Uncovering Abingdon's black history: famous figures from Abingdon's past

In honor of Juneteenth (June 19), we've compiled a list of some of the most famous black Abingdonians. Learn about a patriot who marched with the Overmountain Men, black businessmen, a tavern owner, and a former enslaved person who served on Jefferson Davis’ jury after the Civil War.

“Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.” From https://www.juneteenth.com/

Take a walking tour of historic Abingdon
Landon boyd group
Landon Boyd and fellow jurors called to try Jefferson Davis for treason

John Broddy

Born into slavery, John Broddy was the property of Col. William Campbell, a famous Abingdonian in his own right, who led the patriot militia over the mountains to defeat the British at King’s Mountain. This march is commemorated by the Overmountain Victory Historic Trail, one of only 19 national historic trails to receive this designation by Congress.

Broddy marched with the Overmountain Men, and participated in the Battle of King’s Mountain, where it is said that the British fired on him by mistake, thinking that he was Col. Campbell. This strong resemblance has been noted by many historians, who believe it is likely that Broddy was also Campbell’s half-brother, as well as his manservant.

After Campbell’s death, his daughter and son-in-law emancipated Broddy, stating in the legal documents “Whereas my negro man John (alias) John Broady, claims a promise of freedom from his master General William Campbell, for his faithful attendance on him at all times, and more particularly whil he was in tha army in the last war, and … feeling a desire to emancipate the said negro man John, as well as for the fulfullment of tha above-mentioned promise, as the gratification of being instrumental of prompting a participation of liberty to a fellow creature, who by nature is entitled thereto.”

John Broddy is buried in a cemetery near Saltville, VA where he is honored each year by the Overmountain Victory Trail Association.

Visitors can explore the Abingdon Muster Grounds, where John Broddy, William Campbell and the other Overmountain Men of SWVA began their 330 mile march to the Battle of King's Mountain. 

Visit the Abingdon Muster Grounds
John Broddy grave

Fincastle Sterrett

Born in 1780, Fincastle Sterrett was owned by William King, an Irish immigrant and one of America’s first millionaires. As the King family prospered, Sterrett acted as King’s business representative across the United States, traveling from Baltimore to New Orleans to negotiate on King’s behalf. Throughout their life together, King promised Sterrett his emancipation, but when King died in 1806 his will failed to make good on that promise. King’s friend and business partner Charles S. Carson arranged Sterrett’s emancipation. However, Virginia law at that time did not allow him full citizenship. He appealed to the Virginia legislature for his full rights – and won.

Sterrett became a highly successful businessman, buying up property in Southwest Virginia, including 208 East Main Street, the building right next to The Tavern, where he opened his own tavern, Fincastle’s Ordinary. (The building no longer exists; the current structure was built in 1846.) A talented fiddler, Sterrett famously drew crowds to his tavern by playing Irish jigs.

Finn died 1833 and in his will, he stipulated the sale of the tavern was to pay for his son’s emancipation.

William King House 1
The William King House in Abingdon

Thaddeus S. Harris

Many visitors are familiar with The Tavern, Abingdon’s most iconic restaurants. Fewer people know that The Tavern was owned for almost 100 years by a black family. Thaddeus Harris was a free person of color in Abingdon, who purchased the building that is now The Tavern in 1858. He lived with his family in one half of the building, and operated a shop in the other half. Census reports list him as a barber and confectioner.

According to his account books, he offered “items such as tobacco, sardines, cheese, sugar, candy, hair trims and shaves.”

The Tavern remained in the Harris family until 1950. 

The Tavern exterior - credit Jason Barnette

Landon Boyd

Landon Boyd was a brick mason born into slavery in Abingdon. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, he moved to Richmond and in May 1867 was appointed to serve on the petit jury for the US District Court which was formed to try former Confederate President Jefferson Davis for treason.

When he returned to Abingdon about 1878, Boyd lived near here on Kings Mountain with his wife, Kate, who taught at Kings Mountain School, and his mother and sister. Landon Boyd died November 10, 1899, and is buried in the African American section of Sinking Spring Cemetery.

Find out more about Landon Boyd when you visit the sign located at the intersection of A. Street South East and Tanner Street.

Get directions to the historical marker

Interested in more Abingdon history?

Abingdon is rich in history and legend. For more information on Abingdon's history, download our self-guided walking tour, or visit one of the following resources. 

The Historical Society of Washington County is a volunteer-led organization with an extensive collection of historical and genealogical archives. 

Visit the Historical Society of Washington County

History Alive Tours are conducted by living history guides who tell the stories from the point of view of those who walked these trails. Tour historic Abingdon and beautiful southwestern Virginia with Lord Dunmore, the last colonial governor of Virginia, or Rev. Charles Cummings, The Fightin’ Parson, or march the Overmountain Victory Trail with George Thomasson, drummer with militia at the Battle of Kings Mountain, or enjoy the area taverns and taprooms with Rufus Soule, tavern owner.

History Alive Tours
The Martha Bedroom Jb0357

Lodging

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