Some 150 years after Union forces created the first community in the US specifically for freed slaves, the area once known as Mitchelville is again being debated by the powers that be.
A proposal under consideration by the S.C. Senate includes $200,000 for the Mitchelville Preservation Project on Hilton Head Island.
The nonprofit group seeking to preserve Mitchelville officially formed two years ago, on the eve of the Civil War sesquicentennial. Plans are to buy plots adjoining a 33-acre beachfront town park toward the nonprofit’s long-term goal of recreating parts of the original town, according to The Associated Press.
The former community at the northern end of Hilton Head Island was formed after invading Union Army and Navy troops established headquarters at nearby Port Royal in fall 1861, just a few months after the beginning of the Civil War.
Federal forces created a safe haven for slaves left behind by plantation owners who fled inland and for slaves fleeing from plantations on nearby islands.
What was created was a village of between 1,500 and 2,000, named after Union Gen. Ormsby Mitchel.
It included homes built on half-acre parcels, town elections and mandatory schooling. Residents of the self-governing community dispersed after Union troops left in 1868, according to the wire service.
Slaves in at least one Northern community fared little better than those in the Deep South, according to a New Hampshire newspaper.
The Portsmouth Herald has detailed the findings of a report put together by archaeologists and scientists after a “Negro Burying Ground” was uncovered in the city in 2003.
At that time, a contractor excavating an area for a sewer manhole came across the base of a coffin. Eventually, eight bodies were found, ranging in age from 7 to 40 and all were Africans or of African descent.
“Some showed evidence of the hard work they performed throughout their short lives, some had poor teeth, some had childhood diseases,” according to the publication.
“This and much more was learned painstaking moment by painstaking moment by a group of archaeologists, dendochronologists, forensic anthropologists, historians and biochemists in the wake of the discovery of remains at what was once the city’s ‘Negro Burying Ground.’”
The eight bodies were among an estimated 200 Africans buried in what was then the outskirts of Portsmouth, once New Hampshire’s most populous city, from 1705 to the 1790s.