Local Slaveholders

Of all the characteristic features of the past, there is one that both demands and defies attention. Slavery was woven into the fabric of Maryland from its earliest days and permeated every aspect of daily life. But although slavery was ubiquitous, it was not uniform, and in cities––to which a plantation labor regime was hardly well-suited––it took on new forms. 



The 1790 census records that John Threlkeld, who owned the land from which much of Glover Park is derived, had 41 slaves. Threlkeld’s son-in-law, Mayor John Cox, at The Cedars, had slaves, as did Threlkeld’s grandson, Richard Cox, at Burleith. Mrs. Thomas Bennet Dashiell, who lived at about 39th and Calvert Streets, had slaves. Walter Story Chandler, who lived at Weston, near the present intersection of 36th and Massachusetts Avenue, had seven, and in 1830 his successor there, Judge Thruston, had five.

Some of these people had come into the world owning slaves, and some had them by way of inheritance or marriage. Descendants of slaveholding planter families from southern Maryland, for example, brought slaves with them when they settled in the District of Columbia; their maids, cooks, coachmen, and farmhands were also their property.

But not all the slave owners in our neighborhood were to the manner born. It is safe to say, for example, that an immigrant like Conrad Schwarz probably arrived in America without human property; by 1830, however, he had one slave, and by 1862, he had seven: Ellen Amelia Thomas, age 39, and her six daughters.

Early censuses also show that the Kenglas, Homillers and Weavers, whose origin appears to have been Pennsylvania German, had no slaves when they arrived in Upper Georgetown. Once they were established, they appear to have adapted themselves to local conditions, and to the logic of the bottom line: it cost less in Washington to rent a slave than to hire a free man, and, in the long run, it was cheaper to own people than to rent them.

By comparing the slave schedules of the 1860 census with the inventories made when District slaves were emancipated in 1862, it is possible to estimate that about 15 white families in this vicinity owned about 120 slaves. But how many slaves lived here is a different matter; some slaveholders derived income from hiring out slaves, and hired slaves––who worked as cooks, lady’s maids, laundresses, cooks, waiters, barbers, carpenters, and draymen––often lived where they were employed. A slave with a skill or a trade was a financial asset, prized by his owner for the income the owner derived from hiring that slave out to work for someone else. (Also, the cost of clothing, food, and shelter were all on the hirer.) For their part, employers liked using hired slaves, because they were cheaper than white laborers: the hiring out of slaves cooled the labor market. On the other hand, hiring out gave slaves some say (however slight) in who they worked for. The terms of contracts sometimes even permitted a fortunate few who were skilled in a trade to earn enough to purchase their freedom, and to join the ranks of the free black population of the District of Columbia, whose growing numbers––in 1850, free blacks outnumbered enslaved blacks by almost two to one––proved that liberation from bondage was conceivable.

(Besides slaves who succeeded in buying themselves free, there were a not insignificant number in the District of Columbia who were granted freedom voluntarily. Some owners provided for manumission in their wills as a reward for years of service. Sometimes the terms of a will or other legal document stipulated a fixed term of years after which a slave was to be freed. Some slaves were freed because of ties of blood.)

Mary Ann Clark, who lived at about Wisconsin Avenue and Calvert Street, supported herself by hiring out most of her sixteen slaves; Margaret Barber, at what is now the Naval Observatory, hired out seventeen of her twenty-three adult slaves. Hired slaves were often out of the daily sight of their masters, and many masters, although they derived income from slaves, could not tell you their day-to-day whereabouts.


I had resided but a short time in Baltimore before I observed a marked difference, in the treatment of slaves, from that which I had witnessed in the country. A city slave is almost a freeman, compared with a slave on the plantation. He is much better fed and clothed, and enjoys privileges altogether unknown to the slave on the plantation. There is a vestige of decency, a sense of shame, that does much to curb and check those outbreaks of atrocious cruelty so commonly enacted upon the plantation.

(Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, 1845)


City slaves also regularly came into contact with the growing population of free colored people in the District of Columbia, whose freedom, circumscribed as it was, had to have inspired a flicker of hope.

On the other hand, Washington was a through point for slaves from Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia to be shipped south. After 1850 anyone who brought slaves into the District had to swear and certify they were for his own use only, and not for sale; but slaves already here could, on the shortest notice, be sold and separated from families forever. The tax collector routinely sold slaves for taxes due by their owners, and Washington teemed with agents who made their living supplying the insatiable need of the plantation economy for more slaves.

(Constance McLaughlin Green, “Secret City: A History of Race Relations in the Nation’s Capital”, Princeton University Press, 1967; Letitia Woods Brown, “Free Negroes in the District of Columbia, 1790-1846”, Oxford University Press, 1972; Bob Arnebeck, “Slave Labor in the Capital: Building Washington’s Iconic Federal Landmarks”, History Press, 2014; Jenny Masur, “Heroes of the Underground Railroad Around Washington”, History Press, 2019)




Slaves wanted: to be taken to Lexington, Kentucky, and not for speculation. Apply in Georgetown at the house of George Holtzmann.

(National Intelligencer, May 13, 1824)


Negroes wanted: between 60 & 70 slaves, from 1 to 30 yrs old. Call at the house of George McCandliss, High street, Georgetown.

(National Intelligencer, June 17, 1824)


Cash for slaves: apply at Mr. McCandless’ Tavern, in Georgetown. ––John J. Sailor.

(National Intelligencer, October 23, 1824)


Servants wanted: I want 45 or 50 likely negroes from 12 to 25 years, to work on my plantation in Mississippi. I will give as much as any other man in the market. Apply at McCandless’ Tavern Georgetown, or Ansel Rowley, Bridge Street, Georgetown. ––John M. Hendricks

(National Intelligencer, May 29, 1828)




Some Slaveholders of Georgetown Heights,

and Number of Slaves, circa 1860


 3                  Adler, Morris

34                Barber,  Margaret

3                  Barnes,  Henry, Theodore & Angeline  (Henry Weaver, guardian)

16                Clark,  Mary Ann

1                  Cox,  John (estate)

5                  Cox,  Richard Smith

5                  Dashiell,  Mary

17                Homiller,  Charles

2                  Homiller,  William

9                  Kengla,  Henry

6                  Kengla,  Lewis

1                  Kolp,  Eliza

7                  Schwarz,  Conrad

1                  Weaver,  Henry

3                  Weaver,  Joseph

7                  Weaver,  Joseph & Thomas


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



Carlton Fletcher

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