In the mid-eighteenth century, the land that is now Clarke County was settled by descendents of the Tidewater region of Virginia, based on early and very large land grants to members of the “first families of Virginia” in the part of old Frederick County which in 1836 separated as Clarke County. These individuals brought with them their slaves and a self-sufficient economy based on the business model of the large-scale plantation systems below the Fall Line. The biggest difference between their new home and the Tidewater plantations became a focus on wheat rather than tobacco. In the other counties of the Shenandoah Valley however, smaller-scale farming, with or without slaves, tended to prevail.
Due to its outlier status and the diverse labor demands of mixed agriculture, Clarke County possessed not only a proportionately large enslaved population, but also a numerically significant free black population, people who participated in the antebellum economy in a substantial way. Both slave-holding emancipationists and non-slave holders opposed to slavery on religious or secular principle were active in the Valley. Edward McCormick at Clermont had his wheat ground seven miles away at the Spout Spring Mill by a Quaker named Daniel Wood who opposed slavery and supported the Union during the Civil War.
Clermont and Clark County therefore constitute an excellent site for the study of the complex interaction between slavery and freedom in American life before the Civil War and for how the place and its region became a “springboard into freedom” as a result of the conflict. Both the increasing demands for labor during the Civil War and the constant re-crossing of the Northern Shenandoah Valley by Union and Confederate forces substantially disrupted and then reduced the enslaved labor force in the region.