Family members separated by slavery reunite in Monticello 200 years later

Descendants at Casa Bianca Missionary Baptist Church
Descendants at Casa Bianca Missionary Baptist Church(Sharon Berrian)
Published: Oct. 11, 2022 at 9:48 AM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Nearly 200 years of history brought Lisa and Eric Armstrong to the Casa Bianca Missionary Baptist Church in Monticello Sunday.

“You imagine as an African American that your family ties include slavery, but if it’s not shared, you don’t know exactly what that means,” Lisa said.

This weekend, they traveled from their home in Tampa to Monticello, where they met about two dozen family members for the very first time.

“They’re not even like distant cousins,” Eric said. “We’re talking about first cousins.”

Lisa and Eric are two of hundreds of people who are descendants of enslaved African Americans who lived on the Highland plantation in Virginia, owned by James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States.

In 1828, that group was split--some staying in Virginia, and others forcibly sent to Monticello.

Now, nearly 200 years later, those severed family ties have been rejoined.

“We’ve developed these relationships with these people we’ve never known in this community as if we had never missed a beat,” Eric said.

This reunion was made possible by the Highland’s Council of Descendant Advisors in Charlottesville, which brings together descendants to tell the story of their history.

“This is really a way to make history not all from one perspective--to share the perspective,” said Sara Bon-Harper, Executive Director of James Monroe’s Highland.

The research of Miranda Burnett has also been instrumental.

She’s been working for the last five years to connect the dots between these two family trees.

“For me, what is most important is to have that access to that information and to see people use the information,” Burnett said. “That is what really tickles my heart.”

She’s helping people like the Armstrongs connect to their past and reshape their future, with the support of family they otherwise may never have met.

“Finding out where you come from is the key part to finding out where you’re going to,” Eric said.