By Dr. Lauranett Lee
University of Richmond
Every day and in every way, enslaved people sought freedom – often times seizing it as opportunities arose. Yet, their flight was neither impulsive nor improbable but deliberate and purposefully planned. They made decisions that would have a lasting impact not only on themselves but the loved ones left to languish in slavery. Who to trust and tell, what to take, how to travel and when, where to go and with whom? Fragments from primary sources provide clues and help us piece together freedom flights but we will never know the full story.
On Saturday, April 14 at 2 p.m. Kelly Hancock, Dylan Pritchett, Joseph Rogers, Jamar Jones, Shalandis Wheeler Smith and I will conduct an immersive tour and discussion with the audience. Our rehearsals have enabled us to look at what we know about the enslaved people who lived and worked with The Davis Family, what we don’t know, what we wish we knew and how we know what we know. We have fashioned a narrative to engage the audience as we consider the motivations and steps toward seizing freedom during war. Moving through the house we explore the possibilities of conversations between and beyond enslaved people as they grapple with choices fraught with the unknown. Do they dare leave the familiar and everything they have come to know as part of their daily existence for freedom? Will they risk their well-being and the well-being of loved ones to seize their freedom? How do they cope with the unfamiliar and possible danger; with lost and with probable retribution? They had already been faced with the vagaries of slavery – when families were separated; when “heartbreak day” rolled around on January 1st and when the slave trade sucked them further into an inhumane and degrading life of misery. What must the enslaved people have thought living in such close proximity to Shockoe Bottom where the slave trade thrived, even during war; where the city of Richmond itself, as the Capitol of Confederacy, experienced changes and challenges? What did loyalty mean when hope of reuniting families was so near and possible?
Here, in this domestic environment, the inhabitants processed the world around them in new ways. Trust and loyalty, faith and freedom collided and shaped endings and beginnings. Join us as we share the fragments of lives long gone in which individuals like Betsy and James, among others, who lived and worked here, explored their possibilities.