I downloaded a commisson map and drove to Ancarrow’s Landing, where the 11
2-mile trail begins its winding way, to walk the trail myself.
The first sign I came upon noted that in the late 1700s, slaves were marched from the docks to jails near 15th and Franklin streets. By 1820, “surplus” slaves walked in the other direction, to be shipped to New Orleans, the largest slave market. “The purposeful breeding and sale of humans became an important part of plantation economies in Virginia,” I read.
Past a grove of ivy-covered trees, the “Manchester and the Slave Trade” sign told me that slaves and Irish immigrants built the now silted-up canal to provide power to flour and cotton mills. I imagined the trail on a summer day as I read that “black men were prized for their work in these mosquito-infested conditions.”
Beneath a highway overpass, the forest came to an end, and it wasn’t clear where I should go next. Through those towering gates in the cement wall? That’s where a sign pointed, up a steep hill that led to the Mayo Bridge. Scenic this section was not; I passed trucks unloading at a recycling station.
My map said that Winfree Cottage, a slave dwelling that had been rescued from demolition, would be moved to Dock and Canal streets. But for now, the only thing there was a parking lot. A red-brick building at 15th and Cary streets that once housed the Davenport Trading Co., however, still stands. This is the last building in town known to have been used in the slave trade. It’s being converted into upscale apartments.
At 15th and Main I was in “the geographical heart of the slave district,” where auction houses sold corn, coffee and humans. Today a statue memorializes the British, African and American trade route with an engraved message: “Acknowledge and forgive the past, embrace the present, shape a future.”
Across from the main train station is the site of Lumpkin’s Jail, which the slaves called “the Devil’s Half Acre.” A short black fence surrounds a planted area, but there’s no evidence of the jail or the artifacts found during archaeological excavations here in 2008.
The trail ended in a Virginia Commonwealth University parking lot near busy Broad Street, where a historical marker tells of the hanging of a slave named Gabriel.