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Begin More about Richmond's Black Residents

Many of Richmond’s black residents — both slaves and more than 2,500 free blacks — enjoyed a slightly higher degree of freedom here than they might have in a more rural setting.

A large percentage of Richmond’s slave population was “hired out” by country owners for labor in the city. In many cases, slaves lived independently. They were free to find their own lodging, make the most of their own time and earn money with overtime work.

But, wary of this “at large” slave population and thousands of free blacks, city leaders restricted their freedom with the enforcement of laws that, among other things, barred all blacks from riding in carriages and carrying canes on the street. Blacks were forced to disperse within 30 minutes of church services and were made to carry their papers at all times. Those violating these laws were subject to penalties including whipping and, for the free blacks, being sold into slavery.

More than half of Richmond’s slaves labored in the city’s tobacco warehouses and factories. However, many others, free and slave, worked in virtually every industrial enterprise in Richmond, in many cases holding important skilled positions. Many — slave and free — worked as barbers, teamsters, carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, housemaids and cooks. Some free blacks owned their own shops and a few owned slaves of their own.

The war created a shortage of white workers, and blacks were called to fill the gap. The Tredegar Iron Works alone hired more than 1,000 slaves during the war.


1  More about the Exchange Hotel

Advertisement in the March 26, 1861, Richmond Dispatch:

To remain in, or near the city, an able young negro man, about twenty-two years of age, also, a woman, good Cook and Washer, about forty-five years old, and a good Teamster, (not restricted to the city) for sale or for hire the balance of the year.
Apply at once to E.A. Cocke,
Office on 14th st., Exchange Hotel Building.

One of the finest hotels in Richmond for decades, the Exchange once hosted a post office, reading room, baths, stores — and at least one slave auctioneer’s headquarters. In the 1850s, John Ballard bought the Exchange and built the Ballard House across the street. The merged hotels then were connected with a walkway over Franklin Street. Among the guests and visitors at the Exchange Hotel prior to the war were Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, songstress Jenny Lind, and the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

Many Confederate notables, including Robert E. Lee, chose the Exchange during post-war visits to the city.


3  The Reconciliation Statue

StatueArtist: Stephen Broadbent

Dedicated in 2007, this memorial stands very near the heart of Richmond’s slave market before and during the war.

The triangle represents the regret of three communities that were involved in the slave trade: Richmond; Liverpool, England; and Benin, West Africa. Identical statures are located in all three places.


7  More about Masonic Hall

This is the oldest Masonic structure built for that purpose in the United States. John Marshall, George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette were visitors here. The building served as a hospital during the War of 1812. One of the largest meeting places in Richmond before the war, the Mason’s Hall was rented for various community events, including an exhibition by tightrope acrobats.