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By Times-Dispatch Staff
A contraband parade kicked off the commemoration events at Fort Monroe today recalling the 150th anniversary of a decision to consider runaway slaves contraband of war instead of returning them to their owners.
On May 23, 1861, the day Virginians voted to ratify the state’s secession from the United States. While others may have celebrated, three enslaved men rowed from Sewell’s Point in Norfolk to Fort Monroe in Hampton.
Their arrival forced a military decision that changed the moral compass of the nation. The war for union would also be a war about slavery.
“Their actions forced the federal government through its military representatives to take a stand,” Wiggins said. When Gen. Benjamin F. Butler refused to return the slaves and declared them contraband of war, thousands of other slaves soon followed. By the end of the war, the area around the fort was home to a community of 10,000 former slaves.
Look for the full story of the contrabands and today's commemoration in the Sunday Richmond Times-Dispatch.