Author: Dionna L. Mann

a freelance journalist and independent researcher living in Virginia

Gilbert Hunt (ca. 1780–1863)

Gilbert Hunt was an African American blacksmith in Richmond who became known in the city for his aid during two fires: the Richmond Theatre fire in 1811 and the Virginia State Penitentiary fire in 1823. Born enslaved in King William County, Hunt trained as a blacksmith in Richmond and remained there most of the rest of his life. After the Richmond Theatre caught fire on December 26, 1811, he ran to the scene and, with the help of Dr. James D. McCaw, helped to rescue as many as a dozen women. He performed a similar feat of courage on August 8, 1823, during the penitentiary fire. Hunt purchased his freedom and in 1829 immigrated to the West African colony of Liberia, where he stayed only eight months. After returning to Richmond, he resumed blacksmithing and served as an outspoken, sometimes-controversial deacon in the First African Baptist Church. In 1848 he helped form the Union Burial Ground Society. In 1859, a Richmond author published a biography of Hunt, largely in the elderly blacksmith’s own words, but portraying him as impoverished and meek, a depiction at odds with the historical record. Hunt died in 1863.