PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — Tucked away in the city of Petersburg remains a small, prominent community known as Pocahontas Island.
The peninsula is considered one of the oldest African-American communities in the United States.
Richard Stewart, a native of the area makes an effort to preserve its legacy.
“You pass Pocahontas, you pass the gateway of the South,” Stewart said.
Pocahontas Island is 70 acres of what was once a hub for tobacco, trade, and the railroad industry.
For many African-Americans during the 17th century, it was a place for freedom.
Founded in 1752, the town holds connections to slave rebellions, the Civil War and served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Stewart established the Pocahontas Island Black History Museum, capturing the spirit of what the small community used to be.
“[Visitors] will see pictures of slaves that once were Thomas Jefferson’s that came here for freedom” Stewart said. “Then we’ll see evidence of the Revolutionary Wary, black folks that fought in that.”
Stewart never had intentions on coming back but he said living in Pocahontas Island is a calling.
Working on this property and this museum is a token of appreciation to my ancestors that left me so much,” he said.
He works countless hours tending to leftover properties and landmarks which are stark reminders of what was once a bustling town.
Pocahontas Island’s rich history, according to Stewart, tells us a lot about today’s issues.
“Pocahontas can represent a place of atonement because blacks and whites lived together here,” he said. “That can be a day of atonement and freedom and peace between race.”
The island is now recognized in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.