Shenandoah University’s McCormick Civil War Institute Debuts “Spirit of Freedom”

We are thrilled to share the news about an exciting new digital history site from Shenandoah University (an Institutional Affiliate of the Legacies of American Slavery network) — “The Spirit of Freedom”: Preserving Emancipation’s Legacy in the Shenandoah Valley.

Students and faculty from Shenandoah University, CIC member Bridgewater College, Mary Baldwin College, and the Winchester City (Va.) Public Schools all contributed to the creation of this site, which contains primary sources, biographical sketches, classroom activities aligned with Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOLs), timeline, and suggested reading. Here is the official announcement:

Banner image from the "Spirit of Freedom" project at Shenandoah University.

After more than two years of research, writing, and site-building, Shenandoah University’s McCormick Civil War Institute, an affiliate member of CIC’s Legacies of American Slavery Project, debuted its digital history site “The Spirit of Freedom”: Preserving Emancipation’s Legacy in the Shenandoah Valley on February 22. The site currently contains more than 100 primary sources that illuminate the ways African Americans in the Shenandoah Valley celebrated Emancipation in the decades after the conflict and the various obstacles they confronted.

While documents reveal that Emancipation day was celebrated at different times of the year, not something unique to the Shenandoah Valley, and in various localities throughout the Shenandoah, no community in the Valley became a more powerful place to celebrate slavery’s end and challenge the Lost Cause’s distortion of slavery’s reality than Harpers Ferry. The scene of John Brown’s raid in the autumn of 1859, Harpers Ferry, as the documents on the site reveal, proved a critical location for annual Emancipation day gatherings and became a magnet for various groups devoted to African American social and political equality including the National League of Colored Women, the Niagara Movement, and NAACP. Documents on the site reveal the power of John Brown’s fort as an important symbol in the fight for equality and justice. 

Additionally, the site contains biographical sketches of individuals who played important roles in commemorating Emancipation and challenging the Lost Cause. Among the personalities explored on the site are:

➢Jasper Thompson, a veteran of the 23rd United States Colored Troops from Charles Town, West Virginia, who became a prominent fixture at Emancipation day celebrations in the northern Shenandoah Valley and

➢Pearl Tatten, a Yale-educated music instructor at Storer College who delivered an impromptu address at the dedication of the Heyward Shepherd monument in Harpers Ferry in 1931 condemning the perpetuation of lies promulgated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The site also contains classroom activities aligned with Virginia’s Standards of Learning, suggested reading, and timeline. 

Prof. Jonathan A. Noyalas, director of Shenandoah University’s McCormick Civil War Institute supervised the project and received critical support from the following individuals in developing the site: Alana Gill (student, Mary Baldwin College); Caitlyn Graulau (student, Shenandoah University); Jamie Hunstad (student, Shenandoah University); Douglas Jackson (student, Shenandoah University); Brennan Komelasky (student, Shenandoah University); Stephen Longenecker, Ph.D (professor emeritus Bridgewater College); Anne Marchant, PhD (Division of Applied Technology, Shenandoah University); Callista Maybery (student, Shenandoah University); Emily Mullen (student, Shenandoah University); Chris Nelson (independent researcher); Brandy N. Noyalas (social studies teacher, Winchester City Public Schools), and Steven Stabler (student, Shenandoah University). Technical support was provided by the Omeka team. The Community Foundation of the Northern Shenandoah Valley, Boxley-Fox Endowment Fund provided additional financial support.

The site, which will continue to grow in the coming months and years, can be accessed at

Contact Jonathan Noyalas for more details.