Slabtown (HM1PKV)

Location: Yorktown, VA 23690 York County
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Country: United States of America
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N 37° 13.555', W 76° 30.354'

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Civil War Yorktown

There is a large settlement near Yorktown, called Slabtown, settled by the government during the war with those who came within the lines. The colored people there are doing such work as they can get to do, oystering, & c.

Testimony of Dr. Daniel Norton [McNorton], before a United States Congressional subcommittee on conditions in the South under reconstruction, February 3, 1866. Dr. Daniel Norton was a former slave, born in Williamsburg, Virginia who fled to the North and became a licensed physician. About 1864 he came to Yorktown to practice medicine, achieving prominence in Virginia politics and advocating education for previously enslaved Americans.

From May 1862 through the end of the Civil War, Yorktown was occupied by United States troops. Some enslaved Americans, who became known as "contraband of war," escaped from the Confederate controlled South and sought freedom behind the Federal lines at Yorktown. In July 1863, when Brigadier General Isaac J. Wistar was assigned command at Yorktown, he reported over 12,000 contraband were living off subsistence from his commissary. To provide them with shelter and an opportunity for self-sufficiency, he established housing on nearby land that was unoccupied by the owner. Wistar assigned his own troops to oversee the construction, reporting to his commanding officer, Major General John A. Dix, that he had "a large force at work laying out and erecting negro quarters..."

The new neighborhood became known as Slabtown, reflective of the pine wood slabs that the cabins were built from. Almost as soon as Slabtown was populated, the Friends' Freedmen's Association of Philadelphia began sending teachers to establish schools in the community and a few businessmen to set up a store which provided supplies such as clothing, vegetable seeds, and farming tools. Army officers also arrived to recruit soldiers for the newly formed United States Colored Regiments.

After the war, Slabtown, sometimes called Uniontown, remained a vibrant community with a few businesses, school and church. However, ownership of the land reverted to its former Confederate owner. Not until the 1880s and 1890s did the inhabitants have the opportunity to purchase the property that some had lived on for many years. In the 1970s, the National Park Service, as part of an effort to restore more of Yorktown's 1781 battlefield, purchased the Slabtown lots; and razed all the buildings. Some of the residents relocated less than a mile from their former homes.

While Slabtown was constructed quickly, this 1867 military map of the community illustrates it was established with well surveyed streets and arrangement of buildings. Sergeant Charles Brooke of the 5th Michigan Cavalry description of Slabtown on March 5, 1864 confirms the planning that went into developing Slabtown: The streets are laid out regularly, about four roads wide. Each cabin is about twelve by eighteen feet, and one story high,. They are all built of pine slabs, and the roofs are of the same. They each have an alley between, of four feet. many are whitewashed and with neat fences round them. The interiors are generally neat and clean. The streets are kept swept, and every thing shows good discipline... These people have nearly all been slaves, and those that were born fee say that they were no better till our forces gained possession... They have their own stores, post-office,schools.. church...

Dr. Daniel Norton, 1883 Courtesy of Virginia State University, of which Dr. Norton was a member of the university's first board of visitors.

General Issac Jones Wistar's General Order #13 directed tha From and after the 23d day of July...all removed from within Fort Yorktown to the new quarters now being provided for them... Courtesy of the Wistar Intritute

This 1881 map shows a large decline in the number of homes and buildings in Slabtown; yet it also reveals a well defined community with almost as many structures as nearby Yorktown

This 1924 aerial photograph shows Slabtown's roads and property lines (indicated by the perimeter of the fields) which reveal the planned and orderly nature of the community over 60 years after its establishment.
Placed ByColonial National Historical Park, National Park Servcice
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Thursday, November 26th, 2015 at 1:01am PST -08:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 366404 N 4120996
Decimal Degrees37.22591667, -76.50590000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 37° 13.555', W 76° 30.354'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds37° 13' 33.3" N, 76° 30' 21.24" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)757
Which side of the road?Marker is on the right when traveling North
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 2-6 State Rte 704, Yorktown VA 23690, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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