This Day in History

Feb. 20, 1885: Black Town of Princeville, North Carolina Incorporated

Time Periods: Industrial Revolution: 1877 - 1899
Themes: African American, Housing, Organizing, Reconstruction

Princeville, North Carolina originated in 1865 as a resettlement community for the formerly enslaved.

Michael Hill explains in his essay at NCPedia.org:

At the close of the Civil War, when Union troops occupied the area around the town of Tarboro, many of the former slaves in surrounding counties left their plantations and came to the Federals’ encampment seeking freedom and protection. The future faced by the mostly illiterate, unskilled, penniless freedpersons was uncertain and unpromising.

Freedom Hill historical marker

Photographed By Mike Stroud, 2011.

The formerly enslaved congregated around the Union troops bivouacked on the south side of the Tar River below Tarboro. Although the soldiers advised them to return to the plantations and work for their old masters, a sizable number of freed people remained encamped at the site after the troops had departed. They called their new village Freedom Hill, a name adopted from a nearby hill or knoll where northern soldiers had addressed the former slaves, telling them that the Union victory in the war had made them free.

The formerly enslaved who remained encamped on the river soon erected makeshift shelters. (Continue reading at NCPedia.org. Note we have adapted some of the wording in this post.)


Learn more in the Zinn Education Project national report, “Erasing the Black Freedom Struggle: How State Standards Fail to Teach the Truth About Reconstruction,” and find teaching resources on Reconstruction below.