For those still enslaved in the South, the Civil War held the promise of freedom, but brought with it privations and occasional tense encounters with Union troops. A March 1865 letter written by Jefferson’s great-granddaughter, Mary B. Randolph, describes Gen. Philip Sheridan’s troops entering Albemarle County, and includes the reactions of Hughes descendants enslaved at Edgehill.
In a 1949 interview with the Library of Congress, Fountain Hughes, a descendant of Monticello gardener Wormley Hughes, describes the Union army destroying food supplies in Charlottesville. Hughes also recalls wartime emancipation and the difficulties that accompanied it. “We had no home, you know,” he said. “We was just turned out like a lot of cattle. You know how they turn cattle out in a pasture? Well after freedom, you know, colored people didn’t have nothing.”
The June 1864 arrival of Union troops under Gen. David Hunter in Lexington, Virginia, presented George Edmondson, great-grandson of Betty Brown, the opportunity to claim his freedom. One of many slaves who escaped slavery with the Union army, Edmondson left the area under the protection of Hunter’s troops. From West Virginia, he joined the 127th Pennsylvania regiment whose motto was “We will prove ourselves men.”