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Some Thoughts About Our Ancestors
The Slave Owner Mentality - Page Two
UPDATED DEC. 21, 2005

The United States- According to the first census, there are 757,000 blacks in the United States, comprising 19% of the total population. Nine percent of blacks are free.
(Chronology: A Historical Review, Major Events in Black History 1492 thru 1953 by Roger Davis and Wanda Neal-Davis)

By 1790, 20 percent of the overall population in the thirteen colonies was of African descent. The legalized practice of enslaving blacks occurred in every colony. The economic realities of the southern colonies, however, perpetuated the institution, which was first legalized in Massachusetts in 1641. During the Revolutionary era, more than half of all African-Americans lived in Virginia and Maryland. Most of these blacks lived in the Chesapeake region, where they made up more than 50 to 60 percent of the overall population. The majority, but not all, of these African-Americans were slaves. In fact, the first official United States Census, taken in 1790, showed that 8 percent of the black populace was free. [Edgar A. Toppin. "Blacks in the American Revolution" (published essay, Virginia State University, 1976), p. 1]. Whether free or slave, blacks in the Chesapeake established familial relationships, networks for disseminating information, survival techniques, and various forms of resistance to their condition. (Colonial Williamsburg Web Page)

More than half the 750,000 blacks in the United States lived in Maryland and Virginia. (Bob Arnebeck, A Shameful Heritage, Washington Post Magazine, January 18, 1889)

Slave make up population of Maryland of which DC was apart at the time is 97,623 total of which 43,450 is Black. (See http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/cliff_m/ for genealogical research) The Census for Prince George's County, MD, lists 20 family units, living in what will become the federal city, (most likely in the Florida Ave boundary and excluding Georgetown. Eddie) consisting of : 37 free white males of at least 16 years, 35 free white males of at least 16 years, 35 free white males under 16 years, 53 free white females, 4 other free persons, and 591 slaves; for a total of 720. (Chronology of Events in the History of the District of Columbia, Compiled by Philip Ogilvie, Deposited in the Library of the Historical Society of Washington, DC)

The population of the United States in 1790 was about 4 million, of whom 60,000 were free blacks and 400,000 were slaves. The largest contributor of colonists to the Americas was Great Britain. During the 17th century, about 250,000 English immigrants arrived, settling primarily in Virginia, Massachusetts, and the Caribbean islands. In the 18th century more than 1.5 million people came from the British Isles to America. The majority of newcomers to the Western Hemisphere, however, were African slaves. About 10 million of them were brought over before 1800. (Compton's Encyclopedia Online )

First Census lists 697,897 slaves in the United States.

1791/03 While the Capital was still located in Philadelphia, George Washington, fearing the impact of a Pennsylvania law freeing slaves after six months residence in that state, instructed his secretary Tobias Lear to ascertain what effect the law would have on the status of the slaves who served the presidential household in Philadelphia. In case Lear believed that any of the slaves were likely to seek their freedom under Pennsylvania law, Washington wished them sent home to Mount Vernon. "If upon taking good advise it is found expedient to send them back to Virginia, I wish to have it accomplished under pretext that may deceive both them and the Public." When one of his slaves ran away in 1795 Washington told his overseer to take measures to apprehend the slave "but I would not have my name appear in any advertisement, or other measure, leading to it." (Tobias Lear, Letters and Recollections of George Washington, NY, 1906, page 38; Washington to William Pearce, 22 Mar. 1795, Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union. Recounted in "That Species of Property": Washington's Role in the Controversy Over Slavery by Dorothy Twohig Originally Presented at a Conference on Washington and Slavery at Mount Vernon, October 1994)

District of Columbia

From the beginning of the city’s history, slavery was an integral part of the economy. Slaves formed the core of the early labor force, working on the construction of public and private buildings almost as frequently as they served as household servants. When the government embarked on public works, it also hired slave labor; the Treasury Department paid the absentee masters for the use of their human chattel. To protect slaveholders in the city, a special tax was levied on nonresident slave labor.

Wedged between two slave states, the District of Columbia was ideally located to become the hub of the domestic slave trade. With the increased demand for slaves caused by the expansion of cotton cultivation in the lower South and the slow but steady reduction of tobacco cultivation in Maryland and Virginia, a growing "surplus" of slaves developed in the vicinity of the capital." (Green, Constance McLaughlin. Washington: Village and Capital 1800-1878. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962, 53-54.)

Slaves hired from their masters by Pierre L'Enfant begin work on the Construction of the White House. "Since much was accomplished very quickly there must have been many; the conditions of their labor from daybreak to dark under the command of tough, hard-drinking James Dermott can only be imagined." Do to lack of skilled labor in Washington, DC, The White House master stonemason, Collen Williamson, had to train hired slaves on the spot at the quarry to cut the stone to build the foundation of the White House. (The President's House: a History by William, Seale and Harry N. Abrams, White House Historical Association with the Cooperation of the National Geographic Society, 1986, vol. 1, Pages 38, 50, 52,57,60 

In 1792 the commissioners hired James Dermott to assist in the surveying. The chief surveyor, Andrew Ellicott, a Quaker friend of Benjamin. Banneker, assigned Dermott the task of supervising the slave axe-men. The commissioners worried that someone so fresh from Ireland would not handle blacks correctly. By 1799 Dermott was a slave trader, offering nine women and children, including three girls from six to ten years old, for sale. He even advertised a service to help planters get back their runaway slaves, which didn't prevent a Virginian from placing a counter ad accusing Dermott of harboring a slave named Robert. According to the ad the slave, who had been sold by a parson to a. Alexandria merchant and by him to a barkeeper and by him to an Orange County planter, "has been seen in the employ of Mr. James R. Dermot and supposed to be concealed by said Dermot."

Not that Dermott was a safe haven for a slave. At the same time he was offering a reward for jailing or flogging Fidelio, "well known about the city" and probably lurking at an old farm in the city along the Anacostia, "where he has a wife. "As the 1790's wore on ads for runaways seemed to pertain less to a bonafide case of a black man trying to escape to freedom, than a slave remaining in the city and taking advantage of the social upheaval attendant to the development of the capital city. Bennett Fenwick's ad for Jim reads as if he relished the opportunity to insult the slave who though he couldn't read would have asked someone to read the ad. Jim, Fenwick proclaimed, "is very fond of spiritous liquors, and very droll. He will curse any one he is acquainted with, pretend to strip himself and make believe he will tear them to pieces, but as soon as they come up he will run from them." And indirectly attesting to the impunity with which some slaves sassed their masters, Fenwick had to remind readers that he was serious. "I forewarn all persons," his ad concluded, "from harboring, hiring or dealing with any of my Negroes as I am determined to act in such cases as the law directs." (Slaves at the Founding. From Bob Arnebeck’s Page on Early Washington History )

In a letter from the Commissioners to William Wright, it states that they need "...about sixty hands, you need not be precise as to the number, of which we think, with you as many of them should be good Negroes as you can get. (National Archives, RG 42. Records of the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital, Copies of Letterbooks of letters sent by the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, 1791-98, Box 1 entry 104 Volume 3 dated September 1, 1792.)

Some slaves worked right along side their masters. While the commissioners only rented slaves they described as "laborers" and never trained slaves to do skilled labor, they did allow James Hoban to bring his skilled slave carpenters to the city. Hoban learned the art of building in Dublin, then emigrated to Charleston, South Carolina. When he heard bout the open competition to design the public buildings in Washington, he came to the city via Philadelphia where he conferred with President Washington. His design of what was then called the president's house won the competition. Impressed by his experience, the commissioners hired Hoban to supervise building it. He returned to Charleston and brought back several Irish carpenters, and his and their slaves. The earliest payroll for skilled workers at the White House dates from January 1795. Nine white carpenters, three white apprentices, and five slave carpenters were at work. The white carpenters made $1.09 a day, the apprentices from 84 to 97 cents a day, and the slaves from 53 to 84 cents a day for their masters. The month's wages of Peter, Ben, Harry and Daniel, totaling $60, went to James Hoban. It seems these slave carpenters worked side by side with the white. For example, the crew that built a bridge over Tiber Creek which ran along today's Constitution Avenue consisted of two white and two slave carpenters.

Judging from the payrolls only slaves brought to the city by Hoban and his assistants got skilled work with the commissioners. However, the commissioners did hire free blacks, and one of them, Jerry Holland, did make a. impression. In January 1795 he worked as one of 9 laborers on the surveying crew. "Pay Jerry the black man," the chief surveyor wrote to the commissioners, "a rate of $8 per month for his last moths services; he is justly entitled to the highest wages that is due to our hands - being promised it and the best hand in the department." The commissioners ignored the recommendation.

In May 1796 a man listed as "Negro William" worked as a bricklayer earning $1.33 a day, equal to what white masons were getting. But in all other monthly payrolls the masons were all white. To save paying high wages to masons, a new commissioner, William Thornton, who was not a southern slave owner, proposed buying 50 intelligent Negroes" and having a few very high paid white train them in stone work. In return the slaves would get their freedom in five years. His colleagues didn't take the proposal seriously.

Slaves did specialize in certain tasks other than the general drudgery of hauling building materials. They predominated in the sawpits where timber was cut for the carpenters, and predominated in the crews making bricks. Unfortunately the commissioners contracted out for bricks so other than the insistent calls of one contractor for more slaves, no record remains of the size and composition of the crews. Upwards of 40 slaves probably worked for such contractors bringing the total number of slaves working on the public buildings to a little over 150, in a total workforce of seldom more than 300.While the master brick makers in the city were white, slaves achieved considerable skill. Slaves who could make bricks went for a higher rental, over 50 cents a day. Towards the end of the decade, after millions of bricks had been made for the interior walls of the Capitol and White House, contractors making bricks for private houses in the city advertised for "Negroes that have been used to the brickmaking business, amongst which must be four good moulders, temperers, and boys as off-bearers, for which generous wages will be given." Tending brick kilns was hot work that whites shunned, and that was also the case with plaster. When it came time to plaster the interior walls of the public building, plaster rock was brought up Rock Creek to Pierce's Mill where it was ground and then boiled down by slaves. (Slaves at the Founding 

The City of Washington welcomed both coastal slave ships and increasingly numerous overland coffles. Slave pens were established in what is now Potomac Park, and one thrived in the shadows of the White House, behind Decatur House on Lafayette Square. When the pens were full, the city jails were pressed into service as holding centers for slaves awaiting passage to Georgia and the new cotton and sugar plantations of the lower South. (G. Franklin Edwards and Michael R. Winston, Commentary: The Washington of Paul Jennings—White House Slave, Free Man, and Conspirator for Freedom. White House Historical Association)

Louisiana- Twenty-three slaves are hanged and three white sympathizers deported, following suppression of a black revolt.
(Chronology: A Historical Review, Major Events in Black History 1492 thru 1953 by Roger Davis and Wanda Neal-Davis)

Philadelphia- Congress excludes blacks and Indians from peacetime militia. Kentucky is admitted as a slave state.
(Chronology: A Historical Review, Major Events in Black History 1492 thru 1953 by Roger Davis and Wanda Neal-Davis)

Benjamin Banneker, a freedman from Maryland, wrote to Thomas Jefferson complaining that it was time to eradicate false racial stereotypes. While expressing doubts regarding the merits of slavery in his "Notes on Virginia", Jefferson had expressed his belief in the inferiority of the African. Banneker had educated himself, especially in mathematics and astronomy, and in 1789 he was one of those who helped to survey the District of Columbia. Later, he predicted a solar eclipse. In 1791 he had begun the publication of a series of almanacs, and the next year he sent one of these to Jefferson in an attempt to challenge his racial views. Jefferson was so impressed with the work that he sent it to the French Academy of Science. However, he seemed to view Banneker as an exception rather than fresh evidence undermining white stereotypes. (Norman Coombs, The Immigrant Heritage of America, Twayne Press, 1972. Chapter 5 A Nation Divided. The Black Experience In America Part 2, Emancipation Without Freedom. Chapter 5 A Nation Divided, Black Moderates And Black Militants)

On August 19, 1791, Benjamin Banneker wrote a lengthy letter to Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, in which "having taken up my pen in order to direct to you as a present, a copy of an Almanack... I was unexpectedly and unavoidably led" to develop a discourse on race and rights. Banneker made it a point to "freely and Cheerfully acknowledge, that I am of the African race." Though not himself a slave, Banneker encouraged Jefferson to accept "the indispensable duty of those who maintain for themselves the rights of human nature," by ending the "State of tyrannical serfdom, and inhuman captivity, to which too many of my brethren are doomed." Appealing to Jefferson's "measurably friendly and well-disposed" attitude toward blacks, Banneker presumed that he would "readily embrace every opportunity to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions which so generally prevail with respect to us." After acknowledging that by writing to Jefferson he was taking "a liberty which Seemed to me scarcely allowable," considering "the almost general prejudice and prepossession which is so prevalent in the world against those of my complexion," Banneker launched into a critical response to Jefferson's published ideas about the inferiority of blacks. With restrained passion, Banneker chided Jefferson and other framers of the Declaration of Independence for the hypocrisy "in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should at the Same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to yourselves." Citing Jefferson's own words from the Declaration -- the "Self-Evident" truth "that all men are created equal" -- Banneker challenged Jefferson and his fellows "to wean yourselves from those narrow prejudices which you have imbibed with respect to" African Americans. (Reprinted from the Public Broadcasting Service Africans in America Resource Bank.)

There remained one problem that was a constant problem in the early days of the country: labor. How could public buildings dwarfing in size any buildings that had ever been built in the new country be made without an ample supply of workmen? Both Virginia and Maryland were rich in slave labor. More African Americans lived in those states than in any other area of the country. Indeed, there was a surplus of slaves. Of course, skilled workers from Europe who did have experience with large buildings and from the northern US where cities were better built than in the south would be essential. But a large supply of slaves would keep a check on the wage demands of the white who came to the city to work. (What Does "Washington History" Mean and How Did It Begin? From Bob Arnebeck's Page on Early Washington History )

Free labor had a bad reputation in the Potomac Valley. The Potomac Company, which was clearing the river and building canals around falls that obstructed free navigation, initially hired free labor, principally Irish emigrants, but they frequently ran out of their work contracts. The company peppered newspapers in the valley with ads offering rewards for return of the laborers. To fill the breach, Thomas Johnson, then the company president, hired slaves. Johnson was the leading city commissioner. The 25 or so slaves the commissioners hired in 1792 principally served as axe-men and grubbers opening a portion of K and other streets so that stages to and from Georgetown would run through the city, not north on the old road on the ridge overlooking the city site. In September the cornerstone of the president's house was laid. While real work would not begin until the next April, masons began preparing stone, which slaves hauled up from boats that came from Virginia quarries. At year's end the commissioners bragged that they "could not have done without" slaves. "They ere a check on the white laborers." By 1797 they would rent 125 slaves to work in the city. (Slaves at the Founding. From Bob Arnebeck's Page on Early Washington History)

The major supplier of slaves was Edmund Plowden, who lived in St. Mary's county and owned 64 slaves. His Moses, Len, Jim, and Arnold worked at the president's house. His Gerard, Tony and Jack worked at the Capitol. In December 1794 laborers were paid 45 shillings a month, about $6. So Plowden made $42 a month without obligation except to provide his slaves a blanket.

There were middlemen who formed crews of slaves and offered them to the commissioners. in November 1794 John Slye applied to be an overseer claiming "his friends... have engaged to hire to the city thirty valuable Negro men slaves." Slye had previously worked for the Potomac Company and had brought 20 slaves to work for that company. The commissioners did not pass up Slye's offer and hired him to oversee laborers at the president's house for $15 a month. What percentage Slye took of the annual rental made by the 30 slaves he brought to the city is not known. Some slaves did not work out of sight of their masters because their masters also worked for the city. Middleton Belt who supervised the overseers rented two slaves he owned, Peter at the Capitol, and Jack at the president's house. Even one of the commissioners, Gustavus Scott, rented two slaves, Bob and Kitt who worked at the president's house. (Slaves at the Founding. From Bob Arnebeck's Page on Early Washington History )

The price of slaves increased as cotton production proved profitable on the Southern frontier reversing the efforts to encourage emancipation that had begun between the American Revolution and before the War of 1812. (See William Cooper Nell, The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (Boston: Robert F. Wallcut, 1855) and Sidney Kaplan, The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution, 1770-1800 (Greenwich: New York Graphic Society, 1973), 10-13. Cited in The Underground Railroad In American History )

The Rise Of Cotton: Before the 1790s Slavery seemed to be a dying institution. Most Northern states had set emancipation in motion and in the Chesapeake states of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, the philosophy of the American Revolution - the idea that all men were created equal, with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - also motivated planters to free their slaves. Of crucial importance to the act of freeing slaves in the Chesapeake was the decline of tobacco. Years of overplanting had left the land worn out. As farmers produced less tobacco and turned instead to more profitable grains their need for large numbers of slaves decreased. Rather than assume the cost of caring for their slaves, many farmers freed them instead. ("Let My People Go - African Americans 1804-1860", Deborah Gray white, p. 15.)

But the introduction of cotton, which increase the demand for slaves south of the Chesapeake, caused a hurried change in attitude. Before the turn of the 19th century, there was little cotton production in the South. Eli Whitney's cotton gin changed that, and with it also the history of Black America. The cotton gin made the production of the heartier short-staple cotton profitable. Before the invention of the cotton gin it took a slave a day to clean a pound of the short-staple cotton. With the gin, by contrast, the slave could clean up to 50 pounds a day. . ("Let My People Go - African Americans 1804-1860", Deborah Gray white, p. 15.)

Between 1790 and 1860, about one million slaves were moved west, almost twice the number of Africans shipped to the United States during the whole period of the transatlantic slave trade. Some slaves moved with their masters and others moved as part of a new domestic trade in which owners from the seaboard states sold slaves to planters in the cotton-growing states of the new Southwest. ("Slavery in the United States," Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia.)

What slaves hated most about slavery was not the hard work to which they were subjected, but their lack of control over their lives, their lack of freedom ("Slavery in the United States," Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia.) No state law recognized marriage among slaves, masters rather than parents had legal authority over slave children, and the possibility of forced separation, through sale, hung over every family. These separations were especially frequent in the slave-exporting states of the upper South. ("Slavery in the United States," Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia.)

Fugitive Slave Act becomes a federal law. Allows slaveowners, their agents or attorneys to seize fugitive slaves in free states and territories.

The Fugitive Slave Act voted by Congress at Philadelphia February 12 makes it illegal for anyone to help a slave escape to freedom or give a runaway slave refuge (see Underground Railway, 1838). (The People's Chronology 1995, 1996 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf also see here for the document)

Louisiana- More slave uprising are suppressed with some 50 blacks killed and executed.
(Chronology: A Historical Review, Major Events in Black History 1492 thru 1953 by Roger Davis and Wanda Neal-Davis )

Virginia- George Washington advertises for the return of one of his slaves, stipulating that the notice for his retrieval not be run north of Virginia. This same year, John Adams writes: "I have never owned a Negro or any other slave (even) when it has cost me thousands of dollars for the labor and sustenance of free men, which I might have saved by the purchase of Negroes at times when they were very cheap."
(Chronology: A Historical Review, Major Events in Black History 1492 thru 1953 by Roger Davis and Wanda Neal-Davis)

During his presidency, Washington seems to have concluded that slavery was absolutely incompatible with the principles of the new nation and could even cause its division. In August 1797 he wrote,"...I wish from my soul that the legislature of [Virginia] could see a policy of a gradual Abolition of Slavery..." Two years later, Washington revised his will, providing for his slaves to be freed after his death 122 of the 314 African Americans at Mount Vernon were freed; the others were Martha's and by law owned by her heirs. He also left instructions for their care and education which included supporting the young until they came of age and paying pensions to the elderly.
(For more information, select here)

Not only did George Washington still need slaves to work his own plantation, he must have been at least somewhat aware that much of the golden age of economic and social expansion in the Chesapeake had rested on black slavery. Washington himself was an avid partaker in the "Anglicization" of Chesapeake society with its emphasis on creature comforts, and the acquisition of consumer goods, much of which was dependent on a slave economy. (See Lois Green Carr and Lorena Seebach Walsh, "Changing Life Styles and Consumer Behavior in the Colonial Chesapeake," in Cary Carson et al., eds., Of Consuming Interests: The Style of Life in the Eighteenth Century (Charlottesville, Va., 1994; Timothy H. Breen, "An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776," Journal of British Studies, 25 (1986), 467-99. (The Papers of George Washington "That Species of Property": Washington's Role in the Controversy Over Slavery Dorothy Twohig, Originally Presented at a Conference on Washington and Slavery at Mount Vernon, October 1994.)

Many of the Americans of African descent that were enslaved by George Washington settled close by Mount Vernon in Gum Springs Virginia. Gum Springs was founded by the patriarchal Freedman, West Ford, whose bones rest near George Washington's at Mount Vernon. It was named after a gum tree that once marked the marshy land, highly prized for farming in the past. Quietly nestled across the river on George Washington's side of the Potomac, Gum Springs was a place for blacks to prevail, assimilating runaways and freed slaves who migrated there by way of the nearby port of Alexandria. Many of its forbearers tended General Washington's estate at Mount Vernon before they were freed at the death of his wife, Martha. Freed slaves found assistance from Quakers in their struggle for economic survival. The skills and trades they learned as estate slaves added to their growth towards independence. Today, Gum Springs has more than 2,500 residents and as many as 500 are descendants of the original families. (A Brief History of Gum Springs, The Gum Springs Historical Society, Inc. Alexandria (Gum Springs), VA 22306 (703) 799-1198 )

The first American to be tried under the U.S. Slave Trade Act of 1794 came before a federal district court in Providence Road Island. John Brown, stood trial for fitting out his ship Hope for the African slave trade. The voyage had concluded profitably in Havana, Cuba, with the sale of 229 slaves a year earlier. (Jay Coughtry, The Notorious Triangle: Rhode Island and the African Slave Trade (Philadelphia, 1981), 214–215) Brown’s accusers included his younger brother, Moses, a tireless opponent of both slavery and the slave trade since his conversion, on the eve of the American Revolution, from the family’s Baptist faith to the Society of Friends. A founding member and officer of the Abolition Society, chartered in 1789, Moses Brown had been fighting Rhode Island slave traders, including brother John, for a decade, since the passage of the largely ineffective state statute of 1787 that prohibited the trade to state residents.
(Coughtry, Notorious Triangle, chapter 6. See also Mack Thompson, Moses Brown: Reluctant Reformer (Chapel Hill, 1962), 175–190.) (For Records of the Trial see Papers of the American Slave Trade, Series A: Selections from the Rhode Island Historical Society, Part 1: Brown Family Collections, Part 2: Selected Collections, University Publications of America.)

Second Great Awakening begins with the Cane Ridge camp meeting. The meeting takes place in Kentucky and embraces African-Americans. Many slaves convert to Christianity.
(Slavery and Religion in America: A timeline 1440-1866. By the Internet Public Library )


In the early part of the 1800's William Thornton, architect of the United States Capitol and a supporter of African recolonization of freed enslaved Americans of African descent. The American Colonization Society (ACS) was formed in 1817 to send free African-Americans to Africa as an alternative to emancipation in the United States. In 1822, the society established on the west coast of Africa a colony that in 1847 became the independent nation of Liberia. By 1867, the society had sent more than 13,000 emigrants. Beginning in the 1830s, the society was harshly attacked by abolitionists, who tried to discredit colonization as a slaveholder's scheme. And, after the Civil War, when many blacks wanted to go to Liberia, financial support for colonization had waned. During its later years the society focussed on educational and missionary efforts in Liberia rather than emigration. (Library of Congress, African-American Mosaic, Colonization)

By 1800 the US population contained 18.9% or 1,002,037 of which only 10% were free and of which only 36,505 lived in the North, mostly New York and New Jersey. f. In 1808, the slave population exceeded 1 million. (Growth Of The Nation1800 – 40 Jefferson's Administrations Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, TX )

Slave Population for DC put at 3,244 (22.7%) and white at 10,266 (71.8). Both numbers would about double by 1820. Though the population of free blacks would increase to 4,048. (From Cole, Stephanie. Changes for Mrs. Thornton’s Arther: Patterns of Domestic Service in Washington, DC, 1800-1835 Social Science History 1991 15(3): 367-379 cite to Green, Constance M (1962) Washington: Billage to Capital, 1800-1878. Princeton, NJ and Brown, Letitia Woods.) (Free Negroes in DC, 1800-1835 MA Thesis University of Florida.)

The new U.S. capital at Washington, D.C. has 2,464 residents, 623 slaves. (The People's Chronology, 1994 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf.)

Africans and their descendants in the new United States outnumbered Europeans south of the Mason-Dixon line in 1800; in fact, close to 50 percent of all immigrants (including Europeans) to the thirteen American Colonies from 1700 to 1775 came from Africa. A forced migration of these proportions had an enormous impact on societies and cultures throughout the Americas and produced a diasporic community of peoples of African descent. Jerome S. Handler.( Background and Objectives, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy.)

Africans in Philadelphia petition Congress to end slavery.
(The History Channels Chronology of Slavery in America)

Washington, D.C.- By a vote of 85 to 1, Congress rejects petition by free blacks of Philadelphia to gradually end slavery in the United States. (Chronology: A Historical Review, Major Events in Black History 1492 thru 1953 by Roger Davis and Wanda Neal-Davis )

The United States Senate and House of approved An Act in Addition to the Act entitled "An Act to Prohibit the Carrying on the Slave Trade from the United States to any Foreign Place or Country.
(United States Statutes at Large Volume 2 on line. The Avalon Project : Statutes of the United States Concerning Slavery)

In the Convention, it was proposed by a committee of eleven to limit the importation of slaves to the year 1800, when Mr. Pinckney moved to extend the time to the year 1808. This motion was carried -- New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, voting in the affirmative; and New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, in the negative. In opposition to the [**328] motion, Mr. Madison said: "Twenty years will produce all the mischief that can be apprehended from the liberty to import slaves; so long a term will be more dishonorable to the American character than to say nothing about it in the Constitution." (Madison Papers.) The provision in regard to the slave trade shows clearly that Congress considered slavery a State institution, to be continued and regulated by its individual sovereignty; and to conciliate that interest, the slave trade was continued twenty years, not as a general measure, but for the "benefit of such States as shall think proper to encourage it." (Dissent: Mr. Justice McLean in the Case of Dred Scott, Plaintiff In Error, v. John F. A Sandford. Supreme Court Of The United States, 60 U.S. 393; 1856 U.S. Lexis 472; 15 L. Ed. 691; 19 HOW 393, December, 1856)

Thomas Jefferson becomes president as Democratic-Republican. VP Aaron Burr served from 1801-5 replaced by George Clinton from 1805-9. Jefferson brought his slaves from Montecello to the White House to use as his servants. (William Seale , The President's House: a History, White House Historical Association with the Cooperation of the National Geographic Society and Harry N Abrams, 1986, vol. 1, pages 99, 101)

The domestic offices and servants quarters were in the basement story. They were airy rooms directly beneath the principal floor of the house and on the north side of the long groin-vaulted hall that ran from one end of the house to the other. (William Seale, "The President's House: a History," White House Historical Association with the Cooperation of the National Geographic Society and Harry N Abrams, 1986, vol. 1, pages 102)

Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts Republican, would latter outline how Maryland's slave code came to be the law of the District: Congress proceeded to assume that complete jurisdiction which is conferred in the Constitution by enacting, on the 27th February 1801, "that the laws of the State of Maryland, as they now exist, shall be and continue in force in that part of the said District which was ceded by that State to the United States, and by them accepted for the permanent seat of Government." Thus at one stroke all the existing laws of Maryland were adopted by Congress in gross, and from that time forward became the laws of the United States at the national capital. . . . Among the statutes of Maryland thus solemnly reenacted in gross by Congress was the following, originally passed as early as 1715--in colonial days: "All Negroes and other slaves already imported or hereafter to be imported into this province, and all children now born or hereafter to be born of such Negroes and slaves shall be slaves during their natural lives." Laws of Maryland, 1715, ch. 44, sec. 22. (Cong. Globe, 37th Cong., 2d Sess. 1448, 1862).

The Maryland code was latter described as "unjust, outmoded and unworthy of the nations capital" at the time of its adoption. (William Frank Zornow, "The Judicial Modifications of the Maryland Black Code in the District of Columbia," Maryland Historical Magazine, XLIV (March, 1949). 19-21). In 1830, the House Committee for the District of Columbia characterized the Code as "revolting to humanity" and "suited to barbarous ages. ("Laws for the District of Columbia," House Report No. 269, 20 Cong., 1 sess., 7) The Virginia Code was generally as cruel and oppressive as that of Maryland. The law sanctioned such primitive and savage practices as the nailing of a Negro's ears to a pillory as punishment for giving false testimony in a trial, or thirty-nine lashes "well laid on" if a black, free or slave, lifted his hand in opposition to any non-Negro. (Samuel Shepherd (comp.) The Statutes at Large of Virginia, from October Session 1792, to December Session 1806, Inclusive, in Three Volumes (new series) Being a Continuation of Hening (3 vols., Richmond, 1835), I, 125-27 (Dec, 1792). (All these citations were taken from Dorothy Sproles Provine, The Free Negro In the District of Columbia 1800-1860, Thesis Louisiana State University Department of History, 1959, 1963)

South Carolina resumes importing slaves as Eli Whitney’s 1792 cotton gin makes cotton growing profitable and boosts demand for field hands. (The People's Chronology 1995, 1996 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf)

Ohio- The legislature enacts the first of the "Black Laws" restricting the rights and movements of Blacks. Other Western states soon follow suit. Illinois, Indiana and Oregon later have anti-immigration clauses in their state constitutions. (Chronology: A Historical Review, Major Events in Black History 1492 thru 1953 by Roger Davis and Wanda Neal-Davis

New Jersey- New Jersey passes an emancipation law. All states north of the Mason-Dixon Line now have laws forbidding slavery or providing for its gradual elimination. However, there are to be some slaves in New Jersey right up to the Civil War. (Chronology: A Historical Review, Major Events in Black History 1492 thru 1953 by Roger Davis and Wanda Neal-Davis )

Early attempts to curtail slavery in the national capital failed. In 1805 Congress defeated a resolution to achieve gradual emancipation in the District; it would have designated the territory’s slave children free when they reached maturity. This would have major consequences for the future of the city. For instance, in 1808, when the external slave trade became illegal as allowed by Article I Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution, the domestic slave trade assumed new economic importance.
(G. Franklin Edwards and Michael R. Winston, Commentary: The Washington of Paul Jennings—White House Slave, Free Man, and Conspirator for Freedom. White House Historical Association.)

The United States House and Senate approve An Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves into any Port or Place Within the Jurisdiction of the United States, From and After the First Day of January, in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eight 1808.
(United States Statutes at Large on line at The Avalon Project : Statutes of the United States Concerning Slavery)

Slave importation outlawed. Some 250,000 slaves were illegally imported from 1808-60.
(The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1996 from MS Bookshelf)

Importation of slaves into the United States is banned as of January 1 by an act of Congress passed last year, but illegal imports continue (see 1814). (The People's Chronology, 1994 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf.)

Some southerners feared slave revolts if importation continued. Religious societies stressed the moral evil of the trade, and free blacks saw the end of the slave trade as a first step toward general emancipation. (National Park Service on Underground Railroad, Early Anti Slavery )

In 1790, more than half the 750,000 blacks in the United States lived in Maryland and Virginia. After slave importation was outlawed in 1808, slave traders began offering cash to whites in this area who would sell their house slaves to be auctioned as field hands on the new plantations of Mississippi and Louisiana. Private jails on Seventh Street SW (where the Hirshhorn Museum is today) and on the west end of Duke Street in Alexandria (then a part of the District) held blacks for shipment. (Bob Arnebeck "A Shameful Heritage," Washington Post Magazine January 18, 1889)

Britain and the United States agree to cooperate in suppressing the slave trade under terms of the Treaty of Ghent (The Treaty of Ghent, ends the War of 1812), but the trade actually expands as U.S. clipper ships built at Baltimore and Rhode Island ports outsail ponderous British men-of-war to deliver cargoes of slaves. (The People's Chronology, 1994 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf.)

The Treaty says that All ... possessions whatsoever taken by either party from the other during the war, ...shall be restored without delay and without causing any destruction or carrying away any ... any Slaves or other private property;..." (Treaty of Ghent 1814, Treaty of Peace and Amity between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America.)

In the nations capital, "White paranoia of Black presence caused a tightening of legal and economic restrictions against Blacks – slave and free. (Gibbs Myers, "Pioneers in the Federal Area," Records of the Columbia Historical Society Vol. 44-45, 1944 p 144; James Borchert, Alley Life in Washington, Urbana/Chicago University of Illinois Press, 1980, p4; David L. Lewis, District of Columbia; A Bicentennial History, New York, Norton, 1996 p. 46) Where Whites chose to seek jobs, Blacks were required to yield. The Columbia Typographical Union, formed in 1815, refused to accept Blacks apprentices or printers to membership, effectively cutting Blacks out of the city's most rapidly expanding business. When those restrictions were challenged in court in 1821, Judge William Cranch ruled that the municipal corporation had the power to restrict any group's liberties in the interests of the larger society. (David L. Lewis, District of Columbia; A Bicentennial History, New York, Norton, 1996 pp. 46-47, Mary Tremain, Slavery in the District of Columbia, 1892, Reprint New York; Negro Universities Press, 1969, pp. 52-53; Constance McLaughlin Green, The Secret City: A History of Race Relations in the Nations Capital, Princeton University Press, NJ, 1967, p 27) (This passage with citations was taken from the monograph of Dr. Tingba Apidta, "The Hidden History of Washington, DC, A Guide for Black Folks, A publication of the Reclamation Project, Roxbury, MA, 2nd printing, 1998)

James Monroe becomes President as Democratic-Republican. VP Daniel D. Tompkins. DC Census for 1820 records Monroe with 6 Slaves and 2 "free colored" at the White House. (1820 DC Census Roll # 5 page 3)

James Monroe (1758-1831) fulfilled his youthful dream of becoming the owner of a large plantation and wielding great political power, but his efforts in agriculture were never profitable. He sold his small inherited Virginia plantation in 1783 to enter law and politics, and though he owned land and slaves and speculated in property he was rarely on-site to oversee the operation. Therefore the slaves were treated harshly to make them more productive and the plantations barely supported themselves if at all. His lavish lifestyle often necessitated selling property to pay debts. Documentation: (Gawalt, Gerard W. James Monroe, Presidential Planter. Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 1993 101(2): 251-272. Based on correspondence, financial accounts, and secondary sources)

As a response to the Fugitive Slave Act (1793), abolitionists use the "underground" to assist slaves to escape into Ohio and Canada.
(Underground Railroad Chronology, National Park Service )

As a result of the legal opinion of the colony's (Upper Canada) Chief Justice in 1818 no one seen as a slave in another jurisdiction could be returned there simply because he/she had sought freedom in Upper Canada. Whatever their status in the U.S. or elsewhere, in Upper Canada they were free long before the abolition of slavery throughout the British empire in 1833 See also 1791 under Upper Canada. (Posting on SLAVERY@LISTSERV.UH.EDU by Dr. Jeffrey L. McNairn, Department of History, York University, Toronto, Ontario, )

A fee of fifty cents was allowed constables (Washington, DC police) for each whipping of a slave, who had been adjudged guilty of violating an act of the corporation of the Federal City. (Richard Sylvester, District of Columbia Police, Policemen's Fund, Washington, DC 1894)

Alabama- Alabama enters the Union as a slave state, although its constitution provides the Legislature with the power to abolish slavery and compensate slaveowners. Other measures include jury trials for slaves figuring in crimes above petty larceny and penalties for malicious killing of slaves.
(Chronology: A Historical Review, Major Events in Black History 1492 thru 1953 by Roger Davis and Wanda Neal-Davis)

"Miller's Tavern at Thirteenth and F Streets NW was on fire, a bystander, William Gardiner, refused to join the customary bucket brigade and loudly denounced the place as a slave prison. The resulting controversy conducted in newspaper columns revealed the tragic past of the tavern. A Negro woman about to be sold South apart from her husband, had leapt in frenzy from an attic window, breaking both arms and injuring her back, but surviving. This focused attention upon the local slave trade. Humanitarian Jesse Torrey came to Washington shortly after the attempted suicide, visited the injured woman and discovered two kidnapped Negroes in the attic. He began a suit in the circuit court for their freedom, the expenses being defrayed by a group of persons headed by Francis Scott Key, who gave his legal services gratis"...The slave owner was Johan Randolph. (Washington, City and Capital, Federal Writers' Project, Works Progress Administration, American Guide Series. Washington, 1937, USGPO. p69)

John Quincy Adams was a Congregationalist, not an Episcopalian, but decided while Secretary of State to go to Congregationalist Christ Church anyway. The reason, he wrote in his diary in 1819, was that its rector, Andrew McCormick, was the only preacher in town worth hearing. "I have at last given the preference to Mr. McCormick, of the Episcopal Church," Adams noted in the entry for October 24, "and spoke to him last week for a pew." McCormick had served earlier as Chaplain of the U.S. Senate and had officiated at the wedding of Lydia, Benjamin Latrobe’s daughter. (Christ Church & Washington Parish, A Brief History, By Nan Robertson ) According to the 1820 census the Rev. Andrew T. McCormick, Rector of Christ Church, resided with 3 slaves between the ages of 14-16, The listing included: white male 10-16; 1 white male 16-18; white male 26-45, 1 white Females 4 - 10; 1 white female 10-16; and 1 white female 26-45 In 1827, Rev McCormick listed his place of work as the State Department. (1820 DC Census Roll 5 page 101 and DC City Directory 1822 & 1827)

In 1820, in the charter to the city of Washington, the corporation is authorized "to restrain and prohibit the nightly and other disorderly meetings of slaves, free Negroes, and mulattos," thus associating them together in its legislation; and after prescribing the punishment that may be inflicted on the salves, proceeds in the following words: "And to punish such free Negroes and mulattos by penalties not exceeding twenty dollars for any one offence; and in case of the inability of any such free Negro or mulatto to pay any such penalty and cost thereon, to cause him or her to be confined to labor for any time not exceeding six calendar months." And in a subsequent part of the same section, the act authorizes the corporation "to prescribe the terms and conditions upon which free Negroes and mulattos may reside in the city." (Scott v. Sandford, Supreme Court Of The United States, 60 U.S. 393; 1856 U.S. Lexis 472; 15 L. Ed. 691; 19 HOW 393, December, 1856, Term)

Missouri Compromise admits Missouri and Maine as slave and free states, respectively. The measure establishes the 36 degree, 30' parallel of latitude as a dividing line between free and slave areas of the territories.
(Underground Railroad Chronology, National Park Service)

Missouri Compromise March 1820 (1) Both Missouri and Maine applied for statehood by the end of 1819 when the US had eleven slave (VA, MD, DE, KY, TN, NC, SC, GA, AL, MISS, LA) and eleven free (MASS, CO, RI, VT, NH, NY, NJ, PA, OH, IN, IL) states. (2) While the slave-holding South had 81 votes in the House to the North's 105, a political balance was maintained in the Senate between 1802-19 by admitting alternately a free and a slave state. (3) The population in the north was growing at a faster pace than in the South and the South realized its political future lay in the Senate. (Growth Of The Nation 1800 – 40 Jefferson's Administrations Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, TX )

The Missouri crisis of 1819-1821 put Madison's convictions on the slavery issue to a severe test. In letters to the President and several other correspondents, Madison denied that Congress had the power to attach an antislavery condition to the admission of a new state, or to control the migration of slaves within the several States. James Madison wrote a letter on this subject to Robert Walsh in November of 1819. He responded to Walsh's question about the founding fathers intentions in the Constitution's clause that states "the migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, . . ." (Constitution, art. I, sec. 9.) Madison responded by saying as a matter of compromise the Northern States agreed to extend the slave trade for twenty years, because the Southern States never would have agreed to a plan that ended importation. Madison thought that most undeniably the term "migration" meant exclusively from other countries and not within the several States. Madison reiterated this point to his successor, James Monroe the following February. More tentatively, he questioned the constitutionality of laws excluding slavery from the national territories, despite the sweeping grant of federal power in the territorial clause of the Northwest Ordinance as re-enacted by the First Congress. His strained legal and historical argument on this last point was hardly strengthened by the prediction that the expansion and dispersion of slavery would improve the condition of the slaves and hasten the end of the institution of slavery. (James Madison and Slavery by Kenneth M. Clark, The James Madison Museum )

Ohio Quaker saddlemaker Benjamin Lundy, 32, urges abolition of slavery and begins publication of his antislavery newspaper Genius of Universal Emancipation. He soon moves to Greenville, Tenn., and will relocate to Baltimore in 1824. A slave trader will attack and severely injure him in 1828, but Lundy will enlist the support of William Lloyd Garrison, now 16, and Garrison will serve as associate editor for 6 months beginning in September 1829 (see 1831). (The People's Chronology, 1994 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf.)


In Charleston, South Carolina, a young slave named Denmark Vesey won $1,500 in a lottery with which he purchased his freedom. During the following years he worked as a carpenter. In his concern over the plight of his slave brethren, he formed a plan for an insurrection which would bring them their freedom. He and other freedmen collected two hundred pike heads and bayonets as well as three hundred daggers to use in the revolt, but, before the plans could be put into motion in 1882, a slave informed on them. This time it was rumored that there had been some nine thousand involved in the plot. Over a hundred arrests were made, including four whites who had encouraged the project, and several of the leaders, including Vesey, were executed. (Norman Coombs, The Immigrant Heritage of America, Twayne Press, 1972. , Chapter 4, Slave Insurrections)

John Quincy Adams is elected U.S. During the Madison administration, Adams served as minister to Russia and later helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent (1814). In 1817. Adams became Secretary of State in President Monroe’s cabinet, where he authored the Monroe doctrine.

John Quincy Adams is elected U.S. president February 9 in the House of Representatives where Kentucky’s Henry Clay controls the deciding block of votes. Clay chooses Adams over Andrew Jackson as the lesser of two evils and is named secretary of state. (The People's Chronology, 1994 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf.)

Britain and the United States agree to cooperate in suppressing the slave trade under terms of the Treaty of Ghent (see 1814), but the trade actually expands as U.S. clipper ships built at Baltimore and Rhode Island ports outsail ponderous British men-of-war to deliver cargoes of slaves. (The People's Chronology 1995, 1996 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf)

The Yankee John Quincy Adams saw it differently: "Westward the star of empire takes its way, in the whiteness of innocence." An appeaser as President, he wrote that " slavery in a moral sense is an evil, but in commerce it has its uses." In another episode of tragic irony, an aged Adams returned to Washington as a Congressman to wage a heroic, lonely battle against the slavers' domination. (Nixon's Piano: Presidents and Racial Politics from Washington to Clinton, Kenneth O'Reilly, NY, Free Press 1995)

All slaves in New York became free under gradual emancipation law.


John Quincy Adams retires. Adams had served as Ambassador, Senator, Secretary of State and one-term as US President. Following his defeat for reelection, in 1831 Adams returned for 17 years to the House of Representatives from Massachusetts, earning the nickname Old Man Eloquent ..He fiercely opposed the expansion of slavery, seeking to limit its movement into newer states. 4.In 1848, he suffered a stroke in Congress and died a few hours later. His ghost is said to roam the House chambers still. (Growth Of The Nation – 40 Jefferson's Administrations Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, TX)

Black abolitionist, David Walker issues David Walker's Appeal. Afterwards, severe slave revolts occurred throughout the South.
(Underground Railroad Chronology, National Park Service)

Andrew Jackson becomes President as Democrat. VP is John C. Calhoun, 1829-32 - Dec 1832-Mar 1833 and Martin Van Buren, 1833-37
"Always hard up for money, the free-spending Jackson eventually realized that he could save money by replacing hired servants with slaves from home. (William Seale, "The President's House: a History," White House Historical Association with the Cooperation of the National Geographic Society and Harry N Abrams, 1986, vol. 1, page 181) All of Jackson's servants were slaves who had worked under Mrs. Jackson's management at his country plantation. So for the time Adam's employees were kept on, including Giusta and Madame Giusta, the housekeeper. The work of preparing the inaugural day reception was left to them. (William Seale, "The President's House: a History," White House Historical Association with the Cooperation of the National Geographic Society and Harry N Abrams, 1986, vol. 1, page 177)

"The White House basement has a long vaulted passage, in some places the brick floors had been replaced by wood, which was drier and easier on the feet. Service needs and servants' sleeping quarters absorbed all the rooms and extended into the east and west wings. Some of the personal servants slept in the warren of small rooms in the west end of the attic: these had steeply slanted ceilings and were lighted by dormer windows. Jackson's body servant slept on a pallet in his room, a custom that seems to have begun early in the administration, when the general was unwell. A slave nurse slept in the small corner room adjacent to Donelsons' bedroom, and kept the little children.



"In 1830, there were 6,152 free Negroes in the District of Columbia compared with 6,152 slaves; in 1840, 8,361 compared with 4,694 slaves; and in 1860, 11,131 compared with only 3,185. Thus is 30 years, the free colored population was nearly doubled, while the slave population was halved. It would be inaccurate to infer from this that there was any wholesale manumission or that the District was haven for free Negroes. The free Negroes were of several classes: Those whose antecedents had never been slaves, such as descendents of indentured servants; those born of free parent, or of free mothers; those manumitted; those who had bought their own freedom, or whose kinsmen had bought it for them; and those who were successful runaways. These free Negroes were an ever present 'Bad example' to the slaves of the District and of the surrounding slave States, and the more they prospered, the 'worse example' they became. Especially stringent regulations affecting free Negroes were added by the District Common Council to the slave codes. Every free Negro was required; (1) to give the mayor 'satisfactory evidence of freedom', plus $50 for himself, and $50 for each member of his family; (2) to post a bond of $1,000 and to secure five white guarantors of good behavior. It was necessary to show manumission papers in order to remain free; even so, gangs bent on kidnapping could and frequently did seize and destroy them. No Negro, slave or free, could testify against whites. The jails were crowded with captured free Negroes and suspected runaways; there were 290 of these in the city jail at one time. Many were sold for prison fees, ostensibly for a fixed period, but really for life. Meetings for any other than fraternal and religious purposes were forbidden. After Nat Turner's insurrection in Virginia in 1831, colored preachers were banned." (Washington, City and Capital, Federal Writers' Project, Works Progress Administration, American Guide Series. Washington, 1937, USGPO. P71-2)

Foreign travelers accounts from the 1830 and 1840 described the Robey and Williams slave pens which stood along the Mall in the shadow of the Capitol; the two were often juxtaposed in artworks, and the presence of slave pens in the center of the nation's capital captured the attention of abolitionists. (Ironically, today the Museum of African Art sits less than a block away from the former location of the Robey and Williams slave pens.) (The Mall, On-line Reference from the University of Virginia American Studies Department, Site developed by Mary Halnon )

"The District of Columbia, too small for slave rearing itself, served as depot for the purchase of interstate traders, who combed Maryland and northern Virginia for slaves. Since the slave jails, colloquially known as 'Georgia pens", and described by an ex-slave as worse than hog holes, were inadequate for the great demand, the public jails were made use of, accommodations for the criminals having to wait upon the more pressing and lucrative traffic in slaves. There were pens in what is now Potomac Park: and one in the Decatur House, fronting on what is now Lafayette Square. More notorious were McCandless' Tavern in Georgetown; in Washington, Robey's Tavern at Seventh and Maryland Avenue, and Williams' 'Yellow House' at Eighth and B street SW. In Alexandria, the pretentious establishment of Armfield and Franklin, who by 1834 were sending more than a thousand slaves a year to the Southwest, was succeeded and surpassed by the shambles of much-feared Kephart." (Washington, City and Capital, Federal Writers' Project, Works Progress Administration, American Guide Series. Washington, 1937, USGPO. p69)

Virginia Census shows the holdings of the Armfield and Franklin slave pen. Their inventory of consisted of predominantly of children and teenagers who would be taken from Virginia and surrounding States and sold to work the Cotton Plantations.
Sex and Age for 1830 census for the slave Pen of Armfield and Franklin.
1 male under 10
50 males 10-24
20 males 24—36
4 females under 10
50 females 10-24
20 females 24-36
(1830 DC Census Alexandria page 270)

Abolitionists, in U.S. history, especially from 1830 to 1860, advocates of the compulsory emancipation of African-American slaves. Abolitionists are to be distinguished from free-soilers, who opposed the extension of slavery. The active campaign had its mainspring in the revival (1820s) in the North of evangelical religion, with its moral urgency to end sinful practices. It reached crusading stage in the 1830s, led by Theodore D. Weld, the brothers Arthur and Lewis Tappan, and William Lloyd Garrison. The American Anti-Slavery Society, established in 1833, flooded the slave states with abolitionist literature and lobbied in Washington, D.C. Writers like J.G. Whittier and orators such as Wendell Phillips lent strength to the cause. Despite unanimity on their goal, abolitionists were divided over the method of achieving it, Garrison advocating moral suasion, others direct political action. Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet B. Stowe, became an effective piece of abolitionist propaganda, and the KANSAS question aroused both North and South. The culminating act of abolitionism was John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. Abolitionist demands for immediate freeing of the slaves after the outbreak of the Civil War resulted in Pres. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. The abolitionist movement was one of high moral purpose and courage; its uncompromising temper hastened the demise of slavery in the U.S. (The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia, 1995 by Columbia University Press from MS Bookshelf.)

Theodore Weld's American Slavery As It Is (1839), which cataloged horror stories about slavery drawn entirely from accounts in the Southern press, was an instant best seller and touched a raw moral nerve in the country. Harriet Beecher Stowe, scion of America's most distinguished religious family, used Uncle Tom's Cabin, a sentimental novel with explicit Christian lessons, to rivet the nation's attention to the institutional evils of slavery.

Abolitionists were just as confused about the means they should use. Some endorsed immediate abolition, using violence if necessary. Others were committed to peaceful means and gradual emancipation. Some, such as the American Anti-Slavery Society, were simply committed to ending slavery. Still others, such as the American Colonization Society, driven by fears of post-emancipation racial tensions, wanted liberated slaves resettled in Africa. While some stressed abolition throughout the United States, others focused on preventing the spread of slavery into the territories. (Summer 1992 Politics of Righteousness: Christian Political Movements in the Early 19th Century)


Abolitionists were just as confused about the means they should use. Some endorsed immediate abolition, using violence if necessary. Others were committed to peaceful means and gradual emancipation. Some, such as the American Anti-Slavery Society, were simply committed to ending slavery. Still others, such as the American Colonization Society, driven by fears of post-emancipation racial tensions, wanted liberated slaves resettled in Africa. While some stressed abolition throughout the United States, others focused on preventing the spread of slavery into the territories. (Summer 1992 Politics of Righteousness: Christian Political Movements in the Early 19th Century)

At a dinner in Boston, Alexis de Tocqueville, a young French magistrate who would go back home to write his classic book "Democracy in America," was seated next to former President John Quincy Adams and asked the old man: "Do you look on slavery as a great plague for the United States?" "Yes, certainly," Adams answered. "That is the root of almost all the troubles of the present and the fears for the future." ("Black justice, white cynicism," Byline: Richard Reeves; Universal Press Syndicate in The Baltimore Sun, October 5, 1995)

Adams returns to Washington. "The issue of slavery was not, at this time, neatly defined and categorized in the minds of Louisa and John Quincy Adams, they did not abhor it with all their souls, as the abolitionists did. Nor were they ready to commit themselves without hesitation to its demise. "The Adams’s, as residents of Washington, saw slaves around them all the time. There were few free blacks, and it was common practice for householders to employ slaves as servants; a few lucky and hard-working slaves were even allowed to buy their own freedom in this manner. While the Adams’s never owned a slave, they frequently hired one or two from slaveholders, usually residents of Maryland or Virginia, as cooks or house servants. Such employment did not conflict, as we shall see with Louisa's or John Quincy’s position on slavery (337) Louisa, as a resident of Washington with relatives in Maryland, feared retribution of the slaves, and the surliness of the free blacks. Adams put the preservation of the union before slavery. (Shepherd, Jack; Cannibals of the Heart, 1980)

At the start of each session of Congress, on Petition Days, the number of "prayers" to ban slavery in the nation's capital had been increasing since William Lloyd Garrison launched his abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, in 1831. That event coincided with the bloody Nat Turner slave rebellion in Virginia and the introduction of the steam printing press in New York City, where abolitionists began to print thousands of antislavery tracts and mail them South for distribution. Southern postmasters, prompted by pre-Ku Klux Klan vigilantes, began seizing and burning abolitionist material, and death threats were made against abolitionist visitors to the South. (Willard Sterne Randall, Newsday, January 28, 1996, p 33)

In the wake of the Nat Turner’s insurrection in Virginia, Georgetown strengthened its black code punishing with particular severity any person of color possessing abolitionist literature. (Slavery and the Slave Trade in the District of Columbia, The Negro History Bulletin, Oct 1950, Springharm Library, Howard University Vertical File Washington, DC)

An act to abolish slavery was introduced into the Virginia legislature by Thomas Jefferson’s grandson and was defeated by only seven votes. ("Virginia," Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. Microsoft Corporation.)

The Anti-Slavery Convention of 1833 held. A list of officers of the new society was then chosen: Arthur Tappan, of New York, president, and Elizur Wright, Jr., William Lloyd Garrison, and A. L. Cox, secretaries. Among the vice-presidents was Dr. Lord, of Dartmouth College, then professedly in favor of emancipation, but who afterwards turned a moral somersault, a self-inversion which left him ever after on his head instead of his feet. He became a querulous advocate of slavery as a divine institution, and denounced woe upon the abolitionists for interfering with the will and purpose of the Creator.
( Published originally in John G. Whittier's "Prose Works," the following is an excerpt from Whittier's recollection of the founding convention of the American Anti-Slavery Society.John G. Whittier, "The Anti-Slavery Convention of 1833," 1874.)

Slavery abolished in Canada. See also the Upper Canada for 1791 and 1818.

U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia petitioned the House Committee on the District of Columbia regarding a bill of $1,500 for housing runaway "Negroes" in the public jail 23A-G4.4.
(National Archives, Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives Records Of The District Of Columbia Committee 10th-45th Congresses 1807-79)

The Senate also received petitions decrying the District's practice of arresting and then selling undocumented "persons of color" for jail fees (28A-G3). (National Archives, Guide to the Records of the United Senate. Records Of The Committee On The District Of Columbia 1816-1968 (512 ft.)

"A Colonization minded parson investigating a slave depot in Washington in 1835 consciously recorded that the premises were as clean and orderly as those of the District's penitentiary, which he had visited a few days before, but "the situation of the convicts at the penitentiary was far less deplorable than that of these slaves. Confined for the crime of being descended from ancestors who were forcibly reduced to bondage." (J.C. Furnas, Goodbye to Uncle Tom, William Sloane Associates, NY, 1956 p69)

Riots touched off by discovery of abolitionist literature among specimens of Dr. Reuben Crandall a botanist when an angry crowd of Navy Yard workers descend on the Washington County Jail where he was held. The mob was coursed out by a free Negro Beverly Snow who said some derogatory things about their wives. The crowd immediately surged towards Snow's tavern and, although they failed to lay their hands on Snow himself, they proceeded to wreck his establishment. Riots lasted for two days and three nights, smashing the windows of Negro churches and school, and homes. Drastic legislation would follow restricting the rights of free Negroes. (Dorothy Sproles Provine, The Free Negro In the District of Columbia 1800-1860, Thesis Louisiana State University Department of History, 1959, 1963)

In 1835 a slave reputedly attempted to murder Mrs. William Thornton, the widow of the architect of the Capitol, and passions were inflamed because it was thought that this abortive action was inspired by abolitionist sentiments. The resulting mob behavior was intended to intimidate free Negroes in the city. A Negro school and some tenements were destroyed, churches were attacked, and the furnishings were smashed in the fashionable Beverly Snow restaurant owned by a free Negro of that name. The School was set up by John f. Cook, a shoemaker in 1834.

The upheaval became known as the "Snow Riot" and was followed by restrictive legislation in 1836 designed to limit the right of the free Negroes to perform work other than "drive carts, drays, hackney carriages or wagons." There were no longer to operate restaurants, for example, a major outlet of work for the more enterprising blacks. The intent of the legislation was to reduce free Negroes to servile status. (G. Franklin Edwards and Michael R. Winston, Commentary: The Washington of Paul Jennings—White House Slave, Free Man, and Conspirator for Freedom. White House Historical Association. )

Snow Riot leads to formation of National Guard and Washington Light Infantry Company. By 1838, citizen patrols established. (Wilkelmus Bogart Bryan, A History of the National Capital from its Foundation through the Period of the Adoption of the Organic Act, (NY: Macmillan Co. 1916, II 147-148. Cited by Dolores T. Williams, Preliminary Checklist of Non-Official Imprints for the District of Columbia, 1836-37, with a Historical Introduction)

Congressman John Fairfield of York County, Maine, stood up on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and presented a petition signed by 172 women calling for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. (Willard Sterne Randall, Newsday, January 28, 1996, p 33)

[In Washington, DC], To prove they were free, blacks had to carry identity papers. Free blacks needed permission to have a meeting or party in their house. They could not go on the streets after 10 p.m. without a pass. In 1836, the city, by denying licenses to blacks, tried to run them out of most businesses. (Bob Arnebeck A Shameful Heritage, Washington Post Magazine January 18, 1889, also see Washington Ordinances of October 29, 1836 and November 9, 1836)

Congress passes a resolution, stating that it has no authority over state slavery laws. (The People's Chronology, 1994 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf.)

Congress enacts a gag law to suppress debate on the slavery issue. (The People's Chronology, 1994 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf.)

Martin Van Buren becomes President as Democrat. VP is Richard M. Johnson

Martin Van Buren presidential Inaugural Address deals with Slavery in the District of Columbia, "Fellow-Citizens: I then declared that if the desire of those of my countrymen who were favorable to my election was gratified. I must go into the Presidential chair the inflexible and uncompromising opponent of every attempt on the part of Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia against the wishes of the slaveholding States, and also with a determination equally decided to resist the slightest interference with it in the States where it exists. I submitted also to my fellow-citizens, with fullness and frankness, the reasons which led me to this determination."

The "underground railway" organized by U.S. abolitionists transports southern slaves to freedom in Canada, but slaving interests at Philadelphia work on the fears of Irish immigrants and other working people who worry that freed slaves may take their jobs. A Philadelphia mob burns down Pennsylvania Hall May 17 in an effort to thwart antislavery meetings. (The People's Chronology 1995, 1996 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf.)

A book, co-authored by a professor at Howard University, pieces together a story of how quilts made by slaves before and during the Civil War were stitched with patterns that formed a secret code, part of a network of communication that helped slaves escape to freedom.


The World’s Anti-Slavery Convention opens at London, but Boston abolitionist William Garrison refuses to attend, protesting the exclusion of women (see 1831). The U.S. antislavery movement has split into two factions in the past year largely because of Garrison’s advocacy of women’s rights, including their right to participate in the antislavery movement (see first Women’s Rights Convention, 1848). (The People's Chronology 1995, 1996 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf.)

Slave revolt on slave trader 'Creole' which was en route from Hampton, Va., to New Orleans, La., Nov 7. Slaves overpowered crew and sailed vessel to Bahamas where they were granted asylum and freedom.
(Major Revolts and Escapes, Lerone Bennett, Before the Mayflower,)

Maryland passed a law requiring a penalty of ten to twenty years imprisonment for any free black having any materials relating to abolition in his possession. In 1858, Samuel Green, a minister from Dorchester County, was sentenced to a ten year prison term for possessing a copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Green was also suspected of having actively participated in the Underground Railroad. (Roland C. McConnell, Editor, Three Hundred and Fifty years: A Chronology of the Afro-American in Maryland, 1634-1984, 1985)

Supreme Court rules in Prigg v. Pennsylvania that state officials are not required to assist in the return of fugitive slaves.
(Underground Railroad Chronology, National Park Service))

The owner of a fugitive slave may recover him under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, the Supreme Court rules March 1 in Prigg v. Pennsylvania. The court overturns an 1826 Pennsylvania law that made kidnapping a slave a felony, saying an owner cannot be stopped from recovering a slave, but it says also that state authorities are under no obligation to help the slaveowner. (The People's Chronology, 1994 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf.)

In 1848, William Craft (d. 1900) and Ellen Craft (d. 1890), slaves on a Georgia plantation, escaped to Philadelphia and later moved to Boston where they remained until Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Their owners then demanded extradition of the Crafts to Georgia. Despite aid from antislavery groups, extradition appeared inevitable, forcing the Crafts to flee to Great Britain where they remained until the American Civil War ended. In England, the Crafts played prominent roles in helping British abolitionist groups oppose slavery. Based on archival, newspaper, and secondary sources; 54 notes. (Blackett, R. J. M. Title: Fugitive Slaves In Britian: The Odyssey Of William And Ellen Craft . Journal of American Studies [Great Britain] 1978 12(1): 41-62. Also see the National Park Service Biographies of the Crafts Taken from: The African Meeting House in Boston: A Sourcebook, by William S. Parsons & Margaret A. Drew)

The Council of the District of Columbia passed an Act to created an auxiliary night police to patrol the streets of the city and in part to enforce the 10pm "colored curfew." At 10: PM, all "colored" people out without a pass were liable to arrest, fine and flogging. The floggings were administered sometimes at the guard post and sometimes at the whipping-post of the jail, on the northeast corner of Judiciary Square. "In place of the baton, each officer carried a stick surmounted by an iron spear-head, intended originally to pry open doors in case of fire or when in pursuit of thieves...some of the officers became so proficient as to make it a formidable weapon either when used as a club or thrown as a javelin." (Richard Sylvester, District of Columbia Police, Policemen's Fund, Washington, DC 1894 page 29)


Solomon Nothup, a freed man was kidnapped in Washington DC, held in a slave pen and sold into slavery. "It occurred to me then that I must be in an underground apartment, and the damp, moldy odors of the place confirmed the supposition. The noise above continued for at least an hour, when, at last, I heard footsteps approaching from without. A key rattled in the lock - a strong door swung back upon its hinges, admitting a flood of light, and two men entered and stood before me. One of them was a large, powerful man, forty years of age, perhaps, with dark, chestnut-colored hair, slightly interspersed with gray. His face was full, his complexion flush, his features grossly coarse, expressive of nothing but cruelty and cunning. He was about five feet ten inches high, of full habit, and, without prejudice, I must be allowed to say, was a man whose whole appearance was sinister and repugnant. His name was James H. Burch, as I learned afterwards - a well-known slave-dealer in Washington; and then, or lately connected in business, as a partner, with Theophilus Freeman, of New-Orleans. The person who accompanied him was a simple lackey, named Ebenezer Radburn, who acted merely in the capacity of turnkey. Both of these men still live in Washington, or did, at the time of my return through that city from slavery in January last. The light admitted through the open door enabled me to observe the room in which I was confined. It was about twelve feet square - the walls of solid masonry. The floor was of heavy plank. There was one small window, crossed with great iron bars, with an outside shutter, securely fastened. An iron-bound door led into an adjoining cell, or vault, wholly destitute of windows, or any means of admitting light. The furniture of the room in which I was, consisted of the wooden bench on which I sat, an old-fashioned, dirty box stove, and besides these, in either cell, there was neither bed, nor blanket, nor any other thing whatever. The door, through which Burch and Radburn entered, led through a small passage, up a flight of steps into a yard, surrounded by a brick wall ten or twelve feet high, immediately in rear of a building of the same width as itself. The yard extended rearward from the house about thirty feet. In one part of the wall there was a strongly ironed door, opening into a narrow, covered passage, leading along one side of the house into the street. The doom of the colored man, upon whom the door leading out of that narrow passage closed, was sealed. The top of the wall supported one end of a roof, which ascended inwards, forming a kind of open shed. Underneath the roof there was a crazy loft all round, where slaves, if so disposed, might sleep at night, or in inclement weather seek shelter from the storm. It was like a farmer's barnyard in most respects, save it was so constructed that the outside world could never see the human cattle that were herded there. The building to which the yard was attached, was two stories high, fronting on one of the public streets of Washington. Its outside presented only the appearance of a quiet private residence. A stranger looking at it, would never have dreamed of its execrable uses. Strange as it may seem, within plain sight of this same house, looking down from its commanding height upon it, was the Capitol. The voices of patriotic representatives boasting of freedom and equality, and the rattling of the poor slave's chains, almost commingled. A slave pen within the very shadow of the Capitol! Such is a correct description as it was in 1841, of Williams' slave pen in Washington, in one of the cellars of which I found myself so unaccountably confined." (Twelve Years a Slave. Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853.: First published in 1853. Electronic Edition. )


From 1830 to 1850 both Great Britain and the United States, by joint convention, kept on the coast of Africa at least eighty guns afloat for the suppression of the slave trade. Most of the vessels so employed were small corvettes, brigs, or schooners; steam at that time was just being introduced into the navies of the world… Repeatedly we had chased suspicious craft only to be out-sailed. At this time the traffic in slaves was very brisk; the demand in the Brazils, in Cuba, and in other Spanish West Indies was urgent, and the profit of the business so great that two or three successful ventures would enrich any one. The slavers were generally small, handy craft; fast, of course; usually schooner-rigged, and carrying flying topsails and forecourse. Many were built in England or elsewhere purposely for the business, without, of course, the knowledge of the builders, ostensibly as yachts or traders. The Spaniards and Portuguese were the principal offenders, with occasionally an English-speaking renegade. The slave depots, or barracoons, were generally located some miles up a river. Here the slaver was secure from capture and could embark his live cargo at his leisure. Keeping a sharp lookout on the coast, the dealers were able to follow the movements of the cruisers, and by means of smoke, or in other ways, signal when the coast was clear for the coming down the river and sailing of the loaded craft. Before taking in the cargoes they were always fortified with all the necessary papers and documents to show they were engaged in legitimate commerce, so it was only when caught in flagrante delicto that we could hold them. (For the rest of the story see Wood, J. Taylor. "The Capture of a Slaver." Atlantic Monthly 86 (1900): 451-463. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library )

The gag rule was revoked when Northern Democrats, breaking ranks with their Southern counterparts, voted against the rule. The gag rule was overturned, after an alliance of Northern and Southern Democrats at last began to fissure. But it would take a civil war before the questions raised by Adams were finally answered. Yet, in those debates of the 1830s, tectonic plates had shifted. Adams had shaken the "immense, rooted institution" of slavery as no one had before. The effort to silence Adams and his handful of allies had only intensified popular concern over the moral and political cost of protecting slavery. . (Bordewich, Fergus M., Arguing About Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress; book review of book by William Lee Miller, Smithsonian December, 1996)

James Knox Polk, Democrat becomes President. VP George M. Dallas.

In a cost cutting measure Sarah Polk wife of the President replaced White House servants with slaves and rearranged the White House Basement into slave quarters. (William Seale, "The President's House: a History," White House Historical Association with the Cooperation of the National Geographic Society and Harry N Abrams, 1986, vol. 1, pages 256 see Commissioner's letters sent, May-Oct 184, passim: see also Polk's financial records in Polk papers LC not draft of July 20, 1846, to for January 9, 1847, Feb 2, 1847 and Jan 1, N.D. for purchase of slaves.)

Her primary economic measure had been tried by previous southern Presidents, a substantial reduction of the numbers in the salaried staff and their replacement with slaves. About ten hired servants were let go, and their positions were taken by a combination of slaves from the Polk's home place in Tennessee and several more slaves purchased from relatives and friends during the first three years of Polk's Presidency. (The President's House: a History by William Seale, White House Historical Association with the Cooperation of the National Geographic Society and Harry N Abrams, 1986, vol. 1, page 257)


Escaped slave Frederick Douglas, 30, begins publication at Rochester, N.Y., of an abolitionist newspaper, the North Star. The Massachusetts Antislavery Society published Douglas's’ autobiography 2 years ago and he has earned enough from lecture fees in Britain, Ireland, and the United States to buy his freedom. (The People's Chronology 1995, 1996 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf.)

About 1000 slaves per year escaped to the North during the pre-Civil War decades, most from the upper South. This represented only a small percentage of those who attempted to escape, however, since for every slave who made it to freedom, several more tried. Other fugitives remained within the South, heading for cities or swamps, or hiding out near their plantations for days or weeks before either returning voluntarily or being tracked down and captured. ("Slavery in the United States," Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. Microsoft Corporation.)

The Virginia Legislature has enacted (Sess. Acts 1847-8, ch. 10, § 24,) that "any free person who, by speaking or writing, shall maintain that owners have not right of property in their slaves, shall be punishable by confinement in the jail, not more than twelve months, and by fine not exceeding five hundred dollars." (Bacon v. The Commonwealth. Supreme Court Of Virginia, 48 Va. 602; 1850 Va. Lexis 43; 7 Gratt. 602, June Term, 1850)

Daniel Drayton attempted to smuggle 76 slaves on the ship Pearl out of Washington to Freedom in the North. The slaves belonged to "41 of the most prominent families in Washington and Georgetown and were valued at $100,000." The Pearl got as far as Chesapeake but ran into headwinds. "A steamer was chartered by owners and friends armed to the teeth with guns pistols and bowie knives for the pursuit. The steamer took Drayton's vessel into tow, and brought them back to Washington. A mob had assembled on 4th street and rushed the group when they reached Pennsylvania avenue shouting Lynch them, Lynch them. (George Rothwell Brown, Capital Silhouettes, Washington Post March 10, 1924)

"The public was infuriated and tended to blame Dr. Gamaliel Bailey, the editor of the antislavery newspaper, the National Era, for conceiving and planning the whole affair. A crowd formed before the office of Bailey's newspaper and pelted the building with stones until they were dispersed by the police (National Era, April 27, 1848; The Liberator, April 28 1848 cited in Dorothy Sproles Provine, The Free Negro In the District of Columbia 1800-1860, Thesis Louisiana State University Department of History, 1959, 1963)

In Washington DC, a description of conditions just beyond the city limit, Florida Avenue "The slaves are watched by the patrols, who ride about to try to catch them off the quarters, especially at the house of a free person of color. I have known the slaves to stretch clothes lines across the street, high enough to let the horse pass, but not the rider; then the boys would run, and the patrols in full chase would be thrown off by running against the lines. The patrols are poor white men, who live by plundering and stealing, getting rewards for runaways, and setting up little shops on the public roads. They will take whatever the slaves steal, paying in money, whiskey, or whatever the slaves want. They take pigs, sheep, wheat, corn- - any thing that's raised they encourage the slaves to steal: these they take to market next day. It's all speculation- - all a matter of self- interest, and when the slaves run away, these same traders catch them if they can, to get the reward. If the slave threatens to expose his traffic, he does not care- - for the slave's word is good for nothing- - it would not be taken." ("My Bedstead Consisted Of A Board Wide Enough To Sleep On". Francis Henderson was 19 when he managed to escape from a slave plantation outside of Washington, D.C., in 1841. Here, he describes conditions on his plantation. Source: Benjamin Drew, A North- Side View of Slavery (Boston, 1856). (For a description of the conditions of slave just outside Washington, DC see slave narrative)

Free-Soil party, U.S. political party born in 1847–48 to oppose the extension of slavery into territories newly gained from Mexico. In 1848 the Free-Soil party ran Martin Van Buren and Charles Francis Adams for president and vice president; by polling 300,000 votes it gave New York State to the Whigs and thus made Zachary Taylor president. After the Compromise of 1850 seemed to settle the slavery-extension issue, the group known as the Barnburners left the Free-Soilers to return to the Democratic party, but radicals kept the Free-Soil party alive until 1854, when the new Republican party absorbed it. (The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia, 1995 by Columbia University Press from MS Bookshelf.)

A third party took part in the election of 1848. Called the Free-Soil Party, it included Democrats and Whigs who disagreed with their parties, and abolitionists, who wanted an immediate end to slavery. The Free-Soil Party nominated former president Martin Van Buren of New York for president and Massachusetts legislator Charles Francis Adams for vice president. (Fillmore, Millard, Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia.)

Congress passed the Oregon Territory bill, which prohibited slavery in the area. President James K. Polk signed the bill because the Oregon Territory lay north of the Missouri Compromise line. Later proposals tried to extend the line by law across the continent to the Pacific Ocean. These efforts failed. The Missouri Compromise was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.
(Political Compromises: Missouri Compromise, The World Book, African American Journey.)

Abraham Lincoln as Representative, unsuccessfully proposed a bill for the "compensated emancipation of slaves in the District of Columbia. (Mary Kay Ricks, Escape on the Pearl, Washington Post, Horizon August 12, 1998.)

Maryland slave Harriet Tubman, 29, escapes to the North and begins a career as "conductor" on the Underground Railway that started in 1838. Tubman will make 19 trips back to the South to free upward of 300 slaves including her aged parents whom she will bring North in 1857. (The People's Chronology 1995, 1996 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf.)

Compromise of 1850 attempts to settle slavery issue. As part of the Compromise, a new Fugitive Slave Act is added to enforce the 1793 law and allows slaveholders to retrieve slaves in northern states and free territories. (Underground Railroad Chronology, National Park Service,

The Fugitive Slave Law passed in September 1850 allowed escaped slaves to be captured and brought back to their masters. The law also prosecuted anyone who helped hide slaves or who aided fugitive slaves in any way. The law was very expensive to the United States of America as it cost thousands of dollars to return all slaves to the places from where they had escaped. A boom also began in the slave catching business. It was easy to take any black person, free or not and say they escaped. Slave catchers roamed the whole continent looking for black people. Because of this law many blacks escaped to Canada in the 1850's and 60's. The Fugitive Slave Law was responsible for the escalation of blacks in Chatham and Buxton (Canadian towns), as they were final stations of the Underground Railroad. (The Buxton Settlement -Cultural Landscape. North Buxton Ontario, Canada. This information is taken from a Black History project completed by students and Staff from Chatham Collegiate Institute in Chatham, Ontario. Material was compiled from the collections of the Chatham - Kent sites of the African Canadian Heritage Tour.)

Congress enacted the famous Compromise of 1850. A provision of the Compromise relating to slavery included the outlawing of the slave trade in Washington, D.C. but the retention of slavery itself. (Alton Hornsby, JR,. Chronology of African American History, Gale Research 1991, in LC reference)

"Relatively few [slaves] escaped permanently. . . The federal census of 1850 recorded the escapes to free territory of only 1,010 slaves. In 1860, the number was 803. They came principally from the border states. An organization of Quakers and antislavery people in the border states and in the North aided some slaves to escape to Canada; however, their assistance has been vastly exaggerated in the legend of the Underground Railroad. The more valuable aid given to escaping slaves was by free Negroes and fellow slaves ... They hid the fugitives in the daytime and gave directions to them" (From Clement Eaton, Growth of Southern Civilization New York: Harper, 1961 page 73, cited in The Underground Railroad In American History, The National Park Service)

Sen. Henry Clay’s Compromise of 1850 admitted California as 31st state Sept. 9, slavery forbidden; made Utah and New Mexico territories without decision on slavery; made Fugitive Slave Law more harsh; ended District of Columbia slave trade. (The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1996 from MS Bookshelf)

The Compromise of 1850 was worked out by Henry Clay to settle the dispute between North and South. On January 29, 1850, it was introduced to the Senate as follows:

  1. California should be admitted immediately as a free state;
  2. Utah should be separated from New Mexico, and the two territories should be allowed to decide for them selves whether they wanted slavery or not;
  3. The land disputed between Texas and New Mexico should be assigned to New Mexico;
  4. In return, the United States should pay the debts which Texas had contracted before annexation;
  5. Slavery should not be abolished in the District of Columbia without the consent of its residents and the surrounding state of Maryland, and then only if the owners were paid for their slaves.
  6. Slave-trading (but not slavery) should be banned in the District of Columbia;
  7. A stricter fugitive slave law should be adopted.

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin is published as a response to the pro-slavery argument.
(Underground Railroad Chronology, National Park Service)

Anthony Bowen, a freed slave, founded the (first African-American YMCA in Washington, D.C)

Dred Scott decision by U.S. Supreme Court Mar. 6 held, 6-3, that a slave did not become free when taken into a free state, Congress could not bar slavery from a territory, and blacks could not be citizens. (The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1996, from MS Bookshelf.)

Supreme Court declares in Scott v. Sandford that blacks are not U.S. citizens, and slaveholders have the right to take slaves in free areas of the county. (Underground Railroad Chronology, National Park Service)


The Dred Scott decision announced by Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, 79, March 6 enrages abolitionists and encourages slaveowners. The fugitive slave Dred Scott, now 62, brought suit in 1848 to claim freedom on the ground that he resided in free territory, but the court rules that his residence in Minnesota Territory does not make him free, that a black may not bring suit in a federal court, and in an obiter dicta by Taney, that Congress never had the authority to ban slavery in the territories, a ruling that in effect calls the Missouri Compromise of 1820 unconstitutional. (The People's Chronology 1995, 1996 by James Trager from MS Bookshelf.)

The notoriety surrounding Dred Scott v. Sandford (US, 1857) has frequently hindered historians' efforts to understand the policy-making role of the antebellum Supreme Court. The Dred Scott case was neither exceptional nor anomalous. It was, however, the natural result of judicial doctrines and tendencies that had been developing for several years. John Marshall, though opposed to slavery in the abstract, believed that a judge's moral instincts should not influence his rulings in light of the law. Roger Taney, as Chief Justice, was determined to destroy antislavery constitutional ideas argued in cases before him. Even before the famous Dred Scott case, Supreme Court decisions involving Groves (1841), Prigg (1842), and Van Zandt (1847) consistently undermined antislavery constitutional ideas argued before the Court. The Dred Scott decision was no aberration. 89 notes. (Wiecek, William M. Slavery And Abolition Before The United States Supreme Court, 1820-1860. Journal of American History 1978 65(1): 34-59.)

Excerpts from Dred Scott Decision, "But there are two clauses in the Constitution which point directly and specifically to the Negro race as a separate class of persons, and show clearly that they were not regarded as a portion of the people or citizens of the Government then formed.

One of these clauses reserves to each of the thirteen States the right to import slaves until the year 1808, if it thinks proper. And the importation which it thus sanctions was unquestionably of persons of the race of which we are speaking, as the traffic in slaves in the United States had always been confined to them. And by the other provision the States pledge themselves to each other to maintain the right of property of the master, by delivering up to him any slave who may have escaped from his service, and be found within their respective territories. By the first above mentioned clause, therefore, the right to purchase and hold this property is directly sanctioned and authorized for twenty years by the people who framed the Constitution. And by the second, they pledge themselves to maintain and uphold the right of the master in the manner specified, as long as the Government they then formed should endure. And these two provisions show, conclusively, that neither the description of persons therein referred to, nor their descendants, were embraced in any of the other provisions of the Constitution; for certainly these two clauses were not intended to confer on them or their posterity the blessings of liberty, or any of the personal rights so carefully provided for the citizen.

No one of that race had ever migrated to the United States voluntarily; all of them had been brought here as articles of merchandise. The number that had been emancipated at that time were but few in comparison with those held in slavery; and they were identified in the public mind with the race to which they belonged, and regarded as a part of the slave population rather than the free. It is obvious that they were not even in the minds of the framers of the Constitution when they were conferring special rights and privileges upon the citizens of a State in every other part of the Union." (See Dred Scott, Plaintiff In Error v John F. A. Sandford. December Term, 1856 Justice Catrpm, Justice Wayne, Justice Nelson, Justice Grier, Justice Daniel, and Justice Campbell concurring in separate opinions. Justice McLean and Justice Curtis dissenting in separate opinions)

The last slave ship arrives. During this year, the last ship to bring slaves to the United States, the Clothilde, arrived in Mobile Bay, Alabama.
(Timeline of African American History, 1852-1925 by the Staff of the Library of Congress)

Abolitionist John Brown with 21 men seized U.S. Armory at Harpers Ferry (then Virginia) Oct. 16. U.S. Marines captured raiders, killing several. Brown was hanged for treason by Virginia Dec. 2. (The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1996, from MS Bookshelf.)

Marine assault on building occupied by abolitionist John Brown and followers, Harper's Ferry, Virginia, 18 Oct. 1859. One Marine killed and one Wounded. (US Navy & Marine Casualties )

Almost one-third of all Southern families owned slaves. In Mississippi and South Carolina it approached one half. The total number of slave owners was 385,000 (including, in Louisiana, some free Negroes). As for the number of slaves owned by each master, 88% held fewer than twenty, and nearly 50% held fewer than five. (A complete table on slave-owning percentages is given at the bottom of this page.)

On a typical plantation (more than 20 slaves) the capital value of the slaves was greater than the capital value of the land and implements. (Selected Statistics on Slavery in the United States. part of This Civil War Circuit site by Jim Epperson see Causes of the Civil War for pointers on the Civil War )

First Confiscation Act nullifies owners' claims to fugitive slaves who had been employed in the Confederate war effort..
(Chronology of Emancipation during the Civil War for the brief chronology, adapted from the version published in Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War, lists important events in the history of emancipation during the Civil War.)

Did Blacks fight for the Confederacy? …what many historians find outrageous are the claims being made by men like Charlie Condon (South Carolina's attorney general) . Though he later revised his estimate to 50,000 blacks who "served in the Confederate Army," Edward Smith at American University puts the number of black rebels "actually shooting people" at 30,000. Most historians regard this figure as inflated- by almost 30,000. "It's pure fantasy," contends James McPherson, a Princeton historian and one of the nation's leading Civil War scholars. Adds Edwin Bearss, historian emeritus at the National Park Service: "It's b.s., wishful thinking." Robert Krick, author of 10 books on the Confederacy, has studied the records of 150,000 Southern soldiers and found fewer than a dozen were black. "Of course, if I documented 12, someone would start adding zeros," he says. Tainted History? These and other scholars say claims about black rebels derive from unreliable anecdotes, a blurring of soldiers and laborers, and the rapid spread on the Internet of what McPherson calls "pseudohistory." Thousands of blacks did accompany rebel troops- as servants, cooks, teamsters and musicians. Most were slaves who served involuntarily; until the final days of the war, the Confederacy staunchly refused to enlist black soldiers. Some blacks carried guns for their masters and wore spare or castoff uniforms, which may explain eyewitness accounts of black units. But any blacks who actually fought did so unofficially, either out of personal loyalty or self-defense, many historians say. (Shades of Gray: Did Blacks Fight Freely For the Confederacy?)

Slavery was abolished in the District of Columbia by Congress on this day. One million dollars was appropriated to compensate owners of freed slaves, and $100,000 was set aside to pay district slaves who wished to emigrate to Haiti, Liberia or any other country outside the United States. (Jet Magazine, This Week in Black History, Johnson Publishing Company, Inc. April 21, 1997)

President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill ending slavery in the District of Columbia. Passage of this act came 9 months before President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. The act brought to conclusion decades of agitation aimed at ending what antislavery advocates called "the national shame" of slavery in the nation's capital.

The law provided for immediate emancipation, compensation of up to $300 for each slave to loyal Unionist masters, voluntary colonization of former slaves to colonies outside the United States, and payments of up to $100 to each person choosing emigration. Over the next 9 months, the federal government paid almost $1 million for the freedom of approximately 3,100 former slaves.

The District of Columbia Emancipation Act is the only example of compensated emancipation in the United States. Though its three-way approach of immediate emancipation, compensation, and colonization did not serve as a model for the future, it was an early signal of slavery's death. Emancipation was greeted with great jubilation by the District's African-American community. For many years afterward, black Washingtonians celebrated Emancipation Day on April 16 with parades and festivals. (National Archives and Records Administration Featured Document)

The District of Columbia Emancipation Act

Lincoln was certainly not an abolitionist. He found slavery personally abhorrent, but ending it was not his first priority. He was in many ways what we would consider in modern terms a typical cautious liberal -- a compromiser on serious moral issues, only moving on them when pushed by social movements. As a Congressman, he was opposed to the Mexican War (which was designed to add slave territory) but still voted to finance it. He would not speak publicly against the Fugitive Slave Act, wrote to a friend "I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down...but I bite my lips and keep quiet." He was a lawyer, with a legalistic approach to slavery: the Constitution did not give the federal government the power to interfere with slavery in the states. The District of Columbia was not a state, and he did offer a resolution, while in Congress, to abolish slavery there, but accompanied this with a fugitive slave provision that escaped slaves coming into D.C. must be returned. Wendell Phillips, the militant Boston abolitionist, called Lincoln "that slavehound from Illinois". During the Civil War he would not do anything about slavery for fear of alienating the states fighting on the side of the North which still had slavery, said plainly that his main aim in the war was not to end slavery but to get the South back into the Union, and would do this even if it meant retaining slavery. The Whig Party which became the Republican Party which elected Lincoln represented economic interests which wanted a large country with a huge market for goods, with high tariffs to protect manufactures (which Southern states opposed). The South stood in the way of capitalist expansion. If you look at the legislation passed by Congress during the War, with the South no longer an obstacle, you see the economic interests: Railroad subsidies, high tariffs, contract labor law to bring in immigrant workers for cheap labor and to use as strikebreakers, a national bank putting the government in a partnership with banking interests. The Emancipation Proclamation was a weak document for freeing slaves, but did have great moral force. I deal with all this in my book A Peoples History Of The United States. There's an excellent chapter on Lincoln in Richard Hofstadter's book The American Political Tradition. (Howard Zinn, A Selection of Zinn's Posts from the ZinnZine Forum)

1865 Amendment XIII. Slavery abolished.
Proposed by Congress Jan. 31, 1865; ratified Dec. 6, 1865. The amendment, when first proposed by a resolution in Congress, was passed by the Senate, 38 to 6, on Apr. 8, 1864, but was defeated in the House, 95 to 66 on June 15, 1864. On reconsideration by the House, on Jan. 31, 1865, the resolution passed, 119 to 56. It was approved by President Lincoln on Feb. 1, 1865, although the Supreme Court had decided in 1798 that the President has nothing to do with the proposing of amendments to the Constitution, or their adoption.)
1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. (The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1996, from MS Bookshelf.)

Andrew Johnson, Democratic/National Union Party becomes President

Juneteenth or June 19, 1865, is considered the date when the last slaves in America were freed. Although the rumors of freedom were widespread prior to this, actual emancipation did not come until General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas and issued General Order No. 3, on June 19, almost two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
(For the History of Juneteenth see; NJCLC National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council’s web page)

The African-American citizens of Washington, D.C., celebrated the abolition of slavery. A procession of 4,000 to 5,000 people assembled at the White House, where they were addressed by President Andrew Johnson (1808-1875). Marching past 10,000 cheering spectators, the procession, led by two black regiments, proceeded up Pennsylvania Avenue to Franklin Square for religious services and speeches by prominent politicians. A sign on top of the speaker's platform read: "We have received our civil rights. Give us the right of suffrage and the work is done."

The Fourteenth Amendment. On June 13, Congress approved the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing due process and equal protection under the law to all citizens. The amendment would also grant citizenship to blacks.
(Timeline of African American History, 1852-1925 by the Staff of the Library of Congress))

Fourteenth Amendment ratified. On July 21, the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, granting citizenship to any person born or naturalized in the United States.
(Timeline of African American History, 1852-1925 by the Staff of the Library of Congress)

Fifteenth Amendment approved. On February 26, Congress sent the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution to the states for approval. The amendment would guarantee black Americans the right to vote.
(Timeline of African American History, 1852-1925 by the Staff of the Library of Congress)

The 1870 census is usually the end of the line when tracing African American genealogy. "African American slaves didn't appear by name on federal censuses before 1870 because they were property. But they were identified by name on other records. They were named in deeds, wills and other court records. Court records are the next step in the research process after the 1870 Census, particularly wills and intestate records. Intestate records list the property the deceased person left behind if that person did not leave a will.. In Chambers County, Alabama, for instance, in many cases, slave families were sold or otherwise passed on as units. Often, husbands, wives and small children were sold as units. The exceptions were the young people that were over 12 years old. They were able to work and didn't require a mother's care, and were often sold away from the family. The researcher tries to find former slaves by name. Problem! Court records usually give only the first names of slaves. However, you must identify your ancestors by surname. How do you do this?

After emancipation former slaves were able to choose any name they desired. In many cases they chose the name of their last owner. In many cases they chose the name of a previous owner. And in many cases they did not choose a name of any former owner. They wanted to distance themselves from slavery. So how do you find slave ancestors? Look through court records for first names that you recognize as belonging to your 1870 families. (After the 1870 Federal Census, What Next? Where to look and what to look for. By Cliff Murray in African American Lifelines visit this site for many hints on genealogical research. also see the genealogical links at AfriGeneas)

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