Little Known Black History Fact: The Rappahannock River

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  • The Rappahannock River is a watery area near Fredericksburg, VA that marked the end of the Underground Railroad for many slaves. The longest free-flowing river in the Chesapeake Bay, the Rappahannock was the river crossed in fall of 1862 when the legal end of slavery was near.  During the Civil War, slaves crossed the river to freedom, which was behind Union lines. Parents sent children across the river past gunfire from the Civil War, in hopes they would gain freedom.

    150 years ago, families traveled some 1,200 feet up the Cow Ford area to the Rappahannock and past the Orange & Alexandria Bridge. The river spanned 400 feet wide.

    Arrivals were recorded when General John Pope’s Army of Virginia retreated from Culpeper County between August 18th and August 20, 1862. A photographer captured the moment when the slaves reached the other side of the river, indicating a new life.

    Photos of the “River Walkers” crossing the Rappahannock are currently located at the Library of Congress.

    Last week the city of Fredericksburg held a special ceremony to honor the emancipating events that happened in 1862. During the event which was called “Crossing the Rappahannock: A Pilgrimage to Freedom,” Gov. Bob McDonnell presented a certificate of recognition to commemorate the mid-nineteenth century historical triumph.

     

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