On April 16, 1862, President Lincoln emancipated the slaves of Washington, D.C., so slaves from Maryland and Virginia began to come to D.C. Since fugitive slaves were considered property in the South, they could be used to help the Confederate cause. Benjamin Franklin Butler, commander at Fort Monroe, did not want this to happen, so he would not return those slaves seeking refuge at Ft. Monroe to their owners. These liberated slaves became known as "contrabands."
Initially the "contrabands" were housed at the Old Capitol, but because of disease, it was necessary to move locations. Military Governor James S. Wadsworth moved the camp to Duff Green's Row, but after an outbreak of smallpox, it was moved to McClellan's Barracks (Camp Barker) near Maryland. There were several problems with this location:
Finally, Arlington House was chosen as the new location. Though its purpose was to provide temporary refuge for freed slaves, the housing lasted for over thirty years. The Freedmans Village at Arlington was established in May 1863, and was dedicated December 4, 1863.
Many prominent government workers visited the village when it first began. They often provided help to the people of the village. Sojourner Truth was appointed by the National Freedman's Relief Association to work at the Freedmans Village. She counseled, preached, helped people get jobs, and helped them resettle in the North.
Until 1865, the Freedmans Village was under the control of the military, but there were many complaints. In March 1865, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen's Bureau) was created by General O.O. Howard in order to look after the welfare of the slaves emancipated by the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The bureau soon took over managing the village and changed the area from a tent camp to a real community by establishing schools, training centers, "homes," hospitals, churches, and farms. The school eventually enrolled as many as 900 students, including some adults. The training center was an industrial school where people could train to become blacksmiths, wheelwrights, carpenters, shoemakers, or tailors. "Homes" were set up for the aged and infirm who were incapable of caring for themselves. Three hospitals were built in the D.C. area: L'Ouverture Hospital in Alexandria, Freedmans Hospital and Asylum in Washington, Abbott Hospital at Arlington National Cemetery. Abbott Hospital was created in 1866 with 50 beds and a staff of 14. The American Tract Society of Washington set up a church at the Freedmans Village. There were several Baptist and Methodist Churches in the area. The farms at Freedmans Village grew corn, wheat, potatoes, and other vegetables that were sold by the villagers for profit.
In 1882, the United States Supreme Court closed the Freedmans Village. The U.S. Federal Government obtained the rights to the Custis estate and the land was given to the military, meaning that the civilians at the Freedmans Village had to leave. On December 7, 1887, the people at the village were given 90 days to leave.
United States Colored Troops
In 1864, burial at Arlington National Cemetery was based on rank and race. Until 1948, when the segregation of troops was abolished, those soldiers who were members of the United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.) were buried in Section 27 at the cemetery with headstones bearing the simple inscription, U.S.C.T.
Section 27 at Arlington National Cemetery was used for the burial of former slaves who lived on the Arlington grounds in the Freedman's Village after the Civil War. Some 3,800 men, women, and children are interred in this section. The inscription on their headstones reads either "civilian" or "citizen."Map of Fredmans Village
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