North of the James River, on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, lies Fort Monroe. The fort and its surrounding areas played an important role during the Civil War. Despite being geographically south of Richmond, Union forces held the fort throughout the war. 
Much like the Great Dismal Swamp, Fort Monroe became a place of refuge for African Americans seeking safety from slavery. During the war, over two years before the Emancipation Proclamation, ex-slaves were put on the payroll and given a path to citizenship. 
In 1861 at the beginning of of the Civil War, African Americans would receive an education at the fort, despite it being against Virginia law. Classes of fifty children during the day and twenty adults at night, were held under a large oak tree just outside the walls of the fort.
Which brings us to the Emancipation Oak. You'd have a difficult time finding a landmark in Hampton Roads with more historical significance. Two years after the classes started, the first reading of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in the Confederate states occurred under the Oak. At the conclusion of the War, a formal school called Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute was created. That school became Hampton University in 1984.
Measuring a width of 98 feet, the Oak is still an impressive sight. The National Geographic Society designated the Emancipation Oak as one of the 10 Great Trees of the World.
Click here to check out the Wilderness Society's page on the Great Dismal Swamp.
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