African American News and Genealogy

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Cashing Out Their History

Descendants of Slave Settlers Sell Prince William Enclave By Nikita Stewart, Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, May 15, 2005; Page A01 An acre of land in Gainesville wasn't worth much in 1865. It was worth so little, in fact, that white landowners were willing to rent it to freed slaves who had traveled there in search of land. In a flurry of sales during the 1880s, many of the former slaves bought property for $10 an acre or even less. They called the land, which lies roughly along Routes 29 and 15, the Settlement. It became one of Northern Virginia's most significant, and most stable, black communities. The original settlers believed land was power. They held on to it tightly, parting with bits only when they were desperate for cash. They educated their children on the value of a dollar and the greater value of land. But time and circumstance have altered those lessons. Pursued by developers offering as much as $300,000 an acre, dozens of families -- many of them descendants of those original pioneers -- are opting to sell their property, and a part of Prince William County's African American history is being transformed into hundreds of luxury houses. For the sellers, there are regrets, but there is also a conviction that they are being true to their ancestors' original purpose: to provide economic security for their families. The founders "probably wouldn't be very happy that the land was being sold and great big houses were going on it," said Maxine Thomas, 74, a descendant of an original resident whose family has 15 acres under contract with a $4.5 million price tag. "What would I tell them? Well, I would just tell them that we have to move on," she said. "We can't hold on to it forever." Full Story:


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