The origins of the Village or Town of Wilberforce, an unofficial subdivision of Georgetown, followed by a partial list of the buyers. Two of those buyers––Murray Barker, a free black man, and Peter Colter, a German immigrant––are contenders for the distinction of being the first homeowner in what is now Glover Park.
Rev. Stephen Bloomer Balch (Balchipedia)
As early as 1798, the Rev. Stephen Bloomer Balch, of Bridge Street Presbyterian Church, owned ten acres of farm land near the northern end of the city of Georgetown––on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue, just north of what is now Whitehaven Parkway––with “an overlooking view, streams, and glens”. Balch called the farm Wilberforce, in honor of the English abolitionist William Wilberforce.
Between 1802 and 1805 Balch augmented this property with the purchase of lots 252 and 253, in Beatty & Hawkins’ Addition to Georgetown, and in 1806 Balch began selling lots at the northern end of the city of Georgetown, in the village––or town––of Wilberforce. By 1813 the Georgetown tax assessor shows that most of the small, affordable lots had found buyers.
Streets in Wilberforce
Although deeds speak of Wilberforce as a subdivision of Georgetown, it does not appear to have been recorded as such by the DC Surveyor. Traces of Wilberforce can be seen in the Hopkins 1893, Baist 1903, and Baist 1954, in the area of lots 251-254 of Beatty & Hawkins’ Addition to Georgetown: Wilberforce Street, German Street, and Congo Lane. (Angola Lane is not marked, but mentioned in deeds.)
Wilberforce Street––which intersected Wisconsin Avenue between the Weaver houses at 2101 and 2117 Wisconsin Avenue, across from the entrance of Holy Rood Cemetery––was closed as a public street in 1837, and gradually took on the character of a farm lane, and then, of an unpaved driveway. Nonetheless, the fifth generation of Michael Weaver’s descendants could still point it out in 1956, when there was still a row of old wooden houses. (Star, November 16, 1956)
Taken in conjunction with the name of the abolitionist Wilberforce, the names Congo Lane, and Angola Lane suggest a further reference to the slave trade.
Across from, and slightly south of, W Place NW, was German Street. Whether it was named because of the Germans that lived there, or to attract them to buy there, is unknown.
Owners in Wilberforce
At least four of the earliest buyers of house lots in Wilberforce were free black men, and one of the first was William Fealds (DC Liber P15 (1806) f.253/379). Fealds was a Georgetown bricklayer and plasterer, and although it is possible that he might have built some of the houses in Wilberforce, he is more likely to have been a landlord than a resident. As nothing survives showing to whom Fealds might have rented, the first tenant in our neighborhood remains unknown: history favors owners over renters. (Fealds appears to have resided at––and probably was the builder of––the houses at the southeast corner of 29th and Dumbarton Street.)
John Swan’s purchase in Wilberforce was in 1807 (DC Liber R17 (1807) f.390/295). The deed mentions that his land had houses on it when he bought it, but Swan was not assessed for these houses until 1813. Swan, “Free Colored”, his wife, and a son appear in the 1820 census of the neighborhood. (John Swan died October 9, 1820: William King Mortality Journal).
Murray Barker, a recently freed slave, first appears on the Georgetown Tax Assessment in 1808 as the owner of an improved lot, worth $50, on High Street in lot 253, Beatty and Hawkins’ Addition to Georgetown. By 1810 Barker’s lot has a frame house on it, worth $200.
The freedom papers of Moses Thompson show that he was born free, September 20, 1770, in Virginia. Thompson bought property in Wilberforce in 1817, but by the time of the 1820 census he had either died or moved away. (Certificate of Freedom, Richmond County Clerk’s Office; DC Certificate of Freedom, DC Liber K10 (1804) f.34; Balch to Thompson $30, part of lot 253, Beatty and Hawkins’ Addition to Georgetown, unimproved: DC Liber AN38 (1817) f.119/88)
(William Fealds’ 1806 purchase of an adjoining lot mentions that the adjoining property belonged to a man named Squabbs. In the 1800 Georgetown assessment William Quabbs is found in the index but not in the pages; but in the 1808 assessment, Quabbs owns part of lot 252, improved. In 1809 “Mr. Quabbes of Georgetown” is named as the buyer (Balch to William Quabbs, DC Liber W22 (1809) f.62/46). In the 1813 assessment, Quabbs owns part of lot 252, 32 feet on High Street, with a frame house. “William Squaw” died January 16, 1817 (William King Mortality Journal). Quabbs has not been found in the relevant censuses, so his race is unknown.)
There were also white buyers in Wilberforce, and of these, one of the earliest was Peter Colter. He is shown in the 1808 Georgetown assessment owning part of lot 254 in Beatty and Hawkins’ Addition to Georgetown, 60’ on High Street: two lots, on High and German Streets, and on German Street and Congo Lane, improved, worth $125. No house mentioned, but in March, 1809, Peter Coulter mortgages his property, assigning a two-story frame house on High Street, and two lots of land, to Henry Crouse, unless he can pay $50 within one year (DC Liber V21 (1808) f.271/194). Colter then pays Rev. Balch $55 for two lots in “a village which [Balch] has laid off near Georgetown, called Wilberforce”, part of lot 254 in Beatty and Hawkins’ Addition to Georgetown (DC Liber V21 (1808) f.273/195). In 1813 Colter is assessed for part of Beatty & Hawkins’ Addition to Georgetown, lot 254, 60’ on High Street, a frame house.
George Riffle, 1813, part of 251, 70’ on High, frame house, $200, on lot 251, Beatty & Hawkins’ Addition to Georgetown. Riffle sold to Samuel Pauley, a Pennsylvania German drover and butcher.
William Kuhns, NE intersection of Wilberforce and High Streets, lot 252, Beatty & Hawkins’ Addition to Georgetown, with a house on it, and lot 13, near NE intersection of Congo Lane and Wilberforce Street.
The Wilberforce settler who prospered most was Michael Weaver, who was of Pennsylvania German origin, by way Frederick County, Maryland. Weaver raised his family in a tenement at the southeast intersection of Congo Lane and Wilberforce Street, on land purchased for $1000 from the tanner Thomas Hyde. (DC Liber AY49 (1820) ff.126, 216/129 and 230/137)
In 1851 Michael Weaver bought land at the intersection of High and Wilberforce, and built himself a new house. ( DC Liber JAS24, (1851) f. 415)
The Weaver houses at 2101 and 2117 Wisconsin Avenue, built in the 1880s, flanked Wilberforce Street. (Star, November 16, 1956)
Notes and Sources
Although the name given to the little settlement is most readily understood as an expression of approval for the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire (which took place in 1807), it is to be noted that Rev. Balch’s views did not entirely coincide with those of William Wilberforce. Balch was a founding member of the American Colonization Society (which first met at Francis Scott Key’s house in 1816), whose plan to colonize Liberia with freed American slaves was denounced by abolitionists, black and white. When the Colonization Society appealed to Wilberforce for his blessing, he repudiated them with his dying breath. (P.J. Staudenraus: The African Colonization Movement, Octagon Books, New York, 1980)
Rev. T.B. Balch: Reminiscences of Georgetown, D.C., a lecture delivered in the Methodist Protestant Church, Georgetown, January 20, 1859, Washington, Henry Polkinhorn, Printer, 1859
Georgetown Courier, November 25, 1871
William S. Jackson: Dr. Balch’s Career, Washington Evening Star, April 1, 1893, p.11
Thomas Willing Balch, Balch Geneologica, 1907
John Clagett Proctor, Proctor’s Washington and Environs, Washington Sunday Star, 1949, p. 168
Forrest to Reintzel, DC Liber C3 (1798) f. 386/308, mentions Balch’s land.
John Davidson to Stephen B. Balch, for 11 lbs. 5 shillings, conveys lot 252 in Beatty & Hawkins’ Addition to Georgetown. (Both Balch an Davidson claiming prior right to this land, to avoid litigation, Balch purchases the right of Davidson of any interest in the property.) (DC Liber G, f.107, recorded May 18, 1801, indenture February 2, 1802)
John M. Beatty et al to Stephen B. Balch, for$167.40, conveys lot 253 in Beatty & Hawkins’ Addition to Georgetown. (DC Liber M, f.190, recorded March 19, 1805, indenture dated January 30, 1805)
The land that Thomas Hyde sold Michael Weaver in 1820 was purchased by Hyde from Rev. Stephen B. Balch in 1812. (DC Liber AD, ff.59-60)
Although Murray Barker was assessed for the property earlier, he did not complete payment until 1812: Stephen B. Balch of Washington County to Murray Barker of the same place, for $30 consideration, conveys part of lot 253 in Beatty and Hawkins Addition to Georgetown, beginning at the end of 211 feet 8 inches from the northwest corner of lot 251 and running thence with High Street continued
1. North 32-1/2 degrees West 30 feet
2. North 61-1/2 degrees East 130 feet to Congo Lane,intersecting the lane at the end of 70 feet from the northwest corner of Wilberforce and Congo Lane
3. South 32-1/2 degrees East with Congo Lane and parallel to High Street continued 30 feet
Thence to the beginning, with all buildings, improvements, privileges, advantages and appurtenances… (DC Liber AD, f.153, recorded August 19, 1812, indenture February 20 1812)
Deeds mentioning the subdivision include DC Liber AD, (1812) f.292, Stephen B. Balch to George Riffel, lot 4 in the town of Wilberforce; DC Liber AL36 (1816) f.11, Balch to Coulter, part of lot 254 “in Beatty and Hawkins Addition to Georgetown, now laid out in a town called Wilberforce”; and, four decades later, JAS161 (1858) f.481/361, and JAS168 f.25/20.
“I give devise and bequeath the house and lot in which I now reside, situated at the corner of High and Wilberforce streets in Geo.Town… which was conveyed to me by William Redin, trustee, by deed dated seventeenth of April 1851, and recorded in Liber J.A.S. No.24 folios 418.&c.”
“I give devise and bequeath… my old home and former residence situated at the south east corner of Congo Lane and Wilberforce streets in Geo.Town aforesaid and being the same property conveyed to me by Thomas Hyde by deed dated thirteenth of May 1820 and recorded in Liber A.Y. No.49 folios 230.&c… also, to said Joseph, my lot situated at the northeast intersection of said Congo Lane and Wilberforce streets… conveyed to me by William Redin, trustee, by deed dated seventeenth of April 1851, and recorded in Liber J.A.S. No.24 folios 415.&c.”
(Michael Weaver, will filed 1872, District of Columbia Archives)
In 1941, Catherine L. Weaver, and Maurice E. Weaver, heirs of Robert D. Weaver, of 2101 Wisconsin Avenue, sued the unknown heirs of the Reverend Stephen B. Balch, and numerous others, to “obtain a final decree declaring complete in fee simple by adverse possession the title” of the heirs, and to “remove clouds caused by the record to the title of said plaintiffs”. The plaintiff claimed the abandonment of “so-called Wilberforce Street, and so much of Congo Lane as is involved in this suit as streets, alleys, highways or thoroughfares“. (“Legal Notices”, Washington Post, December 11, 1941, p.33)
(I am indebted to Priscilla W. McNeil, who generously shared her research on land transactions in this neighborhood.)
The citation and acknowledgement of my research is greatly appreciated.
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The support of the Advisory Neighborhood Council (3B) is gratefully acknowledged.