James City—A “Mecca for Freedom”

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina’s black history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit from our state’s African American’s past.

James City James City, ca. 1910. Images from the North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill

 

Civil War-era New Bern has often been called a “Mecca for freedom.” Seized by Federal forces in 1862, the city quickly became a refugee center for thousands of eastern North Carolina slaves seeking freedom and safety behind Union lines. In an effort to accommodate them the U.S. Army established three resettlement camps. These were consolidated in 1863 into one, known as the “Trent River settlement.”

An iamge from Horace James from the State Archives An image of Horace James from the State Archives

 

The Reverend Horace James, chaplain of the 25th Massachusetts Regiment, was the superintendent of the camp. Near the close of the war the community was renamed James City in recognition of his accomplishments on behalf of the residents. In the postwar period James served as assistant commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau for North Carolina. James City remained a cohesive black community until about 1900, with its people economically productive and politically active. The community’s primary goal was to obtain permanent ownership of the land on which they resided as tenants, and when it failed to win a court battle for the land in 1893, the community began to dissolve. Still, James City continues to exist to this day as an unincorporated area of about 700 residents, most of whom are African American.

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