400 Years of History Comes Alive in Hampton Virginia!

{I was hosted by The Hampton CVB for this visit to Hampton. All opinions expressed are my own. I hope you enjoy!}

The year is 1619.

Two very significant events take place in Virginia. The Virginia House of Burgesses convenes its first assembly in Jamestown in the month of July.

And in the following month of August, the first enslaved Africans landed on the shores of what is now Hampton Virginia. 

One was a step in a positive direction for the colonies, the other was the beginning of more than two centuries of the legalized enslavement of African peoples. 

First Landing historical highway marker on the grounds of Ft. Monroe. Photo credit: Dee Dean
First Landing historical highway marker on the grounds of Ft. Monroe. Photo credit: Dee Dean

And for the next 400 years, Hampton would have an important narrative to tell. This narrative chronicles the beginning of the system of slavery in the United States and the journey enslaved peoples through slavery all the way to their emancipation. It goes on to tell of the education of black men and women, and the establishment of thriving black communities in Hampton, and the people who thrived and excelled…and made history. 

Hampton is more than a place to visit for recreation. It is also a fantastic and relevant place to experience history up close. There are buildings and structures and places that have been kept or renovated to help tell the story. There is nothing like being able to touch history, in a literal sense. 

In tandem with the Commemoration of 400 years of African impact that is taking place this year in the city of Hampton, let me share with you a few key places that I highly recommend visiting to hear and see the historic narrative.

There is History Here Everywhere You Turn

On my recent trip to Hampton, I was astounded to find the many places that help to tell the story! And these are places that are accessible for most people who live in the area, or who want to travel to learn the deeper history.

Freedom’s Fortress – Fort Monroe and the Casemate Museum

Fort Monroe was recently decommissioned as an Army base in 2011. And in that same year, President Obama signed a proclamation that designated parts of Ft. Monroe as a National Monument, so it is one of our nation’s newest national monuments.

Photo credit: Dee Dean

This is the site of the landing of the first Africans in 1619 at Old Point Comfort. It is also known as “Freedom’s Fortress” because thousands of slaves found their freedom here under the “Contraband of War” declaration by Union Commander Major General Benjamin Butler.

On the grounds of the former military installation is where you can take a walking tour inside the Fort’s Casemate Museum. This particular tour shares some of the story in greater detail.


Learning about Freedom's Fortress in the casemate. Photo credit: Dee Dean
Learning about Freedom’s Fortress in the casemate. Photo credit: Dee Dean

In addition, you can take advantage of a creative way to cover a lot of the grounds and learn a lot of history – a Segway tour! I was a little apprehensive at first because I had never ridden a Segway before. However, Randy of Patriot Tours was so patient and confident that I could do it that I believed him. And he was right!  By the end I felt like a pro. This one-hour “Breeze” tour takes riders through the inner fort and down to the waterfront. Randy pointed out sites of historical significance and gave us facts that I never learned in the textbooks. {Incidentally, we covered so much of the Fort in just 1 hour, something we could never have done on a walking tour.}

*Note: There is a new Fort Monroe Visitor & Education Center that will be opening soon. It is a new asset to Fort Monroe that will interpret the history of Fort Monroe from its first Native inhabitants to the first African arrival, the Civil War and beyond.

Providing Education – Hampton University & The Emancipation Oak

The Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, now Hampton University, opened its doors in 1868 under founder General Samuel Chapman Armstrong. The institution educated newly freed southern slaves, and later Native Americans. 

One of the things General Armstrong wanted to do was to make sure that the students of Hampton Institute were exposed to fine art, and so he began with the Curiosity Room to house different artifacts. This “room” has now evolved into the Hampton University Museum, which is one of the oldest and best collections of African art in the country. It houses over 9,000 pieces of traditional and contemporary art from around the world. Photos and videos are not permitted, so I can only show you the outside of Huntington Hall which houses the collection:

Huntington Hall houses the world-renown art collection at Hampton University. Photo credit: Denedriane Dean
Huntington Hall houses the renown art collection at Hampton University. Photo credit: Denedriane Dean


On the grounds of HU, there stands The Emancipation Oak, which is still growing.This is the site of the first southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, and it is also where Mary Peake taught free and enslaved blacks under the shade of this tree before the Civil War.


It is a special treat to experience this tree up close. It is very large and vibrant, and the reach of its branches is amazing. As a child who went to elementary school on the grounds of Hampton Institute (at that time), I remember many moment playing around the Emancipation Oak. 

The Establishment of Communities – Aberdeen Gardens Historic Museum

Aberdeen Gardens is a community that was built for and by African Americans in 1934 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Settlement. The Historic Museum is where you can learn the history, heritage and future of this landmark neighborhood. 

The Aberdeen Gardens Historic Museum is housed in one of the original homes built in this development.  Photo credit: Dee Dean
The Aberdeen Gardens Historic Museum is housed in one of the original homes built in this development. Photo credit: Dee Dean
Here we see the way one one the homes in Aberdeen Gardens would have been set up in the late 1930s! Photo Credit: Dee Dean
Here we see the way one of the original homes in Aberdeen Gardens would have been set up in the late 1930s! Photo Credit: Dee Dean

Mrs. Margaret Wilson is the Museum’s Director, and she is a wealth of information and stories about this place and its residents. As one of the original families who moved into Aberdeen Gardens, she tells the history well, infusing it with her own anecdotes and experiences. 


Mrs. Wilson is a gem and and a joy to talk with as she shares the history of Aberdeen Gardens. Photo credit: Dee Dean
Mrs. Wilson is a gem and and a joy to talk with as she shares the history of Aberdeen Gardens. Photo credit: Dee Dean

Tucker Family Cemetery

In 2016, the land was dedicated as the Tucker Family Cemetery, a sacred ground for an African-American bloodline dating back centuries. The family’s ancestor, William Tucker, is believed to be the first African-American born in North America.

The hallowed grounds of the Tucker Family Cemetery in Hampton, Va. Photo credit: Dee Dean
The hallowed grounds of the Tucker Family Cemetery in Hampton, Va. Photo credit: Dee Dean

This hallowed ground (it really feels that way – “hallowed” is one of the first words that came to my mind as we entered this space.) This grove of trees and graves is literally located in a neighborhood, behind some homes in the area. It has been declared a public easement so that the public can come and visit without disturbing the neighbors around it. There are flags and small markers where remains have been found. It is a very peaceful and reflective place to visit, especially knowing a little of the history of the grounds.

Tucker Family Cemetery marker
Photo credit: Dee Dean
Photo credit: Denedriane Dean

From the Beginning to the History Makers – Hampton History Museum & St Johns Church

The city of Hampton is America’s oldest, continuous English-founded settlement. Therefore, there is a LOT of history to share about this place.

One of the best places to visit when you first arrive to Hampton is the Hampton History Museum, located downtown. Parking is free in the parking structure, and so is the museum tour. Here is where you can learn about Hampton, from its inhabitance by the Kecoughtan Indians to its role as the original home of NASA and the U.S. space program. The guided tour is about an hour, and there are a LOT of visuals included to help illustrate the points of history. One of the ones that made an impression on me is the room that tells about the burning down of the city. The room itself gives you the feel of being in a burned out city, complete with broken down brick walls and all. 


The Hampton History Museum covers the 400+ year history of the city! Photo credit: Dee Dean
The Hampton History Museum covers the 400+ year history of the city! Photo credit: Dee Dean

Walk directly out the back door of the Hampton History Museum and you can visit StJohn’s Church, the oldest continuous English-founded parish in the United States:

St. John's Church in downtown Hampton, VA Photo credit: Dee Dean
St. John’s Church in downtown Hampton, VA Photo credit: Dee Dean

Touching History

The 400-year narrative from 1619 to the present is told in rich detail here.  I learned more going to these places than I ever could from reading about it in a textbook, or by just living there. These places made the past and the present connect for me in a tangible way. The history that you can touch and see is the history that you will appreciate and understand, and Hampton regularly provides many opportunities to do just that! 

I encourage you to learn more about these historic places and all that Hampton has to offer by clicking here: VisitHampton.com 

And to find out more about the 2019 African Landing Commemoration events that are set to take place in August 23-25, please visit HamptonVA2019.com 

Have you visited Hampton, Virginia? If not, is it on your list? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

3 Replies to “400 Years of History Comes Alive in Hampton Virginia!”

  1. Avatar Julia Herring Pollard says: Reply

    Hi is their any family members living by the name of vonherring which eventually changed to herring?

    1. Hi Julia! Thanks for stopping by. I honestly have no idea with regard to your question about the genealogy of the name Herring. However, it sounds interesting, and I wish you well on getting more information on that!

  2. […] I had the humble opportunity a few months ago to visit the Tucker Family Cemetery in Hampton Virginia. It is a very hallowed place […]

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