Waterford Community

Historical Significance

The town of Waterford, Virginia was a place of refuge for African Americans for over 200 years. Waterford was founded in the 1730's by Northern Abolitionist Quakers who were soon outnumbered in the community by other settlers. The Quaker presence in the town allowed for greater tolerance and opportunities for African Americans than in most places in the South. An example is the "Negro Protection Society" to minimize discrimination and abuse, proposed in 1818 by Quakers and other concerned white residents of Waterford. Waterford also took a pro-Union stance at the onset of the Civil War, the only town in Virginia to support the Union. However, slave auctions were held within the town limits of Waterford. A community comprised of several free black families developed in Waterford in the early 1800's, some of whom were educated and owned their homes.

In the mid- to late-19th century the black population in Waterford increased. African American men and boys worked as fence builders, farm workers, coopers, millers, tanners, and blacksmiths, while women labored as cooks, maids, nurses, washerwomen, and midwives.

Waterford had no "black section." Main, Water, High and Janney Streets all had black residents from the early 1800s onward. Despite the lack of a clearly defined black neighborhood, segregation was present in schools, churches, and cemeteries. African Americans had to build their own school, Second Street School, which operated from the end of the Civil War until 1957. They constructed their own church, John Wesley Methodist Episcopal, in 1891 (curiously, both white and black Methodists in the town had balconies in their churches for visitors of either race). Black residents buried their dead in their own half of the segregated cemetery on Fairfax Street.

In the mid- to late-20th century most of the black residents left Waterford to seek opportunities elsewhere. The last African American resident, Mary Elizabeth Wallace, died in 1999 at the age of 79, ending more than two centuries of black life in Waterford. 

Physical Description

Waterford is a well preserved, historic village, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970. Black historic sites in the village are numerous, and include Second Street School, a one-room school funded by Quakers; a Freedmen's Bureau which served black residents from 1867 to 1957; and the John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church, a Gothic Revival church built by and for African Americans in 1891. The town has many other well preserved homes and workplaces where free and enslaved African Americans lived and worked.

Geographical and Contact Information

Waterford Foundation
40183 Main Street
Waterford, Virginia
Phone: 540-882-3018