CLARK B. HALL: Rare images record freedom in the making – starexponent.com

With an ox-drawn wagon, formerly enslaved people cross the Rappahannock River below Martins Mill at Rappahannock Station as Union soldiers watch on Aug. 19, 1862, four months before President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation in this image captured by Timothy OSullivan. The war correspondents glass-plate negative cracked.

An observer holds one of Timothy OSullivans images at the spot where he recorded a very rare wartime scene of African Americans fleeing to freedom behind Union army lines.

Participants cross the Rappahannock River at Cows Ford below Remington in August 2012, for the Culpeper-area communitys 150th anniversary commemoration of self-emancipation scenes captured by Civil War photographer Timothy OSullivan.

Formerly enslaved people cross the Rappahannock River below Martins Mill (right) at Rappahannock Station, as Union soldiers watch. The river, separating Culpeper and Fauquier counties, divided Confederate and Union-held territory in the summer of 1862.

The most famous picture, arguably, to emerge from the American Civil War was taken 158 years ago in the middle of the Rappahannock River, separating Culpeper and Fauquier counties, on Aug. 19, 1862.

This compelling image does not depict soldiers at war, or in camp. No, this immortal picture reveals a group of former enslaved people fleeing Culpeper for the region north of the Rappahannock that most slaves simply called the Free State.

But before I continue, here is some background.

In 1860, Culpeper County boasted about 12,000 inhabitants, including 6,653 enslaved people. More than 700 individuals owned slaves; 84 planters owned 20 or more slaves. Culpeper farms averaged 260 acres, and the average holding was 10 enslaved people.

Wheat was the money crop, and the intensive labor that planted and harvested such crops was provided almost entirely by slaves that farmers owned or hired from other sources. And when a Culpeper slave was hired off from one farm to another, it goes without saying thatin many casestheir family was torn asunder for months, on end.

Quite often, once separated, family members were never reunited. It is a fact that the planter class cared only about sustaining an enslaved family if it was profitable to do so. As these farmers saw it, they were businessmen, and slaves, after all, were commodities to be bought, sold and abused, as they saw fit. Slaveholding was a business, pure and simple. Nothing sentimental about it.

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CLARK B. HALL: Rare images record freedom in the making - starexponent.com

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