The Richmond History Podcast

Friday, February 15, 2013

Last Moments of Slavery in Richmond, VA

Showing Lumpkin's from the sign at the site.  Lumpkin's outlined in yellow,  VA State Capitol top left, Broad St bottom right
Near the center of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church's sanctuary is a pew with a small plaque marking the place that Jefferson Davis was attending service on Sunday, April 2, 1865.  During church that day, he was handed an urgent message from one of his generals, Robert E Lee.  Lee's army could no longer hold their line at Petersburg, VA, leaving the Confederate capital, Richmond, VA, unprotected.1  The evacuation and chaos to follow would end in a conflagration leaving some 800-1000 buildings, much of Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom, burnt in less then a day.
Drawing of Lumpkin's from the sign at site

While confusion blanketed Richmond one citizen, Robert Lumpkin, made moves.  Lumpkin was one of the most notorious and cruel slave traders in the country.2  Lumpkin's Slave Jail was a complex know as "The Devil's Half Acre" near the gallows, tobacco warehouses,3 and other slave auction houses in a swampy area that is now between the parking lot of Main St Station, the interstate and the recently rediscovered Old Negro Burial Ground.3  Robert Lumpkin had purchased the complex of building in the 1840's that included a whipping room where slaves could be stretched across the floor and lashed.3

When Union troops entered the city, whites locked their doors as black Union cavalry and infantry units began to protect the streets as the city fell into mayhem.4

Lumpkin's site today, photo by Jeff Majer

But before the Union arrived in Richmond, Robert Lumpkin shackled up 50 slaves, weeping men, women and children3 with an estimated value of $50,000.2  He marched them blocks, chained 2 by 2, to the train depot that would carry Jefferson Davis out of town.2 There was not room for the slaves on that trainand there would be no other trains.  Not only was the Union on the way, but part of the evacuation plan was to burn the train bridges, starting the conflagration.   Some accounts say that he took the slaves back to the slave jail4, and some say that he left them at the train depot, but Robert apparently fled on that train.2  Where the slaves went immediately, in the grand scheme of things doesn't seem to really be that important.  More importantly, that was one of, or more likely, the last chattel of slaves taken anywhere, legally, in the city of Richmond.

2.  Mighty Like a River:The Black Church and Social Reform: The Black Church and Social Reform, By Andrew Billingsley
4.  Inhuman Bondage, David Brion Davis

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  1. Was the Enslaved African Burial Ground actually discovered recently, or was it only recently that the VCU parking lot was taken off of it? I haven't been able to find clear information regarding how long knowledge of the site, as a graveyard, was public.

  2. I don't know that exact date. It is hard to say but in 2009, historian Jeffrey Ruggles wrote a paper on the exact location.
    That leads me to believe that VCU built that parking lot and had it well be before anyone knew that it was on top of the burial ground. That is the way I understand but would love to know more about it.

    Thanks for the comment

  3. Actually, the name of the cemetery is the Burial Ground for Negroes. Let's not Politically Correct it to death with "Enslaved African Burial Ground."

  4. What is the latest on the Burial Ground? I visited several years back and it was still a parking lot. Please tell me this has changed.