Washington DC History Resources

Matthew B. Gilmore

Slavery and Emancipation in Washington, D.C. – Updated Bibliography

Slavery and Emancipation in Washington, D.C. – Updated Bibliography

Timeline to abolition:
1836, “Gag Rule” prohibits discussion in Congress of abolition of slavery

1850 Slave trade abolished in Washington, D.C.
Bill to emancipate slaves in the District:
Passes the Senate, April 6, 1862 29 to 14
Passed the House, April 11, 1862 93 to 39
Signed by President Lincoln, April 16

National Intelligencer March 29, April 4, 7, 12, 1862
National Republican April 12, 14, 17, 18 1862

The Black Washingtonians : the Anacostia Museum illustrated chronology. 2005

Brooks, Noah. Washington in Lincoln’s time. 1958. pages 180-82.

City of Magnificent Intentions. [Ch. 6]

Clark-Lewis, Elizabeth, ed. First Freed: Washington, D.C., in the Emancipation Era. 1998; H-DC review

Douglass, Frederick. Autobiography
_____. The Meaning of July Fourth to the Slave.

Drayton, Daniel Personal Memoir of Daniel Drayton: For four Years and four Months A Prisoner (For Charity’s Sake) In Washington Jail Including A Narrative Of the Voyage and Capture Of The Schooner Pearl.

Finkelman, Paul. Slavery in the Courtroom: An Annotated Bibliography of American Cases. 1985,Reprinted 1998.

Fitzpatrick, Sandra & Goodwin, Maria. The Guide to Black Washington.
new ed. 1999

Foer, Franklin Louis. The political struggle for emancipation in the District of Columbia. 1992.

Green, Constance McL. Washington: A History of the Nation’s Capital, 1800-1950.
_____. The Secret City.

Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation : The End of Slavery in America. 2004.

Harrold, Stanley. Gamaliel Bailey and Antislavery Union. [Abolitionist Bailey and his newspaper National Era]
_____. Subversives: Antislavery Community in Washington, D.C.,1828–1865. 2003.

Janson, Charles William. The Stranger in America, 1793-1806.

Journal of Negro History
Laprade, William T. “The Domestic Slave Trade in the District of Columbia.” v.11

Junior League of Washington. The City of Washington.

Miller, William Lee. Arguing about slavery: the great battle in the United States Congress. 1996.

Mitchell, Mary. Divided town: a study of Georgetown,D.C. during the Civil War. esp. chapter 9

National Era [abolitionist newspaper] 1847-1860, microfilm

Paynter, John. Fugitives of the Pearl

Pacheco, Josephine F. The Pearl / a failed slave escape on the Potomac 2005. H-DC Review

“Rambler” series in Evening Star
Oct. 24, 1926, May 22, 29, June 5, 12, 19, 26, July 3, 10, 17, 24, 31, August 7, 1927

Records of the Columbia Historical Society
also microfilm

Clephane, Walter. “The Local Aspect of Slavery in the District of Columbia” v.3
Bryan, W.B. “A Fire in an Old-Time F Street Tavern and What it Revealed.” v.9
Milburn, Page. “The Emancipation of the Slaves in the District of Columbia.” v.16
Collins, Carolyn. “Mayor Sales J. Bowen and the Beginnings of Negro Education.” v.53/56
Melder, Keith. “Angel of Mercy in Washington: Josephine Griffing and the Freedmen, 1864-1872.” v.63/65
Mitchell, Mary. “I Held George Washington’s Horse: Compensated Emancipation in the District of Columbia.” v.63/64
Brown, Letitia. “Residence Patterns of Negroes in the District of Columbia, 1800-1860.” v.69/70

The Slavery Code of the District of Columbia….1862

Snethen, Worthington. The Black Code of the District of Columbia.
full text https://archive.org/details/blackcodedistri01dcgoog
[see also below]

Tremain, Mary. Slavery in the District of Columbia.
full text https://archive.org/details/slaveryindistri00tremgoog

United States. Bureau of the Census.
[1850 Census–Slave Schedule]
[1860 Census–Slave Schedule]–also online with Ancestry.com

Records of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia Relating to Slaves, 1851-1863.
National Archives M433 3 rolls.
Microfilm–also online with Ancestry.com

2 databases: Washington DC Slave Emancipation Records, 1851-63 & Washington, DC Slave Owner Petitions, 1862-1863

Vertical File (VF) (Historical Society of Washington, D.C. and Washingtoniana Division, DCPL)
various newspaper clippings and articles
request at reference desk

Also of interest:
Brown, George Rothwell. Washington: A Not Too Serious History. [Ch.8]

Brown, Letitia Woods. Free Negroes in the District of Columbia, 1790-1846.

[Lee, Elizabeth Blair] The Civil War Letters of Elizabeth Blair Lee.

Nicolay, Helen. Our Capital on the Potomac [ch. 19].

Powell, Frances. A Study of the Structure of the Freed Black Family in Washington, D.C., 1850-1880.
Whyte, James. The Uncivil War: Washington During the Reconstruction.

Newspapers (1850s-70s)
Evening Star;
National Intelligencer;
National Republican;
Daily Morning Chronicle;
New National Era, microfilm


Davis, John. “Eastman Johnson’s ‘Negro Life at the South’ and urban slavery in Washington, D.C.” The Art Bulletin, 03/01/1998.

“Escape on the Pearl: Years Before the Civil War, 77 Washington Slaves Made a Risky Bid for Freedom” by Mary Kay Ricks The Washington Post, Wednesday August 12, 1998; Horizon section; pg. H01

Tours (Underground Railroad) Underground Railroad in Georgetown

Primary Sources
Slave Code for the District of Columbia Slavery in the United States was governed by an extensive body of law developed from the 1640s to the 1860s. Every slave state had its own slave code and body of court decisions. All slave codes made slavery a permanent condition, inherited through the mother, and defined slaves as property, usually in the same terms as those applied to real estate. Slaves, being property, could not own property or be a party to a contract. Since marriage is a form of contract, no slave marriage had any legal standing. All codes also had sections regulating free blacks, who were still subject to controls on their movements and employment and were often required to leave the state after emancipation.

The District of Columbia Emancipation Act (full text)

The District of Columbia Emancipation Act On April 16, 1862, 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.

Digitized versions of the petitions can be found here:

Former Slave Elizabeth Keckley and the “Contraband” of Washington DC, 1862.Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born in slavery in Virginia around 1818 and purchased her freedom in 1855. In 1862 she was living in Washington DC and working as a skilled dressmaker; her principal client was Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of the president. Keckley sympathized with the former slaves, or “contraband,” as they were called, who fled to the relative safety of Washington during the Civil War. The Contraband Relief Association, which Keckley founded and headed, gathered funds and clothing for the poor former slaves. Yet, as her rather condescending remarks make clear, Keckley felt superior to the people she helped. Keckley’s memoir Behind the Scenes was published in 1868. The book included revelations about Mary Lincoln’s private life, and, feeling betrayed, the former First Lady shunned Keckley. Her dressmaking business declined, and she died in poverty in 1907 at the Home for Destitute Women and Children in Washington, one of the institutions she had helped to found.

http://emancipation.dc.gov/ History of DC Emancipation

Underground Railroad Connections in the Washington, D.C. Area

The Washington, D.C. area is unique in having both a national level of Underground Railroad related operations and a local one. As the nation’s capital, the District of Columbia housed the Supreme Court, the Congress, the President, and the rest of the Executive Branch. In the District, the Amistad and Dred Scott cases were argued, for example, and the Fugitive Slave Law was debated and passed.

A Chronology of American Slavery — Holt House

Bob Arnebeck’s Page on Early Washington History

E. S. Abdy description of a Washington, D.C., slave pen

Radio program examines slavery in D.C. click https://beta.prx.org/stories/628#description for RealAudio clips

A Small Southern Town: The Nation’s Capital in Slave Times by Richard Paul WAMU’s observation of Black History Month had three components, including Richard Paul’s production of A Small Southern Town: The Nation’s Capital in Slave Times, a two-part special which examined several important historical events in the Washington area in the mid-1800s. The program is available in RealAudio. Paul’s first program featured “The Pearl Escape,” the story of a little-known episode which is the single largest recorded escape attempt by enslaved Americans. On the evening of April 15, 1848, 77 slaves slipped from their quarters in Washington, Georgetown and Alexandria, hoping to escape on a ship called The Pearl which was docked at the Seventh Street wharf. An abolitionist newspaper editor was suspected of plotting the escape. A crowd of slave owners and their supporters gathered in front of the newspaper office and began throwing rocks, which lead to a full-fledged riot. The story was told through historical first person accounts from the captain of The Pearl, the abolitionist newspaper editor and a slave who participated in the escape.

A Small Southern Town: The Nation’s Capital in Slave Times continued February 18 with a re-enactment of a Congressional debate over citizens’ rights to petition Congress for the abolition of slavery. These debates came about because representatives from slave-holding states objected to the flood of petitions being sent to Congress by citizens who wanted to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.

Also in the second program, Paul examined the memoirs of Josiah Henson, the slave who was the model for Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Henson was a slave for more than 30 years on a 500-acre plantation in what is now Bethesda. Unlike Uncle Tom, Henson escaped and published memoirs in 1849, 1858 and 1877 that provide vivid descriptions of slave life. Henson traveled widely, preaching against slavery and sharing his life story. One person eager to meet him was Stowe, who had read his 1849 autobiography. A number of individuals in Henson’s own history became characters in Stowe’s book, including a savage overseer named Bryce Litton, whom Stowe named Simon Legree. Paul noted that a small cabin off Old Georgetown Road is the only thing left of the plantation where Henson was enslaved.

Paul made extensive use of first person accounts, which he believes offer a vivid picture of events of that era. “Every mass movement is made up of people who are asking themselves, ‘Am I better off like this?,’” he says. “What I tried to do was to illuminate individual lives and individual decisions.”

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