Little Monuments, 1607 – 1861

Welcome to the Little Monuments in Grace Park, Richmond, Virginia

As long as our lives endure, may grace now lead them home.
May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America.

Grace Park
Click for larger map of Grace Park.

We begin our journey 400 years ago at the south end of N. Allen Avenue at Park Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. Six blocks hence, at Broad Street, we will have walked the span of Virginia History. We will walk with the people who created our history and insofar as possible (with both the advantages and disadvantages of historical perspective), we need to understand their lives, their motivations and their actions as they themselves understood them. Reach for that understanding. Mindful that understanding is neither acceptance nor rejection, praise nor condemnation. It is understanding. It might grow into empathy, even sympathy. As we cannot see the consequences of our own actions over the expanse of time and future generations neither could these our fellow Virginians.  They did not live in history any more than do we. They lived their todays. They were women and men with strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes their better angels soared. Sometimes they fell far short. They ~ like us ~ walk imperfectly forward.

We walk with the figures of history toward the future. We approach each “little monument” from behind, stand with it for its moment in time, listen to his or her story, and move forward in time. There are 25 “little monuments” leading us through 400 years of Virginia History. These “little monuments” are life sized, eye level, simple, understated, integrated into the existing median strip landscape. As each is approached, audio(1) describing the events of that day begins to play. The Radio Players of Firehouse Theatre(2) tell the stories of each period — told by individuals, an amalgamation of personal historic accounts and personal stories whenever possible. Like a Ken Burns’ film, an individual’s voice telling the nation’s story.

(1) Resisting for the moment, holograms.
(2) Just around the corner from Grace Park on Broad Street.
(Ok truth be told, I’ve not asked them yet but they’d be perfect)

Grace Park is the Allen Avenue median strip between Monument Avenue and Broad Street. In this design, we’ve added the median south of Monument to Park so that Grace Park runs six blocks — 3 two-block areas — from Park Avenue to Broad Street, from the 17th Century to the 21st.

We begin our walk through Virginia history at Park and Allen …

Grace Park South ~ (Park to Monument)

Jamestown Founded
Little Monument:
John Smith & Chief Powhatan
Slaves arrive @ Jamestown Two men, one chained, one carrying a musket
Founding Fathers & Slave Owners Statue of Geo. Washington with his slave
Slave Rebellions Slave with club drawn back over shoulder
Virginia Slavery Debate Legislator holding a law book
Underground Railroad Henry “Box” Brown in a 2’x3’x3′ crate

Founded on May 4, 1607, Jamestown Colony was the first permanent English settlement in the New World. If memory serves that’s almost verbatim from my 7th grade Virginia History book. Our first Little Monument begins our story with the meeting of the Native population and the English immigrants. (Reverend Ben Campbell’s must-read book “Richmond’s Unhealed History” sheds light on this period that was excluded from that 7th grade history book.)

A dozen years later, the first Africans — described by John Rolfe as “20 and odd Negroes” — were brought to the New World in chains as slaves. Our second Little Monument begins the description of “the peculiar institution” that defined and haunted the American experiment from its earliest day.  (see also “The History of Slavery in Virginia.”)

Little Monument 3 defines slavery as so enshrined in the law of the Commonwealth that seven of eight Virginia Presidents owned slaves (Wilson, obviously, not). In total, Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Harrison, Tyler and Taylor owned more than 800 humans. (see also “Presidents Who Owned Slaves”). While serving as President in Philadelphia, Washington complied with Pennsylvania’s “Gradual Abolition Act of 1780” by moving his slaves between the capital and Mount Vernon every six months to avoid automatic emancipation. (see also “George Washington, Slave Catcher)

Little Monument 4 — “During the 19th century, there were two major attempted slave revolts in Virginia: Gabriel’s Rebellion in 1800 and Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831. As a result, the Virginia legislature ended the ability of slaveholders to independently free their slaves and required each manumission to be approved by an act of the legislature. In addition, it passed laws that restricted rights of free people of color, prohibiting them from bearing arms and reducing gathering in groups.” (source: Wikipedia)

Little Monument 5 — “The Virginia slavery debate occurred in the House of Delegates during its 1831–1832 session and was prompted by a slave insurrection in August 1831 led by Nat Turner. In the months that followed, about forty petitions, signed by more than 2,000 Virginians, urged the General Assembly to engage the problems associated with slavery. […]  January 25, 1832 – The House of Delegates votes not to legislate on emancipation, deeming “that a further action for the removal of the slaves should await a more definite development of public opinion.” (source: Encyclopedia Virginia, “The Virginia Slavery Debate of 1831-32)

Little Monument 6 tells the story of the underground railroad and other methods of escape to the north including the 1849 story of Virginia’s own Henry “Box” Brown. A slave in Richmond, Brown managed to have himself shipped north in a 2x3x3 foot crate after his wife, owned by a different master and pregnant with their fourth child, was sold away to North Carolina, along with their three children. (see also “Fugitive Slave Laws).

NEXT: Little Monuments, 1861 – 1865

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