Antebellum Emancipationists, Development of Post-Civil War Black Communities
Within Clarke County there were at least three ardent, articulate white emancipationists: Episcopal Bishop William Meade and his sisters, Susan Meade and Ann Randolph Meade Page. The Bishop played an important role in the American Colonization Society; Ann Page and her husband freed a number of their own slaves. Ann Page’s personal correspondence opens an important window into the moral universe of a member of the planter class who believed in universal human freedom.
Also, the plan she sketched in 1814 for an ideal slave dwelling reflects her sense of the practicalities of plantation life and what in her world view was due to enslaved workers. Her ideal housing involved a duplex for two families; each family had two rooms, one 20×16 and one 12x 16. Clermont’s 1823 slave quarters was also a duplex, in log, with one room for each family 20×18, and designed to raise slave productivity by using stoves instead of fireplaces. Interestingly, after the Civil War when paid labor was housed in this building in Clermont, an additional room 12×10 was added to each of the two original rooms, thus approximating Ann Page’s layout.
The Civil War changed the life of African Americans drastically. Over seventy documented (the total is currently unknown) black men who were born in Clarke County served in the Union forces. In 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution declared that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
The postwar story of black freedom in Clarke County includes the growth of numerous black residential enclaves which were places of growth, resistance, and dignity during Reconstruction and the re-imposition of white supremacy in the County. Clermont figures significantly in this history.
Josephine Williams, who evidence strongly suggests had been an enslaved seamstress at Clermont before Emancipation and after a paid professional in Berryville, appears to have been involved in the approach of sixteen black families to Ellen McCormick, owner of Clermont, regarding the purchase of land she had offered for sale in 1870. When Ellen McCormick agreed to sell to these black families (93 people in total), Josephine Williams purchased the first two lots in the enclave that came to be known as Josephine City near Berryville. The black community of Pigeon Hill likewise took shape largely on land sold by the Ellen McCormick who, mired in pre-War debt after her husband’s death in 1870, became the largest white seller of land to African Americans in the postwar period.