The Georgetown Market War


An account of a mysterious struggle that occurred in the early years of the Union Market House.


The Union Market House of Georgetown, built in 1865.

The Union Market House of Georgetown, built in 1865, acquired its present appearance in 1894, when it was substantially renovated.


In his Chronicles of Georgetown, Richard P. Jackson gives an account of a mysterious struggle that occurred in the early years of the Georgetown Market House, at 3276 M Street. Prior to 1865 the city of Georgetown had temporarily availed itself of the old tobacco warehouses to the east, between Wisconsin Avenue and the canal (3200 M Street) as a market house. In 1865, when the time came to move into the newly constructed facility, the butchers refused to relocate. Instead, they bought the tobacco warehouses, and christened them the Farmers and Butchers Market. When Georgetown denied the independent market a license, the butchers went to court, and lost. The butchers then set up a second alternative market, just outside the jurisdiction of Georgetown. They did not return until 1871, when Georgetown surrendered its city charter. Jackson, who was writing in 1878, apparently expected his readers to know––and therefore made no effort to explain––the reasons for this obscure squabble.


“Mr. Henry Kengla, a butcher, conceived the notion that, as the butchers had purchased the property, the footway was a fixture, and the market master had no authority to move it, and interfered with the market master. He was arrested and the case was taken before Justice Buckey, Mr. F.W. Jones appearing as his counsel.” (Intelligencer, January 5, 1865; Evening Star, January 4, 1865)


There were more signs of friction in the first summer of peace, when the Corporation of Georgetown received petitions from “Francis Gross, Lewis Kengle and others, praying that country people may not be interfered with if they desire to sell produce in the market.” This apparently referred to farmers selling in the Georgetown market without a permit––but with the approval of the butchers.  (National Intelligencer, July 4, 1865)

That the market war had political overtones is confirmed by the editorial opinion of the Georgetown Courier, which was a Democratic weekly, founded in 1865. In the year leading up to the February 25, 1867 Georgetown elections––the first in the District of Columbia to include black voters––and in the run-up to the national elections of 1868, John D. McGill, the proprietor of the Courier, also made clear his objection to black suffrage, hailing the Democratic banner as the “White Man’s Flag”, and proclaiming that, as in 1776, it was once again necessary to “throw off the yoke, this time to rid ourselves of the Black incubus”.  (George P. Rowell and Company’s American Newspaper Directory, 1872;  Georgetown Courier, February 24, June 2, November 24, 1866; January 12, 1867; September 5, October 3, 1868)


(“The Georgetown Election––The Negro at the Ballot Box”, Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly, March 16, 1867)

(“The Georgetown Election––The Negro at the Ballot Box”, Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly, March 16, 1867. President Andrew Johnson and a Confederate veteran watch as a black veteran––he has a Union kepi in his left hand––votes against the Democratic mayoral candidate.)



Back-to back Republican victories in 1867 and 1868 go a long way toward explaining the Georgetown Courier’s later warm embrace of the District of Columbia Organic Act (February 21, 1871), which required the surrender of Georgetown’s city charter, and so denied Republicans and free blacks the fruit of their electoral victories. The editor of the Courier was ecstatic. “The change of government for the District has long been greatly needed… The people owe a debt of public gratitude to the originators of the measure… to the unflagging spirit of A.R. Shepherd much of the salutary change is owing… he should be the first governor of the Territory“; “everybody expects the most happy results from the operation of this law”.  (Georgetown Courier, February 18 and 25, 1871)

That the butchers’ refusal to return to the Georgetown market might have been a rejection of a Republican administration of Georgetown is implied by the Democratic Courier‘s approving coverage. That Joseph Weaver, one of the most prominent butchers, had been a delegate to the Georgetown Anti-Negro Suffrage Convention just a month before the first election in which black men voted, is also significant.  (“Affairs in Georgetown. The Anti-Negro Suffrage Convention,” Evening Star, February 12, 1867, p.2)



The Georgetown Market War in the Georgetown Courier


In the case of Homiller et al v. Corporation of Georgetown, the ruling of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia said that Georgetown could enforce the use of its market, and that the butchers were not entitled to sell where they pleased in Georgetown, but that they could decide to go to the Washington markets. After the ruling the firm of Homiller & Duvall, and the butchers Lewis Kengla, Henry Kengla, Jacob H. Kengla, and Joseph Weaver placed an advertisement announcing that they would close in Georgetown. Lewis Kengla promptly set up his stand across Rock Creek. “L. Kengla & Son, Meats and Vegetables, at 26th and Pennsylvania Avenue, just across the bridge. Will Deliver.“ (Georgetown Courier, December 7 and 14, 1867)

The Farmers and Butchers Association of Georgetown, D.C. then petitioned the District Committee of the House of Representatives for permission to incorporate to build a market in the District. The signatories were: William Homiller, Henry Kengla, Jacob H. Kengla, Joseph Duvall, Joseph Weaver, Robert Brill [Britt], Andrew Heiss, James Payne, Traugott Rosenbusch, Charles Kirby, Ed Mankin, Henry Williams, and B.P. Nicholls. The following week, George L. Sherwood was incarcerated for selling fresh meat illegally at his place of business on Market Street. (Georgetown Courier, January 11 and 18, 1868)

The District Committee declined to incorporate the Farmers and Butchers Association of Georgetown, D.C. to build a market in the District, but agreed to report a bill to force Georgetown to let the butchers sell anywhere in city limits. At this point the Courier reveals that some of those who buy their meat at the “Union Market”––i.e. the Georgetown Market House––are black, and that they regard those who insist on buying across the bridge as “Secessionists”.  (Georgetown Courier, February 15, 22, 29, 1868)

By spring the insurgent market on the other side of the bridge had nine butchers, eleven hucksters, three butter dealers, and two fishmongers. An advertisement announced that George L. Sherwood, arrested in January, “has regained his freedom, [and is] selling Butter and Cheese at the Aetna Bazaar near Rock Creek, without fear of being sent to jail therefor.“  (Georgetown Courier, May 23, 1868)

The butchers had the upper hand; they made an offer to sell their old location in the Georgetown Market House, but didn’t mind letting it stand empty, in silent reproach. A petition by Jacob H. Kengla, to extend the market limits up to the Butchers Market, was defeated in the Georgetown Common Council. (Georgetown Courier, February 20, June 12, 1869)

In the opinion of the Courier, the Georgetown council was “making war on Joseph Weaver and his brother butchers”; people preferred the old market house, razed in 1864, to the new one, which had been constructed without consulting the five butchers, who were now deemed “Rebels“ by those aligned with the Federal government. “Republicans have driven Lewis and Henry Kengla, Joseph Weaver, William Homiller and Jacob H. Kengla from the Georgetown Market.” (Georgetown Courier, April 24, August 21 and 28, 1869)

“The butchers are about to return to their old quarters“. In the year leading up to the reorganization of the District of Columbia it became clear that, once Georgetown surrendered its charter to Congress, the Republicans, together with their black supporters, would be out of power there.“Messrs. W. Homiller, Kengla, et al ask a license to do business in Georgetown”. The “butchers of the Market of Georgetown” applied to the Committee on Markets of the District House of Delegates, to have their market connected with the new market house, a protest against their request was noted, and no more was heard of the matter. (Georgetown Courier, May 21, 1870; May 20, July 22, 1871)



For context, see:  Kate Masur, An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C., 2010)

“About Georgetown. The Proposed Improvement of the M Street Market House,” Evening Star, April 26, 1894, p. 7; “The New Market House,” September 27, 1894, p. 13.

For a capsule history of the Union Market House, see:

George J. Olszewski, A History of the Old Georgetown Market, Georgetown, D.C. (U.S. Department of the Interior, 1966)



Although the previous accounts say the architect of the market house is unknown, a contemporary report cites Stephen Decatur Button.  (“Affairs in Georgetown––The New Market,” Evening Star, May 3, 1865, p. 2.)


The Georgetown Market, 3276 M Street, circa 1966 (Library of Congress)




 Carlton Fletcher

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