Although the Roanoke Island freedmenís colony was an experiment of national significance, few people are aware of its history. This new Website presents an introduction to the Roanoke Island freedmen's colony and the colonial experiment that was conducted there from 1862 to 1867. It also features some primary sources and maps, as well as projects for high school and college students.
During the Civil War, Union-occupied Roanoke Island, which lies between the North Carolina mainland and the barrier islands known as the Outer Banks, became home to thousands of former slaves. Initially the former slaves set up a camp and established their own churches and the first school for free blacks in North Carolina. In the spring of 1863, Major General John G. Foster, Commander of the 18th Army Corps, ordered Horace James, a Congregational minister from Massachusetts who was serving as a chaplain in the Union army, to establish an official colony of former slaves on the island. Military authorities anticipated that the colony would be home to the families of black men who were joining the Union army in eastern North Carolina. The idealistic James envisioned a permanent colony of 10,000 freedpeople on Roanoke Island, the basis of what he believed would be a "New Social Order" for the South. James was assisted by at least twenty-seven evangelical Protestant missionaries, mostly women, who came from New England to help the former slaves make the transition from slavery to freedom.
Prof. Patricia C. Click
Division of Technology, Culture, & Communication
School of Engineering and Applied Science
University of Virginia
A237 Thornton Hall, P. O. Box 400744
351 McCormick Road
Charlottesville VA 22904-4744
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