The second Gathering of Black Descendants of Gwynn’s Island watermen took place on Saturday on Gwynn’s Island. Descendants of the Smith, Frazier, Perley, Gwynn and Jackson families returned to the land their ancestors were forced off in 1916 to connect with each other and tour the area.
One reunion organizer Allison Thomas of Los Angeles can trace her ancestry to slave owners who lived on Gwynn’s Island. She said some of the former enslaved persons on Gwynn’s Island returned and purchased land of the farms they used to work on.
Thomas said the migration off the island started following a confrontation between black and white watermen on Christmas Eve of 1915. Knowing things could resort to more violence, black families soon started to leave Gwynn’s Island.
First, the men of the families would go and find work and a home before sending for their families to follow them, said Thomas. Many settled in York County and Hampton Roads. The last black families moved off the island in ...
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