March 3, 1865: Liberation and Freedom Day in Charlottesville

Today is Liberation and Freedom Day in the Charlottesville region, which commemorates when the Union Army arrived in Charlottesville on March 3, 1865 and liberated over 14,000 enslaved individuals. On this day in history, today’s Highland (later renamed “Ash Lawn”) was being rented by John E. Massey, a Baptist minister who would officially purchase “Ash Lawn” in 1867.

Massey recalled Sheridan’s troops being in Albemarle County, Virginia in his autobiography:


“A short time before the war ended General Sheridan’s army encamped for a considerable time about two miles from my home, Ash Lawn. When they left the neighborhood they took with them all the horses they could capture and all the negroes they could persuade to go. Soon after Sheridan’s army left, a regiment of Confederate cavalry encamped in the neighborhood.”

Some detective work is involved to determine who was enslaved at “Ash Lawn” in March 1865. The 1860 Slave Schedule provides a clue, which listed fifteen enslaved individuals (four men, three women, and eight children) enslaved by Massey:

SCHEDULE 2 – Slave Inhabitants in St. Anne’s Parish in the County of Albemarle State of Virginia, enumerated by me, on the 4th day of August, 1860. Bennett Taylor, Ass’t Marshall.

Transcription by James Monroe’s Highland

The Virginia Slave Birth Index* (1853-1866) also sheds light on some names:

Transcription by James Monroe’s Highland

*Thanks to Miranda Burnett, Historical Collection Librarian at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Historical Society, for sharing this research

Did the Union army “persuade” any of these people to leave? Massey’s autobiography doesn’t specify, so the question is unanswered for now. Do you have information to help us tell this part of Highland’s history? Contact us at

*Evaline and her daughters Polly and Rosetta appear on the 1880 census in Albemarle County in the household of Jas. Hausbrough:

Inhabitants in Samuel Miller District, in the County of Albemarle, State of Virginia enumerated by me on the 11 day of June, 1880. Dwelling 208, family 208:

Transcription by James Monroe’s Highland