In honor of Black History Month, Loudoun County Clerk of the Circuit Court Gary M. Clemens hosted an open house Feb. 11 in Leesburg displaying historical African American documents from the county’s history.
The exhibition, “From Slavery to Desegregation: Exhibition of African American Documents from the Historic Court and Board of Supervisors Records,” showed documents related to the history of African Americans in Loudoun from the time of slavery to the desegregation of Loudoun’s public schools. This exhibition included historic court documents and minute books of the Board of Supervisors — many of which were on display to the public for the first time.
In advance of Black History Month, the Clerk’s Historic Records Division also added the complete index of the Record of Free Negroes 1844-1861 to the Loudoun County website. The index provides information about free blacks in Loudoun, including names, ages, freedom certificate numbers, physical characteristics, who they were emancipated by and more. The indexing and checking all entries for accuracy took more than six months.
Clemens said his office has placed a great emphasis on preservation through digitizing records. This way, they are even more accessible to county residents, and records are better preserved by not being handled.
One of the certificates referred to in the record — that of Joseph Trammell — has received national attention. Free Black people had to carry their freedom papers wherever they went, Clemens said. The metal box that Trammell used to carry his freedom papers is currently on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The certificate, which was entered by the court on May 10, 1852, was on exhibit at the open house.
Loudoun is one of five counties in Virginia that still has all of its historical records, Clemens said, dating back the county’s foundation in 1757. All other counties had lost records while relocating them during the Civil War, or had records destroyed by the Union during the war. The Loudoun Clerk of the Court at the time, George Fox, removed Loudoun’s records from the court and hid them in caves in Campbell County. The temperature in the caves preserved the records and kept them safe until the Civil War was over and they could be returned to Loudoun.
“His quick and decisive action saved the records,” Clemens said.
The Historic Records Division has an open house event about once every quarter, Clemens said. They usually have an event for Black History Month and Clemens tries to display different records each year. He expects the next open house will be in the spring.