Drive through busy Tysons, Virginia, and the traffic, buildings and construction make it hard to imagine the place as anything but a busy urban center. But did you know that it was once a rural community made up of free Black Fairfax County citizens?
They lived in a community called Freedom Hill. Popular tradition suggests that the area got its name because of the large number of free Black residents living in the vicinity in the 19th century, wrote Michael Rierson, Former FCPA Resource Stewardship Branch Manager. Freedom Hill was one of Fairfax County’s earliest Black communities.
One of the prominent families in Freedom Hill were the Carters, whose matriarch, Keziah Carter, was of Tauxenent/Pamunkey ancestry. She purchased 50 acres of her ancestral land in 1842. According to family lore Keziah Purchased the freedom of her enslaved black husband Robert Carter. Her multiracial family lived, bartered and sold property and food among each other and the community. Keziah Carter and her descendants are buried in the Carter family cemetery nearby on land they once owned.
Near the end of the Civil War, soldiers with the Fifth Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery constructed a small earthen redoubt in the Freedom Hill neighborhood. The small fortification did not see any action before the war ended in May 1865. Life at Freedom Hill was monotonous but free from danger. Soldiers’ time was usually divided between patrol duty, construction work, and loafing. Their diaries tell of looking forward to hard labor in order to get away from the boredom of outpost life, Rierson said.
Today, you can visit the site at Freedom Hill Park. Recently installed interpretive signs provide more information about the families who lived in the neighborhood, as well as the fort that bears the community’s name. The signage is part of the Park Authority’s Untold Stories program, which aims to increase the representation of all peoples in the stories the Park Authority tells as it interprets county natural and cultural resources.
The Fairfax County Park Authority is committed to sharing stories and information learned from artifacts and archives to recognize the contributions, struggle and history of African-Americans in Fairfax County and our parks. Our hope is to not only share these stories and programs, but to encourage conversation and inspire appreciation and change for the future.
Freedom Hill Park is located at 8531 Old Courthouse Road near the intersection of Old Court House Road and Rt. 123 in the Westbriar area of Tysons Corner.