A group of freedpeople and Union soldiers relaxing at a Virginia farm house in 1862. Library of Congress photo, LC-DIG-cwpb-00129 DLC.

How did the slaves learn that they were free?

That seems like a simple question. Try as I might, I have not been able to answer it for the five African-American slaves who were owned by the Poore family when the Civil War started.

Nor have I discovered when the slaves learned of their freedom or what they did immediately after finding out.

Some stories of liberation are well known. The slaves of Galveston, Texas, learned of their freedom on June 19, 1865, two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered, when a force of two-thousand Union soldiers arrived and told them. This was the beginning of Juneteenth, the celebration of emancipation.

During the war, some slaves simply escaped to Union lines as U.S. Army units moved through their areas of the South.

In other cases, word came from the slaves’ news grapevine. Before the war the grapevine brought information to the slaves that their masters didn’t want them to know. Now it told them freedom was at hand. Then they just packed up and left.

But I haven’t been able to find any stories of how the news of emancipation came to Jasper County, Mississippi, where the Poore family lived in 1865. So we are left to speculate.

I do know that by 1864 one of the female slaves no longer lived in the household. She did not appear on the 1864 tax roll, possibly recorded in October, with the four other slaves. By the end of the war in 1865, all of these individuals disappear from the records and haven’t been found as freedpeople.

It is unlikely that large bodies of Union troops visited the farms of yeomen slave owners such as the Poore family. But one or two troopers may have ridden from farm to farm to tell the slaves they were free.

If anyone has a documented account of how the slaves on yeoman farms learned of their freedom, I would welcome your sharing it here.

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