Friday, June 24, 2011

Franklin & Armfield Slave Office

While in Alexandria, Virginia last weekend I saw listed on a tourist map outside the Metro station a place marked as the "Freedom House." This building is actually the former office of Franklin and Armfield, antebellum slave dealers. It now houses the Freedom House Museum, which was developed by the Northern Virginia Urban League, "to preserve the story of thousands of men, women and children who passed through this place on a harrowing journey to lives of bondage and hard labor in the Deep South." Unfortunately, the museum was closed when we visited.

In the tourist handbook "A Remarkable and Courageous Journey: A Guide to Alexandria's African American History" the following interpretation of the building is provided: "This building served as the headquarters for the slave trade operations of Isaac Franklin and John Armfield, a partnership formed in 1828. Exporting thousands of blacks south, this was one of the largest intrastate slavetrading companies in the country. Enslaved African Americans were housed in 'pens' - walled areas with males to the west and females to the east. In January 1834, J. Leavitt, editor of the New York Evangelist, visited the slave pens. As recounted by Leavitt:
'We were first taken out into a paved yard 40 or 50 feet square, with a very high brick wall and about half of it covered with a roof...He (Armfield) ordered the men to be called out of the cellar where they sleep...they soon came up...50 or 60. While they were standing, he ordered the girls to be called out...About 50 women and small children came in...and I thought I saw in the faces of these mothers some indication of irrepressible feeling. It seemed to me that they hugged their little ones more closely, and that a cold perspiration stood on their foreheads.' During the Federal occupation of Alexandria, the building became a jail for captured Confederate soldiers and errant Union soldiers, as well as housing 'contrabands,' blacks seeking freedom behind Union lines."

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