Free State

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Plaque about Free State community.jpg
Plaque about Amy Bowles Farrow.png

Free State was a community of free African-American people located near what is now the Belvedere neighborhood in Albemarle County [1]. The land was known as "Free State" since at least the early 1870s, but the origins of the community extend back to 1788, when Amy Bowles Farrow, a free African-American woman, purchased the land.

Amy Bowles Farrow was born around 1735 as a child of an interracial union, and thus required by Virginia law to be an indentured servant for her first 31 years. Once she was free, she moved from Hanover County to Albemarle and married Thomas Farrow, who was also a free person of color. Her son Zachariah married Critta Hemings, the sister of Sally Hemings, who was a slave at Monticello.

Amy Farrow's will divided her property between her two sons, Thomas Farrow, Jr. and Zachariah Bowles. Half of their property left their family by 1850, and was completely surrounded by the Dunlora plantation. This part was passed by Zachariah Bowles to his nephews, Stephen and Peter Bowles. The part owned by Stephen Bowles eventually passed out of the family in 1916, though one heir to Edward and Peter Bowles held land originally purchased by Amy Farrow into the 21st century.

After the Civil War, freed slaves moved into the area, purchasing land from both the Bowles family and the Dunlora plantation. By the late 1920s, white landowners began to acquire Free State lands, with some introducing racial covenants prohibiting sale or rental to African Americans.

Archaeological, documentary, and oral history research was done beginning in 2004 to secure a rezoning request from the County of Albemarle and federal permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This research is summarized on a sign in front of the cemetery, which contains the remains of at least 53 people, though only the gravestone of Mary Bowles remains.

Many of the streets in the Belvedere neighborhood are named after the families of the residents of Free State.

Bowles Homestead and Cemetery sign.jpg

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