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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Helena in Phillips County, Arkansas — The American South (West South Central)
 

Helena's Contraband Camps

 
 
Helena's Contraband Camps Marker image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, August 25, 2017
1. Helena's Contraband Camps Marker
Inscription.
Thousands of freedom seekers came with the Union army when it occupied Helena in July 1862. They had no place to live, no food and no way to support themselves.

Under the Army's Care
It was up to the Union army to care for the flood of freedom seekers. At first, the army housed the refugees wherever they could find room. For a short time, some lived in a barn at St. Catherine's Convent. Others lived in tents and hastily built shanties. Crowded, primitive camps stood all along this road, now Biscoe Street. The army had no experience housing and feeding thousands of civilians. The refugees in Helena suffered for weeks.

Making a Life in Helena
Eventually, the army developed procedures to help the refugees. Charitable organizations in the North sent food, medicine, doctors, nurses and teachers. The freedom seekers helped themselves-growing vegetable gardens and finding jobs with the army. Men worked as laborers, building Fort Curtis and the earthworks on Crowley's Ridge. They worked as stable hands, teamsters, personal servants and cooks. Women cooked and cleaned, and washed and mended clothes for officers and enlisted men.

Contraband Become Freedmen
Later,
Helena's Contraband Camps Marker as part of a display in Freedom Park. image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, August 25, 2017
2. Helena's Contraband Camps Marker as part of a display in Freedom Park.
as Freedmen, many men joined the Union army. Others earned wages working for the army, civilians in Helena, and on plantations outside of town. By 1864, four camps housed most of Helena's former slaves-Helena, Island 63 (in the Mississippi River), Freedmen's Fort and Fort Pinney.

{Inset}
Why were Freedom Seekers Called Contraband
In August 1861, the commander of Fortress Monroe in Virginia refused to return several fugitive slaves to their masters, declaring them "contraband of war." From that time, escaped slaves within Union lines were called Contraband.

{Photo Captions}
{Top right} These photos of refugee slaves were taken in and near Helena during the Civil War. The army housed Contraband in tents on the outskirts of the city. The refugees built simple shelters to house themselves and their families. The photo to the left shows refugee slaves sitting in front of a home in Helena. A Union soldier stands on the porch.
{Bottom left} Many refugees found work with the Union army and with soldiers and civilians. After the Union army instituted the plantation lease system, some worked on farms outside of town. The photos on the left were take in and near Helena.

 
Erected 2013 by Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission.
This marker is under the shelter on far left in Freedom Park. image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, August 25, 2017
3. This marker is under the shelter on far left in Freedom Park.

 
Location. 34° 30.74′ N, 90° 35.588′ W. Marker is in Helena, Arkansas, in Phillips County. Marker can be reached from the intersection of Biscoe Street (Business U.S. 49) and Little Rock Road. Touch for map. Located within Freedom Park. Marker is at or near this postal address: 700 Biscoe Street, Helena AR 72342, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Hard Road to Equal Rights (a few steps from this marker); Freedom in Helena! (within shouting distance of this marker); Seizing Freedom (within shouting distance of this marker); Becoming Soldiers (within shouting distance of this marker); Holding the Little Rock Road (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); African American Troops Held This Ground (about 300 feet away); General J.F. Fagan's Attack (approx. half a mile away); Battery D (approx. half a mile away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Helena.
 
More about this marker. Once the location of a contraband camp, this park is the first location in Arkansas designated as a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site. It's also part of Arkansas Civil War Discovery Trail.
 
Also see . . .  Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture article on Contraband Camps. (Submitted on September 2, 2017, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.)
 
Categories. African AmericansWar, US Civil
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on September 2, 2017. This page originally submitted on September 2, 2017, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. This page has been viewed 68 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on September 2, 2017, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.
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