A Little-known African American Community at Bull Run

PG Co. Centerville Dist. p. 69

“… I have for some time past been convinced that to retain them in Slavery is contrary to the true principles of Religion & justice, & that therefore it was my duty to manumit them…”.

So wrote Robert Carter III in his Deed of Gift on August 1, 1791. Carter, one of Virginia’s wealthiest landowners, arranged to manumit the 452 people enslaved on his twelve farms, including the 809-acre Leo farm that spanned Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties. Some of the 43 women, men and children emancipated from Leo farm would establish a small community in Fairfax County south of Centreville between Bull Run and Cub Run. Over the next 200 years their settlement would thrive, becoming one of the largest African American communities in Fairfax County.

Nathaniel Harris, Uriah Amager and their 18 family members settled north of Bull Run before 1810. By 1820, 12 households including the Harrises, Burkes, Paynes, Amagers and Clarks also established farms in the area and the population had grown to 52. Jesse Harris purchased the 211-acre “Waterside” tract in 1844. By 1859, the Harris family alone owned over 570 acres. As early as 1854, local families founded the Cub Run Primitive Baptist Church, which still stands on Compton Road. Throughout the next decades, all families were engaged in agriculture, producing primarily wheat and corn, and supporting local merchant mills and stores. Many were related to James Robinson, a free African American whose farm site is now preserved at Manassas National Battlefield Park.

The free African American farmers above Bull Run were not spared when the Centreville region became a battleground during 1861-1862. Confederate and Union Armies repeatedly destroyed property and requisitioned crops and animals. After the war, Jesse and Obed Harris filed claims with the Federal government. Each received compensation for property that Union forces had taken in 1862. Families resumed life and slowly regained economic footing. In February 1868, Charles Harris successfully appealed to the Freedmen’s Bureau for $150 to complete a school for local children. The Rock Hill “Schl Ho” sits among the Harris, Naylor, Jordan and other homesteads that comprised the community in 1879, as seen on G. M. Hopkins’ map of Centreville District No. 1, Fairfax County (detail, Library of Congress).

Historical cemeteries and the Cub Run Primitive Baptist Church are among the few known physical remnants of the African American community that once flourished at Bull Run. Nonetheless, many proud descendants of families who established and once resided there enthusiastically research and share information that sheds light on their ancestors.

Author Heather Hembrey is the Assistant Collections Manager for the Archaeology and Collections Branch. Her research is used to inform the archaeological work done throughout the county.

This entry was posted in Archaeology on by .

About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

2 thoughts on “A Little-known African American Community at Bull Run

  1. Kim Stryker

    There us so much more i want to know! How did the privately owned land become Manassas Battlefield Park?

    What happened to the community?

    1. Fairfax County Park Authority Post author

      How did the privately owned land become Manassas National Battlefield Park?

      The land where the Bull Run community lived was in Fairfax County, across Bull Run from Manassas National Battlefield Park, which is in Prince William County. There were ties between the Harris family who lived on the Fairfax County side and James Robinson, a prosperous African-American farmer whose home location is identified and interpreted on the Battlefield. The Fairfax County land where the Bull Run community lived is now privately owned and largely undeveloped.

      What happened to the community?

      Over time, the families sold their land and moved to various locations. However, a large descendant group is quite active in researching and sharing their families’ histories. Some are spearheading an effort to restore the Cub Run Primitive Baptist Church, which was founded by members of the historic Bull Run Community and built upon land donated by one of the community leaders.


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