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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Liberation and Freedom to Choose

Contributed by the WellsBuilt Museum


When Florida and other southern states seceded from the United States in September of 1861, President Abraham Lincoln sought ways to preserve the Union. In 1862, he wrote a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation which declared that “all persons held as slaves within the rebellious areas are, and henceforth shall be free”. When the rebellion had not ended 100 days later, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. 

Though the Emancipation Proclamation would end slavery in rebellious states, it left in place slavery in loyal states such as Virginia and Maryland. Over 200,000 African fugitives, ex slaves and freedmen from the North joined the Union Army and were liberated to become liberators.

At the end of the Civil War, President Lincoln sent Union soldiers on horse back to plantations throughout the South to inform the slaves that they were free. 

News of freedom reached Florida on May 20, 1865 when the Emancipation Proclamation was read on the steps of the Knott House in Tallahassee, the State Capital. The last of the American slaves to learn of their freedom were those in Galveston, Texas who received the news on June 19, 1865. 

June 19th has been shortened over the years and today is simply known as Juneteenth. Juneteenth is celebrated annually throughout the Nation and abroad to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.

After Juneteenth, the freedmen were liberated to choose where they would live and whom they would marry. One slave who left a southern plantation after Emancipation was Moses Crooms, who had been enslaved on the Good Wood Plantation in Tallahassee.

The 1850 Census shows that slave owners Daniel and Elizabeth Croom owned over 4000 acres of land and operated a plantation system from Newberg, North Carolina into West Florida. Moses was a skilled craftsman, carpenter and bricklayer who helped to build the big house on the Good Wood Plantation. He was in love with Daphney, a house slave on the Good Wood Plantation, but was forbidden during slavery to marry her. After Emancipation, Moses married Daphney, took his master’s last name and added and “s” and left the Good Wood Plantation for Jefferson County, Florida. He later came to Orlando on a road building crew.

The 1880 Census shows Moses and Daphney in Orange County. Their names are on
chartering documents for the establishment of the first church for African Americans in
Orlando—Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church. Through interaction with
her master’s children Daphney learned to read and write though it was forbidden for
slaves to be taught such skills. 

Daphney taught Moses and their nine children to read and write. Members of the Crooms family were literate when most of the former slaves were unable to read or write. The Crooms became leaders in Central Florida and established institutions like Mt. Zion and Crooms Academy. 

More African Americans joined the Crooms family in Orlando when two white men named Henry—Henry Flagler and Henry Plant—hired former slaves to lay rails for a new system of transportation known as railroads which came to Orlando in 1880. Orlando leaders built a station for the railroad on a street called Church. Church Street and Church Street Station became the gateway for African Americans who were liberated and free to choose a home in Central Florida.

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