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Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday signed a deed that transfers land at Fort Monroe from the commonwealth to the National Park Service, one step in a process under which the fort will become a national monument.
The deed was signed in a public ceremony at the fort’s main gate by McAuliffe and Peggy O’Dell, the deputy director of the National Park Service. The document legally finalizes the transfer of land at Fort Monroe to the park service.
The land transfer preserves a group of significant landmarks at Fort Monroe. Robert E. Lee lived at the fort and helped design and construct the stone fortification. Jefferson Davis was imprisoned in a fort casemate after the Civil War. Harriet Tubman also spent time at the fort, and Edgar Allen Poe was stationed there as a young soldier.
The fort also tells the significant story of the beginning and the end of slavery in the U.S. In the 1600s, a ship bearing the first African slaves to the Virginia colony arrived at Old Point Comfort.
Early in the Civil War, three men — Frank Baker, James Townsend and Sheppard Mallory — escaped enslavement and rowed a skiff to Union-held Fort Monroe to seek asylum. Union Gen. Benjamin Butler declared the men "contraband of war." The event inspired tens of thousands of slaves throughout the South to seek freedom during the war by crossing Union lines.