The Rev. Pegram Johnson’s ancestor William Johnson enslaved Richard Stewart’s great great great grandfather, Charles Stewart. They grew up at the same time in the 1950s in Petersburg, Virginia not knowing of the other’s existence. Johnson, an Episcopal priest, retired in 1998. Stewart, who retired from the military in 2003, used his life savings to start a museum dedicated to Black history.
In 2017, Johnson, who’s created a number of the historical markers in Petersburg, introduced Charles Stewart’s placard near the entrance of Pocahontas Island. Among those attending the unveiling of the marker was [Richard] Stewart, they quickly realized their unique connection.
The now elderly men sat down in Stewart’s museum, the Pocahontas Island Black History Museum, located at the heart of the island to talk about their friendship and their history. A myriad of colorful trinkets, framed documents, and memorabilia, offering a glimpse of the island’s history, surrounded the two men. Old jokes and excited shoulder touches powered the two men as they looked back on their own lives, and the ones of their ancestors.
Full text of the marker:
Charles Stewart (ca. 1808-after 1884) QA-38
Charles Stewart, a horseman, was born into slavery near Petersburg and spent part of his childhood on Pocahontas Island. At about the age of 12, he was sold to William R. Johnson, one of the foremost figures in horse racing, then America’s most popular sport. Stewart succeeded as a jockey, trainer, stable manager, and stallion man, affording him money and fame. Artist Edward Troye painted his portrait with the stallion Medley in 1832. Johnson sent Stewart to run a stable in Kentucky in 1837 and later sold him to Alexander Porter, U.S. senator from Louisiana. Stewart then supervised Porter’s highly regarded stables. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine published Stewart’s dictated memoir in 1884.