Virginia remembers slave history with 10,000 lights

Reenactors are shown in Historic Kenmore at the home of George Washington\'s sister. (WTOP Photo/Kathy Stewart)

Kathy Stewart,

WASHINGTON – Virginia is illuminating the banks of the Rappahannock River with 10,000 lights Saturday evening in remembrance of the thousands of slaves that risked death to find freedom 150 years ago.

“This is a story that really hasn’t been told,” says John Hennessy, National Park Service chief historian at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

At least 10,000 slaves made the mass exodus in spring 1862 when the union army arrived in Stafford.

The slaves freed themselves by crossing the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg and reaching union lines on the Stafford side months before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

“It was one of the largest exoduses of slaves to freedom anywhere during the war,” Hennessy says.

They came from all over Virginia, even as far away as Richmond, Hennessy says. Some lived in Maryland and crossed the Potomac into Stafford County to get to union lines.

A union soldier wrote how every ten minutes he would see another slave or family of slaves making their way across the river, Hennessy says.

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