Port Orange remembers Freemanville during annual service at local church.
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Volusia County residents filed into Mt. Moriah Baptist Church on Tuesday to celebrate the city’s rich Black history at the annual Freemanville Day program.
The church, built in 1911 and remodeled in 1956, is the only building still standing in the Freemanville community, which was started by former slaves and is located between Port Orange and South Daytona.
The City of Port Orange hosted the event with Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, 945 Orange Ave.
The Freemanville Day celebrations date back to 2003.
“We’re glad that people came out to share this occasion with us. Crowds fluctuate. We seem to have a lot of new people come every year. Some people come every year. The event is usually diverse. People belong here,” said Mt. Moriah Pastor Trudy Crusco.
The day was heartfelt for first cousins Kizmat Garvin and Candy Garvin whose great-grandfather, Major Freeman, was a Freemanville settler.
“This was our first time attending. We wanted to be a part of it. We weren’t aware of all the history. We’ll do more research. We’re glad that they do this,” Kizmat told the Daytona Times.
“History is important. We want to know all of the history. We have roots here. We’ll go research and learn more.”
Many people heard about Freemanville for the first time.
“I enjoyed it. It was very educational. I learned a lot. I didn’t know anything about this. I had no idea that this was a thriving Black settlement and that there is so much rich Black history right here,” said Angel Williams.
Volusia County Councilwoman Billy Wheeler presented the county’s proclamation and Port Orange Mayor Donald Brunette read one from the city.
They elaborated on the importance of celebrating this history.
“It’s important to celebrate our history. Just hearing this history and how the community cared for each other is inspiring. The story of Mrs. Moser, a Freemanville resident who made sure the children got to church is inspiring. We need that today, especially with our children. It takes a village,” responded Wheeler.
Burnette reflected, “I enjoy this celebration every year. My grandmother always said, ‘If you want to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’re coming from.’ That applies to history as well.
“It’s important to celebrate our history. Our country’s history is not perfect. We struggle and improve in communities and cities as individuals and people. We are bringing awareness about this small neighborhood and the history of our city. Learn this history and soak it in.’’
‘A Free Man’s Dream’
Historical accounts of former Freemanville residents were read from the book,
“A Free Man’s Dream: Freemanville, Florida, The Rise and Fall of a Community.’’
The book was published in 2003 and co-authored by Bethune-Cookman University English professors Mary Corliss and Dorothy Dobbins (retired).
The authors interviewed former Freemanville residents and local historians.
Mt. Moriah Church mother, Alberta McCloud is in her 90s, and still lives in Freemanville. Her late husband, Nathaniel, was pastor of the church. Her recollection of the town is also in the book. She was ill and didn’t attend the event.
Freemanville and Port Orange were originally settled by former slaves and their families following the American-Civil War.
Dr. John Milton Hawks, a Union Army surgeon, and his fellow Union Army officers established Port Orange after the Civil War.
Initially, 500 former slaves settled near the shores of the Halifax River on public lands secured with the help of the U.S. Freedman Bureau in 1866.
They came to Port Orange to work for the Florida Land & Lumber Company which Hawks and his partners formed. An additional 1,000 freed slaves made Port Orange their home six months later.
1867 and Beyond
By 1867, only 142 adults remained from a settlement that once had 1,500.
Over time, the few families and individuals who stayed made up the pioneering African American neighborhood of Port Orange known as Freemanville.
By the 1870s, some homesteaders were succeeding, like the Tolliver family under Henry and Anna Tolliver. Their son, John Tolliver, also was one of 26 to vote to incorporate Daytona.
Freemanville continued to grow at least through the 1920s on both sides of US 1 (Ridgewood Avenue), then a two-lane highway. By then, it had two churches, houses, businesses and a school.
The community stayed a small community up through the 1970s.
In the 1990s, the population declined due to commercial development.
A state historic marker recognizing Freemanville was unveiled in Riverwalk Park in February 2003.