Behind the scene of the Alexandria Gazette story on “Alexandria African American’s Emancipation Day” – April 7, 1864, dated April 5, 2018.
One of the important figures in the fight for Virginia’s enslaved people was Francis H. Pierpont (Pierpoint). Pierpont was born in 1814 in Monongalia County, Virginia (now part of West Virginia). His
political career started around 1840 when he made speeches across western Virginia in behave of Whig presidential nominees. Pierpont was a pro-Union man. His activism won him leadership among other Unionist and antislavery activist.
In April 1861, Virginia voted to secede. This prompted the Unionist western delegations in Virginia to organize the First Wheeling Convention in May 1861. At this meeting, Pierpont promoted the idea of reorganization of the state government. By June 1861, Pierpont was unanimously elected governor of the Restored government of Virginia. Wheeling at that time was considered to be in Virginia. On June 20, 1863, West Virginia became a State and Wheeling became part of West Virginia.
During the Civil War, the Restored Government of Virginia under Pierpont moved their Capitol from West Virginia to Alexandria, Virginia. After moving their Capitol to Alexandria, Pierpont advocated for free schools for freedmen and in 1864 voted to amend the State Constitutional aiming to abolish slavery. On April 7, 1864, the new Constitution was adopted at the Virginia Constitutional Convention abolishing slavery in Union control areas in Virginia. These areas included Northern and Eastern Virginia.
On December 16, 1864, Pierpont recommended that the marriages of former slaves and the children who resulted from them be legitimized by Virginia law. Also Pierpont recommended that a number of laws designed to transition the state to life without slavery. On February 27, 1866, Pierpont recommendation to legalize the marriages of former slaves and the children who resulted from them passed the Virginia General Assemble as the “Cohabitation Act.”
Since 1864, Alexandria African Americans celebrated their Emancipation with parades, conferences and banquets for fifty-years. The Emancipation ceremonies were held at several venues over the fifty-year span which included: Huffs Hall North West and Montgomery Street; Roberts Chapel (Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church); Third Baptist Church; Shiloh Baptist Church – speaker future Congressman John M. Langston; Lannon’s Opera House – speakers Congressman John M. Langston and Frederick Douglass, Jr.; Third Baptist Church; Alexandria’s Fair Grounds; and Odds Fellows.
For all the Descendants of former enslaved people in Alexandria, Virginia, Happy Emancipation Day!