Emancipation on Georgetown Heights

African Americans celebrated the passage of the D.C. Emancipation Act of April 16, 1862. (Library of Congress)

 

The abolition of slavery in the nation’s capital was made possible by the departure of the Southern congressional delegations when the Civil War began, and wartime expedience dictated the terms: to keep local slave owners loyal to the Union, they were to be compensated for their slaves. Most of them took advantage of the offer while it lasted. They filled out a form, giving the name, age, and sex of each person who was their property “by reason of African descent and acquired title”, swore allegiance to the United States, and got a check: that was the end of the “peculiar institution” in the District of Columbia.

Local slave owners Mrs. Barber and Miss Clark, neighbors and friends, owned fifty people, and had a lawyer’s assistance in the preparation of their slave schedules, and made use of the Particular Description column on the form to say a word or two about each adult slave’s occupation: “good cook”, “seamstress and lady’s maid”, “good currier”, “shoemaker and carpenter”. These slaves had skills and trades, and hiring them out brought in a steady return: the two women hoped to be compensated accordingly.

The master butchers of Georgetown Heights only used the Particular Description for entries such as “mulatto, about five feet high”. (The exception to this was Henry Kengla, who listed his slave Nathan Brooks as a butcher.) By all indications, the master butchers were doing so well at the time that they could contemplate the loss with greater equanimity than women dependent on hiring out slaves. (Or perhaps the butchers just knew that the price of slaves had fallen; in the end, Mrs. Barber, who valued her slaves at $750 each, only got $270 each.)

 

 

Sources

Dorothy S. Provine, Compensated Emancipation in the District of Columbia, 2005: Petition 366, M.T. acct. 158-299

US Census, 1860: Slave Inhabitants in First Division in the County of Washington, District of Columbia 

Records of the Board of Commissioners for the Emancipation of Slaves in the District of Columbia, 1862–1863


 

 

 

Slave Surnames

 

The compensation claims of local slave owners, preserved in the National Archives, contain much that is of interest to local history. One thing they reveal, that other records do not, is family names of slaves that were once here. Last names do occasionally appear in runaway slave advertisements, and in deeds of manumission, but most other documents give only the first names of slaves. Hence the modern impression that first names were all slaves had.

The local emancipation papers also contradict the widespread belief that freed slaves took the last names of their master; locally, at any rate, this was definitely not the case. Barber, Homiller, Clark, Kengla, Weaver, and Cox were the leading slaveholders in this neighborhood, but the most frequent surnames of their slaves were Briscoe, Hutchins, Toyer, Etchison, Dover, Hawkins, and Ridgeley. In fact, only 2 out of 114 slaves in this area shared a name with an owner, and Miss Clark, who owned Lucy Clark and her child, also owned fourteen slaves with other last names.

 

“A common supposition is that emancipated slaves assumed the surnames of their last owners. If this had been the case in all instances, this critical stage of slave genealogy would be a less difficult one than it generally is; however, the truth is more complex, making research more problematic. Although there were many instances when the common assumption held true, there is ample evidence for slaves maintaining their own surname traditions, regardless of who their owners might have been. Following emancipation, a slave did not necessarily assume a surname, but instead may have taken a name that had been in his or her family for several generations. A different surname than that of his last owner could, for example, be that of the owner of a grandparent, so such a name might be a valuable clue for future research. More studies are still needed, but it is possible that there were regional patterns in this regard. For example, a study of a West Virginia county found no instances of ex-slaves with the surnames of their final owners, while studies of Texas and South Carolina freed people indicate approximately a quarter to one third had the surnames of their last owners.”

(David T. Thackery, Finding Your African American Ancestors: A Beginner’s Guide, 2000, p.5)

 

With a list of slave surnames in hand we can guess at family ties that cross property lines. Mary Ann Clark and her immediate neighbor Charles Homiller, for example, both had slaves named Hutchins and Jackson, and Mrs. Barber and Henry Kengla both owned slaves named Briscoe. The picture comes into clearer focus when the ages of slaves (recorded in the claims) are also taken into account: since Margaret Barber lived right next-door to Conrad Schwartz, it seems likely that Barber’s coachman, John Thomas (age 41), was married to Schwartz’s cook Ellen Thomas (age 39, with six children).

Occasionally a surname can even provide a clue to a slave family’s whereabouts before being brought to the District. Briscoe, for example, the most prevalent slave surname in this neighborhood, points to origins down in southern Maryland, where an Englishman of that name stepped ashore in 1634.

 

 

Freed Slaves of Georgetown Heights

(Records of the Board of Commissioners for the Emancipation of Slaves in the District of Columbia, 1862–1863)

 

Surname, Name  (age)––Occupation & Status, if listed––Owner

Bowie , Ann  (22)––Morris Adler

Briscoe, Mortimer  (39)––farm hand, hired out (absconded, 1861)––Margaret Barber

Brisco, Rebecca  (35)––Henry Kengla

Brisco, Mary  (16)––Henry Kengla

Briscoe, Betty  (16)––house servant––Margaret Barber

Brisco, Henry  (14)––Henry Kengla

Brisco, Joseph  (12)––Henry Kengla

Briscoe, Milly  (11)––house servant––Margaret Barber

Brisco, Washington  (10)––Henry Kengla

Brisco, Martha  (7)––Henry Kengla

Brisco, Fanny  (5)––Henry Kengla

Briscoe, Margaret  (2)––Margaret Barber

Brooks, Nathan  (38)––butcher––Henry Kengla

Brown, Mary  (20)––house servant––Margaret Barber

Carroll, Susan  (36)––house servant––Margaret Barber

Carroll, Dennis  (7)––Margaret Barber

Carroll, Ann Maria  (3)––Margaret Barber

Carroll, William  (2)––Margaret Barber

Cephas, John  (61)––Thomas & Joseph Weaver

Cephas, Margaret  (45)––Thomas & Joseph Weaver

Cephas, Emily  (15)––Thomas & Joseph Weaver

Cephas, Mary  (13)––Thomas & Joseph Weaver

Cephas, George  (6)––Thomas & Joseph Weaver

Cephas, Jeremiah  (4)––Thomas & Joseph Weaver

Cephas, Alexander  (1)––Thomas & Joseph Weaver

Chapman, John  (34)––farm hand, hired out––Margaret Barber

Clark, Lucy  (32)––seamstress, lady’s maid––Mary Ann Clark

Clark, Jack  (7)––Mary Ann Clark

Douglass, Mariah  (26)––Joseph Weaver

Douglass, John  (5)––Joseph Weaver.

Douglass, George Washington  (3/12)––Joseph Weaver

Dover, Ary  [Arianna] (35)––Lewis Kengla

Dover, Lucinda  (20)––Lewis Kengla

Dover, Ida [?]  (15)––Lewis Kengla

Dover, A. Ignatious  [Alfred]  (8)––Lewis Kengla

Dover, Clayghton  (4)––Lewis Kengla

Dover, Henry  (1)––Lewis Kengla

Etchison, Mary  (38)––Charles Homiller

Etchison, Kingsla  (22)––Charles Homiller

Etchison, Dallas  (20)––Charles Homiller

Etchison, Adelaide  (11)––Charles Homiller

Etchison, Laura  (1)––Charles Homiller

Etchison, Banks  (3/12)––Charles Homiller

Foster, Nace  (34)––carpenter––Mary Ann Clark

Gage, Eliza  (26)––Charles Homiller

Gage, Franklin  (7)––Charles Homiller

Gage, Hannah  (5)––Charles Homiller

Gage, Hanson  (3/12)––Charles Homiller

Hawkins, Fanny  (45)––Charles Homiller

Hawkins, Mary Ann  (26)––Charles Homiller

Hawkins, Abraham  (15)––Charles Homiller

Hawkins, James  (11)––Charles Homiller

Hawkins, Virginia  (10)––Charles Homiller

Hawkins, George (3/12)––Charles Homiller

Hutchins, Susan  (36)––cook––Mary Ann Clark

Hutchins, Mary  (19)––house servant––Mary Ann Clark

Hutchins, Rachael  (16)––house servant––Mary Ann Clark

Hutchins, David  (15)––house servant––Mary Ann Clark

Hutchins, Tobias  (13)––house servant––Mary Ann Clark

Hutchins, George  (12)––Mary Ann Clark

Hutchins, Eliza  (9)––Mary Ann Clark

Hutchins, Louisa  (5)––Mary Ann Clark

Jackson, Rachael  (65)––cook––Mary Ann Clark

Jackson, Kate  (17)––Charles Homiller

Jenkins, Peter  (65)––farm hand, hired out––Margaret Barber

Jenkins, Ellen  (60)––cook, hired out––Margaret Barber

Jenkins, Mary  (58)––cook, hired out––Margaret Barber

Johnson, Jane  (34)––Henry Weaver

Montgomery, Mary  (54)––estate of John Cox

Norris, Susan  (35)––Morris Adler

Ridgeley, Clara  (24)––house servant––Mary Ann Clark

Ridgeley, Jim  (7)––Mary Ann Clark

Ridgeley, William  (3)––Mary Ann Clark

Selby, Ned  (27)––farm hand––Eliza Kolp

Silass, Kitty  (37)––laundress, cook––Margaret Barber

Cylass, William  (14)––(absconded, 1861)––Margaret Barber

Silass, Gilbert  (8)––Margaret Barber

Silass, William  (5)––Margaret Barber

Silass, Phillip  (8/12)––Margaret Barber

Smallwood, John  (28)––Morris Adler

Stewart, Edmond  (47)––hostler, teamster––Mary Ann Clark

Thomas, John  (41)––coachman, farm hand, hired out––Margaret Barber

Thomas, Ellen Amelia  (39)––Conrad Schwarz

Thomas, Ann Eliza  (17)––Conrad Schwarz

Thomas, Frances Elizabeth  (16)––Conrad Schwarz

Thomas, Caroline Isabella  (14)––Conrad Schwarz

Thomas, Louisa Alley  (9)––Conrad Schwarz

Thomas, Susan Virginia  (7)––Conrad Schwarz

Thomas, Sarah Baker  (5)––Conrad Schwarz

Toyer, Sarah  (51)––laundress, hired out––Margaret Barber

Toyer, Chapman  (45)––farm hand, hired out––Margaret Barber

Toyer, Henry  (25)––farm hand, hired out––Margaret Barber

Toyer, Joseph  (24)––farm hand, hired out––Margaret Barber

Toyer, Eliza  (18)––house servant, hired out––Margaret Barber

Toyer, Louisa  (23)––cook, hired out––Margaret Barber

Toyer, Daniel  (4/12)––Margaret Barber

Warring, Peter  (47)––Henry Kengla

Williams, Richard  (25)––shoemaker, carpenter, farm hand––Margaret Barber

Yates, Jane  (36)––cook––Margaret Barber

Yates, Rezin  (33)––hostler, farm hand, hired out (absconded, 1861)––Margaret Barber

Yates, Judah  (31)––house servant, hired out––Margaret Barber

Yates, Samuel  (24)––house servant––Margaret Barber

Yates, Townley  (24)––farm hand, hired out (absconded, 1861)––Margaret Barber

Yates, Andrew  (20)––currier, hired out (absconded, 1861)––Margaret Barber

Young, Mary  (59)––cook, hired out––Margaret Barber

[Surname not recorded],  Sarah  (17)––Henry, Theodore, & Angeline Barnes

[Surname not recorded],  Cato  (34)––Henry, Theodore, & Angeline Barnes

[Surname not recorded],  Dennis  (57)––Henry, Theodore, & Angeline Barnes

 

(Records of the Board of Commissioners for the Emancipation of Slaves in the District of Columbia, 1862–1863)

 

 

 

 


After Emancipation

 

Only a few of the Georgetown Heights slaves emancipated in 1862 can be found in the 1870 census, or in post-war directories. This is in keeping with an 1866 census of the District of Columbia which found that––anecdotes to the contrary notwithstanding––only seventy-seven of approximately three thousand former slaves were still working for their former masters. It seems clear that the overwhelming majority of freed slaves, eager to reconstitute their separated families in a more promising place, had little interest in lingering near the scenes of their bondage. (Census Return of the Black Population of the District of Columbia, Freedman’s Bureau, 1866)

In the 1870 census a man named Colbert Edgison––probably related to the slaves of Charles Homiller surnamed Etchison––lived near what is now Tunlaw Road and Calvert Street, with several former Homiller slaves in his house. Banks Edgison, a former Homiller slave born just before Emancipation, was living in Foggy Bottom as late as 1943.

Mary Ann Hawkins had also been one of Charles Homiller’s slaves; after the war Mary Hawkins and her husband Abraham lived for several decades on Tunlaw Road. Their sons Abraham and George learned the butcher trade, George with his former owner Charles Homiller, and Abraham with neighbor Louis Schneider; in later years both were butchers in Georgetown.

When Mary Ann Clark died in 1865, her will left her former slave Susan Hutchins, 39, a life tenancy on her house on Tunlaw Road, at the rear of Clark’s property.

Nace Foster (the carpenter for whom Mary Ann Clark was compensated in 1862) is probably Ignatius Foster, listed from 1886 to 1905 as a carpenter in Georgetown directories, at 6th and Frederick, 26th and O, and 27th and Poplar Streets.  (Contributed by Mark Auslander, Central Washington University)

Of Margaret Barber’s thirty-four slaves, two were buried at Mt. Pleasant Plains/Young Men’s Cemetery (Walter Pierce Park): Ellen Jenkins (widow), a nurse, age 80, born in Maryland, who had lived in the District of Columbia since she was ten years old, died September 27, 1882, at 1327 Stanton Alley, between 13th, 14th, K & L Streets, NW.  And Mary Brown (widow), age 40, born in the District of Columbia, died February 28, 1886, at 1613 12th Street, NW.  (Information courtesy of Mary Belcher, Walter Pierce Park Archeology Project)

In 1862 the retired government engraver Conrad Schwarz––unmarried, and aged about 78––had a slave named Ellen Amelia Thomas, age 39, who had six daughters. It is only a guess that Ellen’s husband was John Thomas, age 41, and the only slave surnamed Thomas among the slaves of Schwarz’s next-door neighbor Margaret Barber. Schwarz had no heirs; in his 1862 will he devised his farm to his physician. To Ellen Thomas, who had been emancipated by Congress earlier that year, he willed his household and kitchen furniture, and the compensation the United States owed him for her. After the war Ellen’s daughters were employed in local households: Ann in the house of the German butcher Yeabower, Caroline Isabella at Weston, and Fannie (Frances) by William Kengla. (Conrad Schwarz, 1863, District of Columbia Wills, Box 31)

All of the slaves of Lewis Kengla had the surname Dover. The oldest was Ariana Dover––listed as Ary in 1862––who moved to the Freedmen’s settlement called Reno in Tenleytown.  After Emancipation, Ariana Dover––sometimes listed as Ary––moved to the Freedmen’s settlement called Reno in Tenleytown. She and her sons George, Frank, and Henry Dover lived off Grant Road, around Ellicott and 39th Street. Her 1910 will leaves lot 4, block B, Onion & Butts’ Subdivision of the Estate of Giles Dyer, known as Reno, to daughter Mary M. Smith, and sons Thomas, Henry, and grandson Walter. (1878 Hopkins map; 1880 census; Ariana Dover, 1910, DC Wills, Box 389)

 

RenoCity

Reno City, 1937 (Tenleytown Historical Society)

 

The Dovers were Catholic: Oray [Ary] Dover is buried at Holy Rood Cemetery with George H. Dover (1850 Georgetown census, “free colored”, born circa 1839 ); and her son George Dover, laborer, age 24: “Died of pistol shot in stomach, July 6, 1886”. (Holy Rood Cemetery, square 26/lot 322; Holy Rood Ledger, p.224)

A. Ignatious Dover, eight years old in 1862––appears in the 1870 census of Reno as Alfred. “Alf Dover arrested in Georgetown for attempted murder of his wife, who was badly cut. Dover wanted in Rockville for burglary.”  (Star, October 3, 1889)

The Cephas family was owned jointly by Thomas and Joseph Weaver, and some of them may have worked at the cattle yard at Drover’s Rest on Conduit Road. The oldest member was John Cephas, born in 1801. Weaver tradition is that Joseph bought the Cephas family at public auction in Georgetown, on the spur of the moment, and that he bid high to keep the family together. After emancipation the Weaver brothers gave the Cephas family the land north of Conduit Road, north of what is now Key Elementary School, in the vicinity of “Five Points”: this black neighborhood––served by the Chain Bridge Road School (1923-1941)––lasted well into the 20th century. Descendants of John Cephas are buried at Union Baptist Cemetery, on Chain Bridge Road.

 

 

___________________________________________________________

 Carlton Fletcher

 The citation and acknowledgement of my research is greatly appreciated.

All rights reserved.

 

 Questions and corrections may be directed to

carlton@gloverparkhistory.com

 

The support of the Advisory Neighborhood Council (3B) is gratefully acknowledged.