The Honorable John Mercer Langston - Virginia

John Mercer Langston

U. S. Congressman of Virginia (1890-1891)

John Mercer Langston was the son of Ralph Quarles, a Revolutionary War captain and wealthy landowner and Lucy Jane Langston, former slave of Ralph Quarles, whom he provided emancipation papers as early as 1806. Lucy Jane Langston was of Indian origin and had close blood relations to the Indian tribe of Pocahontas.

The plantations of Captain Ralph Quarles (circa 1794) were located approximately four miles from the Louisa Court House, where the Virginia Historic Highway Marker was erected, in June 1996, honoring the birthplace of John Mercer Langston. One of Captain Quarles' plantations was situated on the branch of Goldmine Creek near White Creek; the other plantation, where he built another home for himself and one for his companion Lucy Jane Langston, was located on the headwaters of the north branch of Hickory Creek (about three miles from Captain Quarles' other plantation on White Creek).

The plantation located on the north Branch of Hickory Creek was the early childhood home and probable birthplace of John Mercer Langston (1829-1897), first known African American elected to an office in the United States and the first African American Congressman from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Upon the death of his father, Langston received a portion of his estate and with it Langston educated himself. Langston graduated from Oberlin College in 1849 and was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1854. In 1855, he was elected township clerk of Brownhelm on the Liberty ticket, thereby becoming the first known African American elected to an office in the United States. He was responsible for the formation of the 127th Colored Ohio Volunteer infantry and recruited for the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War.

In 1869, Langston left Oberlin and moved to Washington, D.C. Where he served as inspector general for education and abandoned lands for the Freedmen's Bureau. He left his position at the Freedmen's Bureau to organize the Law Department of Howard University and assumed the duties of acting president until 1875, when he left Howard.

In 1885, Langston served as the first president of the newly organized Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute in Petersburg, Virginia (currently known as Virginia State University), and in 1888 he became the first black U.S. Congressman elected from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

John Mercer Langston also served as resident minister to Haiti and chargé d'affaires to Santo Domingo. The remains of the foundation of a house dwelling and a barn are visible today as well as the burial sites of Captain Ralph Quarles and his companion, former slave Lucy Jane Langston. Depressions in the ground near Lucy Jane Langston's burial site note other burials of family members that have taken place over the years.


Congressman John Mercer Langston Birthplace Dedication Program


Selected Readings:

Langston, John Mercer, "From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol" an autobiography. © 1969. Arno Press, NY.

Cheek, William and Aimee Lee, John Mercer Langston and the Fight for Black Freedom, 1829-1865. © 1989. University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, IL.

Cheek, William and Aimee Lee, John Mercer Langston and the Fight for Black Freedom 1829-65 (Blacks in the New World) (October 1996) Reprint edition. University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, IL.

The National Register of Historic Places: African American Historic Places. Edited by Beth L. Savage. © 1994. National Park Service, Washington, DC.

Massie, J. Quintus, The Story of Lucy Langston, Louisa County Historical Magazine, Louisa County Historical Society, Spring 1993.

White, Sr., Charles W., The Hidden and the Forgotten: Blacks Contributions to Buckingham County. © 1985. Wadsworth Press, Marceline, MO.

Salisbury, Linda The Sword and the Broom: The Exceptional Career and Accomplishments of John Mercer Langston © 2016. Tabby House Publishing

A Guidebook to Virginia's African American Historical Markers Compiled by Loux, Jennifer R., Published by Virginia Department of Historic Resources © 2019