Emancipation in DC: #DS_069H00HP from the NYPL Digital Library

I have been thinking about how many states have unique records that can assist those doing slave research. This is what I call records that are not nationwide, but specific to a particular state or locale.

For example, slave births in Virginia are recorded from the year 1853. In Maryland, slave statistics (for a few counties) name the last slaveowner and provide surnames for many of their former slaves.

Records like these may not survive for every county within a state, but if they do, you’re in for a treat.

For those who had enslaved ancestors in Washington, D.C., a wonderful set of records exist. The National Archives has the following:

Records of the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia Relating to Slaves, 1851-1863 (M433)

-these rolls include emancipation, manumission papers, freedom affidavits, and fugitive slave case papers (Update, 10/2018: This microfilm is now on Ancestry)

Habeas Corpus Case Records of the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, 1820-1863 (M434)
(Update, 10/2018: This microfilm is now on Ancestry)

-these records often contain cases involving slaves and free blacks.

Both of these two sets of microfilm have good information for those of us descended from slaves. Christine’s Genealogy website has indexed parts of these records on her website:

D.C. manumissions from M433

Index to habeas corpus cases

And, fugitive slave cases

An even more exciting set of records exist. The federal government emancipated slaves in Washington D.C. in 1862, with compensation for their slaveowners. The legislation provided slaveowners up to $300 for each slave laboring in D.C.

Slaveowners applied for compensation in droves. Those petitions created another set of records:

Records of the Board of Commissioners for the Emancipation of Slaves in the District of Columbia (M520)
(Update, 10/2018: This microfilm is now on Ancestry)

Emancipation Act

Each petition included proof of ownership and a valuation. In most cases, the petitions provided detailed physical descriptions of the slaves, what kind of work they did, and sometimes their relationship to other enslaved people.

The information in these petitions are a boon to genealogical researchers. Even better, Dorothy Provine has published these petitions in her book titled, “Compensated Emancipation in the District of Columbia.

A few examples will illustrate the richness of the records (these are abstracted, the originals are more detailed):

  • Petition of Alfred Y. Robinson, of PG County, MD for Edward Humphrey, age 35 or 40, mulatto….Robinson inherited him from his mother Elizabeth Robinson and has held him for over 30 years.
  • Petition of William Gunton, administrator for William A. Gunton, for two slaves, Joshua and Hennie. The late William A. Gunton purchased Joshua from William Tolson, Hennie was a gift from John B. Mullihan of PG County to his daughter upon her marriage to his son, William A. Gunton on June 20, 1848.
  • Petition of Mary A. Smoot, for two persons, Henry and Margaret. Smoot’s grandmother, the late Mrs. Mary B. Smoot, left these persons to her by a will that was recorded in D.C. in June 1857
  • Petition of Matthew McLeod, for Ellen Cole, age 51 or 52. He acquired title from the will of his mother-in-law, Mrs. Mary Manning of St. Mary’s County, and later the will of his deceased wife.
  • Petition of Anna Bradley for William and James (brothers). Bradley acquired title from her mother. William and James’ great-grandmother, Patty was a slave of Bradley’s mother, Elizabeth Ann King, long since deceased. Her mother acquired Patty from John Hammond, her father, late of Annapolis, MD. Bradley states she also became the owner of Jenny, the daughter, and of Mary, the granddaughter of Patty. Mary was the mother of William and James and thus they have belonged to Bradley since their birth.

Aren’t these records incredible?? As you can see, many slaves were employed in D.C. but were owned by people living in Maryland and Virginia as well as a few other states.

I found some important clues regarding several owners of my Maryland ancestors. Christine’s Genealogy Website also has an name index to these petitions on her website.

If Washington D.C. is one of your research areas, take a look at these important records.

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