Phoebus in Hampton, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
“Thirst for Knowledge”
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. Butler’s “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. Peake’s 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
Erected by Virginia Civil War Trails.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African Americans • Education • War, US Civil. In addition, it is included in the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and the Virginia Civil War Trails series lists. A significant historical month for this entry is January 1863.
Location. This marker has been replaced by another marker nearby. It was located near 37° 1.385′ N, 76° 19.833′ W. Marker was in Hampton, Virginia. It was in Phoebus. Touch for map. Marker was in this post office area: Hampton VA 23669, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this location. A different marker also named Emancipation Oak (here, next to 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 (approx. 0.2 miles away); Second Church at Kecoughtan (approx. ¼ mile away); First Church at Kecoughtan (approx. ¼ mile away); This Wall (approx. ¼ mile away). Touch for a list and map 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 Butler’s “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
Related marker. Click here for another marker that is related to this marker. This marker has been replaced with the linked marker which slightly different formatting and text.
Also see . . .
1. Emancipation Oak. Hampton University (Submitted on August 1, 2010, by Bernard Fisher of Richmond, Virginia.)
2. Mary Peake. African American Trailblazers in Virginia History, Library of Virginia (Submitted on August 1, 2010, by Bernard Fisher of Richmond, Virginia.)
Credits. This page was last revised on February 1, 2023. It was originally submitted on August 1, 2010, by Bernard Fisher of Richmond, Virginia. This page has been viewed 2,868 times since then and 147 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on August 1, 2010, by Bernard Fisher of Richmond, Virginia.