The Norfolk waterfront was a busy stop on the Underground Railroad. Virginia’s last Royal Governor made Norfolk a major refuge for runaways when he issued a 1775 proclamation promising freedom to all slaves who joined him to fight with the British Army. Some 800 fugitives enlisted. Eighteenth and nineteenth century runaway slave advertisements indicate that Norfolk’s waterfront continued to be a destination for fugitives from southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina throughout the ante-bellum years. Two of the South’s most famous fugitives, George Latimer and Shadrach Minkins, made their escape from Norfolk. Certain ships’ captains were known in the underground community to be sympathetic to runaways, or at least agreeable to transporting them secretly for a price. Of the approximately ninety former slaves interviewed or referenced by William Still of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee (The Underground Railroad, 1871), the majority reported escape by ship from the Norfolk waterfront. Many credited Captain William D. Bayliss of the Keziah or Captain Fountain of the City of Richmond with aiding them. The City of Richmond is known to have customarily tied up in Norfolk at the wharf belonging to John Higgins, a one-time owner of Shadrach Minkins.
Visitor Information: Currently open to public.
Location: c/o Room 1006 Norfolk City Hall, 810 Union St., Norfolk, 23510-2717
National Park Unit: No
Ownership: City of Norfolk City of Norfolk
Location Type: Site