The history of the property later known as Montgomery Hall predates the Revolutionary War and from the time this land was first occupied and farmed, the land and the people living and working there have been intricately linked to the history and extended community of Staunton and Augusta County. The Reconstruction era following the Civil War is no exception. Congress established the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1865, with local offices to assist formerly enslaved African-Americans with the many challenges associated with their long overdue freedom. With and without assistance from the local field office, they were faced with finding living quarters, negotiating employment with no guarantee of payment from white employers, locating family members separated through sales before and during the Civil War, and aiding orphaned children and elderly men and women with no family to care for them. Many of those newly freed in Staunton and Augusta County also worked to form their own church communities.
One of the most interesting developments at Montgomery Hall immediately following the Civil War was the use of the section of Lewis Creek running through the Montgomery Hall property for immersion baptisms by the local African-American community, most of whom were formerly enslaved in the area. The Montgomery Hall property once extended to what is now West Beverley Street, across from the land that was developed as Thornrose Cemetery. It was on a section of the Montgomery Hall acreage north of Lewis Creek (and later also north of the railroad) where most of the African-Americans associated with Montgomery Hall lived. The Rev. Wiley Simpson, then Pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Staunton and later Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, continued the practice established by his predecessor at Mount Zion in baptizing hundreds of formerly enslaved African-American men and women in Lewis Creek at Montgomery Hall. Each of these immersion baptisms drew crowds of spectators in the hundreds. Men, women, and children, both black and white, gathered together by the creek to witness these rites.
A more detailed account of these baptisms and the complete history of Montgomery Hall will be published as John Howe Peyton’s Montgomery Hall and available later this year.