Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Michael L Blakey


...the early people of Gloucester County were English gentlemen and ladies... Many of these fine old families continued wealthy for generations, until about seventy years ago, when a terrible war, known as the War between the States,... deprived them and their present day descendents of their property and wealth, as well as their Negro slaves who were freed at the time of this war.(Gray 66).;All across the post-Civil War South, the newly freed African Diaspora struggled to find ways to maintain their families and to develop communities. Having been systematically denied education, property ownership, political participation and participation in both the social and economic life of the society built largely upon their labor and hardships, and those of their ancestors, for most of the "Freedmen," the first fruits of Liberty were uncertainty and impoverishment. This study will examine how blacks in Gloucester County responded to the challenges of freedom in different ways and through institutions. at the outbreak of the Civil War, Gloucester County, Virginia, was home to a large population of enslaved Africans and a number of free blacks and free mulattoes. In the aftermath of the War, these groups formed a number of vibrant and, initially, highly successful communities. The collective and individual agencies that led to creation of social, economic, religious and educational institutions as infrastructure for community development will be explored. The study will utilize an interdisciplinary approach to the creation and evolution of churches, schools and cemeteries to trace the impact of such institutions within the history of blacks in the County. Sources will include legal documents, census data, church histories, literary texts, newspaper articles, oral histories, photos and site examinations.;Currently, beyond documents largely generated by the heirs of the Planter Class, there are only minimal records or studies pertaining to the sociocultural processes that guided the formation of Gloucester County's African American communities. The enslaved communities had few institutions through which to stamp their identities upon the region they occupied, in which they labored and died. Dead slaves were buried with little ceremony and no markers. Hence, in areas like Gloucester County, where colonial churches, and their elaborate and ornate cemeteries, commemorate the slave owning community, and where restored plantation "Big Houses" are placed on the "National Register of Historic Sites," or hidden from scrutiny by private ownership, little marks the antebellum presence of the African Diaspora. Thus, the long march of time has eroded the histories of the institutions and individuals that were the chief agents for the growth of Gloucester's African American communities, but did not obliterate them.;This research will focus on a small segment of the African American Diaspora as it moves to establish and stabilize itself in the aftermath of the American Civil War. Thus, by the very nature of Diasporas, it is study of the confluences of agency and accommodation, cooperation and resistance, and of perseverance as well as change and as elements of an overarching survival strategy. Gloucester County's African American communities established churches, cemeteries, domestic burial fields and schools. These institutions and sites became and, in many instances, remain sources of documentary, literary, historical and material evidence of the former richness and continuing importance of Gloucester County' African American past.



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