Meeting at Gwynn's Island

September 12, 2015

On Saturday September 12, 2015, members of Middle Peninsula African-American Genealogical and Historical Society (MPAAGHS) will visit Gwynn’s Island in Mathews County, VA. About four miles in length, the Island is situated on the Piankatank River at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. History buffs and others who are researching African-American, European American and Native American ancestry are invited to join MPAAGHS for the visit.

The day will start at 11:00 am with a tour of the acclaimed Gwynn's Island Museum (map), founded in 1991 to preserve the history of the Island and the Mathews County mainland. The group will be greeted by the Museum’s former director Jean Tanner and its present director Tom Edwards. Recorded history of Gwynn’s Island begins with a land grant acquisition in 1640 by Colonel Hugh Gwynn [Gwyn] of Jamestown--a member of the Virginia Company. At that time the island was a part of York County; it became a part of Gloucester County in 1651 and Mathews County in 1790.

John Dixon, local researcher and author of several books, including The Black Americans of Gwynn's Island: 1600s to 1900s, will speak to the group. Mr. Dixon will talk about the earliest Africans who came to Gwynn's Island; the Indian tribes who occupied the area for thousands of years before; about John Punch, the indentured servant who after escaping from a Hugh Gwynn plantation became the first documented African in Virginia to be enslaved for life; about military service of Gwynn's Island blacks during the Civil War; and about the sizable African-American population that seemed to have vanished from the Island in the early 1900s.

At 12:30 pm, MPAAGHS members and guests will re-assemble at the Gwynn’s Island Civic Center (map) for a “bring your own” box lunch meeting and further discussion with Mr. Dixon. After lunch, attendees may opt for a tour of an abandoned church and school site built by African-American families who once lived on the Island. The group will hear about the old Cricket Hill battle grounds where hundreds of enslaved Virginians, who in exchange for his offer of freedom, fought with Lord Dunbar’s Royal Ethiopian Regiment early in the Revolutionary War. [Many black soldiers died on Gwynn’s Island from the devastating small pox epidemic of 1776 and from wounds of battle with the Patriots; hundreds sailed away with Lord Dunbar in anticipation of freedom elsewhere under British rule].

For information about the September 12 event, including restaurants nearby that will prepare box lunches, email Bessida White at or Davaline Taliaferro at For other information, call 804.651.8753 or visit

Gwynn’s Island Museum
Route 633
Gwynn, VA 23066 (map)

Gwynn’s Island Civic Center
1996 Old Ferry Road
Gwynn, VA 23066 (map)