When I went to Tajikistan, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the basics, like how it’s a land-locked country in Central Asia. I could find it on a map, knew it was bordered by Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China, that it used to be part of the Soviet Union, but that’s mostly it. But, I didn’t know what it would feel like, or look like or be like.

Still, I was excited. At work, we have a partnership with the Republic of Tajikistan, so I know a lot of people who have been before, and I was anxious to experience it for myself.

Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM

I went last year, while deployed, with a few other members of my team. One had been before, had even lived in Dushanbe, the capital, for a few months. He served as our tour guide, taking us to all the best restaurants and, more often than not, using his Russian language skills to order our food too.

We were there for work, but our days were pretty short. We spent the morning and early afternoon with  Tajikistan’s soldiers, then headed back to our hotel, knocked out some daily administrative tasks and then headed out for a late lunch.

Lunch, for us, was a whole thing. We stuffed ourselves, each and every day, usually to the point where we didn’t even need to eat dinner. Everything we ate was so good, so different, so well-done and delicious. We would sit and stuff ourselves past the point of fullness and then we’d linger over the remnants of our feast, waiting for our food to digest enough so we could walk – not waddle – around the city some more.

Given Tajikistan’s geographic location in the middle of everything, the food options are endless and authentic. We were never once disappointed, except for maybe by a shrimp-flavored pack of Pringles someone passed around at the hotel.

ROKHAT TEA HOUSE – TAJIK/CENTRAL ASIAN

Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM

This was the very first place we ate in Tajikistan and one of the last, too. We had tea, of course, which was citrusy, perfect and delicious, along with a few beers and, of course, some vodka. This was my first introduction to the bread of Tajikistan, which is delicious in a way I can’t even explain. Bakers take balls of dough and throw them onto the inside of earthen ovens and the result is delightful. It’s served fresh and warm and I ate piles of it while we were there.

For the main course, I had plov, one of the national dishes of Tajikistan, made with hunks of meat, piles of noodles or rice, and vegetables. It is hearty and filling and a delicious burst of complimentary flavors and was exactly what I needed on that first day, one that was spent mostly on airplanes, but also included a multi-hour pit stop at the airport in Kazakhstan, where I slept on a very cold and very hard bench.

In addition to the food, a peak around the tea house is also worthwhile. They’ve got indoor and outdoor seating, both of which are lovely, along with beautifully painted ceilings throughout.

FIND IT: Rokhat Tea House, Rudaki Avenue 84, Dushanbe, Tajikistan; Open daily 8 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Listed on CNN’s list of top tea houses in the world ||  Facebook & TripAdvisor

ARIRANG RESTAURANT – KOREAN
Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM

This Korean place is seriously lacking in curb appeal, but the interior makes you feel like you’re in a different world. We were a big group and sat around the large wood table in the middle of the restaurant. The meal started with six little snacks to share, things like bean sprouts, red beans and kimchi, and then we launched into our meals.

I can’t even tell you what I ate, but I know I loved it. It was just spicy enough and there was an egg on it, and I really appreciate any food that’s been decorated with an egg.

Everyone ordered something different, mainly mixed bowls or mixed rice dishes, and we were all pleased with our meals. Authentic Korean food was something we knew we wouldn’t be getting once we headed back to Kuwait, which only made the meal more special.

FIND IT: Arirang, Rudaki Ave 96, Dushanbe 734000, Tajikistan; Open daily, except Sunday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. ||  TripAdvisor

TAJ RESTAURANT – INDIAN

Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM

This was maybe the height of our gluttony. We ordered so much food, you guys. SO. MUCH. FOOD. We ordered a few types of naan, some small bites to share, some beers, and main courses and we were so, so fat by the end of it.

We sat on couches with a table in between, and once we consumed all the food, the conversation slowed, we all leaned back and tried to give our bellies as much space as possible because they were stuffed. And yet, we all still wanted to eat more.

I loved everything I tried here and nothing was too spicy for my somewhat delicate palate. The naan was perfection, all covered in garlic or herbs and I could not stop eating it.

FIND IT: Taj Restaurant, Rudaki Ave., 81, Dushanbe, Tajikistan; || TripAdvisor

MARCO POLO – AFGHAN
Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM

This was my favorite meal. I ate so many good things in Dushanbe, but this meal was the best. The bread came with a delicious herb-based dipping sauce that I actually considered drinking, the appetizers we ordered were flavorful and unique, and the main course – a mixed grill plate with lamb, chicken and beef sirloin – was incredible. It’s the one place I encourage everyone to visit in Dushanbe and a place I would visit again without hesitation.

Marco Polo is on the pricier end of Dushanbe’s restaurant spectrum, but it’s still relatively inexpensive compared to U.S. dining options.

Inside, the restaurant is decorated like the inside of a cave, which I found odd, fascinating and lovable. There’s also an incredibly charming outdoor patio area, if eating inside a fake cave isn’t on your bucket list.

FIND IT: Marco Polo Restaurant, Merza Tursom Zadah 80, Dushanbe 734000, Tajikistan; TripAdvisor

Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM
TAJIKISTAN

I loved Tajikistan and would visit again. It’s a unique place, an intersection of culture and the food is incredible. Plus, the currency conversion rate meant I could spend $5-10 USD a day and eat exceptionally well. It was my first time in Central Asia, and I was stunned by the jagged mountains that surround the city, by the kindness of the people and the deliciousness of the food.

Memories are neat. It’s neat the way they attach themselves to sensory triggers, like the way a smell will take you back 20 years to a specific place and time, like the foyer of your grandmother’s house, or the way the sound of a sprinkler can transport you across decades to a neighbor’s backyard where you spent hours running around in the water as a kid. It’s neat the way a song, one you haven’t heard in years, can take you back to your first break-up, first kiss, first road trip, first whatever. Suddenly you’re there, back in that moment, transported over miles and years, to some specific moment, seminal or otherwise.

And it’s neat how remembering can give us a sensory reaction, the way just thinking of a place you visited, experienced or explored can take you back to that place, to the point where you can smell the salt of the sea, or feel the gentle crush of a first heart-break, or, alternately, the first jolt of love that courses through hearts, limbs and fingertips.

It’s just neat, to me, how those memories can remain so visceral, so clear.

The Way Memories Feel & Amman's Roman Theatre || TERRAGOES.COM

I spent most of my deployment last year in Kuwait. That’s where I was primarily based, in the dusty, sandy heat of Kuwait. But another part of our team was in Jordan, and I managed to get myself there a few times. John, my former other half, was part of that team, so getting to Jordan was special and significant.

I was there in October, working on a handful of projects. We’d had meetings in the morning and stopped in Amman, the capital city, for lunch. Then, with a little more time to spare, we stopped by the Roman Theatre, in downtown Amman.

I don’t remember a lot from that day. Scrolling through photos shows me who we met with, who else we were with and what we had for lunch. But I can’t really remember it without those prompts, not clearly anyway.

But then there’s this moment, this singular moment of being at the very top of the theatre with John, having walked up the very narrow and worn stairs, and feeling good. 

It’s so specific, this memory, this feeling of being genuinely happy. I can’t remember all the details that came before it or after it, but there’s this specific sliver of the day when I can remember almost everything. I was out of breath, from the walk up, and I felt jittery and anxious from the steepness of the climb. There were birds and the sound of the nearby Jordanian flag moving in the wind. I remember being near John, of looking at him, knowing that he made the visit to the theatre happen for me, because he knew how much joy it would bring me. I remember the way my heart felt when I looked at him and I remember the way my big stupid grin made my face feel.

The Way Memories Feel & Amman's Roman Theatre || TERRAGOES.COM
The Way Memories Feel & Amman's Roman Theatre || TERRAGOES.COM

So many of the days from my deployment blend together. In Kuwait, most days looked the same. My trips to Jordan blend together, too. I went three times, and it’s hard for me to pinpoint what happened on what trip, but this, visiting the theatre, is one of my sharpest memories. It’s one of those memories that takes me right back to that spot, back to the other side of the Earth, back to October, back to him.

It’s a memory that feels good to remember, even now.

The Way Memories Feel & Amman's Roman Theatre || TERRAGOES.COM The Roman Theater in Amman, Jordan

The theatre, built to seat 6,000, dates back to when the city was known as Philadelphia, when the theatre was the city’s centerpiece. It was built in the 2nd century, between 169 and 177 AD. It’s built into a hillside and oriented north to keep the sun out of the eyes of spectators. It’s a steep but worthwhile climb to the top, over a mix of original and renovated stairs. The Jordan Museum of Popular Tradition and the Jordan Folklore Museum are here too. Both offer visitors an up-close view of various artifacts including antique Bedouin jewelry and mosaics from Madaba and Jerash.

Entry is just JOD 1, or about $1.40 USD, depending on the daily exchange rate.

I was completely charmed by the theatre. It was, at the time, one of the oldest structures I’d ever seen. Climbing it was slightly terrifying. I felt like I was going to tip over at any moment, but it was so, so worth it.

Overall, I really loved Jordan, and not just because the person I loved was there. It’s beautiful, filled with historic and varied landscapes, friendly people and marvelous food. I’d go back, in an instant, just to experience it as a tourist, with more freedom of movement to explore at a more leisurely pace.

The Way Memories Feel & Amman's Roman Theatre || TERRAGOES.COM

I’ve wanted to go to Italy for as long as I’ve known I was Italian. So, pretty much always. It’s been on my bucket list for actual decades.

When I was deployed last year, along with John, my (now ex-)boyfriend, we started talking about trips to take after the deployment. He’s Italian. I’m Italian. We’d both always dreamed of visiting Italy, so Italy it was.

We spent the next few months trying to decide where we wanted to go. We wanted to experience different parts of Italy, but we didn’t want to feel too rushed. So we spent months – actual months – deciding on an itinerary and then, in May, we spent almost three weeks exploring Italy.

SPENDING 20 DAYS IN ITALY

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 1-2: JFK > FCO || Overnight & direct. Beautiful, except for the terrible child who screamed for 67% of the flight.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 2-6: ROME

// Rome is huge and there’s so much to see. We spent four nights in Rome, longer than we spent anywhere else, and it was just the right amount of time to get a generous introduction to the capital city. I’d definitely visit again, but I’d spend my time further away from the main tourist attractions.

THE BEST: Eating Cacio e Pepe & Spaghetti Carbonara. Testing out our Italian language skills. The Colosseum. Walking up 500+ stairs to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica. Pizza. Walking across the Tiber and around Trastevere. The Pantheon.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 6-9: ASSISI & UMBRIA

// Umbria is beautiful. It’s wilder than its neighboring cousin, Tuscany, but just as lovely. Assisi gets busy during the day with bussed-in tourists, but the nights tend to be more mellow. We had one of our best and most authentic meals in Assisi.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COM+ DAY 8 SIDE TRIP: SPELLO || We had a car, so we wandered south to Spello on our middle day in Assisi, just to get a feel for another city within Umbria. It was a Monday, typically a slow day in Italy, so the city was eerily quiet. We walked around. Met some cats. Drank some wine. And left.

THE BEST: The Basilica di San Francesco. Dinner at Trattoria Da Ermino. Walking up an actual mountain to Eremo delle Carceri, a sanctuary visited by St. Francis of Assisi. Our beautiful Airbnb.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 9: SIENA 

// On our way to San Gimignano, we pit-stopped in Siena for a few hours and it was magical. I really liked the way Siena felt. It was cool and trendy and had a modern feel while still being this incredibly beautiful Old World city.

THE BEST: The Siena Cathedral. Shell-shaped Piazza del Campo. The Palazzo Pubblico. The escalator from our parking area up to the city center.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 9-12: SAN GIMIGNANO & TUSCANY 

// When we found our B&B we starting freaking out. It was beautiful, overlooking the grape-vined hills of Tuscany. We both just started laughing, thinking there was no way our home for the next three days could be so beautiful. But it was. Plus, it was just a five minute walk into San Gimignano.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COM+ DAY 11 SIDE TRIP: FLORENCE || You guys. I didn’t like Florence. Maybe it’s because we didn’t spend much time there, or because we didn’t spend a night there, but I just didn’t like it. It was hot, crowded and everything we wanted to see required waiting in a stupidly-long line.

THE BEST: Our B&B, because really – beautiful views, a comfy bed and fresh-made breakfast every morning. Seeing the David. Wandering around San Gimignano after all the other tourists left for the day. Gazing at the Tuscan hills.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 12-13: LA SPEZIA & CINQUE TERRE

// We smushed in a day trip to Cinque Terre toward the end of our planning process. We wanted to see the coast, and Cinque Terre made the most sense. We stayed in La Spezia, which saved us a ton of money, and were right next to the train station so we could get to Cinque Terre in less than half an hour. First, we trained to Monterossa, hiked to Vernazza, then trained to Manarola. All the cities are beautiful and they’re all different too. But crowded. SO CROWDED.

THE BEST: Hiking from Monterossa to Vernazza, even though the trails were packed with people. Watching the sunset in Manarola. Exploring the coastline.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 13-15: MILAN

// Milan was primarily on our list because John had family there. In researching where to go, we read mixed reviews about Milan. But we both really liked it. It was beautiful, full of art and good food, and it had a unique mix of modern structures and ancient history.

THE BEST: Going out with local Italians to experience the city & getting an impromptu tour at midnight. Visiting the Duomo and climbing to the top to see the city laid out around us. Walking around the city without much of a plan. Peeking onto ancient Roman ruins hidden beneath a modern square.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 15: VERONA

// We pit-stopped in Verona on the way to Venice, stowing our bags at the train station. I could have spent a few days in Verona, I think, eating and drinking and wandering around.

THE BEST: Seeing the Arena, built in 30 A.D. Checking out Juliet’s House. Lunch and prosecco at Terrazza Bar Al Ponte, with an incredible view of the river.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 15-18: VENICE

// We probably spent whole weeks debating Venice, but ultimately, we were so glad we went. We avoided the crowds, for the most part, and hid from the major tourist attractions, opting to get lost on side streets instead.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COM+ DAY 16 SIDE TRIP: NAVARONS || We rented a car for a day to pop north to visit the birthplace of John’s mother and grandmother. It was magic, both exploring a tiny Italian village and watching him discover it. He was able to stand in the place his grandparents were married and it was just very, very special.

THE BEST: Getting away from cities and visiting Navarons. Eating a stupidly amazing meal in Meduno, at La Stella. Getting lost on Venetian side streets. Eating cicchetti.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COM

On the 18th day, we went to the airport. We checked our bags and went through security and got in line to board the plane. But then our flight was cancelled, about five minutes before it was supposed to take off. So instead of flying home, we spent two or so hours waiting in line to rebook our flight home, took a taxi to our hotel and napped like champions and did absolutely nothing for the rest of the day except for eat our provided dinner at the hotel.

Since we originally booked a direct flight home, that’s what we wanted. The next direct flight JFK wasn’t for two more days, we ended up with a bonus day in Italy.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMBONUS: DAY 19: MURANO & BURANO

// We didn’t want to go back to Venice, since we’d already said goodbye to it once, so we hopped on a boat and headed to Murano and then, later, to Burano. They’re both beautiful islands with their own unique culture. I’d highly recommend a side trip for anyone with a spare day in Venice.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 20: VCE > JFK || There were only eight of us on this plane, all displaced from the earlier cancelled flight. Even though the plane was empty, Delta still wouldn’t let us sit in first class, but we each had a few rows to ourselves and – best of all – there were no kids on the plane.

The Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site is only about a mile and a half from my house. It’s my most local National Park. Still, it took me more than a decade of living in Richmond, Virginia, before my first visit, in 2015. I went again this past weekend, with out of town friends.

Before my first visit, I’d seen the name Maggie L. Walker around town. I knew the very basic of basics. I knew she was the first African American woman to charter a bank, that there’s a school named after her in Richmond and that her home is a National Park unit.

But that was pretty much it.

Badass Lady Boss: the True Story of Visiting Maggie Walker's House || terragoes.com

The short story of Maggie L. Walker is that she’s a legit boss. And a badass.

The longer story starts in 1864. Maggie Lena Mitchell was born in Richmond, just as the Civil War was starting to wind down. Her mother, Elizabeth, a former slave, worked for Elizabeth Van Lew, a Civil War spy, as an assistant cook. Her father was an Irish-born Confederate Soldier.

Maggie earned her education in Richmond’s public schools and helped her mother with her work as a laundress, often assisting in the delivery of clean clothes. She joined the Independent Order of St. Luke as a teenager, which promoted humanitarian causes and helped the sick and elderly.

She taught grade school for a few years before she was married, in 1886, and then shifted her focus to her family and working with the Independent Order of St. Luke. In 1899, she earned the top leadership position in that organization, becoming the Right Worthy Grand Secretary, a role she’d serve in until her death in 1934.

She started the St. Luke Herald in 1902, in order to improve communication between the Independent Order of St. Luke and the public. She also significantly increased membership during her tenure with the organization.
Badass Lady Boss: the True Story of Visiting Maggie Walker's House || terragoes.comThe next year she did the thing that’s her most cited accomplishment. She founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank and served as the bank’s first president, which earned her the distinction of being the first African American woman to charter a bank in the United States.

Hers wasn’t the first black-operated bank in Richmond – there had been a handful of others – but it was notable in that it was run by a black woman.

On the bank’s opening day, something like 300 people stood in line to open an account at St. Luke’s. Some people deposited a few hundred dollars, others just a handful of pennies, or a few dollars. In order to encourage fiscal responsibility and thrift in her community, Walker handed out penny banks to families in her neighborhood. Once full – they held 100 pennies – children could come and open an account at St. Luke’s.

The bank did a lot. It provided mortgages to black families and loans to black business owners and entrepreneurs. And the bank of course provided employment to local African Americans in a different sort of career field from the typical menial labor jobs available to black Richmonders.

The St. Luke Penny Savings Bank even survived the Great Depression. It merged with two other Richmond banks to become Consolidate Bank and Trust Company. Until 2005, it was “the oldest continually African American-operated bank in the United States,” according to the National Park Service.

Badass Lady Boss: the True Story of Visiting Maggie Walker's House || terragoes.com
Badass Lady Boss: the True Story of Visiting Maggie Walker's House || terragoes.com

Walker was also incredibly active in civil rights groups, working as an advocate for African American women and employing them in all of her business ventures. She served on boards for groups including the National Association of Colored Women, the Virginia Industrial School for Girls, and she served as vice president of the local chapter of the NAACP and was also a member on their national board.

Many of her accomplishments were achieved before women even had the right to vote, and yet, there she was – an African American woman in the former capital of the Confederacy – kicking ass and taking names.

Badass Lady Boss: the True Story of Visiting Maggie Walker's House || terragoes.com

Her home helps to tell her story. Walker was incredibly successful and her home shows it. She had the latest and greatest in technology, including a very fancy and new-fangled electric ironing machine.

Family was exceptionally important to her and so, as her family expanded, so did her home. She made several expansions and additions to her home over the years, with the largest happening in 1922.

In 1928, she had to start using a wheelchair, which she had outfitted with a desk so she could continue her work. She didn’t want to move her bedroom downstairs and leave her expansive suite upstairs, so she had an elevator installed, all within about two months of confinement to the wheelchair.

The ranger who gave us the tour helped to put things in perspective by talking about Walker’s mother, Elizabeth, who lived at the Leigh Street home with her daughter. Elizabeth was born a slave. In her lifetime she watched her daughter rise to prominence and be named alongside influential African Americans like W.E.B. Dubois, and lived her final years in one of the finest houses in Richmond.

Badass Lady Boss: the True Story of Visiting Maggie Walker's House || terragoes.com

Maggie Walker died in 1934 and her funeral was said to be the most-attended Richmond funeral since the Civil War.

Her family held on to her house and, in 1979, her grandchildren sold the home to the National Park Service, so that it might be preserved and the story of Maggie L. Walker could be shared with a wider audience. It opened to the public in 1984.

Today, something like 90% of the furnishings in the home are original, including the enormous and impressive stove in the kitchen. Just last month a statue of Walker was unveiled in downtown Richmond. It’s the first monument on a city street to be dedicated to a woman in the city of Richmond.

Badass Lady Boss: the True Story of Visiting Maggie Walker's House || terragoes.com

I think I love the story of Maggie Walker so much because I can’t even imagine it. I’ve been to the house twice. I’ve read articles about her and asked questions during the house tours, but still. That she accomplished so much, that she worked so hard to give back to her community, that she shared her success with so many others and helped others to establish their own success – it’s all just overwhelmingly amazing.

Plus, the park rangers at the Walker house are top-notch. It’s clear when you get the tour that they are experts on Ms. Walker: on her life, on her home, on her business ventures. I love the National Park Service and all that it does; I have an amazing experience each and every time I visit a National Park. Really. I love that shit. But, there’s definitely something special about the rangers at Maggie Walker’s house. They seem to genuinely love telling the story of Ms. Walker and their enthusiasm is infectious.


Admission to the site is free, but feel free to chuck a few dollars into the donation bin in the Visitor’s Center. Normal hours are Tuesday-Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., except November through February, when the park closes at 4:30 p.m. The site is closed on Sundays and Mondays. 


SOURCES: Maggie L. Walker @ wikipedia.com & Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site

Of course it was the hottest day of the year, over 100°F, but I was not deterred. Newly single and determined in my National Parks pursuit, I scampered east, to Fort Monroe National Monument. I slathered on a thick coat of sunscreen that I immediately started sweating off, grabbed a bottle of water I’d later forget in the gift shop, threw my camera around my neck and I set off.

Virginia is chockfull of National Park units, many of them sites deeply entrenched in the history of both the state and the nation. And yet, I haven’t been to most of them. Or, if I have, it’s been most of my life since my last visit. I was seven the last time I went to Williamsburg. I grew up on the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park, but I’ve never done the park the justice it deserves.

So, having a free Sunday given that aforementioned newly single state, I scampered.

Fort Monroe National Monument || terragoes.com

Fort Monroe is on the southern tip of the Virginia Peninsula, at Old Point Comfort. It was an active military post until 2011 when it was decommissioned. Less than two months later, President Obama signed a proclamation designating parts of the fort as a National Monument. As such, Fort Monroe is one of the nation’s newest National Parks.

While there were native inhabitants at Fort Monroe long before it was ever named Fort Monroe, the first Europeans arrived in 1609, and included such notables as Christopher Newport and John Smith, who you might know as the dude saved by Pocahontas. They built Fort Algernourne, for coastal defense, which was destroyed by fire in 1612.

In 1619, the first Africans arrived, on a Dutch ship named the White Lion. Their arrival marks the beginning of slavery in America, but these first Africans were probably more indentured servants than slaves.

Fort Monroe National Monument || terragoes.com

Fort Monroe National Monument || terragoes.com

There were a few other forts built at Old Point Comfort over time, one in 1632 and in 1728, but they didn’t survive. Hurricanes and fire kicked the ass of the earliest structures built on the point.

In 1819, President Monroe designed a network of coastal defenses that included 42 new forts, including Fort Monroe. Built from granite, Fort Monroe became the largest stone fort ever built in the United States. It’s built to hold around 400 cannons, in casemates, which are basically fortified gun positions. It’s star-shaped, with six sides and a tidal moat. When I was there, the moat was full of jellyfish. Apparently, jellyfish really like warm, shallow waters. Today, the moat averages around 4-5 feet during high tide, which means it’s basically paradise for jellyfishes.

Fort Monroe National Monument || terragoes.com

Fort Monroe National Monument || terragoes.com

Fast forward to 1861, when Virginia decided to join the Confederate States of America. President Lincoln reinforced Fort Monroe to try to keep it from falling into Confederate hands, which worked. It was held by Union forces throughout the Civil War.

In May of 1861, slave owners lent their slaves to the Confederate Army to help build and fortify Confederate strongholds. Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler was in charge of Fort Monroe at the time, having taken command just before Virginia seceded from the Union. In the early days of his command, three slaves stole a rowboat and made their way to Fort Monroe, hoping the Union forces would take them in. This was an exceptional feat for these three men.  The waters are rough and challenging to navigate and yet these men, who probably didn’t know how to swim, did it in a rowboat. They were worried they would be shipped away from Virginia in support of the war effort. They had families and connections at home and they didn’t want to lose them. So they went to Fort Monroe, Virginia’s Union stronghold.

Butler met with them the morning after their arrival to hear their story. When their owner sent for his property, Butler declined. The slave owner balked, saying Butler simply must return his slaves because the Fugitive Slave Act said so. That Act, from 1850, was a compromise between free and slave states and required escaped slaves to be returned to their masters, even in free states.

Bulter wasn’t buying it though. He was basically like, fuck you, no. You don’t get to wave U.S. policy around when you have left the U.S. and besides, he reasoned, the slaves were being used as part of the war effort on the Confederate side. They are contraband of war and so no, fuckers, you can’t have them back, the end. 

As word spread, more and more slaves fled to Fort Monroe and it earned the nickname “Freedom’s Fortress,” since any slave who made it there would be free. In the months and years that followed, thousands of slaves made their way to Fort Monroe. Eventually, the Army built the Great Contraband Camp in Hampton, Virginia, just outside the walls of Fort Monroe. Locals freaked out, packed their bags, burned the city to the ground and fled.

Fort Monroe National Monument || terragoes.com

I managed to get in on a ranger-led tour at Fort Monroe and I nerded out over this story. The audacity and bravery of these men and women, the risk they took to get to Fort Monroe – it just absolutely astounds me.

TIPS FOR VISITING FORT MONROE NATIONAL MONUMENT

+ One of the best places to start at Fort Monroe is the Casemate Museum. It takes you inside the walls of the fort, into the casemates, and covers the whole history of Fort Monroe. You can visit the casemate where Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, was held as a prisoner of war for two years, until 1867.

Fort Monroe National Monument || terragoes.com
Fort Monroe National Monument || terragoes.com

+ There’s a ranger-led walk everyday at 11 a.m. that covers the basics of Fort Monroe. I fatigue quickly when it comes to reading my way through museums, so the walk helped give me the basics on Fort Monroe and allowed a chance for questions, too. The walk lasts about 45 minutes and departs from the front of the Casemate Museum.

+ Take the self-guided walking tour. Maps are out front of the Casemate Museum and it allows you to see a good bit of other structures that make up the fort, both inside and outside its walls.

Fort Monroe National Monument || terragoes.com Fort Monroe National Monument || terragoes.com

+ If you only have time for a few stops on the walking tour, I’d recommend the following:

  • The Old Point Comfort Lighthouse. Built in 1802, it’s the oldest continually active lighthouse along the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Quarters #1. Built in 1819, this is the oldest house inside the moat. Visitors include Marquis de Lafayette, Generals Grant and Sherman, and Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and Hayes.
  • The Main Gate. This was the first portion of the fort to be finished, in 1820. This is the gate escaped slaves came to, hoping for freedom.

+ There are actual miles of beach at Fort Monroe, seeing as it’s surrounded by water on all sides.

Fort Monroe National Monument || terragoes.com


Fort Monroe park grounds are open 5 a.m. to midnight, daily. 

Admission to the Casemate Museum is free. Open daily 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. May-September and Tuesday-Sunday, October-April. 

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