Captive African Americans in the slave nation were not only laborers, but merchandise and collateral all at once. In a land without silver, gold, or trustworthy paper money, their children and their children’s children into perpetuity were used as human savings accounts that functioned as the basis of money and credit in a market premised on the continual expansion of slavery. - The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry by Ned Sublette and Constance Sublette.
On this final day of February, we close out our celebration of Black History Month with a look at slave trading in Alexandria. I’ve been working on this for a few months and it’s time to let it go.
Several years ago, an effort took place in the Washington and the Chesapeake region to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. Books, articles, lectures, commemorative events, specialized license plates and a multitude of historical markers marked some of the bicentennial.
In stark contrast, the bicentennial of the “Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves” (2008) went by with little or no attention.
In many ways, this discrepancy is completely understandable. At the climatic end of the War of 1812, the American forces in Baltimore fought back the invaders. On an enemy boat in the bay, a captive Francis Scott Key penned what became our national anthem. As a nation, we felt good about what we were looking back to and learning about.
On the other hand, commemorating a legislative act is not an easy thing to do. And the topic of slavery is never an easy one to approach.
Nevertheless, 1808 marked a defining moment in our nation’s history.
I’ll be frank and say my knowledge of this act was minuscule. But having read, “The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry” by Ned Sublette and Constance Sublette (a winner of the American Book Awards), I can say we needed to do better as a nation with commemorating this story.
What took place in the years following the 1808 Act is a half-century long chapter in our history that we need to know about and at least acknowledge. As we go forward as a nation, we must confront these darkest chapters of our past. Knowing and acknowledging aren’t the only steps toward healing and reconciliation, but they are often the first two. When historians like Ta-Nehisi Coates bring up the topic of past wrongs, we need to have that common ground of knowledge.
The Domestic Slave Trade
Slavery required a slave trade, and with the trade in kidnapped Africans shut off, there was no slave trade without slave breeding. By deliberately creating a scarcity of slave labor from which profit could derive for those who could supply it, the 1808 cutoff of the African trade created an economic incentive for farmers to deliver as many homegrown laborers to market as possible, as fast as possible. - - The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry by Ned Sublette and Constance Sublette.
A visit to the National Museum for African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., begins powerfully in the deepest part of the building with the Transatlantic Slave Trade (makes you want to boycott sugar products). When we went, I heard moans, “oh-my-Gods” and deafening silence.
During the colonial period, several hundred thousands of slaves were shipped from Africa to the colonies. That practiced ended (mostly) in 1808 when Thomas Jefferson put ink to the "Act Prohibiting the African Slave Trade."
On the one hand, our nation gained a moral victory.
As Eric Foner told Michele Martin:
And indeed, another reason we don't really remember the abolition of the slave trade is that the achievement of that actually led to a waning of the abolitionist movement in general. That is, many people found, okay, we've achieved our main aim, and therefore, criticism of slavery actually declined after the abolition of the slave trade.
On the other hand, the Act Prohibiting the African Slave Trade ushered in a more than half a century period of hell and horror for a large number of enslaved African Americans and their families. As the authors point out, confiscating lands in the Deep South became a new basis of wealth. This situation created a bonanza for Upper South slave traders, who sold hundreds of thousands of enslaved humans to the sugar and cotton planters.
As required by partus sequitur ventrem, a law enacted in Virginia in the 17th century, the slave status of a child followed that of his or her mother. One writer put it this way:
“the Virginians… ransacked their knowledge of civil law and discovered a useful definition of status.”
Putting it even more bluntly, the authors write:
Fathers passed inheritance down, mothers passed slavery down. It ensured a steady flow of salable human products from the wombs of women who had no legal right to say no.
Planters made sure women slaves of child bearing years were not overworked in the fields. Birth by birth, the number of slaves would grow to almost 4M.
The authors bring out the damage this trade had on African Americans, a toll that went beyond ripping apart families and making large numbers of people work and live without freedom.
Kidnapped Africans had been arriving for almost two hundred years, repeatedly re-Africanizing American culture. No longer. The child was separated from the ancestors. With the changeover to a domestic slave trade, the long-established Afro-Chesapeake culture of Virginia and Maryland was diffused southward over several decades.
Enslaved persons fought back as best they could. Runaway slave ads were nearly as numerous as the for sale ones by the slave traders. And there were uplifting stories of escape and a life lived with liberty. Born on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 1818, Frederick Douglass might have been sold southward, but escaped and became one of the greatest Americans our country has ever seen.
Nevertheless, those in bondage lived in constant fear of being sold. As harsh and cruel as an owner might be, his or her passing meant the new owner might not keep the family together. This happened to Charles Ball of Calvert County Maryland. When his owner died, his mother, father and siblings were auctioned off. Each one went to a different owner. In his book, he wrote:
“My poor mother, when she saw leaving her for the last time, ran after me, took me down from the horse, clasped me in her arms, and wept loudly and bitterly over me.”
If and when slaves resisted, they knew their punishment could come in the form of them or family members being sold away. In a lifetime of uncertainty, enslaved humans were often sold four or five times.
Even a slave owner such as Bushrod Washington, who inherited Mount Vernon and seemed to have a benevolent attitude toward his slaves, secretly sold fifty-four of them to a pair of traders from Louisiana.
In her book, “Help My Find My People, The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery,” Heather Andrea Williams brings out some of the heartbreaking stories of forced separation. One in three children in the Upper South was taken from a mother or both parents.
As she writes: “Slaveholders and by extension slave traders particularly desired adolescents as they were productive and their youth promised a lifetime of service.”
After the war was over, some former slaves were reunited with family members. Others searched and searched, only to go to their graves haunted by their sense of loss and emptiness.
The lingering effects of slavery do not end there. In her book, “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome,” Joy Degruy documents what one reviewer called the “corrosive residue” of chattel slavery.
The separation went further than scattered families. In his book, “Soul by Soul, Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market,” Walter Johnson points out communities were torn apart.
Another forgotten turning point in the history of the United States is 1830. That May, President Andrew Jackson signed the “Indian Removal Act.” Many tribes of Native Americans were forcibly sent westward. About 4,000 of the Cherokee tribe died on what has become known as the “Trail of Tears.”
To document some of this history, the National Park Service has put together a Trail of Tears Historic Trail, which stretches from North Carolina to Oklahoma.
As far as we know, no such endeavor has been initiated for the domestic slave trade (also called the “Second Middle Passage”).
For more than four decades, the slave trade industry sent its human cargo southward through every means possible, including ocean-going vessels, steamboats and railroads. Most cruel of all, many were marched one thousand miles in coffles to the Deep South.
Along the way, crying babies were given away. Women were abused. Shotgun toting hired hands made their herds of humans sing “happy” songs.
(Be sure and read “Retracing Slaver’s Trail of Tears” by Edward Ball).
Alexandria’s Slave Trading
The southward trafficking of domestically raised slaves from the Upper South and the Lower South down into the “Southwest” or Deep South, accompanied by a flow of money in the opposite direction, bound these distinct geographical regions together into a commercial circuit that made it possible to speak of “the South” as a single entity. - The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry by Ned Sublette and Constance Sublette.
Mandated by the investors in London, tobacco planters in Virginia established designated pick up points on the Potomac River to inspect and store the cured leafs of tobacco. A few miles south of the mighty river’s northernmost navigable point, Alexandria was founded as such in 1749. The seaport prospered as the patriots resisted and fought the mother country, and then created a new republic nation.
Seeing the launch of a new tall ship or the arrival of one from a faraway land was always a sight to behold in Alexandria. By the 1830s, however, the city’s fortunes began to sag. A number of men turned to exporting human flesh. From their slave pen at 1317 Duke Street, today the Freedom House Museum, John Franklin and Issac Armfield made a filthy fortune.
After they left town (1836) with pots of gold, Joseph Bruin became the biggest seller of enslaved humans. His slave pen was located four blocks westward at 1707 Duke Street. The attractive three-story brick building still stands (real estate office, no historical marker).
With the Freedom House Museum and other efforts made by the Alexandria Black History Museum, the City has done a terrific job of acknowledging and documenting some of the slave trading that took place in the city. The Freedom House and the Bruin slave pen are both on the National Register of Historic Places.
As it turns out, however, slave trading in Alexandria went beyond the above locations and traders.
The authors tell us about dealers such as Eli Legg. Ads placed in the Alexandria Gazette reveal others like him and a facet of the city’s antebellum years that needs to be more thoroughly examined. The internal slave trade created economic opportunities in a society where brave abolitionists wrote articles decrying the institution of slavery. Although powerless to change an ingrained economic system, some citizens wrote letters to the Alexandria Gazette, such as this one in 1827.
Scarcely a week passes without some of these wretched creatures being driving through our streets. After having been confined, and sometimes manacled in a loathsome prison, they are turned out in public view to take their departure for the South.
Sadly, those pleas fell on deaf ears. The abolitionists and others could only work quietly and in small ways.
The Tavern Traders
Pamela Cressey (“Slave-trading site yields tantalizing finds”) points out that in the 1700s and early 1800s, slaves in Alexandria were owned by local people. The buying and selling took place between individuals and small groups. After the War of 1812, the transactions took on larger numbers and took place more often in taverns. These mostly frame buildings — a hotel, bar, restaurant, post office, entertainment venue and lodge all wrapped into one — dotted the seaport.
In their book, the authors touch on what they call the “tavern traders.” They found that Elias P. Legg ran the Indian Queen Tavern in Alexandria. This tavern shows up in some history books as being at Market Square, but other locations on King Street sported this name.
The authors have Legg’s tavern situated at the corner of King and Water (Lee Street) and beginning their operation around 1806. It’s hard to know which corner, but it could be the southwest. This building, still standing and currently being renovated, was apparently built around 1802-1810.
The authors write that Legg’s Tavern “became for a time the main slave market of Alexandria.” This was before Franklin and Armfield opened their location at 1315 Duke Street.
Legg may have also operated out of other locations. In May 1818, he placed this ad.
Eli Legg, having removed from his old stand on upper King, and taken that well known house lately occupied by Charles Sears corner of King and St Asaph known by the name of Indian Queen Tavern…
Legg made enough money to start a plantation. His obituary (july 21, 1835) in the Alexandria Gazette reveals he passed away at the West End at the age of 61.
Cash for Negroes
Cash for negroes, cash for negroes, cash for negroes is the heading of advertisements in great capitals down the long columns of the crowded journals. The leading article protests against the abominable and hellish doctrine of abolition, which is repugnant alike to every law of God and Nature… - The Voice of Freedom, July 4, 1844
Slave traders placed advertisements in the Alexandria Gazette, the city’s paper of record. From 1808 to 1861, these ads ran week after week, month after month, year after year, and in some cases, day after day.
In some years, business ads were placed on the front page of the Gazette (also known as the Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser).
The slave buying ads reveal a lot about slave trading, but there are limitations to what we can glean from them. For example — Were the slaves purchased to be sent south or stay in the region?
In his book, “A Troublesome Commerce: The Transformation of the Interstate Slave Trade,” Robert Gudmestad breaks down the three types of slave movement — migrations with owners, planters and interstate trade. He found there is no certain way to distinguish between the three.
Ads that indicated large numbers were wanted certainly provide clues. On May 7, 1849, Joseph Bruin’s ad said” “We wish to purchase fifty negroes for a gentleman in the South.”
Another caveat is relying solely on names. Also, without further study, it’s hard to know if the slave traders were already living in and around Alexandria, or came from elsewhere.
Enslaved Humans as Property
The domestic slave trade altered southern society in other significant ways. It helped to introduce many of the new business practices and principles that characterized the larger market revolution that was also transforming the North. - “Carry Me Back, The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life,” by Steven Deyle.
African Americans in the antebellum period constantly struggled against prejudice and the belief held by many that they were inferior. The very wording of ads contributed to this problem. The word “slaves” was sometimes used, but the most common word used was “Negroes.” Sometimes, the word was juxtaposed with other property for sale. Ads sometimes listed 50, 100 and as high as 200 negroes wanted.
For Sale. Three handsome young horses, suitable for saddle or harness — they will be exchanged for young negroes. Also the highest price in cash will be given for 50 or 60 young NEGROES. Aply at Eli Legg’s tavern. R.C. Ballard. 1822
For a period of time, George Kephart was one of the biggest slave traders in Alexandria. He operated out of the town house at 1315 Duke Street. Kephart owned a large lot of land nearly opposite the slave pen. He partnered with the firm of Birch, Price, Cook and Kephart, who ran the slave pen after Franklin and Armfield left. After Kephart left in 1860, the firm became Price, Birch & Co. Their names can be seen on photographs taken after the Union Army used the building during the Civil War.
Born in Alexandria, Cuthbert Powell rose to become a lawyer in the city as well as the Mayor. He moved to Loudoun County and served in the State senate (1815-1819), State House of Delegates (1828-1829), member of Congress (1841-1843). In 1849 he passed away at Llangollen, his country home near Middleburg. The sale of his estate included 20 valuable negroes.
September 27, 1808
Alexandria Daily Gazette, Commercial & Political
WANTED, A well disposed NEGRO GIRL, 12 or 13 years of age. For such, well recommended, I will give a liberal price. Cuthbert Powell.
Born in Piscataway, Maryland, William Marbury (1762-1835) became a major landowner, owning tracts of land in Georgetown and Blue Plains, which sat across the Potomac from Alexandria. The Blue Plains name is carried on by the sewage treatment plant on its site in SW DC.
President John Adams made Marbury one of his “midnight appointments.” After President Thomas Jefferson refused to allow these judicial appointments, Marbury sued. Marbury v Madison went to the US Supreme Court, and is considered a landmark case.
A name in an ad is not enough to fully identify an individual but Marbury left a calling card.
By virtue of a deed of trust, from James D. Moore, for certain purposes therein set forth, the subscriber will sell for ready money, at his ferry opposite Alexandria, on TUESDAY, the 10th day of January next, at 12 o’clock, if fair; if not the next fair day — SEVEN VERY VALUABLE NEGROES, viz. One man, about 25 years of age, two lads, two boys, and two girls. WILLIAM MARBURY, Blue Plains.
Richmond was also where souls went to die, and was in fact the largest slave-trading hub outside of New Orleans.
Rice C. Ballard (1800-1860) made his fortune there, but he also shows up a slave trader in Alexandria in 1822. The authors note Ballard met them at Eli Legg’s Tavern. We’ve known that Franklin and Armfield were partners, but Franklin also teamed up with Ballard. After the two made their money and left town, Ballard bought their firm at 1315 Duke Street.
After he made his money in the slave trade, Ballard moved to Mississippi. As William Kaufmann Scarborough notes (“Masters of the Big House: Elite Slaveholders of the Mid-Nineteenth-Century South”), he “poured the profits generated by his slavetrading activities into land and slaves.” At one point Ballard and his partners owned 500 slaves. The authors calculate his estate was worth $21M.
The life Ballard and others like him led can be seen in two different lights. In his book, “Carry Me Back,” Steven Deyle tells us slave traders “developed complex company organizations, improved accounting techniques and standardized commodities for easier purchasing and selling.” They were seen by some as modern, entrepreneurial businessmen.
Others could point to the dark side that went even further than whips, chains and profits. “A trader,” the authors write, “was assumed to enjoy a surfeit of sex slaves.”
A letter Issac Franklin wrote to Ballard in 1834 reveals these lowest levels of inhumanity.
“The fancy girl from Charlottesville, will you send her out or shall I charge you $1100 for her. Say quick, I wanted to see her… I thought that an old robber might be satisfied with two or three maids.”
In his article, “Cuffy, Fancy Maids, and One-Eye Men: Rape Commodification and the Domestic Slave Trade," Edward E. Baptist (The American Historical Review, Dec 2001), writes:
Ballard was keeping the desirable Charlottesville maid in Richmond instead of passing her on to his partners. The joke, and the desire it did not seek to disguise, was business as usual. In this case, the business was a slave-trading partnership, and systematic rape and sexual abuse of slave women were part of the normal practice of the men who ran the firm.
If you say the words “West End” in Alexandria, residents of the city will think of the neighborhoods and places west of Quaker Lane. For a good part of the 19th century, the West End was a dusty village just outside the town limits. On both sides of Duke Street and within shouting distance of Shuter’s Hill, calloused hands processed cattle, bent iron, tanned leather and brewed beer. A slave trader could slip into this outskirts part of the city and avoid any inquisitive eyes.
Catts Tavern (Samuel Catts), Duke Street and Diagonal
After a long day, weary West End workers and tired travelers headed for Catt’s Tavern. Larger than the typical urban tavern, it was located along Duke Street near the modern day intersection with Diagonal Road (Duke was then known as Little River turnpike, whose toll gate was located nearby). In those days when taverns were more than just drinking holes, owners had their signs painted with some sort of image or motif. Mary G. Powell tells us Samuel Catts' identifying mark was, appropriately enough, a steer.
Of course, most everyone knew where Catt’s Tavern was located. Local elections and political meetings were held there and it hosted an annual “Hiring Day,” typically held on or around New Year’s Day. Scores of property owners from around the countryside and the city gathered to select a field hand, house servant, or whatever might meet their needs. One year a report in the Alexandria Gazette said about 450 “servants” had been offered for hire, a figure they noted was less than usual.
Ads before the Civil War showed activity during the year at Catt’s Tavern.
January 2, 1852
Yesterday was the annual “hiring day” in Virginia. A large number of servants were hired at Catts’ Tavern, West End.
December 28, 1852
January 1 is general hiring day in all this section of country. An article in the Souther Planter had directed attention to some of the evils which have crept in, by allowing servants to choose their own masters and make their own terms; and especially to the practice of persons standing masters for servants, and then suffering them to roam at large.
1846 Sale of Negroes — The advertiser will on Thursday the 24th of September, at Catt’s Tavern, in the west end of Alexandria, offer for sale, a valuable family of negroes, consisting of three young men, accustomed to house and garden work and management of horses.
Dec 29, 1856]
Commissions Sale of Likely Young Negroes — Pursuant to a decree of Fairfax County Court, in the suit of Summers vs McCorkle and wife, the undersigned Commissioners therein, named, will on Tuesday the 23, at the tavern of Samuel Catts, West End, offer for sale, to the highest bidder three likely young negroes. David Funsten, Alfred Moss
Hiring Days - Yesterday was hiring day at Catts’ Tavern, West End… At Fairfax Court-House on Thursday, the rates of hiring were much lower than last year, ruling about the same as those at Catts’ yesterday.
Slave Pen, 1707 Duke
Although the slave pen where he traded slaves still stands at 1707 Duke Street, Joseph Bruin seems to have escaped the magnifying glass. The only lasting photographs we have of Alexandria’s slave trading are of the slave pen at 1315 Duke. In 1836, the American Anti-Slavery Society in New York published a broadside titled “Slave Market of America.” Three sketches of Alexandria are shown, two of the 1315 Duke Street pen and one of the waterfront with slaves and a slave ship.
Although the former slave pen at 1707 Duke Street has no historical marker, something perhaps even more powerful stands beside it. In 2010, a sculpture of Mary and Emily Edmonson was installed. Erik Blome created the ten foot tall work (across from Whole Foods).
No historical marker has been installed beside the statue, but there certainly is a great potential for one or more.
After Franklin and Armfield left in the early 1840s, Joseph Bruin (1809-1882) became the biggest and best known slave trader in Alexandria. After learning the trade from George Kephart and selling slaves at taverns in Alexandria, he purchased the five windows wide Federal style house in 1832. Archaeology has shown that the building was the slave pen. Bruin’s dwelling was demolished.
Bruin had several partners, including Henry Hill in 1848. Mary Kay Ricks, who wrote the definitive account of the Pearl, points out that Bruin was “the equivalent of a multimillionaire today.”
Bruin was certainly known in his time. He was involved a story that shook Washington and the rest of country in 1848. On April 15, and a few hours after the sun dipped below the Virginia hills west of the capital city, 77 enslaved humans, including the Edmonson sisters, stepped on a schooner docked near the Seventh Street wharf in the District. Captained by a white skipper, the Pearl slipped away under the cover of darkness and made it all the way to the mouth of Potomac before being captured. Their return to Washington set off a pro-slavery riot. Angry mobs went on a three day rampage. The Alexandria Gazette wanted to see all free blacks in Washington barred from Alexandria.
The story of the Pearl, believed to be the largest single known escape attempt, sent shockwaves through Washington, Alexandria, the region and other parts of the country. Whites had helped plan the escape. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” (1852), which included characters inspired by the Pearl and the Edmonson sisters, opened eyes to what was going on in the slave states.
The captain and other two men involved were indicted. The 77 slaves from the Pearl were quickly sold to traders who sent most of them to the Deep South. Bruin, who had previously bought and shipped the Edmonson sisters to New Orleans, took them and four of their siblings to his slave pen in Alexandria. His price for their freedom was $4,500 dollars. Light-skinned and attractive, Mary and Emily commanded high prices as “fancy girls.” Had they been sent to New Orleans again, they would have likely become enslaved prostitutes.
Abolitionists scraped together the large sum and paid Bruin. The sisters moved to New York and worked with anti-slavery causes. Emily spent her final years living in (modern day) Anacostia and counted Frederick Douglass as a friend and close neighbor.
During the Civil War, Bruin was captured and incarcerated in the old Capitol Prison in Washington. He was released after six weeks and lived in Alexandria. He passed away there in 1882.
1315 Duke Street
There were certainly other large slave trading firms in the country. Steven Deyle tells us Nathan Bedford Forrest, who rose to become a three star general during the Civil War, and became involved with the KKK afterward, made a small fortune as a slave trader in Memphis.
Nevertheless, the magnitude and impact of Franklin & Armfield’s operations at 1315 Duke Street cannot be overstated. In what was perhaps the height of their business (1835), one of their three ships left Alexandria every other week. They brought back sugar, molasses and cotton, products that kept the economy going and kept slavery woven into the fabric of southern society. These two traders made millions of dollars and sold thousands of enslaved humans.
Deyle points out the two helped popularized the innovation of “packet lines,” which translated to reliable shipping schedules. It could be said they were the model that inspired and guided others.
In that same year (1835), Ethan Allen Andrews, an abolitionist from Connecticut, journeyed southward. His book is titled, “Slavery and the Domestic Trade in the United States.” John Armfield gave him a guided tour, as it were.
Mr. Armfield is a man of fine personal appearance, and of engaging and graceful manners…. The slaves, fifty or sixty in number, were standing or moving about in groups… Crossing to the right, we found the female slaves, amounting to thirty or forty.
After resting myself a few minutes, I took my leave of Mr. Armfield. I returned to my lodgings in the city ruminating, as I went, upon the countless evils, which “man’s inhumanity to man,” has occasioned in this world of sin and misery.
Franklin retired to Tennessee where he purchased Fairvue, a plantation home near Gallatin. Commerce writes: “Clearly, he was one of the richest men in the United States.”
Armfield’s parachute also landed in the Volunteer State. He turned the hot spring waters of Beersheba into a popular resort for the wealthy. He also provided funding for the University of the South at Sewanee.
For the first years of the war, the Union army used the pen as a jail for captured Confederate soldiers. In 1864, the larger part of the property and the entire block of Duke, West, Prince and Payne became the L’Overture Hospital. The Hospital cared for soldiers serving in the U.S. Colored Troops, as well as previously enslaved African Americans who as “contrabands,” had escaped to Alexandria.
James Birch does not fit easily into our understanding of slave traders in Alexandria. As noted earlier, the only known photographs of the slave pen at 1317 Duke are ones that shows Price, Birch & Co. painted across the front of the building. Birch, however, is not mentioned on the Virginia Highway Marker outside and does not show up much in the ads in the Alexandria Gazette.
His brutal character was portrayed in 12 Years, but that slave pen was one of several in Washington. Birch’s nasty behavior might be explained in part by his frustration of not being a major player in the trade.
Charles M. Price
Charles M. Price was the fifth owner of 1315 Duke. He and his partner John Cook purchased the pen in 1858. The two had previously operated in Washington, and moved to Alexandria when the District of Columbia prohibited the import of slaves.
For a short period of time, the two also paired with George Kephart and William Birch. They dissolved this firm in early 1860 and continued as Price, Birch and Co. (Cook).
Price also seems to have escaped scrutiny. That is, until Bryan Prince wrote, “A Shadow on the Household.” In it, he details the remarkable story of Anna Maria Weems.
Note: The story of Weems was covered by William Still in “The Underground Railroad,” a book published in Philadelphia in 1872. Still was an African American abolitionist and conductor on the Underground Railroad.
Before he came to Alexandria, Price was located near Rockville, Maryland. In 1847, he purchased Weems, who was five years old. Her family offered $700 for her freedom, but Price, who was described as “given considerably to entemperance and great profanity,” refused. Three of Weem’s brothers had been sold southward.
In 1855, the family, with financial assistance from James Bigelow, an attorney in Washington, plotted her escape. Price had made Weems sleep in the same room as he and his wife.
Disguised as a coachman to assist a doctor on his travels, the bold plan worked. Using the Underground Railroad, Weems made her way to the Bruxton Settlement in Canada.
Upper End of King Street
Negro Jail, Adjacent to Old Virginia House, King and Peyton, southwest corner, 1800 King
Slave ads mention a tavern on the upper end of King. No specific cross streets were given, leaving us to try and use other information to pinpoint the location.
Smith and Miller (“A Seaport Saga”) tell us the Virginia House opened as a hotel in 1823. They have the location at King and Peyton Street.
In 1851, Edward Home ran the following add.
Cash for Negroes. The undersigned, late of Washington City, will give Richmond prices for any number of NEGROES, of both sexes. He or his agent can be found at all times at his new establishment upper end of King Street, and adjoining the Virginia house.
A report by Thunderbird Archaeology (Site 44AX0202) indicates Home purchased the plot in 1850 and “likely built a frame dwelling and brick slave jail next to the Virginia House.” After the District of Columbia passed a law forbidding the importation of slaves in the District for resale (a law passed on the heels of the Pearl escape)
This prompted Home to move his operation from Washington to Alexandria.
The Virginia House and Hotel was located at the southwest corner of King and Peyton. Home also built a water pump, which he mentioned as a location finding aid in one of his ads.
Home placed an ad in 1851, announcing the sale of his property. He described his location as immediately west of the Virginia House, and indicated a BRICK negro jail recently built of the best material and covered with slate.
As the Thunderbird report points out, the location of the tavern and the adjacent slave pen on the outskirts of the city was ideal. The property was just a few blocks from the newly built Orange and Alexandria Railroad depot. Most of the eyes of the city were not upon them there.
At some point, the Virginia Hotel became the Hotel Jackson, and catered to an African American clientle. In 1927 a tornado ripped across Alexandria and damaged the hotel. A few years later it was razed and a Coca-Cola Plant rose up. The building was renovated in the 1980s.
Not much is known about the Southern Hotel. On February 15, 1825, John W. Smith ran two ads.
SOUTHERN HOTEL. The subscriber informs his friends and the public that he has taken the establishment at the upper end of King Street, adjoining the town of Alexandria, (heretofore occupied by Mr. Eli Legg) and that he is provided with every thing necessary for the comfortable accommodation of TRAVELLERS and others; that he has made particular provision for gentlemen from the SOUTHERN COUNTRY, and for the security and support of servants. He flatters himself, that his unremitted attention to the convenience of those who may call at his Tavern, will secure to him a share of the public patronage. John W. Smith.
Cash for Slaves. Wanted to purchase, about 30 or 40 Negroes of both sexes; a liberal price will be given in cash.
Enquire at the Southern Hotel, upped end of King Street, Alexandria (late of Mr. Eli Legg’s), kept by John W. Smith.
Cash for Slaves. Wanted to purchase, about 30 or 40 Negroes of both sexes; a liberal price will be given in cash/ Enquire at the Southern Hotel, upped end of King Street late Mr. Eli Legg’s kept by John W. Smith,
As pointed out in a past exhibit at the Alexandria Black History Museum (“Securing the Blessings of Liberty”), slaves were sold at Alexandria’s Market Square. Perhaps further research will document more of this. In her book, Tiffany Pache notes “There is no definitive answer to the question as to whether slaves were sold regularly at the market.”
In his dissertation, Tomoko Yagyu looks at some of the slave trading industry in Alexandria (“Slave Traders and Planters in the Expanding South: Entrepreneurial Strategies, Business Networks, and Western Migration in the Atlantic World, 1787-1859”).
Yagyu focused on the Indian Queen Tavern. His description of its location is “near the alley running along the north side of the square.” According to Mary G. Powell, its location was “midway near the alley running north.” From around 1780 to 1797, the name changed to Red Lion Tavern.
Yagyu also refers to an Indian Queen Tavern located at the corner of King and St. Asaph, as “the original building.”
Yagyu also points out that Franklin and Armfield sold slaves at the Indian Queen. This was a month before they leased the three story brick building at 1315 Duke Street.
Lower King Street
King and Asaph
Some of the ads indicated a tavern at King and St. Asaph. T. Michael Miller found Hodgkins Tavern at the northwest corner.
The slave trade ads ran in the Alexandria Gazette until May 24, 1861, the day the Union soldiers crossed the Potomac and marched into the seaport. Getting a taste of their own medicine, Price and Birch had to high-tail it westward along the Little River Turnpike.
These days we have discussions about whether or not those Federal troops were “invaders.” One can imagine that for some folks living in the city, those soldiers in blue were liberators. The era of the domestic slave trade had come to an end. African Americans, however, still faced another century’s worth of terrible troubles and trials. Their odyssey continued when thousands of lynchings and Jim Crow forced millions to take part in the Great Migration.
Nevertheless, a new form of hope had arrived that day the slave ads ended. After a run of more than a half century, Alexandria’s darkest chapter was over.