There is a stark contrast between the historical community of Shockoe Bottom and today's community. Today words like "trendy" and "progressive" are used to describe this community. Its history, however, is a dark story of slavery and abuse of human rights.
The community of Shockoe Bottom, one of Richmond's oldest communities, is east of Richmond. It is located on the James river. Because of its location on the river, Shockoe Slip was developed as a major commercial center with tobacco warehouses, factories, and a farmer's market that is still in operation today.
Slaves from Africa were also part of the merchandising. Prior to 1807, if they survived the long passage from Africa, they were brought up the James river and unloaded at Manchester docks and dispersed from there. Virginia banned slave importation in 1778, and the United States joined the ban in 1807. But the crimes were far from over.
With the invention of the cotton gin, and the thriving cotton market, more laborers were needed in the fields of the Deep South to harvest the cotton. With the importation of slaves outlawed, the upper class capitalized on the situation. They began breeding slaves for sale. They would then ship the slaves from the Shockoe Bottom to the plantation owners. Virginia became known as the "breeder State". It is recorded that one man boasted of having raised 6,000 slave children to be sold.
Between 1790 and 1859, it is estimated that 350,000 descendants of Africans were sold out of Virginia and hauled to the plantation fields by ship, train, or they were forced to walk on foot. It was not just the slave owners who profited from the slave trade either. Many facets of society benefited from the enterprise. There were businesses that housed the slaves. Two such places were called Lumpkin's Jail (referred to as the "Devil's Half Acre") and Omohundro's Jail. Slaves were auctioned off in Auction houses which lined 15th street. The newspaper got in on the action by advertising for the auctions to the point of actually describing the individuals to be sold. Railroads lured slave traders by offering free passage for children.
When the slaves died on the trip to the States or while laboring in the city, they were buried in what was referred to as "The Burial Ground for Negroes". It is a sad fact that today this is an unmarked spot. Not only is it unmarked, it is trampled on everyday by the students and faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University. It has been paved over and is the University's parking lot.
Plans are being made to develop Shockoe Bottom and renovate an existing building into a transportation center and possibly even build a Baseball Stadium. But historians are concerned. They feel like the focus should be on preserving history through Museums featuring the realities of the slave era. Virginia has a history that should not be forgotten. Shockoe should be a place where people can reflect on the past with determination that the horrors committed there will never be repeated. It should be a place where slave descendants can visit their ancestors' origins and pay respect to those who died and are buried there.