Virginia to Dedicate Historical Marker for Abolitionist Federal Judge John C. Underwood in Clarke County

Published June 17, 2024

Virginia Department of Historic Resources
(dhr.virginia.gov)
For Immediate Release
June 14, 2024

Contact:
Ivy Tan
Department of Historic Resources
Marketing & Communications Manager
ivy.tan@dhr.virginia.gov
804-482-6445

Virginia to Dedicate Historical Marker for Abolitionist Federal Judge John C. Underwood in Clarke County

—The marker will highlight the career of Underwood, who led efforts during Reconstruction to establish the 1869 Constitution of Virginia, which granted citizenship to African Americans, gave Black men the right to vote, and created a system of free public schools—

—Text of marker reproduced below—

PLEASE NOTE: DHR creates markers not to “honor” their subjects but rather to educate and inform the public about a person, place, or event of regional, state, or national importance. In this regard, erected markers are not memorials.

RICHMOND – A state historical marker issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) will be dedicated in Clarke County recalling the work of John C. Underwood, a 19th-century federal judge and antislavery activist who served as president of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867–68. The convention resulted in the state’s Constitution of 1869—often referred to as the “Underwood Constitution”—which gave Black men the right to vote, created a free public schools system, and established other democratic reforms.

The dedication ceremony for the marker will be held Wednesday, June 19, starting at 11 a.m., at Burwell-Morgan Mill, located at 15 Tannery Lane in Millwood, Virginia (22646). This event is free and open to the public. Free parking for attendees will be available on-site at the Mill. The marker itself is located on 2300-2354 US-50 in Boyce (22620).

The dedication program will begin with a welcoming address from DHR Director and Virginia’s State Historic Preservation Officer Julie Langan. The following guests will also speak at the dedication: Colita N. Fairfax, Chairperson of the Virginia Board of Historic Resources; preservation consultant Maral Kalbian; Travis Voyles, Secretary of Natural & Historic Resources; and Delegate Delores Oates of the 31st District.

Born in New York in March 1809, attorney John C. Underwood settled in Clarke County, Virginia, in the early 1850s. An outspoken abolitionist, he left Virginia in 1856 after he was harassed for his antislavery activism and his work on behalf of the Republican Party. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Underwood to the position of federal judge for Virginia’s eastern district. He was elected president of Virginia’s Constitutional Convention of 1867–68. The convention included 105 members, 24 of whom were African American. During his time as president of the convention, Underwood endorsed equal rights for African Americans as well as universal suffrage. His work with the convention culminated in the “Underwood Constitution,” which was ratified in 1869. The Underwood Constitution recognized the 14th and 15th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which granted citizenship to African Americans and gave Black men the right to vote, respectively; established a system of free public schools; and implemented tax reforms. Underwood died in December 1873 in Washington, D.C.

The Virginia Board of Historic Resources, which is authorized to designate new state historical markers, approved the manufacture and installation of the John C. Underwood marker in December 2021. DHR sponsored the marker and covered its manufacturing costs.

Virginia’s historical highway marker program began in 1927 with installation of the first markers along U.S. Route 1. It is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,600 state markers, mostly maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, except in those localities outside of VDOT’s authority.

Full Text of Marker:

John C. Underwood (1809-1873)

John C. Underwood, an attorney from New York, settled near here early in the 1850s. Harassed for his antislavery activism and his work on behalf of the Republican Party, he left Virginia in 1856. Pres. Abraham Lincoln appointed him a federal judge for Virginia’s eastern district in 1863. An outspoken advocate of equal rights for African Americans after the Civil War, Underwood was elected president of Virginia’s Constitutional Convention of 1867–68. Among the convention’s 105 members were 24 African Americans. The “Underwood Constitution,” ratified in 1869, granted Black men the right to vote, established a system of free public schools, and secured other democratic reforms.

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