Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. – 13th Amendment
WEAVERVILLE – North Carolina’s copy of the 13th Amendment was at Vance Birthplace in Weaverville on June 12 during a statewide tour to celebrate “Juneteenth,” the date many African Americans observe as the day in 1865 that the last of the enslaved learned they were free.
Nearly three years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation (Jan. 1, 1863), the 13th Amendment was passed by Congress (Jan. 31, 1865) and ratified when signed by Georgia on Dec. 6, 1865, ending slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States.
North Carolina ratified the amendment on Dec. 4, 1865.
North Carolina’s copy, stored in a climate-controlled vault of the state archives, was placed on tour in recognition of Juneteenth, which many African Americans celebrate on June 19. The tour, which concludes June 21 in Kinston, was the first time the document has traveled outside of Raleigh.
Zebulon Vance, North Carolina’s Civil War governor, came from a politically successful, well-to-do family that lived in the Reems Creek Valley near Weaverville. Vance’s grandfather and father owned a number of slaves. Nearly all were sold when Vance’s father died in 1844. That same year, Zebulon Vance, his mother and her other children moved to Asheville, where Vance began to hone his oratorical skills that would propel him into politics.
During the Juneteenth celebration at Vance Birthplace on June 12, actor Becky Stone said before her portrayal of Sarah Gudger, a slave who lived near Old Fort, that her research of slavery in the area indicated that a very small percentage worked in agriculture. Most were skilled tradesmen who were hired out by their owners as carpenters, masons and the like.
Many were children who were put to work mining gold in mountain coves and valleys, Stone said. Many slaves ran small farms while their owners worked in town as professionals. Owners in Western North Carolina often kept slave families intact, she said.
Though many mountain slaves had a degree of autonomy, they were not servants, Stone emphasized. “They were slaves,” she told her audience in the cabin the Vances kept for slaves. Owners “worked them hard,” she said.