With emancipation, African-Americans found themselves in a complex situation. By law, slavery was abolished, promising freedom and citizenship, but few owned land or had resources to support themselves, and prejudice against them was widespread. Yet, many newly emancipated slaves stayed in the area and took advantage of economic and social ties developed prior to emancipation to obtain a livelihood.
This sign is located at the edge of the 16-acre Gilmore Farm. The Gilmore property ran from this sign to present-day Route 20. The acquisition of land brought African Americans independence and self-sufficiency, confirming their status as new citizens of the American nation.
Harper's Weekly illustration "Emancipation of the Negroes" January 1863
Soon after the Civil War, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution were ratified abolishing slavery, defining citizenship to encompass emancipated slaves, and extending voting rights to emancipated slaves. The promise of citizenship, however, was curtailed with the end of Reconstruction, and would not be realized for well over a century.
Interior of freedman's home, Richmond, Virginia
Emancipation brought little improvement to the material lives of African Americans. Many left slavery owning nothing more than the furniture brought from their slave cabins, the clothes on their back, and a few household utensils. Two decades after emancipation, African-Americans' economic status had slowly improved, but was far below that of local whites. The average value of farms owned by African Americans in Orange County in the 1880s was one-tenth the average value of farms owned by whites.
The great majority of freedmen in Orange County were farm laborers. A comparison of the occupations of African Americans and whites, based on the 1880s census, shows a majority of blacks making their living as laborers while most whites were farmers. Farmers owned land, determined their own production and were able to grow much of the food needed for their families. By contrast, laborers worked as farmhands and were dependent on the farm economy for jobs and income.
Allan Jackson, Orange County freedman
Most newly emancipated slaves stayed in their locality, and worked to create new lives for themselves by establishing homes, earning wages, and reuniting their families. One such freedman was Allan Jackson, pictured above, who settled to the west of Montpelier. By the 1880s, his home had become the center of a thriving community known as Jacksontown, which consisted of as many as 15 households, a store, a school, and a cemetery.
Late 19th-century photograph of African-American farmstead, Richmond, Virginia
For freedmen, one of the most meaningful opportunities offered by emancipation was owning land. Land enabled a family to build their own home and have their own land, giving them some self-sufficiency and security. In western Orange County, within two decades of emancipation, nearly 30 percent of African-American households owned or leased the land on which they had built their homes.