Emancipation Oak

Emancipation Oak (HMMKW)

Location: Hampton, VA 23667
Country: United States of America

N 37° 1.385', W 76° 19.833'

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"Thirst for Knowledge"

Here, under an oak tree, newly freed African American students listened in January 1863 as the Emancipation Proclamation was read aloud. Union Gen. Benjamin F. Butler's "contraband of war" decision at Fort Monroe in 1861 anticipated that day, enabling hundreds of enslaved African Americans to reach freedom in the Union lines. The rising number of "contrabands" camped here prompted the establishment of schools — antebellum slave codes had forbidden the education of slaves — and the freedmen exhibited "a great thirst for knowledge."

Mary Peake, a free-born African American, had disregarded the law and taught slaves to read in her home near the Hampton Academy. After her house and the town of Hampton were burned on August 7, 1861, she taught in an abandoned cottage next to the Chesapeake Baptist Female Seminary. Peake's death from tuberculosis in 1862 ended her outstanding work but did not end educational opportunities for contrabands. The American Missionary Association, a New York-based Christian philanthropic society, sent the Rev. Lewis C. Lockwood to Hampton in its first missionary endeavor of the war. When Lockwood arrived in September 1861, he noted that the "parents and children are delighted with the idea of learning to read." The association established two schools here and sent appeals to Northerners to underwrite books, other supplies, and missionary teachers. Additional schools were created at Fort Monroe, Camp Hamilton, and the burned-out Hampton courthouse, which missionaries and contrabands renovated together. When Butler returned here in 1863, he used government funds to construct a school that could accommodate 600 students. Known as the Butler School, it was a frame building constructed in the shape of a Greek cross that stood, appropriately enough next to the Emancipation Oak.
Series This marker is part of the Virginia Civil War Trails series
Placed ByVirginia Civil War Trails
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Saturday, September 6th, 2014 at 11:50am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 381645 N 4098260
Decimal Degrees37.02308333, -76.33055000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 37° 1.385', W 76° 19.833'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds37° 1' 23.10" N, 76° 19' 49.98" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)757
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 342 Emancipation Dr, Hampton VA 23667, US
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