Christian Author: Nancy W. Boyer

“Forever Free” Slaves of the Blue Ridge

Our VA home is close to the famous Blue Ridge Parkway of the Appalachian Mountains. It was not too long ago that I read an article about a man who knew about the slaves that worked the area on the Langhorne farm before the Civil War and their unmarked burial place near the lovely little village of Meadows of Dan.  When the article was written, there was only a small wooden split rail fence where the bodies of the slaves had been buried, which included some small children.  As the Park Service was building the Blue Ridge Parkway, the land became part of their domain and they moved the headstones.

One afternoon, I went looking for the rail fence, which turned out to be at the entrance off the Parkway to Meadows of Dan.  Parking at the local church, I walked over to the area.  Nothing was there to identify the graves of the slaves who had lived, worked, and died here.  The little rail fence just circled the area.

“What a shame that there is nothing to identify it,” I thought to myself.  The millions of people yearly, who ride the Parkway, will zoom right by this historical, sacred spot. Most people will travel on to visit places where the old timers settled like the old Mabry Mill right down the road.

In this age of monuments being torn down of the famous men of the Civil War era and the present day stressful problems of racial harmony…or disharmony, as the case may be, it was heartening to know that someone had been trying to convince the Park Service to do the right thing.  The headstones had been torn out and thrown in the woods when they were building the Blue Ridge Parkway.   Unfortunately, as is the history of all bureaucratic, government agencies, slow or forever slow is the story.   It definitely was in case of slaves and a proper monument.

After six months away from the Blue Ridge, I rounded the curving entrance to Meadows of Dan and there it was…..the old slave cemetery that I had written about in my book, Old Timers of the Blue Ridge.  Now, it actually had a marker!  A large, beautiful granite headstone stood inside the split rail fence.

slave stone at meadows of danclup.2jpg

slave stone at meadows of dan

 

slave stone at meadows of danclupwords

My husband and I stopped, walked up to the monument and the last words stood out to me…FOREVER FREE!   

Yes, they have gone on to be with God, Who made all people…black, white, and every shade of color.   They are free at last, but are we living free from the past…or is that possible?

Hurrying home to check the internet, I had to know the story of how this monument was placed here in the year that I was away from Virginia. I also felt that I needed to write about the most difficult subject of race relations in our country today.  The Roanoke Times (Ralph Berrier article) answered that question about the new monument.

 Matt Burnett, an old time resident of the area,  had been one of the workers who tore out the headstones for the Park Service and asked Bob Heafner to make him a special promise.  That was thirty-three years ago.

“Burnett asked Heafner if he would make sure that people would someday know about the forgotten slaves hiding in plain sight next to a road traveled by millions. Heafner was young then, a businessman and a publisher who knew people in Meadows of Dan and up and down the parkway.  Surely, Burnett thought, Heafner could find a way to place a monument or memorial to those people, so that their lives wouldn’t remain buried in the past….Heafner discovered a will that stated James Steptoe Langhorne had at least five slaves and perhaps owned more than 10 at one time. He also found the names of five other African-Americans who were probably buried in the cemetery. Three of them died enslaved, with history having no record of their last names: Charles (a child who died in 1858), John (who was 19 when he died in 1858) and Ellen (a 1-year-old who died in 1862). The two other people Heafner documented died after the Civil War: Guss Langhorne (another 1-year-old who died in 1871) and Susan Langhorne (born a slave, died free in 1871 at age 28). It is unclear why the latter two had the Langhorne name.

It took a number of people to finally get results of placing the granite stone where it should have been long ago, including finding the granite company owner who was willing to make the stone.  To try to list all people involved is not my purpose, but the entire story with names from the Roanoke Times can be read here.

This grave site was part of a history of the South. The mountain people strongly defend their history.  People come far and wide to see the reenactments of the Civil War between the North and the South near Ararat, VA. ( See book on the reenactments)

The important points of this story are that the Blue Ridge people also believe in keeping their promises and doing right by the slaves that are buried in this cemetery regardless of the actions of the people of the past.

Who exactly was James Steptoe Langhorne of Meadows of Dan, the land owner where the slave cemetery is located?

langhorne-james-steptoe-langhorne-Meadows of Dan

James Steptoe Langhorne

“According to family history, Henry let his son James Steptoe Langhorne choose one of the plantations, and after touring them all, James Steptoe, age about 22, looked out over the 13, 000 acre “Langdale” plantation in Meadows of Dan, Virginia, and said it was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen! In fact, he is credited with giving that area its name, Meadows of Dan—located in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, on the Dan River. He chose to settle there, but was blinded by retinitis pigmentosa – an inherited family disease– within just a couple of years—and never actually saw his beloved land again! James Steptoe Langhorne, called “Grandpa Steptoe” by his grandchildren, married Elizabeth Rachel Omohundro and together they had eight children, and adopted at least two more.  Of course, on a 13,000-acre plantation in 1822 Virginia, Grandpa Steptoe owned slaves. It doesn’t matter how abhorrent and embarrassing this practice might be to me today, it is a part of our history. ”  (credit Helen Houlshouser…relative to James Steptoe Langhorne)     It was from Patrick County, VA that he built his massive plantation along with the slaves who worked it.   He also gave land and built at least two churches.  The Meadows of Dan Baptist church is where he and his wife are buried.  His father and original family were emigrants from Wales, arriving in 1666.

If you are traveling the beautiful Blue Ridge, stop in at the little slave cemetery at the corner of the Meadows of Dan exit.  Spend a few minutes considering the long-reaching meaning of who is buried there and give a “thank you” to one of the many merchants down the road in Meadows of Dan that helped promote the erection of the slave memorial stone.   We especially thank the man who kept his promise, Bob Heafner.

“Slavery was common in Patrick County. According to county historian Tom Perry, as many as 2,000 slaves were part of Patrick County’s 9,000 residents in 1850. The majority of those enslaved people were owned by the prominent Reynolds* and Hairston families. Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s father owned 28 slaves, according to Perry. Slavery was less prevalent up on the mountain in Meadows of Dan, where five families owned slaves, according to an Appalachian State University research project commissioned by the park service.”  (Roanoke Times credit)   * of the Reynolds Tobacco Co

Even though time has passed and we live in a new era, those who came out to see the placing of the new marker at the Meadows of Dan, know that it is important to the families of those who may have buried relatives in this gravesite.  There is a new Database of identities of 3,200 slaves through the historical society of VA that can help people find their descendants.  Information can be found beginning with the American colonies in 1619 through unpublished private documents.  LINK

The most important thing is to remember the men, women and children who worked the land by force.  We must also not forget that African Americans and slaves from other areas were not only those who suffered great injustices.  Native Americans endured the Trail of Tears and other horrors.  The white settlers who had emigrated from Europe suffered at the hands of the Native Americans and the lawlessness of other Americans.  Present day merchants, white and black, suffer when a life-time of work and businesses are destroyed by rioting. We could go on and on.

One may ask, “So where do we go from here?  Will people never get over this tragic piece of history?”    Because slavery in America may have caused many problems of today, this is a good question.   How many generations will be affected by those who did terrible deeds of bringing slaves to America, as well as the off-spring of those who bought and sold them?   How many generations will have to find new and better ways to compensate for the sins of the past?

The great repentance of a rude, profane Slave Trader, John Newton gave us the beloved song,  “Amazing Grace.”   In 1748 he wrote “On that day, the Lord sent from on high and delivered me out of deep waters.”  Only God’s amazing grace could “Save a Wretch like Me, ” he wrote.slave-market-memorial-P

The Holy Scripture talks about the “sins of the fathers” to the third and fourth generation and even Shakespeare uses this quote in his writing of The Merchant of Venice:  “The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.” 

The Fathers of our nation and the rich owners of slaves often had children with those they owned.  Some have embraced their lineage…become educated, successful and brought honor to generations after their enslaved fore-fathers.  Reunions are held by those who can trace their legacy from a white slave owner to their slave mother.   Healing is needed in our nation.   Maybe owning the past is the answer as the Germans have had to own the Holocaust.

Just down the road from our home in Virginia is the Reynolds Homeplace, Rock Spring Plantation.  This is the ancestral home of R.J. Reynolds, the founder of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco.   On this property is a slave cemetery.  Here are some of the facts concerning one of the slaves who lived there:

Kitty Reynolds Slave on Reynolds PlantationA portrait of Kitty Penn Reynolds hangs in the Reynolds Homestead plantation kitchen. The most well-known member of the enslaved community, she is credited with saving her master, Hardin Reynolds, from a charging bull. She was also responsible for providing daily care for the Reynolds’ children. After emancipation, she maintained a close relationship with at least one of the children. R. J. Reynolds, founder of Reynolds Tobacco Company would provide transportation for Kitty and other members of her family to visit his family in Winston-Salem, NC. Kitty was born on the nearby Penn Plantation and was married to Anthony Reynolds, an enslaved man at Rock Spring Plantation. Besides rearing the Reynolds’s children she served as a midwife on the plantation and bore 18 children of her own.     Kitty Penn Reynolds should also be remembered as a “mother” of civil rights. Two of her children, Burwell and Lee, were arrested after a scuffle they were involved in resulted in the death of a white man, Aaron Shewell. The brothers were defended by Andrew Lybrook (who was married to Mary Reynolds – one of the children Kitty had cared for) and William Martin. The case eventually resulted in the 1879 Supreme Court act Ex Parte Virginia, which upheld the federal government’s right to enforce Civil Rights legislation in the states. 

 (Credit: Virginia Tech website  Her Great Great Grandson, Kimble Reynolds, is today an attorney in Patrick Co, Virginia)

Slavery was not only in Virginia but in various parts of the country.

General-Map-United-States-1857 and slave states

This map of 1857 shows the free (green) states and the slave states (shades of red).

2nd Chronicles 7:14   If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

What was it like to be bought into a plantation as a slave?   The history of life in a Tennessee plantation and the road to freedom is explained in the video below.

VIDEO  (Turn up sound)

 

Another link:    An Attorney in Louisiana has made it his mission to use a plantation he purchased to tell the slaves’ stories and to “own” the sins of the fathers.  They were not his sins, but he feels a responsibility if there is to be healing in our nation.   VIDEO link about Whitney Plantation in Louisiana  Voice is of the Whitney Plantation owner,  John Cummings and Dr. Ibrahima Seck, Director

One response

  1. This is so sad.

    Like

    May 7, 2018 at 08:46

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