Hampton University Museum displays the Pen of Liberty and the Military Frock Coat worn by Union Army Brevet Brigadier General Samuel Chapman Armstrong the founder of Hampton Normal Industrial and Agricultural Institute. General Armstrong was working in Hampton with the Freedman’s Bureau at the close of the Civil War. A commander of African American troops during the war and the son of an educator, he developed a strong interest in African American education. He proposed the purchase of a 120-acre farm called “Little Scotland,” located on the Hampton River near the area where Mary Peake had taught. In 1868, General Armstrong became the first principal of Hampton Normal and Agricultural School and he guided it for the school’s first twenty-five years until his death in 1893.
Emancipation did not happen simultaneously in the United States and its territories. It came to different regions at different times. Hampton University successfully acquired one of three pens of identical construction which President Abraham Lincoln used in 1862 and 1863 to sign the three proclamations which emancipated enslaved African Americans. The Pen of Liberty although very simple in construction is a symbol of the strength and tenacity not only of the founder of Hampton but for the generations of graduates from this university and the members of the surrounding community.
The Hampton History Gallery is utilized as a changing space to exhibit small exhibitions highlighting the history of the school. Exhibits have focused on aspects of Hampton’s history like the Trade School; the history of the Nursing programs and even an updated version of The Curiosity Room.
Hampton’s pen is one of three pens of identical construction which President Abraham Lincoln used in 1862 and 1863 to sign the three proclamations which emancipated enslaved African Americans. This pen was used to sign the first of these three pieces of legislation.
On April 16, 1862, President Lincoln signed the first document, “An Act for the Release of certain Persons held to service, or labor in the District of Columbia” which declared the slaves of Washington, D. C. free. The second pen was used on June 19, 1862, when Lincoln signed a document to free the slaves in the territories of the United States (Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Utah, Nevada, and New Mexico). The final Emancipation Proclamation was signed on January 1, 1863. Emancipation Oak, located on the edge of Hampton University’s campus, was the site in 1863 of the historic reading of the Emancipation Proclamation for the people of Hampton.
In February 1879, in order to fulfill its obligation to the government to provide Indian students with skills to earn a living, the school opened an “Indian training shop” in the basement of Marquand Cottage. It was here years later, an apprenticeship program was begun to teach Indians specific trades.