One of Loudoun’s newest additions to the telling of the county’s Black history can be found on a new marker at the Aldie Mill Historic Park. There, in the heart of an area once known as Mosby’s Confederacy, visitors can learn about Daniel Dangerfield’s storied escape from slavery to farm life in Canada.
The new historical marker was dedicated Monday morning by NOVA Parks representatives and county leaders, as part of Black History Month events.
The marker tells the story of Daniel Dangerfield, an enslaved teenager who worked in Aldie during the 1840s, possibly at the mill. In 1854, he fled north to Pennsylvania and began a new life in Harrisburg, working as a laborer, marrying and having two children. However, the family of his enslaver tracked him down and Dangerfield was arrested and taken to Philadelphia for a hearing before three federal Fugitive Slave Commissioners.
In that hearing four white men from Loudoun County testified they’d known the accused fugitive for many years here in Virginia, requiring his return under to Virginia under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Four men of color, however, testified that they had known him outside Virginia prior to 1854, meaning that law wouldn’t apply. The case was closely watched with men and women, black and white packing the courtroom, and nearly a thousand more waiting outside. Spectators included many prominent abolitionists of the day.
Commissioner J. Cooke Longstreth released Dangerfield on the opinion that there was not enough proof of his identity—a celebrated victory for abolitionists and a decision that enraged many Southerners.
Dangerfield quickly moved to safer ground in Canada where he and his family made a successful life as farmers near Niagara Falls.
Speaking during Monday’s dedication ceremony, County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said Dangerfield’s bravery and tenacity paved the way for her historic election.
“Think about all that that young man went through. Think about every decision he made, every decision so many people made—people with names we know and with names we’ll never know—all those decisions, all those individual decisions where individual bricks laid down on a path that allowed me to walk on that path, to run for chair and to become the first chair of color in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Randall said.
She said the work of those early freedom fighters cleared the way for a Black president and vice president to be elected as well.
“I am who I am because Daniel Dangerfield was who he was,” Randall said.
U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA-10) said the power of public protest that helped win Dangerfield’s freedom continues to drive racial reckoning today.
“Those events remind us we have to speak out against the injustices we see. And it is just as important now as it was to defend Daniel’s freedom in the 1850s,” she said.
“Sometimes speaking out means joining a march or protest or a movement to commemorate events and people who haven’t received the recognition they were due through the years. Sometimes it means writing to your elected officials about legislation that is important to you. For me, that includes marching alongside others for racial and social justice last summer and successfully working to remove Virginia’s statue to Robert E. Lee from the U.S. Capitol,” Wexton said, also highlighting recent efforts to support more equitable healthcare, provide pandemic relief and strengthen voting rights.
“We must continue to address our country’s and commonwealth’s history and legacy of racial injustice. Honoring stories like Daniel Dangerfield’s as we are doing here today is an essential step in that fight,” she said.
NOVA Parks Chairwoman Cate Magennis Wyatt hailed Dangerfield as a true American hero. The roots of his struggle continue to be seen, such as last summer when thousands gathered at Algonkian Regional Park for a Black Lives Matter rally.
“This narrative must continue. Those who fail to embrace our Constitution and the imperative rights given to all are undermining the underpinnings of our Constitution,” she said. “I’m so proud of NOVA Parks for standing strong and making sure these stories are told. We want to invite every person to come to the Aldie Mill, stand in Daniel’s footsteps, see if you can be as brave as he and ensure that you play your part in upholding our Constitution for all.”
For Loudoun Freedom Center founder Pastor Michelle Thomas, who was unable to attend the dedication ceremony in person, Dangerfield’s story is just one more important piece of Loudoun’s rich African American history to be brought to light.
“When I started the quest to build a church in Lansdowne five years ago, I had no clue of the wealth of African American History that was hidden in plain sight all over Loudoun County, nor did I understand the full gravity and unintended consequences of my pursuit to find the names and history of those formally enslaved in Lansdowne and Belmont,” she said. “For centuries, the stories of the bravery, resistance, innovation, resilience and faith of our ancestors, just like the one we celebrate today, lie dormant waiting to be uncovered, examined, explored, heralded and featured in mainstream public history and U.S. History education alongside of their enslavers, co-founders and co-builders of this great nation. In the same way that we remember Thomas Jefferson, George Carter of Oatlands and Ludwell Lee of Belmont today we celebrate with pride and embrace with great joy the unveiling of another piece of the untold stories of Loudoun’s unsung heroes.
Thomas highlighted the efforts of the regional park authority to tell a more comprehensive story of the county’s history.
“I’m grateful for the partnership and leadership of Paul Gilbert of NOVA Parks. It has been one of my greatest joys to watch NOVA Parks take on the challenge of preservation Justice and equity and lead the way in telling Loudoun’s comprehensive history, as well as correcting previously told narratives that glorify slavery, discrimination and oppression,” Thomas said. “Today is wonderful day in the forward history of Loudoun, what an amazing way to celebrate Black History Month.”