Two Hampton trees witnessed start of slavery, beginnings of freedom

Two Hampton trees witnessed start of slavery, beginnings of freedom
The Algernourne Oak in Hampton was standing when the first enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia 400 years ago this month. (Source: Rex Springston/ For the Virginia Mercury)

HAMPTON — In August 1619, enslaved Africans first arrived in Virginia. During the Civil War in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, which aimed to set millions of slaves free.

Witnesses to both live among us.

They are the Algernourne Oak at Fort Monroe in Hampton, which tree experts say was standing nearby when those slaves arrived, and the Emancipation Oak at Hampton University, where, it’s said, the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in the South took place.

“Old trees put our puny little time frames in perspective,” said Nancy Ross Hugo, an Ashland naturalist and co-author of “Remarkable Trees of Virginia.”

The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.