On the grounds of present-day Hampton University, under what became called the Emancipation Oak, Mary Smith Peake taught the 1st class of African American children.
In 1863, the Virginia Peninsula community gathered under this tree to hear the 1st Southern reading of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and it became known as the Emancipation Oak.
Soon the AMA provided Peake with Brown Cottage, long considered the first facility of Hampton Institute (and later Hampton University). Both children and adults were eager to learn: Mary Peake’s school taught more than 50 children during the day and 20 adults at night.
Mary Smith Peake was a teacher and humanitarian, best known for starting a school for the children of former slaves starting in the fall of 1861 under what became known as the Emancipation Oaktree in present-day Hampton, Virginia near Fort Monroe.
She was associated with later founding of Hampton University in 1868.
LEGACY & HONORS:
⏹Reverend Lewis C. Lockwood, Mary S. Peake, the Colored Teacher at Fortress Monroe (1862; reprint 1969). Lockwood was the first missionary to the freedmen at Fort Monroe and greatly admired Peake. His biography of her is available at Project Gutenberg.
⏹The Mary Peake Center of Hampton Public Schools is named in her honor.
⏹Mary Peake Boulevard in Hampton was also named in her honor.