February 12th, 2012 – by: Andy99
Civil War map of Mason Neck
When Susan and I learned that Gunston Hall's annual Seeds of Independence Program would discuss the impact of the Civil War on the Mason Neck peninsula in Fairfax County, we made plans to attend. (Se my reivew of Gunston Hall at the beginning of the Virginia blog.)
The program began at 2:00 p.m. with the premiere of a new short documentary film produced by Gunston Hall. Entitled "Between the Lines: Free Blacks Living on Mason Neck During the Civil War," the film explored the changes the Civil War brought to the lives of Freedmen living on the peninsula. The tobacco economy had already collapsed and slaveholding plantations like Gunston Hall were in decline. The descendants of slaves who had been emancipated from Mount Vernon and other plantations began to acquire small farm holdings.
Between the Lines display
With the coming of war, the Occoquon River, just a few miles away, marked the dividing line between the Confederate lines reaching north from Fredericksburg
and the Union defenses of Washington, DC, extending south from occupied Alexandria. Although there were no major battles on Mason Neck, there were skirmishes as pickets from both sides scouted the countryside. African-Americans supported the Union troops and often acted as guides through the wooded terrain.
Following the film, a Professor of Musuem Studies from George Washington University gave a lecture entitled "On Uneven Ground: Finding Freedom in the Civil War Chesapeake." She also reviewed the economic conditions immediately preceding the war, and placed the Mason Neck community within the lager picture of the Virginia-Maryland Chesapeake Bay region.
Displays on Mason Neck during the Civil War
Her lecture brought up the large slave trading business in Alexandria that I explored the weekend before in this blog. (But she also had the interesting statistic that Alexandria had the third largest population of free Blacks in the Southern states prior to the Civil War, yet the slave trade remained a major industry.) Mason Neck, just across from the Confederate lines, became a waypoint for refugees who had escaped bondage during the war. Many stayed, and so the makeup of the peninsula changed, with fewer African-Americans having prewar connections to the area. But new communities were founded. Across from the entrance to Gunston Hall is Shiloh Baptist Church. The congregation was founded by a newly emancipated population and older African-Amercian families sold land to the new church. It is an institution now. At the end of the program, a reception included a sample of Gladys Bushrod's Sweet Potato Pie receipe. ( A treat. It is something like pumpkin pie, but lighter.) Mrs. Bushrod, born in 1908 in Mason Neck, has been a fixture of Shiloh Baptist Church where her pie became famous at church events.