Letter to the Editor – Different Times, Same Story

By Dee Dee Liggins

For many decades a lie has been circulating Clarke County; Ellen McCormick, the owner of Clermont Farm, supported the freed slaves after the Civil War by helping them finance and build what is now Josephine City.

The truth is that McCormick simply needed money and saw the freed slaves as a way to get the money she needed to support her family after her husband, Edward McCormick passed away. I will never believe that Ellen McCormick wanted to  make the  lives better for the freed slaves, and the story still goes on today 2011.

Berryville resident Dee Dee Liggins says that the information on this roadside marker located on Josephine Street near South Church Street in Berryville, Virginia ignores the truth about Josephine City's history.

Finally the real truth has been told by Kyle Ainsworth in his research paper RESTORATION, RESISTANCE, AND RECONSTRUCTION: LIBERTY AT LAST IN CLARKE COUNTY, VIRGINIA, 1865-1879

People in Clarke County have always believed that Edward McCormick’s will set aside property for his slaves. Ainsworth proves that McCormick never did anything of the kind:

“Edward McCormick’s will made no mention of selling land to African Americans.” (p. 147)

If Ellen McCormick was so supportive of her former slaves why did she foreclose on them when they missed mortgage payments?

“If the settlers at Josephine City did not make their payments in a timely manner, McCormick sued them, had the court take back the land, and resold it to somebody new, as demonstrated in the sheriffs sale of Reason Harrison’s three lots in 1878 to Robert Lewis. (p. 151)”

Ainsworth spent years developing his 170 page of Master of Library and Information Science thesis for the University of Southern Mississippi.

His conclusion?

“The residents of Josephine City, past and present, do not owe the white community anything in the formation of their community. African Americans built it, they sustained it, and they are the reason Josephine City continues to exist today.” (p. 153)

But why is this so important? Afterall, the Civil War ended 150 years ago.

Because the people of Josephine Street have always been proud of their community. They built it, they raised their families there, and they own its history.

Even in my generation as a kid, the African Americans in Josephine City worked hard for the things that were accomplished  here. By working hard and through the love they had and have for one another, they built something from nothing. They did it alone during a time when the white community couldn’t be bothered with what happened, or didn’t happen, in our part of the town.

But sadly, a similar lie exists today, the same old story but just told another way. The Town of Berryville tries to take credit for the improvements in Josephine City. But just like with Mrs. McCormick, the Town of Berryville has only used Josephine City for economic gain and cared little about the people there.

Where was the Town when the residents of Josephine City needed water, sidewalks, electricity and street lights?

The fact is that the Town couldn’t be bothered to help obtain these things for Josephine City and it fell on the shoulders of the people living here to figure out how to get the things they needed.

But the Town of Berryville did Mrs. McCormick one turn better.

After the Josephine City residents worked so hard to improve their area the Town of Berryville then  came in and Took, Took,  and Took through annexation and taxes.

Same thing, just a different way.


Dee Dee Liggins is a community activist and civil rights advocate. She lives in Berryville, Virginia.



  1. OK,

    Is the axe you’re grinding with E. McCormick, his wife, the Town, or everyone?

    The sign seems pretty clear – she decided to sell the land, not him. So the quote about his will is irrelevant. And if she was holding the mortgage then she had every right to foreclose on property if payments weren’t made, right?

    If on the other hand your premise is that the land should have been given to the freed slaves, then you should present your argument that way.

    What exactly did those residents do “themselves” to get streetlights, water service, etc.? If the town provided that service, then it’s common practice that the residents would be annexed into town and would pay the applicable service and tax fees.

    What am I missing here?

  2. Fly Swatter says:

    If the sign is misleading or incorrect then I believe it needs to be replaced.

    However, whining (not winning charlie sheen fans) about taxes will get you nowhere and is irrelevant. It’s called America.

  3. How can we get a copy of this research paper?

    CDN Editor: Anyone interested in purchasing a copy of Kyle Ainsworth’s thesis may contact Bob Stieg at 540-837-2790 or at bstieg@msn.com. The cost of the document, RESTORATION, RESISTANCE, AND RECONSTRUCTION: LIBERTY AT LAST IN CLARKE COUNTY, VIRGINIA, 1865-1879, is $20.

  4. Another View says:

    Why the anger? None of this happened to you, or to any living person. The past is just that–the past, long gone.

    Live in the here and now, and count your blessings.

    • Interested bysitter says:

      Ummm…I believe she grew up on that street, and so knows the folks there – and their story – pretty well.

      • Another View says:

        How well does she know the former slaves? How about Mrs. McCormick? Are they acquainted?

        It is okay to discuss historical events, and to debate the importance of certain matters. But the whole piece is rife with a present day anger that is hard to fathom. Neither she nor the folks on Josephine St. have suffered any of the indignities of which she complains.