841

Aquia Landing (pronounced 'uh kwhy' yuh'), here at the junction of Aquia Creek and the Potomac River (to your right) was once a vital hub in Virginia's transportation network. As early as 1815, steamboats from Washington and Alexandria made regular trips here, transferring passengers, mail and even slaves to coaches bound for points south.

In 1842, the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad completed its line to Aquia, reducing travel time between Washington and Richmond. The junction here of steamboat and rail marked Aquia as an important place in antebellum Virginia and a major crossroads of the interstate slave trade.

By the 1850s, Virginia was exporting more slaves than any other state. Thousands of them, often handcuffed and packed amidst the cargo, passed through Aquia bound for slave markets farther south. From Aquia, most traveled onward by coach or, after 1842, by train. Some larger groups were forced to walk in chained gangs, or coffles, to destinations as far as 300 miles away.

Today, Aquia Landing is a waterfront park and is open to the public year-round. It is also on the Civil War Discovery TrailClick for related waymark to open in new window and National Underground Railroad Network to FreedomClick for related waymark to open in new window

Additional resource:

Group that erected the marker: Stafford County and Virginia Foundation For the Humanities

URL of a web site with more information about the history mentioned on the sign: [Web Link]

Address of where the marker is located. Approximate if necessary:
2846 Brooke Rd
End of SR-608
Brooke, VA USA

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