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Draymen and Drayage

A drayman at Bethel Burying Ground*

“Drayage was vital to a seaport town. Tons of merchandise were transported to and from the surrounding countryside, and between wharves and mercantile houses. Even firewood and drinking water were brought into the borough….A run-down horse and a makeshift cart were the minimum necessity for getting started. The established draymen usually owned at least two horses, or mules, and several carts and wagons. The work of these proud, independent men caused them to travel throughout southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina and they established contacts with some of the most prominent merchants in the area.”
Tommy L. Bogger, Free Blacks in Norfolk, Virginia, 1790-1860: The Darker Side of Freedom. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. 1997, p. 67

“A visitor to Norfolk in 1828 called drayage ‘the business of the negroes’ … In addition, a historian labeled drayage as ‘the only occupation in which Norfolk’s free blacks faced no competition from whites.’ But a close investigation reveals that whites had begun to enter that field between 1850 and 1860. Economic considerations disposed them once again to seek employment in a traditionally black field.”
Bogger, p. 69


*Efforts to memorialize the cemetery have been sponsored by the Bethel Burying Ground Project. Locate the photograph by putting these terms in the Google search box — “black drayman” “bethel burying ground” — with the quotation marks.

The cemetery’s nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places is 70 pages long and has lots of photographs and maps.




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