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D.C. slave records released for 150th emancipation anniversary

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 Click on photo to enlarge or download: Requests for compensation for the emancipation of Philip Reid and other freed slaves were on display Wednesday at the National Archives. The D.C. Emancipation Act freed slaves in the District more than eight months before the Emancipation Proclamation. SHFWire Photo by Jordain CarneyClick on photo to enlarge or download: Requests for compensation for the emancipation of Philip Reid and other freed slaves were on display Wednesday at the National Archives. The D.C. Emancipation Act freed slaves in the District more than eight months before the Emancipation Proclamation. SHFWire Photo by Jordain CarneyWASHINGTON - Philip Reid was a slave who helped supervise the finishing of the Statue of Freedom, which sits atop the Capitol.

The National Archives released the records Wednesday of his owner’s request for compensation when Reid and other slaves in the District of Columbia were emancipated.

Congress freed slaves in the capital eight months before Abraham Lincoln freed slaves held in the Confederate states by proclamation Jan. 1, 1863.

Reid’s records are stored at the National Archives and are part of those being digitized to mark the 150th anniversary of D.C. Emancipation Act. The University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s Digital Research in the Humanities is a partner in the project.

Unlike slaves owners in the South, owners in the District were entitled to compensation when their approximately 3,000 slaves were freed April 16, 1862.

For the 150th anniversary, 200 of the petitions for compensation under the D.C. Emancipation Act have been released by the Civil War Washington Project at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, Kenneth J. Winkle, co-director of the project, said.

All of the petitions will be available online by the end of 2013, he said.

The records from the D.C. Compensated Emancipation Act include more detail about the slaves because owners had to provide information to set the compensation rate, Damani Davis, archivist at the National Archives’ Research Services Division, said.

“The human ways that some of them were described are unique in comparison to other documentation that we have on enslaved persons,” he said.

Reid’s owner described him as “in good health, in good mind, a good workman.”

President Abraham Lincoln introduced legislation to free all slaves during his one term in the House of Representatives but it failed, David S. Ferriero, the archivist of the U.S., said.

Both advocates and opponents of emancipation called Washington “the entering wedge of freedom that would initiate the liberation of slaves across the entire South,” Winkle said.

The D.C. Emancipation Act was a model for the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which bans slavery, he said.

Many citizens benefit from the legislation, even though they may not realize it. The D.C. Emancipation Act is the reason taxes aren’t due this year until Tuesday, April 17, because the date is an official holiday in the District.

Winkle said putting the records online will help people understand what slavery meant at the time as “as a pervasive culture of racial discrimination, an involuntary servitude and an everyday fact of life to contend with and overcome.”

Reach reporter Jordain Carney at carneyj@shns.com or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.

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