Ceremony recognizes Fort Monroe’s part in the Underground Railroad

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – A historian whose slave ancestors fled from Virginia to Canada in the mid-1800s was part of a ceremony Tuesday at Fort Monroe to honor freedom.

This ceremony marked a different kind of freedom — from slavery — and the role of Fort Monroe in the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman was among those who smuggled more than 10,000 escaped slaves through the Fort in the mid 1860s.

Gallery: July 4 celebration at Fort Monroe

Mark Walsh, of the James Monroe Memorial Foundation, says the Underground Railroad gave former slaves a more concrete destination as they fled their oppression.

“Instead of saying, ‘Let’s go up north and we’ll be safe,’ they now knew they could go to another country’s domain.”

Canada had abolished slavery three decades before the United States. Historian Elise Harding-Davis has found that her ancestors were among those who were smuggled through the Underground Railroad from Eastern Virginia to Ontario.

She also found that one of her forefathers was the Commanding General of the Confederate States of America.

“I am a descendant of the Lee family,” Harding-Davis told 10 On Your Side. “Light Horse Harry Lee had a daughter by a slave woman, whose name we did not know, but that makes her the sister, the half-sister of Robert E. Lee.”

So as we celebrate our independence, Harding-Davis says we still have miles to go to arrive at a true understanding of our nation’s diverse history.

“I’m hoping very much that race relations can be improved, and black people can be dignified for the contributors that they have been,” she said.