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LOCAL News :: Miscellaneous

Unearthing Richmond's slave history

Archaeological Survey Planned for Lumpkin's Jail Site

Shockoe Bottom, the historic valley where Richmond began, soon will be home to an important archaeological project expected to uncover valuable clues about Richmond's past.

Late this summer, The City of Richmond, in partnership with The Richmond Slave Trail Commission, The Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR), and the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods (A.C.O.R.N), will sponsor an archaeological survey of the site that was once Lumpkin's Jail, the largest and best-known slave pen and boarding house for slave traders in antebellum Richmond. After the Civil War, Lumpkin's Jail became a school for newly freed blacks-the forerunner of the institution known today as Virginia Union University. To be undertaken on City-owned land in Shockoe Bottom, the archaeological survey is intended to determine the presence or absence of intact cultural remains associated with Lumpkin's Jail and whether further archaeological study is warranted.
Lumpkins Jail
Virginia Union University
"Only by exploring the corridors of our past can we find the keys to our future. As we continue discussions regarding the economic development of Shockoe Bottom, serious consideration must be given to this area's historical richness. The potential findings of this project can not only provide us with additional information about this area's past, but can be instrumental in our determinations of its future," said Rev. Delores L. McQuinn, 7th District Councilwoman and Chair of the Richmond Slave Trail Commission."

"For more than a century, the history of Lumpkin's jail has been buried-literally," said Jennie Dotts, Executive Director of A.C.O.R.N. "We are excited to be a part of this opportunity to discover important and long-neglected remains of Richmond's past that may shed new light on both local and world history."

"Archaeology is an often forgotten and overlooked aspect of City planning--out of sight, out of mind," noted Kathleen S. Kilpatrick, Director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. "We applaud the City's leadership in setting a high standard for stewardship in an area that resonates with history. This study will tell us whether there are still physical remains in the ground that can help tell an important story."

The multi-phase assessment will begin with the careful review of historic insurance maps and other documents to approximate the location of Lumpkin's Jail on the current city landscape. The area then will be tested via the mechanical excavation of two trenches to determine the presence of the original 1860 land surface, as well as the mapping of the soil profile containing the different layers of earth and artifacts. If intact layers with artifacts are found, hand excavation will begin. The testing will take about one week to complete and Virginia Union University students have been invited to observe. A final archaeological report of the findings will be released by the end of the year.

ABOUT LUMPKIN'S JAIL: Called the "Devil's Half Acre," during the time of slavery, Lumpkin's Jail was where tens of thousands of Africans not only were imprisoned, whipped, sold and shuttled out on ship, railroad or by foot to plantations throughout the Deep South, but died as a result of inhumane conditions and treatment. The biggest and most notorious jail in the city that operated the largest slave export business in the United States in the decades prior to the Civil War, Lumpkin's Jail was eventually converted into a school for
freed slaves in 1867. Founded by the American Baptist Home Missionary Society and the National Theological Institute, the school grew into what is called today Virginia Union University. The transformation earned Lumpkin's a new nickname, "God's Half Acre." The former site of Lumpkin's Jail is now a parking lot bordered by Main Street Train Station's Train Shed, East Main Street, I-95 Interstate and E. Broad Street.

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