The Boundary Line

Cristina Meehan

FYS Paper #1

Duval Street: The Boundary Line


What images does the word ‘boundary’ invoke? What is a boundary? Is it a wall, a fence, or a street? Does a boundary keep something in or keep someone out? Does it denote the start of one neighborhood and stand as a dividing line between the groups of people that live in these neighborhoods? Are city boundaries just for organization or do they play a larger role and facilitate emergent social trends such as geographic and socioeconomic segregation?

These are the questions that surrounded the function of Duval Street in the City of Richmond. First, Richmond city maps and slave market maps reveal that Duval Street is the first street to break the grid system of the City of Richmond.  On the city maps Duval Street angles off to the northeast towards rural undeveloped terrain. [1]. The small patch of streets North of Duval Street also run against the grid system of the inner city.  Duval Street and the streets to the north of Duval Street give the feeling of a separate, auxiliary city, which is further supported by the fact that Duval Street is constantly a boundary line in Richmond Dispatches during the Civil War. In addition, the angle and position of Duval Street naturally dictated its function in the city as it lay on the outskirts of the city. This allowed for more of the middle city streets to extend further out towards Shockoe Creek.   Duval Street was literally the last horizontal street before the open land [5]. The geographical location and orientation of Duval Street played a large part in defining its function within the City of Richmond in the nineteenth century.

Throughout Richmond Daily Dispatch records from 1860 to 1863 Duval Street was listed as a boundary for events within the city including military postings about drafts, assemblies, and parades [2]. Common postings included boundaries like “commencing at the Northwest corner of Duval, thence North side of Duval Street to Brooke Avenue, or to the corner of Duval Street” [3]. In addition to military postings there were records of dispatches for activist events that used Duval as the end boundary of the individuals they were asking to attend the event[4].

Duval Street, however, was not simply a boundary within the city for certain military and protester events. It played a bigger role in the overall organization, structure, and atmosphere of the city. Duval Street functioned as a multi-faceted boundary: a socio-economic and economic boundary in the City of Richmond.

So what lies on either side of Duval Street? Walking south from Duval Street in the time period during the Civil War there was Jackson Street. Jackson Street offered a scene with an array of businesses and a mix of people walking down the street, from well-dressed white businessmen, slaves carrying food from the market back to their residences, working class men carrying their tools, and children playing in the street [6]. On Jackson Street there was a large the mix of blacks and whites on the street with many of blacks being slaves or employed by white businessmen. A Richmond Time Dispatch, from November 8th, 1862, reported on forty Negroes who were arrested at a wedding party festivity on Jackson Street. The article mentioned that slave owners at the festivity appealed the charges to get their slaves freed from the punishment, but the charges were pressed.[7] This Dispatch showed how this area around Jackson Street was predominantly working class and white small business owners who owned slaves. There was a population of white slave owners within the Jackson street area that respected the rights of Negroes and felt compelled to defend their rights.  But yet these slave owners were just as racist as the majority of the white population of the city because their motivations to defend the rights of these accused black slaves was motivated only by their economic need to protect their own property, the accused slaves. The racist energies in the Jackson Street area were depicted in a Richmond Times Dispatch named “A Colored Brother in Trouble” published on August 6th, 1864. The image set in this Dispatch included a moment where a slave passing a white businessman on the street was not even acknowledged by the white man; the slave tipped his hat at the white man who proceeded to shoulder the slave and walk past as if he had hit an inanimate object [8]. The only interaction between whites and blacks on Jackson Street was strictly business-related.

A great contrast is evident between the description of the Jackson Street area and the angled streets to the North of Duval Street that make up the outskirts of the Richmond city limits. These streets included Baker, Charity and Federal Street [10]. The map shows how short these streets were, about three or four blocks in length, in comparison to the inner-bound streets like Jackson Street that stretched over twenty blocks.  These streets north of Duval Street ended abruptly and led into open lots and farmland [11]. A Richmond Dispatch, written on December 18, 1863, was entitled “Wanted Slaves for Farm.” This Dispatch was sent by William Tuck, who was looking for three good servants to work on his multiple acre farm, which was located in the area north of Duval Street.  This area was made up a small community of whites that owned small farms- all were manned by many black slaves [12]. There was also a population of craft handy men that lived in this area including, J. E. Robinson, a white male who was apprenticing for a carpenter on Baker Street mentioned in a Richmond Dispatch, released on April 3rd, 1862 [13].  In contrast to the cold hearted relationship between the races in the urban inner-city on Jackson Street, this area north of Duval Street contained small clusters of black communities spread throughout this farmland and had no reports of coldhearted interactions between the races like the slave and businessman interaction on Jackson Street.  This calmness between the races in this area could have been product of the distance between houses which offered much less probability of running into your neighbor of the opposite race. The distance and openness in this area was the result of a high percentage of uninhabited lots and open rental lots that backed up into the ravines and gullies. The contrast between the economic makeup of the two areas on either side of Duval Street displays the important function of this street in acting as a boundary within the city of Richmond.

On a geographical note, the terrain of the streets north of Duval Street was definitely a strong contrast to the urban hustle-bustle of Jackson Street and the other interior streets of Richmond. The biggest difference was the open free atmosphere of the streets North of Duval Street. The Shockoe Hill Cemetery and other large open lots gave this area a sense of freedom, both figuratively and literally, as freed prisoners roamed this area of town. A Dispatch released on April 10th, 1863 entitled “Escaped from the Guard” reported on a prisoners that had escaped their guards at a hearing and fled towards Shockoe Creek [14]. This heavily wooded, hilly, and ravine filled terrain proved to be an area for many fugitives and runaway slaves to hide out and escape into the wild [15]. These were the types of people that Duval Street was trying to keep out of the City of Richmond. Duval Street stood as a barrier to keep this runaway prisoners out of the interior of the city. Duval Street bounded in the city streets in the heart of Richmond.

The function of Duval Street within the city of Richmond became polarized and of great importance rampant crime spiked in the heart of the Civil War. The Richmond Times Dispatch constantly reported on accounts of theft, threats, and violence. On the interior of Duval Street, the mixture of racial groups, and commuting black slaves in the Jackson area led to a messy situation as the Civil War progressed. One Dispatch released on September 28th, 1863 reported on a woman who in broad daylight was encountered by a white ruffian who stole what she was carrying (clothing and work materials) but then he was caught by two white gentlemen walking down the street who if they had been armed might have shot the daring highwayman[16]. In another situation two drunk white men got into a knife fight that led to gashes, and slashes into the body of the man named Andrew H. Thompson [17]. The chaos continued as Negro, Robert P. Bolling, was threatened to be killed by Pleasant Bowler a pastor of the Negro church, Wesley Methodist Episcopal[18].  The most telling incident of the violence in the city during the Civil War and importance of Duval Street as a boundary, was a Dispatch about a group of deranged slaves that walked down the streets of Jackson, Duval, and Leigh breaking windows and attacking personal property throughout the area[19]. From these multiple accounts released in the Richmond Dispatch it is easily to see the difference in the city of Richmond during the Civli War.

During the heart of Civil War the boundary line of Duval Street became even more distinct and played a larger role for the city as a whole separating the different neighborhoods. It was a boundary of safety, protection and organization in a time era that was filled with extreme uncertainty. With the rising crime rates the distinction between the streets within Duval Street and outside Duval Street boundaries became more distinct and meaningful. The Duval Street boundary served a purpose for the city in delineating the end of its commercial, urban district and its less developed farming and open hilly land that offered heavy woods for fugitives to escape to. Ellis had reached the conclusion that displayed the profound importance of Duval Street in the functioning of the city of Richmond. It separated differing economic and geographic sections of the city whose differences were polarized during the Civil War. Richmond relied more heavily on Duval Street during the war because in an unsettled, hopeless, and chaotic moral the population of Richmond needed something tangible that gave structure, delineation, and organization to their lives and the city.

[2] Richmond Daily Dispatch. (Richmond). Military. April 15th, 1863.

[3] Richmond Daily Dispatch. (Richmond). Military. January 6th, 1862.

[4] Richmond Daily Dispatch. (Richmond). Union. November 14th, 1860.

[6] Richmond Daily Dispatch. (Richmond). Jackson Street. April 7th, 1861.

[7] Richmond Daily Dispatch. (Richmond). Festivity Gone Wrong. November 8th 1862.

[8] Richmond Daily Dispatch. (Richmond). A Colored Brother in Trouble. August 6, 1864.

[9] Richmond Daily Dispatch. (Richmond). Wanted-To Purchase Servants. December 18, 1860.

[10] Map. Richmond Slave Market Civil War. Digital Scholarship Lab.

[12] Richmond Daily Dispatch. (Richmond). Wanted Slaves for Farm. December 18, 1863.

[13] Richmond Daily Dispatch. (Richmond). Major Com’dg 1st Va. Regt. Military Notice. April 3, 1862.

[14] Richmond Daily Dispatch. (Richmond). Escaped from the Guard. April 10, 1863.

[15] Richmond Daily Dispatch. (Richmond). Auctioner A.D. Williams. March 11, 1861.

[16] Richmond Daily Dispatch. (Richmond). Theif on Jackson Street. September 28th 1863.

[17] Richmond Daily Dispatch. (Richmond). Severe Stabbing Case. December 27th, 1864.

[18] Richmond Daily Dispatch. (Richmond). A Colored Brother in Trouble. December 29, 1865.

[19] Richmond Daily Dispatch. (Richmond). A Furious Act. March 8, 1865.

Slave Market Map

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