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Freedom House was once a slave pen
African Americans have always played a significant role in Alexandria, although not always voluntarily. Before the city was incorporated, black slaves labored in the fields and warehouses, and constructed many of the earliest buildings.
Beginning in 1753, black servants brought produce to Market Square in the 300 block of King Street. Slaves were auctioned in the same square.
From 1828 until 1936, Franklin and Armfield Slave Traders sold 1,100 -1,200 slaves a year "down the river" to Natchez and New Orleans, where plantation owners were hungry for laborers for their cotton fields. The slave compound that occupied most of the 1300 block of Duke Street was demolished in 1870, but the main building at 1315 is now headquarters of the Northern Virginia Urban League. In its small basement, where 60-80 men were once held captive, the league has installed the Freedom House Museum to remind visitors of the reality of slavery and to show how strength and courage can overcome adversity. Amid the original beams and barred windows, exhibits tell the story of the place of King Cotton in the 19th century economy and of the people who suddenly found themselves captured and enslaved.
"We want people to know and feel the sadness of the horrific past...in this building," said Urban League president and CEO Lavern Chatman. "We want people to see that hope still existed [and] I want our kids to understand that that's where they come from."
When Franklin and Armfield sold their business -as very wealthy men- a succession of slave traders followed, from 1836 until 1861 when Federal troops seized the city and converted the slave pens into a Union jail.
Three years later the compound was converted to use as L'Ouverture General Hospital for sick and wounded black soldiers.
Freedom House Museum
- Freedom House Museum: Legacy of Triumph, Foundation for the Future
Visit the Freedom House Museum's website
Freedmen's (Contraband) and Soldiers Cemeteries
In the 1860s, Alexandria's black population swelled to about two thirds of the population, but infant mortality, smallpox and typhoid decimated the population. To accommodate the growing number of African American dead, Albert Gladwin, the Superintendent of Contrabands (Escaped slaves were considered contraband of war.) and Brigadier General John P. Slough, the military governor, confiscated a plot of land that belonged to a Confederate sympathizer, and the Contraband Burying Ground-also called the Freedmen's Cemetery-opened in 1864 at the intersection of Washington and Church streets in south Alexandria.
Read more about these burial grounds in Historic burial Grounds, Freedman's and Alexandria Soldiers (Nationa) Cemetery.