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“Escape to Freedom” Annual Contraband Commemorative

May 18 @ 7:00 pm

The Contraband Historical Society of Hampton, Virginia, will hold its annual commemoration of the Contraband Decision of 1861. In partnership with the Fort Monroe Authority, the Society will bring together “Contraband” descendants with historical reenactors and extraordinary local musical talent. We’ll explore the most recent and exciting Contraband research and have a short preview of the PBS documentary: “The Gate: The Untold Story of America’s First Contraband,” currently in development.

This event will take place at the historic Chapel of the Centurion, 157 Bernard Road at Fort Monroe, and will pay tribute to the first three enslaved men, Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory, and James Townsend to self-emancipate there in May of 1861. Their actions inspired Union General Benjamin Franklin Butler to make an unprecedented decision to grant them sanctuary. As a result, Fort Monroe and Hampton became the first “safe” destination for thousands of enslaved people in their fight for freedom during the Civil War.

Come hear more about this often-overlooked piece of American history and about CHS’s many new initiatives to bring the ancestors’ histories into the light.

The May 18th program is free, open to the public, and will include:

  • A historical reenactment of the 1861 Contraband Decision at Fort Monroe
  • Historian Dr. William Wiggins will tell the story of recently discovered Contraband and US Army soldier Nelson Ballard, who is buried in Hampton.
  • Musical performances by Jonah’s Run and the Western Branch High School Chorus under the direction of Choral Director Robin Duncan.
  • A short preview of the PBS documentary in development, The Gate: The Untold Stories of America’s First Contrabands


Chapel of the Centurion at Fort Monroe
157 Bernard Road
Hampton, VA 23651 United States
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(757) 637-6390
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