The Emancipation of Peggy Jones

Recently I received good kidding from faculty friends when I took a day off school to find a single historical document in a distant archive. I teach high school history, but my friends know that historical research is my passion. So they started a texting group, with super-sized emojis and jokes, that trailed me from Harrisonburg to the Historical Society Library in Richmond, Va.

It was during Black History Month, February 2018, that I discovered an online emancipation document for Peggy Jones. Freed in January, 1827, the small 6 x 8-inch document lists her height, age, and distinct scar on her face. Seeing a scan of the document on the Historical Society website was not good enough for me, so I took a day off from teaching and drove to Richmond to investigate.

I kept getting good natured texts from my friends, who really did want to know the results of my trek to the state capital. Twice I pulled off the interstate to respond to them. Finally, the moment of revelation occurred when an archivist brought out an oversized collection folder with the emancipation proclamation for Peggy Jones, a thirty-four-year-old 19th century African American Virginian.

I shall not soon forget when I got to hold and study the aging document, stamped clearly by the Rockingham County Clerk’s seal, officially signed and dated. After January 5, 1827, Peggy Jones was a free woman.

Now I’m on a research journey to discover if more can be known about Peggy Jones. I’m not sure I will succeed, because the databases lead me in several different directions, and a clear record of Peggy’s life seems to fizzle out after that day in the Rockingham County Court house when she received her freedom.

Why does this matter? Because 1827, when Jones was emancipated, is the decade when the first log meetinghouses were built for Mennonite churches in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, historic congregations like Trissels, Weavers, and Springdale. Mennonites started their churches in Virginia in the nest of southern slavery, and Peggy’s story provides detail to the saga. Second, this matters because the Baptist woman who freed Peggy Jones lived in and attended a church in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The old meetinghouse that Peggy’s Baptist owners and a few Mennonites used in the early 19th century had a place for slaves to sit, most likely including Jones.

Black History Month 2018 gave me a new historical pursuit—to see if I can emancipate Peggy Jones from the shadows of history and tell her story. I hope to succeed, because as far as I can determine, her story has not been told before. And to my good teacher friends who encouraged and kidded me all the way to Richmond I say thanks!

Silver Lake Mill

The historian got to turn an interior iron crank that released water at Silver Lake, Dayton, Virginia, which turned the early 20th century red wheel. The water flowed towards Cooks Creek, which drained towards the North River and eventually the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, which reached the Potomac River and finally the Chesapeake Bay. This mill was burned by Union soldiers during the Civil War and rebuilt after the war. As with the water which bubbles forth from the Silver Lake springs and ends up in the Atlantic Ocean, so our lives are interconnected and flow into the future in sometimes unknown and winding directions.

Silver Lake Mill, Dayton, Virginia, Rockingham County, Virginia July, 2016

Upper Room Revival

Elwood Yoder recently joined The Mennonite online’s blogging team. He teaches history in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He has taught high school history and social studies courses for 34 years, since 1988 at Eastern Mennonite High School. Elwood has written seven books, including congregational histories and historical novels. Elwood is Editor of Shenandoah Mennonite Historian, and he is also …

via Upper Room Revival.

George Washington at Independence Hall

On a cold day in Philadelphia, December 2015, the historian’s family visited Independence Hall and enjoyed stopping in front of George Washington’s statue.  With hand on a book, the sculptor captures the importance of our first president for his many accomplishments at a place where both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were drafted and signed. In his other hand he holds a sword, symbol of his role as Commander in Chief of the Revolutionary forces.  My family and descendants to come in this great land are indebted to you, President Washington.
George Washington Statue Independence Hall, Philadelphia PA, with Yoders and Billings, December 19, 2015 edited

James Madison University

Friends took a hike on the newly developed Bluestone Trail in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  The trail is a function of the city of Harrisonburg and the sprawling and growing comprehensive university that dominates the landscape in the friendly city.  Hikers and bikers shared the trail on a sunny day, which all revolved around the fourth president’s namesake school, an outstanding institution in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

JMU March 2015 Bluestone Trail hike

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

The history teacher recently took fifty-five students to Charlottesville, Virginia, to take a one hour tour of the distinguished University of Virginia, and then a three hour tour of the outstanding mansion and grounds of Jefferson at Monticello.  The students were challenged by Jefferson’s vision for America, his determination to stand for religious freedom, and his inventive genius.


Magna Carta

The 800 year old Magna Carta was on display in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., on December 20, 2014, when the historian and family was privileged to see the historic document.  When the nobles insisted on a few basic rights in the face of King John’s tyranny, in 1215, they set a course of representative government in the western world that paved the way for other historic documents of democracy.


Sermons from Barns

On October 2, 2014, the historian gave a lecture entitled “Sermons from Barns,” at the Lake Township Historical Society, Ohio.  The Society members met in the Richard Werstler barn in North Canton, Ohio.  The President of the Society asked to view Elmer S. Yoder’s 230 slides on barns taken over a thirty year span, which Elmer’s son gladly obliged.  This is the barn where several hundred folks from northeast Ohio came to view the slide lecture.

Lake Township Historical Society Sermons from Barns October 2, 2014 Richard Werstler Barn North Canton Ohio

Sesquicentennial of Valley Burning 1864

Recently the Historian visited the site where Northern Officer John Meigs died during the Civil War.  His death nearly caused the burning of Dayton, but it did result in many barns and other structures being burned by Union troops in the surrounding area.  Meigs’ marker is one evidence that remains of the terrible burnning of over 400 barns, over 30 mills and around 30 houses by Union forces during the Valley Campaign of 1864, in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

John Meigs Marker Dayton Virginia