“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Hampton, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)

Emancipation Oak

“Thirst for Knowledge”

Emancipation Oak CWT Marker Photo, Click for full size
By Bernard Fisher, July 31, 2010
1. Emancipation Oak CWT Marker
Inscription. Here, under an oak tree, newly freed African American students listened in January 1863 as the Emancipation Proclamation was read aloud. Union Gen. Benjamin F. Butlerís “contraband of war” decision at Fort Monroe in 1861 anticipated that day, enabling hundreds of enslaved African Americans to reach freedom in the Union lines. The rising number of “contrabands” camped here prompted the establishment of schools — antebellum slave codes had forbidden the education of slaves — and the freedmen exhibited “a great thirst for knowledge.”

Mary Peake, a free-born African American, had disregarded the law and taught slaves to read in her home near the Hampton Academy. After her house and the town of Hampton were burned on August 7, 1861, she taught in an abandoned cottage next to the Chesapeake Baptist Female Seminary. Peakeís death from tuberculosis in 1862 ended her outstanding work but did not end educational opportunities for contrabands. The American Missionary Association, a New York-based Christian philanthropic society, sent the Rev. Lewis C. Lockwood to Hampton in its first missionary endeavor of the war. When Lockwood arrived in September 1861, he noted that the “parents and children are delighted with the idea of learning to read.” The association established two
Emancipation Oak CWT Marker Photo, Click for full size
By Bernard Fisher, July 31, 2010
2. Emancipation Oak CWT Marker
schools here and sent appeals to Northerners to underwrite books, other supplies, and missionary teachers. Additional schools were created at Fort Monroe, Camp Hamilton, and the burned-out Hampton courthouse, which missionaries and contrabands renovated together. When Butler returned here in 1863, he used government funds to construct a school that could accommodate 600 students. Known as the Butler School, it was a frame building constructed in the shape of a Greek cross that stood, appropriately enough next to the Emancipation Oak.
Erected by Virginia Civil War Trails.
Marker series. This marker is included in the Virginia Civil War Trails marker series.
Location. 37° 1.385′ N, 76° 19.833′ W. Marker is in Hampton, Virginia. Marker can be reached from Emancipation Drive 0.1 miles east of East Tyler Street. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Hampton VA 23669, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Hampton Institute (a few steps from this marker); a different marker also named Emancipation Oak (within shouting distance of this marker); John Baptist Pierce (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Phoebus
The Emancipation Oak Photo, Click for full size
By Bernard Fisher, July 31, 2010
3. The Emancipation Oak
(approx. 0.2 miles away); Second Church at Kecoughtan (approx. 0.2 miles away); The Hampton Indian Program (approx. 0.4 miles away); Camp Hamilton (approx. 0.4 miles away); a different marker also named Phoebus (approx. half a mile away). Click for a list of all markers in Hampton.
More about this marker. On the lower left are a photo of “Gen. Benjamin Butler” and a sketch carrying the caption, “Contrabands escaping,” May 29, 1864 by Edwin Forbes. Many thousands of slaves emancipated themselves by fleeing to Union lines after Butlerís “contraband of war” decision became Federal policy. – Courtesy Library of Congress

On the upper right are a photo of “Mary Peake – Courtesy Hampton University Museum” and a sketch of “The Butler School” – Courtesy Timothy L. Smith
Also see . . .
1. Emancipation Oak. Hampton University (Submitted on August 1, 2010, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.) 

2. Mary Peake. African American Trailblazers in Virginia History, Library of Virginia
Contrabands Escaping Photo, Click for full size
By Edwin Forbes, May 29, 18
4. Contrabands Escaping
Library of Congress [LC-USZC4-1455]
(Submitted on August 1, 2010, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.) 

3. Tidewater Virginia - More Civil War Sites. Virginia Civil War Trails (Submitted on August 1, 2010, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.) 
Categories. African AmericansEducationWar, US Civil
Mary Smith Kelsey Peake (1823–1862) Photo, Click for full size
5. Mary Smith Kelsey Peake (1823–1862)
Courtesy Hampton University Museum
The Butler School Photo, Click for full size
July 31, 2010
6. The Butler School
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page has been viewed 1,863 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on , by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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