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The Story Of Robert ‘Free Bob’ Vernon, Former Slave Who Founded Vernon Town In Louisiana

The Story Of Robert ‘Free Bob’ Vernon, Former Slave Who Founded Vernon Town In Louisiana

In the town of Amite, Louisiana, a family-owned funeral parlor has serviced the Black community for generations, preserving decades of information in funeral program records.

“One day I got down and started looking at them, and I said, ‘Oh, look at the history I didn’t know about the Amite colored school,’” she said. “The Black experience in Florida parishes has been undocumented,” local historian and genealogist Dr. Antoinette Harrell told WBRZ News.

Harrell was doing research when she stumbled across history and documents, including the little-known story of former slave Robert “Free Bob” Vernon, who bought his freedom and 3,000 acres of property to carry on his legacy. On the site, he established a tiny Black town complete with a church, cemetery, and school. Vernon Town grew out of this area.

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Robert Free Bob was born as a slave in Rankin County, Mississippi in 1832 and died in Tangipahoa Parish in July 1915. To avoid confusion with his white father, Robert Vernon, Sr., he was given the nickname Free Bob. According to Harrell, Robert Free Bob had 17 children: Willie, Riley, Georgia, Lula, Jim, Nancy, Isaac, John, Florence, Emma, Guy, Sam, Owen, Toby Stamp, Anna, Lettie, and Robert Vernon, III.

He had three marriages. His first wife and sons were sold as slaves on a Mississippi plantation. “Robert worked hard to gain his liberty. Later, he relocated to Louisiana, where his father, Robert Vernon, lived. He built a cabin on 160 acres, and his father informed him that if he worked hard to develop the land for five years, he could become the owner. “Robert accepted the difficulties and began hard work on two parcels of land,” Harrell wrote.

Later, Robert Free Bob discovered that his first wife, who had been sold into slavery, had died, leaving their two small sons alone in Mississippi. Robert Free Bob traveled to Mississippi and returned with the two boys to live with him and his new family in Louisiana. He gradually acquired more land and became a real estate success. After purchasing 3,000 acres of land, he eventually established Vernon Town.

Robert Free Bob bequeathed more than a hundred acres to each of his 17 children after he died in 1915. The Vernon family still owns the land. His heirs are doing well, carrying on his legacy through work. Glyniss Vernon Gordon, an Amite citizen and the great great granddaughter of Free Bob, was the first African American elected to Amite’s city council. She was elected for three terms. Others have been lawyers, doctors, engineers, educators, and religious leaders.

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“If he couldn’t read or write and wanted us to learn about life values through education, we got a hold of it.” “And we’re still hanging on to it,” Gordon explained. “And we’ll delegate it to each generation.”

Vernon Town is an unincorporated community that many of Robert Free Bob’s descendants still call home. Many residents are unaware of the town’s history or the narrative of Robert Free Bob, but this is changing, according to Gordon.

“I believe the door is just starting to open… For the white population, I believe so. They’ve known it before, but it takes members of Free Bob’s family to bring it to life, to bring it to the surface. And that is exactly what we are doing.”

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