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Blog: Richmond Slave Trail

Students along the slave trail

The eighth-grade class visited the south side portion of the Richmond Slave Trail last week, walking from Ancarrow’s Landing to the floodwall just short of the Mayo Bridge. The trip was meant to enhance students’ reading of Gary Paulson’s Nightjohn, a novel about a slave who risked his life to teach other slaves to read. 

In this blog post, the students themselves relay what they gleaned from this experience. Below are excerpts from the students’ own writing. 

Before our trip, I hadn’t even heard of the Slave Trail. We hiked half of it on a frigidly cold morning. Nearly everyone was complaining of the cold. This made me inquisitive about how the slaves felt while making the trek. The slaves hiked the trail during summer, winter, spring, and fall, all while being inadequately clothed.  Besides being inadequately clothed the slaves were shackled around the ankle, feet, and neck. These are a couple of ways human cruelty is presented.  I was aghast when I learned about unsanitary ship packaging. On a slave ship, there were different sections, and inside these sections, people were packed tightly together. If the slaves happened to survive the treacherous journey overseas, they were held in captivity in prison-like conditions, while waiting to be auctioned. One of these was Lumpkin’s Jail. Lumpkin’s Jail was known to be an especially cruel place located right here in the heart of Richmond. 

Yesterday our class went on a field trip to the Richmond Slave Trail. As we walked we stopped and read the plaques with information on the site’s history. I learned about many things like how the slaves were shipped across the Atlantic and where they went once they arrived. One plaque really interested me though. It had information on a slave revolt that happened in 1841 while a shipment of enslaved people was being transported to New Orleans. During the transit, a group of slaves took over the ship and sailed to a British-owned port. Once there they escaped and were set free. I enjoyed learning about this because it was one of very few plaques with an inspiring story. It showed that no matter how horrible something maybe, there will always be those who resist it and fight for what is good.

I enjoyed our field trip to the Richmond Slave Trail a lot. We learned about the history of slavery, such as the Creole Slave Rebellion. When African enslaved people were being exported to New Orleans, they had a plan to commandeer the ship and sail it to a British colony in the Bahamas. The plan was successful, and they were free. This act shows bravery, courage, and empowerment despite cruelty, racism, slavery, and suffering. 

On Wednesday, we took a field trip to the Richmond Slave Trail. I learned about things like how slaves were shipped to America, how they were held captive, etc. I learned how brutal and unfair things were to them. Obviously, I already knew how they were treated but not to this much detail. I took in how cold it was, even when wearing a coat and clothes. I had to stop and imagine what it would have been like to walk in this weather wearing nothing. I also learned about revolutions led by slaves, and how they impacted others' lives. Overall the trail is well kept and I'm grateful that we had the opportunity to turn a trail that exists for such a sad reason into a learning experience.

Richmond was the second largest slave export center in the country. The boats that carried the slaves were unsanitary, cramped, and unfit for a human person to live or travel in them. The slaves were sold at auction houses. Lumpkin was a slave exporter and he lived with his family in the area above the aution houses. Lumpkin Jail was a place where slaves were kept until sold. It was also a place where they were punished, whipped and tortured. The slaves had to walk in chains for many miles just to get to the auction houses. This whole treatment of people is horrible and should never ever be done because it is inhumane and unjust. 

The field trip to the Richmond Slave Trail was an eye opening experience. My dad's house is actually very close to the trail. I had no idea that this sad piece of history was so close. It was so heartbreaking to know that these people had to walk with no or barely any clothing in the frigid cold. They knew they would be separated from their families, tortured and would probably die. With the knowledge of what these people went through we should honor those who have died by assisting in the cleanup of the trail. We should also place stones to mark where the souls of the innocent rest forever more.