Saturday, February 6, 2016

Joseph Bruin, "Trader in Negroes"

Joseph Bruin traded in slaves. Buy them low, sell them high. Making a profit on human property was his business, and business was obviously good. Bruin lived in Fairfax County, Virginia, and ran a slave jail and trading post in Alexandria. The above advertisement ran in the Alexandria Gazette on January 21, 1858. In the notice Bruin sought to purchase slaves, who he often then had transported to distant localities for sale in the expanding southwestern states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas. 

Bruin is shown in the 1860 census as a fifty year old "Trader in Negroes." He is listed as owning $10,000 in real estate and $100,00 in personal property. Bruin had a large family that included his wife, thirty-nine year old "M. H," four daughters that ranged from nineteen to one, and three sons, who were aged nine to four. Three of the school-aged children were being offered the opportunity to receive an education. Bruin also appears in the 1860 slave schedules as the owner of 15 slaves. The oldest of his slaves was an eighty-three year old woman and the youngest was a one year old girl.

Bruin's career in Alexandria covered about two decades. Starting around 1840, Bruin, along with early partner Henry Hill traded slaves from a building on Duke Street. Bruin became a Federal prisoner early in the Civil War and was held across the Potomac River in Old Capitol Prison in Washington D.C.

Bruin and Hill gained a level of notoriety after seventy-seven slaves absconded from Washington City aboard the ship The Pearl in 1848. After the craft was arrested and the runaways captured, many of their disgruntled owners sold them to Bruin and Hill, who in turn sold them to the New Orleans market. Spared from sale were the teen-aged sisters Mary and Emily Edmonson, who were purchased by abolitionists and then granted their freedom by their free father. The Edmonson sisters went on to attend school in Ohio and work in the antislavery field.

Bruin's slave jail remains standing today, however, it is privately owned. A monument nearby honors the Edmonson sisters and serves as a reminder of this piece of Alexandria's history.

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