Sunday, April 15, 2012

Richmond Slave Trail Walk - Part 2

Last Friday, I walked the Richmond Slave Trail, an historic route from the Manchester Docks departure point where slaves were "shipped down the river" to the deep south, up through the areas of the city where the slave markets and an infamous slave jail - which one could also call a torture center - were located, as well as several important historical sites to Black life in Antebellum Richmond. Part 1 of my posts about this walk covered the route and some background information. This part of my account will have a couple more maps and some more photos and descriptions of my walk.

This map marks the route of the Slave Trail along the south shore of the James River, and has photo avatars showing where some of the photos seen below were taken. It also shows where Great Shiplock Park, a recent hike of mine, is located in relation to this hike. I've circled it in red on the map.This tranquil site, the Manchester Docks, is the starting point of the Richmond Slave Trail and was once a major slave export site - the busiest on the East Coast. Up to 10,000 human beings a month were shipped to other parts of the south from this spot for decades. Now, it is popular as a place to fish from.There were numerous placards - usually shown on my maps as yellow squares - along the way with illustrations and descriptions of enslaved life. This sketch shows how Africans were crammed into slave ships for transport to the New World. Something like one in eight people perished on the journey. I don't think the ships taking slaves from Richmond to points south were packed this tightly, but I imagine they were pretty miserable to travel in all the same.If not for the roar of traffic down I-95 over the bridge, you never would have known at times how close you were to a large city.Some of the worst outdoor advice I ever saw was "leaves of three, wipe with me." You should leave this bad boy be, and in any event, using it for toilet paper is a very, very bad idea. Poison ivy was common along this part of the trail.This board talked about the revolt of the "Creole," a ship that was transporting 100 slaves away from Richmond to New Orleans in 1841. 18 slaves overthrow the ship after it headed out in the open sea in international waters where they were outside of the laws of the United States. They headed to Nassau in the Bahamas, where the British government set them free. A decade later, the slave owners were awarded over $110,000 and a treaty was signed that assured that the British would not interfere in such cases again.In springtime, there are pretty flowers along the part of the path east of the I-95 Bridge. I wondered if the enslaved peoples heading this way towards the ships so long ago - ships that would take them far away to the large cotton plantations where life was typically more brutal than most Virginia plantations of the day - would have been able to take heart at all in any beauty along the way.Usually the trail east of the I-95 Bridge just had forest views, but at times, one could also see the river.The trail is now out of the pretty woods, but has nice river views as well those as of the downtown. The bridge is the very heavily traveled I-95 Bridge.This view of the trail and the river shows the flood wall as I approach the Mayo Bridge to get back to the north side.In this map of the northern part of the route I followed on the Slave Trail, you can see where I took the photos below:Mayo Island divides the James River at this point. Just upriver from this spot is the great blue heron rookery that is right in the middle of our good sized city.As the trail heads towards Shockoe Bottom, it crosses part of the Kanawha Canal. Enslaved men were once given the responsibility of navigating boats from the farms down the canal to Richmond with loads of tobacco to be sold.This photo is of the infamous Lumpkin Slave Jail Site, a place were slaves were held and punished - which could essentially amount to torture in some cases. There was once a large complex with several buildings owned by Robert Lumpkin here, known as "The Devil's Half Acre" among local blacks.The Slave Trail ends at the First African Baptist Church on Broad Street. The current building, now part of the Medical College of VCU, was built in 1876, but the original church was founded in 1841 when the white members sold their building to about 1,000 blacks. It was the center of life for Richmond's free and enslaved blacks at the time when gatherings of black people outside of churches was not permitted.
In Part 3 of my walk, I'll talk a little more about the Lumpkin Jail Site and the nearby burial ground.


  1. Thanks for the good info and pictures of the slave trail. I would like to take my two sons on this hike and can't seem to figure out how long it is. Do you recall how long it took you to hike it?

    Many thanks!

  2. It is very worthwhile, and especially to take young people so they can learn a bit of American history that is often swept under the rug. It was about 4 or 5 miles round trip, so figure on a couple of hours at least because you will want to stop and read the historical markers.