Black History

Chronology of Black History in Jefferson County

[Selected excerpts from "An Annotated Narrative of the African-American Community in Jefferson County, West Virginia"and]

1732 - The first blacks to arrived and settled in Jefferson county. They were the Johnson family. This family of  'free blacks' crossed the Potomac into western Virginia with the Joist Hite family.

The earliest reference to slaves in Jefferson county occurs in 1738 when, according to "Aler's History of Martinsburg and Berkeley County, West Virginia", it mentions the west side of the Shenandoah river below the fork being settled by overseers and slaves.

By the late 1700's, the institution of slavery was well on its way to being established in Jefferson county as planters in the Tidewater area sent overseers and slaves to develop their new holdings in the Shenandoah Valley.

1800 - The property tax list showed that there were 1,452 taxable slaves in the Jefferson district of Berkeley county. Ownership was concentrated in 329 of the 1,357 families living in the county.

According to the property tax list of 1800, the first African-American taxpayer in Jefferson county was John Jackson.

1812 - Martin Delany, doctor, author, explorer, Black nationalist, and highest ranking Black officer during the Civil War, was born in Charles Town.

Mid-1800's - In the Harper's Ferry area, both slaves and free blacks worked in mills, mined ore, made bricks, cut and milled trees, made pig iron, worked construction, ran the ferry's, and held      various other manufacturing jobs. The armory tended to attract a large number of free blacks to the area to work as laborers, harvesters, businessmen, and fill many other positions.

During the 1850's, slave sales appeared frequently in the local papers. In Shepherdstown, slave sales were held in front of the Daniel Entler's Hotel.

1860 - In the census, a free black named James Rober was listed as one of the wealthiest men in Jefferson county, having amassed $166,000 worth of real estate.

During the Civil War, there were approximately 3,000 slaves comprising 26% of the population of Jefferson county.

The 19th Regiment, Colored, composed of African-Americans from Maryland, was garrisoned in Harpers Ferry to recruit ex-slaves into Army service. The U.S. Army began recruiting and training African-American troops in 1863 and by 1865 one out of ten Union troops were black. 180,000 African-Americans served in the Union Army during the Civil War. 37,000 were killed; twenty-four won Congressional Medals of Honor.

West Virginia was the first state to enter the Union with a constitution providing for the gradual emancipation of slaves within its boundries.

1865 - The Freedman's Bureau in Harpers Ferry was established.  Jefferson county became a magnet for former slaves seeking to obtain work and sustenance.

Reverend Brackett , associated with the Freewill Baptist Church, came to Jefferson county with a mission to start schools for black children in the area. He opened schools in Harpers Ferry, Charles Town, Shepherdstown, and Martinsburg. West Virginia was the first southern state to provide for education of African-American children.

1867 - Storer College was founded by Reverend Nathan Cook Brackett. It opened despite strong opposition and threats from the Ku Klux Klan. Storer College was named after John Storer of Sanford, Maine. The money he donated to start the school required that Storer be open to both black and white students, as well as men and women. Storer College closed in 1955.

Storer College 

Storer College was the first African- American college in West Virginia and one of the first Black institutions of higher learning in the south. The college was named after John Storer of Stanford Maine who, in February 1867 offered to donate $10,000 toward the founding of a Negro school in the south. On October 2, 1867, Storer College in Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, admitted its first students. The institution had originally been established by the Free Will Baptist church as a school for runaway slaves during the Civil War. In 1867, Storer was incorporated by the state as a school for African Americans under the leadership of the Rev. Nathan C. Brackett. Storer trained many prominent black educators and lawyers during its nearly ninety-year history.

Storer College closed in 1955. It is now the Mather Training Center which is part of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. [To learn more about Storer College, visit].

1877 - The first African-American lodge of the Masonic Order in West Virginia was established in Charles Town.

1882 - Joe Winter, known as Indian Dick, obtained a patents for a fire escape ladder and hose conductor. He was also known for helping arrange for Frederick Douglas to meet with John Brown, influencing the decision to conduct the raid on Harper's Ferry. 

From 1880 thru 1900, four of the five hotels in Harpers Ferry were owned and operated by African -Americans, including the Lockwood House and the Hilltop House.

1887 - J.R. Clifford was the first African American admitted to practice law in the West Virginia Court of Appeals.

1906 - Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois and other leading African-Americans created the Niagara Movement, which held its second conference on the campus of Storer College in 1906.

1910 - The Niagra Movement merged with other groups to become the N.A.A.C.P.

There are a number of small black communities that came into being in Jefferson county during its long history worth noting. They include: Johnsontown, Slabtown, Skeeterville, Mt. Pleasant, Duffield, Franklintown, Dog Town (in Charles Town), Paynes Hill, Gibbonstown.

1933 - Sylvia Bishop began working at the Charles Town Race Track. She was a graduate of Storer College and was the first female African-American horse trainer in the U.S.  For years she was the only woman horse trainer at the Charles Town Race Track. She was also a race horse owner and local business woman.

1946 - The Jefferson County Branch of the NAACP was organized and chartered.  

1948 - The Paige-Jackson black high school was built in Charles Town. It was named in honor of Mr. Littlejohn Paige and Mr. Phillip Jackson, both long time Africa-American teachers serving the Charles Town community.

1954 - Legal segregation was finally ended by the landmark school desegregation decision handed down by the Supreme Court in Brown v. The Board of Education.

1955 - Storer College closed its doors. Today the National Park Service continues the college's educational mission by using part of the old campus as a training facility. [Learn more about Storer College].

1957 - Hampshire County,  Jefferson County, and Hardy County finally began integrating their schools.

1965 - All the black schools in Jefferson County were finally closed and the school system was completely desegregated.

* Visit the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society

Niagra Movement & NCAAP - J. Surkamp

Early History of the Jefferson County NAACP

From August 15 to August 19, 1906, the second meeting of the Niagara Movement convened at Storer College in Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County. Led by W. E. B. DuBois, this meeting led to the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Source: Spirit of Jefferson, August 14, 1906, 3 (Harpers Ferry National Historical Park History Database).

The Jefferson County Branch of the NAACP was organized and chartered in June 1946.   To the best of anyone’s  knowledge, this is the first time a civil rights group had been organized in Jefferson County, even though the second meeting of the Niagara Movement was held at Storer College in Harpers Ferry in 1906.

Charter Members
Among the charter members were: Rev. Marcus Wood, Rev. Elmer Dyson, Professor E.  M.  Dandridge, Mr. Ed Roper, Mrs. Ollie Tolbert, Mrs. Mary A .D.  Taylor,  Mrs. Virginia Green, and Rev. R.E.Gordon.

The first Jefferson County Branch President of the NAACP was Professor E.M.Dandridge, science teacher at Page Jackson High School and later the school principal. Rev. Marcus Wood, pastor of Wainwright Baptist Church was vice president.  Presidents who followed were Rev. Wood and Rev. Dyson.

Branch Desegregation Activities
The Branch was successful in getting the Jefferson County Circuit Court to put blacks on the petit and grand juries. It was also successful in getting interstate buses desegregated. The local branch, in cooperation with the State Conference of the NAACP, was also actively involved in the 1948 incident where a black couple from Philadelphia was forcefully ejected from a N&W passenger train near Shenandoah Junction and the husband was killed by a Jefferson county constable. The suit and investigation were going well until the widow decided to drop her suit against the railroad. The facts of the killing were never resolved.

In 1950, following the shooting incident, the Branch became inactive. In the period between 1950 and 1963, the Jefferson County Civic League was organized and continued working on desegregation efforts and obtaining equal opportunities for Blacks.  In October 1963, The Jefferson County NAACP was rechartered following a public mass meeting at the Zion Baptist Church in Charles Town. Bishop Eugene Baltimore, pastor of King Apostle Church in Ranson was elected president and Lester Taylor of Harpers Ferry, vice-president.

Black Schools of Jefferson County, WV

Jamestown Black School
A school for Black students was built in 1884 at Jamestown, two and a half miles southwest of Summit Point. The school was located on the left coming from Summit Point close to the road. The school closed in 1911.

Bakerton Colored School (1917-1928)
The Board of Education selected the Black Methodist Church for a school. The school opened in 1917 and continued to operate until 1928.

Keller School

The Keller Colored School operated in Engle, an area outside of Bakerton. Neither the exact location nor the dates of its operation are known.

The Old School in Shepherdstown (1866-1883)

The Old School on Brown's Alley is the oldest known school for Black students in Shepherdstown. This one-room structure was built with bricks from Harper's Ferry armory buildings. In 2001, it is owned by Asbury Methodist Church as is a family's residence.

Shadyside School (1883-1948)
The second school for black students in Shepherdstown, Shadyside was a large, frame structure located on West Washington Street. George Freeman and John W. Harris taught there.

Eastside School (1948-1965)
The Eastside School, the third school in Shepherdstown, is being used in 2001 as a daycare center.

Zion Baptist Church
The basement of the Zion Baptist Church was used for extra classroom space because of the large enrollment at the Ridge Street school. The church basement was used until 1930. The church still stands. Despite references to colored or Negro persons in historical records, all such references here are to black students or black teachers.

Grandview School (1930's-1965)

Grandview School was first a four-room school that served the Black students in Harper's Ferry/Bolivar area. As of 2001 it is owned by the Board of Education and rented to the National Park Service.

Earliest Black School in Harpers Ferry

The earliest school for Black students in the Harper's Ferry District was this house on Ridge Street. The two-room school was built before 1889 and used until 1930. It was sold to Mr. Dennis in 1931.

Mount Pleasant Colored School (1908-1936)

The school, still standing but uninhabitable in 2001, is located south of Ebeneezer Calvary Church in Mt. Pleasant immediately north of Summit Point.

Middleway Black School (1870-1929)

The earliest school in Middleway for Black students was south of the town on the road leading to Summit Point opposite the power station. Owned in the 1970s by Margaret Burns, it was later torn down. In 1908, another school was built on a lot next to where the earlier school was built.

Myerstown Colored School (1875-1936)
The Myerstown Colored School, located on the left, one mile out of Myerstown on the Myerstown-Rippon Road, was the first known school for Black students there.

Halltown Colored School

The Halltown Colored School was built in 1908 and remained open until 1930. The building still stands today and is located behind the Halltown Memorial Chapel. This school was located in an area of Duffields known as Skeetersville. When the school was established is not known, but some believe it was around 1930. The school closed in 1935 or 1936.

Rippon Colored School

The Rippon Colored School was located at the fork of the road leading from Rippon to Myerstown. The school was built in 1874 for white students. In 1900 the white students moved to a new school and the old school became The Rippon Colored School.

Mechanicstown Black School

The Mechanicstown Black School was built in 1891. The building still stands in Mechanicstown on Route 9 South. The school closed in 1934 and the students were transferred to Eagle Avenue School in Charles Town.

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