For the past year, Barinaale Dube has been piecing together the stories of the dozens of Black families who lived in Virginia’s Bull Run Mountains before and after the Civil War. As a cultural history interpreter, she spends her day visiting historic sites, scouring documents from the Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve and relaying the history to people across the region.
“Every piece of information I stumble upon is like gold to me,” said Dube.
Owned by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, the Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve covers nearly 2,500 acres of land across Fauquier and Prince William counties, and is home to rare and threatened plants and animals as well as culturally important historic sites. We caught up with Dube and Preserve Manager Joe Villari as they were preparing to give a tour of two historical sites to a local chapter of the NAACP and other people from the area.
The first stop on the tour was to the homestead site of Hampton Cole, a free Black man who owned land on the mountain pre-Civil War. Though no standing structures exist where Cole once lived, Dube has put together a rough sketch of his life through her diligent research.
According to Dube, Cole lived on the mountains, but was employed as a laborer by the Confederacy and stationed in Alexandria, Virginia. Upon returning, Cole found his house had been taken over by a white man.
“[The research] is occasionally disappointing and disheartening because there is a dominant narrative that believes we are so far removed from the issues of those who have gone before us,” said Dube.
The next stop on our tour was a bit off the beaten path. After a trek through the woods, up a ridge and under some fallen logs, we came to a graveyard that Dube and Villari suspect belong to the Corum and Robinson families. They believe there are some 200 graves on the mountain, some of which are more easily accessible than this graveyard. The Preserve is currently keeping the location of the Corum and Robinson graves hidden to help protect them.
When not giving tours, Dube brings the mountain’s history to new audiences through social media. On Facebook and Instagram, Dube has made several videos on different families such as the Corums, Robinsons and Hampton Cole, as well as other sites on the mountains. These videos can also be found on the Virginia Outdoor Foundation’s website.
Ultimately, Dube hopes the Preserve’s work will increase awareness of local culture and prompt more interest in the histories of marginalized people. Through her tours and videos, she has also been able to show younger people how previous generations were able to live in nature.
“I am able to show young Black children and other children of color that historically they have autonomy over the American outdoor space,” said Dube.
As we hiked back towards the Preserve’s parking lot, a fellow member of the group pointed out a stand of flowers a bit further into the woods, remarking, that’s where someone had a garden. A house must have been there at one point.
Little things like that are all across the Bull Run Mountains. The Preserve is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday with three trails which take visitors past a number of historical buildings and cemeteries.