The existence of slavery was an crucial element in Richmond’s rise as one of the most important cities in the south during the antebellum (pre-Civil War) period.
Often overlooked in discussions of Richmond’s economic success in the pre-war period is the impact of the slave trade as a commercial activity. “In the 1850s, Richmond’s biggest business by dollar volume was not tobacco, flour, or iron, but slaves.”
Throughout the self-guided Slavery/Freedom Tour from Civil War Traveler you will go one a one-hour expedition of the many remaining fine buildings and sites that help us relive one of the most dramatic periods in US history.
This Slavery and Freedom tour begins at the public entrance to the Virginia State Capitol and takes you east to the oldest section of Richmond and the site of one of the nation’s largest slave markets before and during the Civil War.
The Slavery/Freedom Tour takes a little more than an hour to walk.
Stops on the tour include:
- The Exchange and Ballard Hotels – One of the most superb hotels in Richmond for decades, the Exchange once hosted a post office, reading room, baths, shops — and at least one slave auctioneer’s headquarters. Among the guests and visitors that stayed at the Exchange Hotel were Charles Dickens, Robert E. Lee, Edgar Allan Poe, and King Edward VII.
- 14th and Main streets – Abraham Lincoln, on his tour of the city, passed through this intersection followed by a growing group of newly freed slaves and curious citizens.
- The Slave Markets / Slavery Reconciliation Statue – An estimated 300,000 slaves were bought and sold in Richmond prior to the war. Red flags outside the buildings indicated auction sales. Major traders offered dozens of human beings for sale daily in their own facilities.
- The First Market – One of the oldest farmers’ markets in the country, dating back to the founding of Richmond as a city.
- Masonic Hall – The oldest Masonic structure built in the United States. Notable visitors included John Marshall, George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette.
- Grant’s Tobacco Factory – This building was converted during the war into a hospital for sick and wounded Confederates.
- Libby Prison – The site of one of Richmond’s most notorious Civil War prisons. An estimated 30,000 prisoners were held here during the war with as many as 1,200 Union officers held at a time in the 32,000-square-foot brick structure.
- James River landing – The site of the first Englishman landings in 1607.
Taking the tour: On location, use your smart phone to download tour materials. Map, audio clips, and more, can be found here.