Old Point Comfort, August 25, 1619. 400 years later location and a date that doesn’t initially conjure feelings of comfort. But it is the place where many gathered together in order to commemorate one of Virginia’s many major events for it was at Old Point Comfort that Englishmen, guilty of privateering, arrived with the infamously ambiguous “Twenty and Odd Negroes.”
I won’t retell the story, as I have covered these historical events in two episodes, which will be linked below. Instead, let me highlight some of the 400th Commemoration ceremony that took place on August 24th, 2019.
Entrance to Fort Monroe
The “Twenty and Odd” would have arrived at Fort Monroe’s great-grandfather, Fort Algernourne (aka Algernon), which was originally built in 1609.
Welcome sign on monitors outside of Fort Monroe’s grounds.
At one time slave traders plied the Chesapeake Bay. Today, the waterway known as Hampton Roads remains one of the world’s busiest ports of call as ships like these sail past Fort Monroe.
The Gazebo just outside of Fort Monroe.
Fort Monroe was commissioned in 1819 as a result of the War of 1812. It never saw battle, though it became a symbol of hope and salvation for nearby slaves 4 decades later.
Old Point Comfort Lighthouse overlooking tents at the 400th Commemoration Ceremony.
Museum, Educator, and Vendor tents readying themselves for the weekend’s events.
The Southern/Bay facing entrance into Fort Monroe with “Quareters Number 1” where President Lincoln planned an attack on nearby Norfolk in the background.
The American Flag overlooking Fort Monroe and Hampton Roads
Commemoration 2019 workers going over the day’s activities just after sunrise August 24, 2019
Fort Monroe was abuzz hours before the official ceremony began. Local police officers and volunteers steered traffic through the streets, while tour guides and National Park Service personnel polished last minute details in advance of the day’s soon-to-be-arriving spectators.
I.C. Norcom High School choir serenaded arriving attendees
Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck welcomed guests to the 400th Commemoration
Some of the Commemoration’s distinguished guests on stage
Commemoration guests settling into place as Mayor Tuck opened the day’s festivities
Former Representative Jim Moran
Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates Kirkland Cox offering his opening remarks.
Onlookers under the tent at the 400th Commemoration Ceremony.
The US Air Force Color Guard
Hampton’s Ms. Chelsea Griffin sings the National Anthem.
Dr. Joseph Green, Pastor and Cofounder of the Antioch Assembly offering his thoughts on such a profound day.
The program unfolded with a series of short speeches by many of Virginia’s political leaders as well as officials from the rest of the country. The highlight of the day, however, had to be 11 year old Brycen Dildy’s speech that brought the crowd to its feet.
Former Governor and Senator Tim Kaine on stage
Former Governor Mark Warner
California Representative Karen Bass
Distinguished guests on stage for the 400th Commemoration Ceremony
Representative Bobby Scott
The Tent Crowd at the 400th Commemoration Ceremony
The Grounds Crowd at the 400th Commemoration Ceremony
Representative Elaine Luria
Governor Ralph Northam offers the keynote address.
L-R, Elaine Luria, Bobby Scott, Mark Warner, and Ralph Northam.
Jacquelyn E. Stone delivering poet Nikki Giovanni’s poem to the audience.
National Park Service Deputy Director Dan Smith
Fort Monroe NPS Superintendent Terry Brown being honored for his service
Larkspur Middle School’s Brycen Dildy brought the house to their feet.
Virginia State Representative and former Hampton Mayor Mamie Locke
CNN’s “Van” Jones
Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax delivered the final speech of the day.
Reverend Walter Barrett, Jr. delivering the benediction.
I.C. Norcom HS Choir performing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to close out the ceremony
To finish the day, I took a small side adventure of my own. First I visited nearby William Tucker Cemetery. The Cemetery is name for William Tucker, one of the first African’s to be born in Virginia, and it is the final resting place for many Tucker generations.
Sign marking the entrance to the William Tucker Cemetery in Hampton, Virginia
William Tucker Cemetery
William Tucker Cemetery
I ended the day on a poignantly solemn note in visiting one of Virginia’s great freedom symbols – Emancipation Oak at Hampton University. This beautiful, captivating tree witnessed Hampton’s Africans hearing the first reading of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Officially no slaves were yet freed, because the famous Proclamation applied to slaves in the Confederate States, though the words certainly encouraged more enslaved blacks to make the almost 3 mile walk to nearby Fort Monroe, where they received asylum by Major General Benjamin Butler. Thus Virginia’s African story returned to her starting point as Africans once again became “Contraband of War” as they realistically were in 1619. This time, however, Old Point Comfort lived up to her name, and comfort in the midst of war came for those escaping slavery’s chains.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured image is of a recreated slave cabin at the 400th Commemoration of Virginia’s First Africans.