Oral History Documents Memories of Long Gone Era

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Provided by Prince William County

Prince William County recently collected oral histories from long-time residents.

After the Civil War, emancipated slaves founded a place once known as “The Settlement” in Gainesville. The Settlement — bounded on the south by Lee Highway, on the east by Carver Road and on the west by Old Carolina Road — was designated for African-Americans and was one of the few areas where emancipated slaves could buy land.

No one calls the area The Settlement anymore, but the community remains in the stories of the residents and in Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, which is still the center of the community. The Prince William County Planning Office, the Historical Commission and the county’s Historic Preservation Division recently collected some of these stories through an oral history project.

County Archeologist Justin Patton said oral histories are the stuff of histories to come. “You’re not going to go to a book to get this information. This is what historians use to write books. So it’s that very basic, first level of research that historians do. Oral histories record that unwritten record of peoples’ memories and peoples’ recollections and write it down verbatim. From that, we can start to better understand and write that unwritten history. This is an African American community that began shortly after the Civil War and has persisted up to the present.”

Personal Histories

Willetta Grayson Wilson, who was born in 1926 and raised on Carver Road, was one of the residents that participated in the project. In her interview, Wilson, who people call Aunt Dolly, talked of making ice cream with a hand-cranked ice cream freezer at lawn parties and she remembers people bringing cakes to the parties. Wilson, whose parents were Charles Grayson and Effie Johnson Grayson, also talked of her brother teaching her to dance the Jitterbug. She remembers winning dance contests at the Shady Inn Dance Hall, where she met her late husband Philmore G. Wilson. “It’s on Friday night or Saturday night for the dances – I was right there. And it was a lot of fun, and people came from other places. People came and brought their children right from Warrenton and all around for that dance hall, because they had a regular band.”

Wilson’s interview showed that, as a girl, she earned money by babysitting and cleaning houses. Later, she learned to deliver babies a nurse’s aide at Fauquier Hospital.

Inez Isadore Moore Fields was born Aug. 15, 1931, to Richard Moore and Lauvenia Grayson Moore in a house on Linton Hall Road and later moved to Carver Road. In her interview, Fields recalled hauling water from a water pump, spending a lot of time outdoors with her five siblings, working in the family garden and going to Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, where she still serves as a deaconess.

“You had to get dressed and go to church – your little socks and your shoes and your dress, sometimes a hat. You’d have a hat on your kid. Get all dressed up and go to church. We used to have big days with cars on all sides of the road.”

Charles Moore, born Nov. 22, 1936, to Lauvenia Grayson and Richard Andrew Moore, was raised in the settlement area and remembers it as close-knit. “I would call it a community because it was a close community. Everybody knew everybody.”

Lillian Peterson Blackwell, born Oct. 17, 1941, to Lee Vallie Pendleton Peterson and James Frederick Peterson, lives on Old Carolina Road. She moved to The Settlement from Buckland, where she was raised, when she married her late husband, Henry Blackwell, in 1963. In her interview, Blackwell said everybody knew about The Settlement. “It was more like a place. When Dad said he was going to The Settlement, you knew he was going to Gainesville – in the area of the church. So it didn’t have a specific boundary or anything, but when he said he was going to The Settlement, Mom knew that he was going either to Old Carolina or Carver Road.”

Yolanda Christine Grayson King was born on Sept. 26, 1951, to Idella Grayson and Ray Nathaniel Fitzhugh. Her mother worked as a mess sergeant at Fort Belvoir and then as a homemaker while her father owned a sanitation company. In her interview, King also spoke of the lawn parities where people brought chicken, apple and cherry pies, and potato salad.

King moved away in 1971 when she married her late husband, Roger King, and now lives in Manassas, but her heart never left The Settlement and the church. “I moved, of course, as far as my address, but I didn’t ever really move away because of Mount Pleasant. That’s kept us together. That’s my home.”

Patton said the project was a “very good start” to getting the history of The Settlement. “There are still oral-history-eligible candidates to be interviewed,” he said.

Visit the Planning Department’s webpage to read the oral histories and see full transcripts of the interviews. Visit pwcgov.org/planning, click on “Developing Our Community” and then “Special Planning Projects.”


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