Possible African American Family in the Augusta-Richmond County Area, Late Nineteenth Century. (Source: Williams Photographic Collection, Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Georgia).
Early Twentieth-Century Scene in the Vicinity of Thirteenth Street, Augusta. (Source: Augusta Museum of History).
SPRINGFIELD: BEGINNINGS TO CIVIL WAR
The Springfield community probably originated during the period after the American Revolution. Beginning around 1783, free African Americans, including freed and displaced slaves who managed to remain apart from their owners after the war, took up residence on the banks of the Savannah River north of Augusta. The ownership of the land might have been in dispute after the war and while claims to it were sorted, it is likely that no one would have objected to the free African American settlement. Some of the first residents might have once lived at Silver Bluff Plantation below Augusta and known the Springfield area as a place where local slaves attended sermons by Jesse Peters. By the 1780s, Peters regularly preached near Springfield, which might have led to a general recognition that this area was a ‘church’ or at least the meeting place of a congregation. Springfield Baptist Church was established sometime between 1787 and 1793, and worship at this site is believed to date back to 1783.
The establishment of Springfield Baptist Church helped to draw free African Americans to the community. The church was important because European-American Augustans would have been less threatened by an African American community centered on a church, and Springfield's pastors would have interacted with the European-American pastors of other Baptist Churches in Augusta. The church would have given free African Americans a place to gather and receive religious instruction, as well as to learn and share both news of the community and the larger world. The presence of Springfield Baptist likely made the Springfield Community more attractive to other free African Americans as a place to settle, because it provided their community stability and standing within Augusta's society.
After 1793, the free African American population of Augusta and Richmond County began to grow. There were 72 free African Americans in the county by 1810, 235 by 1830, and 281 by 1850. On the eve of the Civil War, there were 490 free African Americans in Richmond County and Augusta, second only to Chatham County and Savannah which were home to 795 free African Americans. However, while the number for free African Americans in Augusta was large when compared to the state of Georgia as a whole, this number was very small when considered against the entire population of Richmond County, which was 21,284 in 1860.
Springfield quickly developed into a neighborhood of free African American working families. The 1819 Register of Free Persons of Color provides a snapshot of the community during the mid-Antebellum period. Around this time about 200 people lived here. The population was almost equally divided between men and women, and the relatively high numbers of children made the community appear relatively stable. As best as can be determined, most members of the community lived in households composed of a husband and wife, parents and children, or a mother and children.