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.

Hikers rest at the site of a former homestead of a man on Bull Run Mountains.

Hikers rest at the site of a Black homestead on Bull Run Mountain on Saturday, July 17, 2021 near Thoroughfare, Va. The land belonged to Hampton Cole, a freed Black man in pre-civil war Virginia. Though the site is heavily forested now, during Cole's time the entire mountain was likely clear of trees, according to Virginia Outdoor Foundation Cultural History Fellow Barinaale Dube. "It’s both delightful and disappointing how similar the lives of Black people now are to the Black people I’m researching now," Dube said. (Photo by Ethan Weston/Chesapeake Bay Program)

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.

Two unmarked, old grave markers sit atop a hill in Bull Run Mountain Preserve.

Old grave markers sit atop a hill off the beaten path in Bull Run Mountain Preserve. These graves are believed to belong to the Robinson and Corum families and are among some 200 grave markers on the mountain. "America wouldn't be the country it is without these people," Barinaale Dube said. "[preserving] this is as important as Washington, Jefferson, etc." (Photo by Ethan Weston/Chesapeake Bay Program)

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.

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