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Fredericksburg Walking Tour
Item 6 of 18

This plaza at the corner of Princess Anne and Williams Streets features a sculpture commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation and a historical marker. The sculpture consists of a human figure with its arms raised releasing a dove into the sky. Artist Ayokunle Odeleye created it in 2013. The historical marker describes the significance of a set of stairs that was originally located at the front entrance of a former bank building down the street. On May 23, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln stopped at the bank, which became the headquarters for the Union troops occupying the city, and exited the building through the main entrance and walked down these steps. The steps are also associated with an African American man, John Washington (183-1918), who, on April 18, 1862, walked down them for the last time. He actually lived on the second floor of the building for most of his childhood.

The steps are located just in front of the historical marker.

Plant community, Plant, Natural environment, Wood

Artist Ayokunle Odeleye created the Emancipation Proclamation sculpture in 2013.

Sculpture, Wood, Wall, Art

John Washington (183-1918)

Coat, Collar, Suit, Blazer

Ayokunle Odeleye grew up in Fredericksburg and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia. He earned a bachelor's degree in art in 1973 and a master's degree in sculpture in 1975, both from Howard University. He has taught art in high schools and colleges and universities, including at Kennesaw University from 1989-2018. St. George's Episcopal Church commissioned Odeleye to create the sculpture in 2013. It commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

On April 18, 1862, Union troops crossed the Rappahannock River into Fredericksburg and would occupy the city until September. At the time, John Washington was the enslaved personal servant of a woman, Mrs. Taliaferro, who allowed him to hire himself out as a bartender and steward at the Shakespeare Hotel, which was located on Caroline Street. On the evening of the 18th, the hotel owner instructed Washington to pay the staff and close the building. He then left the city for North Carolina. The owner wanted Washington to go with him but Washington declined and apparently convinced the owner he would remain loyal. Washington ignored this and poured drinks for himself and his fellow enslaved bar workers. After toasting the Union troops, it appears Washington returned to the bank building before leaving to cross the river into the Union lines.

Washington's mother was an enslaved woman and his father was a white man. As a result of this mixed background, his light-skinned complexion gave him advantages, such as being able to freely run errands for Mrs. Taliaferro (he was often confused for a white person). His mother was also literate, which was uncommon for enslaved people, and taught Washington how to read and write (white relatives and friends helped as well). He also became acquainted with boating and the river. These skills, his life experiences, and his long-desire to be free, helped him escape that evening of April 18. After the war, he settle in Washington D.C. where he raised a family. His mother and other relatives joined him there. Washington wrote a book about his life titled Memorys of the Past Born.

On May 23, 1862, President Lincoln visited Union troops at their camps at Marye's Heights, an elevated site overlooking the city where fierce fighting took place on December 13 during the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11-15). In the National Bank building, Lincoln met with the provost marshal for about 30 minutes before stepping outside of the main entrance. He gave a brief speech then walked down the steps and departed.

"About the Artist." Odeleye Sculpture Studios. Accessed June 27, 2023.

"Emancipation Proclamation Memorial." The Historical Marker Database. Accessed June 27, 2023.

Henderson, Steward. "John Washington." American Battlefield Trust. Last Updated February 22, 2023.

"Historic Footsteps." The Historical Marker Database. Accessed June 27, 2023.

"John M. Washington (1838-1918)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Accessed June 27, 2023.

"The First Federal Occupation." Stafford Museum and Cultural Center. Accessed June 27, 2023.

Uphaus, Adele. "Fredericksburg unveils historic marker honoring John Washington." June 22, 2023.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

The Historical Marker Database

Encyclopedia Virginia