“I could not begin to express my newborn hopes, for I felt like I was certain of my freedom now…‘Do you want to be free?’ inquired one [Union soldier]. ‘By all means!’ I answered. I did not know what else to say for I was dumb with joy and could only thank God and laugh.” —Former slave John Washington on the 1862 approach of the Union army to Fredericksburg, VA. Union soldiers helped Washington escape to freedom.
The day was April 18, 1862, Good Friday of that year. The Union army was approaching the town of Fredericksburg in the traitorous Confederate state of Virginia. The white residents of the town were angry, agitated, fearful. They locked themselves in their houses and bitterly mourned the approach of their fellow Americans whom they called their “enemies.” But for the black slaves of Fredericksburg, there was an entirely different feeling at the Union Army’s approach. On Good Friday of the year 33 AD a Divine Savior died and freed mankind from sin—and on Good Friday 1862, a group of black slaves beheld their personal material saviors, the men who could make them free from the bonds of slavery.
John M. Washington was a slave working at a hotel in Fredericksburg, though his wife, Annie Gordon Washington, was a freedwoman. They had married just that year, 1862, when the hope of freedom through Union agency awoke in John that Good Friday.
“[John Washington:] Very soon one of a party of soldiers called out to us, ‘Do any of you want to come across?’ Everybody else said ‘No,’ but I hollered out: ‘Yes! I want to come over!’ After I had landed on the other side, a large crowd of the soldiers gathered around us and asked all kinds of questions.
One of them asked me if I was a slave. ‘Yes, I am sir,’ I replied, ‘a slave all my life.’ ‘Do you want to be free?’ inquired one. ‘By all means!’ I answered. I did not know what else to say for I was dumb with joy and could only thank God and laugh. This was my first night of my freedom.”
Read Washington’s full story on Substack!
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