Shenandoah University’s McCormick Civil War Institute is proud to announce the unveiling of a digital history project that delves into the history of the Civil War’s emancipationist legacy in the Shenandoah Valley.
“The Spirit of Freedom: Preserving Emancipation’s Legacy in the Shenandoah Valley,” which is the product of over two years of work and research, is an online collection of over 100 primary documents, histories of important figures and organizations, classroom activities, timeline entries and suggested reading materials.
The digital resource is the first of its kind to document emancipation celebrations in the Shenandoah Valley and explore the many ways African Americans in the region challenged the Lost Cause narrative that emerged following the Civil War. The website is intended for use by historians, students and the general public, and the classroom activities created as part of the project are designed to align with the Standards of Learning for Virginia’s public schools.
The website will continue to develop as additional documents are discovered and added.
Jonathan Noyalas ’01, M.A., director of the McCormick Civil War Institute, spearheaded “The Spirit of Freedom” project and led a team of researchers that included students from Shenandoah University and Mary Baldwin College; Stephen Longenecker, Ph.D, professor emeritus at Bridgewater College; Anne Marchant, Ph.D., former director of the Division of Applied Technology at Shenandoah University; and Brandy Noyalas, a social studies teacher for Winchester Public Schools.
For a historian, nothing is more powerful than primary documents, those voices from the past that cut across time to reveal the complexities of life at a particular moment in history. This digital history project has assembled a primary collection unlike any other that reveals the myriad ways African Americans in the Shenandoah Valley attempted to preserve the Civil War’s emancipationist memory and the challenges they confronted in doing so. Additionally, the site breathes life into individuals long forgotten, people such as Jasper Thompson, a veteran of the 23rd United States Colored Troops and resident of Jefferson County, West Virginia, who served as marshal and speaker at various celebrations in the northern Shenandoah Valley. Furthermore, the site presents an array of documents that reveals how Harpers Ferry, largely due to John Brown’s raid on the town in the autumn of 1859, became a significant battleground in the fight to preserve emancipation’s legacies, not only in the Shenandoah Valley, but the nation.”
Jonathan Noyalas, M.A., director of the McCormick Civil War Institute
The McCormick Civil War Institute’s work on the “The Spirit of Freedom” began in February 2021, when Shenandoah University was announced as an affiliate member of the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) for its multiyear project, “Legacies of American Slavery: Reckoning with the Past.”
“Legacies of American Slavery” is a collaborative effort involving nearly 20 higher-education institutions across the country. It’s directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David W. Blight, Sterling Professor of American History at Yale University and executive director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition (GLC) at Yale’s MacMillan Center.
This collaboration between Shenandoah University’s McCormick Civil War Institute and the Council of Independent Colleges has offered our students a unique opportunity to carry out historical research in such an important, and often overlooked, part of our past. ‘The Spirit of Freedom’ makes an original contribution to our understanding of slavery and its lasting impacts in our region. This work will serve as a resource for researchers, and, more importantly, for students at all levels.”
Jeff Coker, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
“The Spirit of Freedom” received financial support from the “Legacies” project and the Community Foundation of the Northern Shenandoah Valley’s Boxley-Fox Endowment Fund. The latter, received in October 2022, allowed the MCWI to complete “The Spirit of Freedom,” develop classroom activities, and support the annual maintenance of the website for public access.
“I am so appreciative of the Council of Independent Colleges’ ‘Legacies of Slavery Project’ for its support of this effort and I am also grateful to the Community Foundation of the Northern Shenandoah Valley’s Boxley-Fox Endowment Fund for providing additional support,” Jonathan Noyalas said.
“The Spirit of Freedom” is available at mcwi.omeka.net.