by Peter J. Albert
Diagram of White seating in the main Church at Holy Trinity, c. 1870. Holy Trinity Church Archives, Booth Center, Georgetown University.
And it shall come to pass . . .
that the LORD shall give thee rest from thy sorrow,
and from thy fear,
and from the hard bondage
wherein thou wast made to serve
On Apr. 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation ending slavery in the District of Columbia. The Emancipation Act freed slaves in the District, compensated slaveowners loyal to the Union, and encouraged the newly freed to emigrate. Within months, the act’s oversight board approved compensation for some 2,989 African Americans who had been enslaved here. The enslaved, however, received no compensation. (1)
How were Holy Trinity parishioners engaged with slavery? What was the impact of the Emancipation Act? What became of those freed?
Holy Trinity’s pew rent records, rediscovered this summer through the research of the Holy Trinity History Committee, help us answer these questions. In the absence of parish membership lists, pew rent records give us proxy rosters of parishioners, both White and African American, for much of the nineteenth century. Comparing names in the pew rent records with those in the District of Columbia’s emancipation records helps us identify slaveholders in the parish as well as many of those they enslaved.
What, then, are some of our initial findings?
Of the 54 White parishioners who rented pews at Holy Trinity between 1832 and 1833, whose names can be found in the 1840 census, 31 (57%) were enslavers. They enslaved 77 African Americans. (2)
Of the 53 White parishioners renting pews between 1842 and 1851 who can be found in the 1850 census, 32 (60%) were enslavers. They enslaved 77 African Americans. (3)
Of the 76 White parishioners renting pews in 1862 who can be found in the 1860 census or the District’s emancipation records, 32 (42%) were slave owners. (4) Those in the emancipation records alone – 23 parishioners – enslaved 111 African Americans, for whom they were paid $30,178.20 by the emancipation commissioners (5) – $884,941.35 in 2022 dollars. (6) Nine parishioners, identified in the 1860 census but not found in the emancipation records, enslaved 35 additional African Americans.
Who were these slaves? What became of them? In this brief article we can present only bare outlines of some of their stories. Unless otherwise noted, enslavers named in this article were parishioners who appear in our pew rent records. Slaves named here were enslaved by these parishioners and appear in the District of Columbia’s emancipation records under their enslavers’ names. They can then sometimes be found in our parish records.
Five of the freed rented pews at Holy Trinity, either during or after their enslavement: (7)
Caroline Butler Gray rented a pew between 1854 and 1865. She was the slave of Joseph Fearson of Georgetown, who bought her and her children Jane Agnes and Lucy in Montgomery County, Md. Caroline’s daughter Jane had 5 children while enslaved by Fearson – Frank, Benjamin, Phebe, Nebraska Bill, and Abraham Dixie. Caroline’s husband, Hiram (or Hyman) Gray, was enslaved by a Mr. Summers, who does not appear in the emancipation records nor in our pew rent records. Two of Caroline’s daughters were baptized at Holy Trinity – Harriett Ann in 1837 and Jane Agnes in 1844. After emancipation, the family lived in Georgetown. (8)
Ellen Worthy rented a seat in a pew from 1857 to 1859 while she was the slave of Sarah Simpson of Georgetown, whose husband bought Worthy in Washington. After emancipation Worthy left Georgetown and in the 1880s was working as a domestic elsewhere in the District.
Enslaved by Mary Bibb of Georgetown, Harriet Williams had been brought here from Kentucky. After emancipation she continued to live in Georgetown together with her husband Logan Williams, a barber, also from Kentucky, and their children Charles and Mary. She rented a pew at Holy Trinity in 1862. Employed as a domestic, she died in 1903 and was buried at Holy Rood Cemetery.
Lucian Jones was the slave of Alfred Boucher, who purchased him in Georgetown. Lucian rented a pew between 1867 and 1871. Initially paying his pew rent in cash, he later pumped the bellows for the church organ in lieu of making cash payments. According to city directories, he worked as a teamster or cart driver after his emancipation, and later, after moving out of Georgetown, was a laborer.
Ann Carter was enslaved by Mary Helen Keith Forrest. After she was freed, Carter lived in Georgetown – in 1870 with her daughter Sallie and son John who were emancipated with her; by 1880 she was a widow and lived with Sallie, John, and two grandchildren, Charles and William. She rented a pew at Holy Trinity from 1874 to 1876.
Few of the formerly enslaved appear in our parish records as pew renters, however.
Two sisters, Hannah and Rachel Ogle, were acquired when children by Lewis Brooks of Georgetown from an estate in Anne Arundel County, Md. After emancipation, Rachel married Daniel Carroll, a laborer, and Hannah lived with them in Georgetown. The Carrolls had 5 children (Mary, William, Forrest, Daniel, and Marcellus); Daniel was a carter and Hannah a domestic. Mary Rebecca was baptized at Holy Trinity in 1867, William Henry in 1869, Daniel Isaac in 1876, Forrest Thomas and Marcellus in 1880; Hannah Ogle was the godmother of Mary, William, and Forrest. Records suggest Mary was buried at Holy Rood Cemetery in 1886. By 1900, Rachel and Daniel had both died, and Hannah, 73, was no longer living in Georgetown. Working as a laundress, she was head of the family and had eight nieces and nephews living with her. (9)
While enslaved, Ignatius (Nace) Foster, a carpenter, worked in a household that included 16 slaves – 7 hired out for wages, 3 who worked at home, and 6 children. They were enslaved by Mary Ann Clarke, who claimed “the wages derived from her servants have for many years been her only means of support,” without which “she would be entirely destitute.” Foster worked as a laborer after his emancipation and lived in Georgetown with his wife Mary Ann Norris Foster, who had been enslaved by Pierce Shoemaker. Their children included Tobias, Evaline, Benjamin, Annie, Cornelius, Catherine, Fannie, Charles, and Mary, several of whom had been enslaved by Shoemaker along with their mother. Annie (Mary Ann Eliza) was baptized at Holy Trinity in 1854, Cornelius in 1856, Catherine Louisa in 1858, and Charles James in 1869. (10)
Rachel Jackson, Nace Foster’s mother, and the mother or grandmother of all but one of those enslaved with him, lived in the same household as he did. In 1870, at the age of 73, she was living in Washington, working as a washerwoman. She does not appear in the 1880 census. (11)
Ann Yates Shorter was the slave of Mary Fenwick of Georgetown. After her emancipation, Shorter and her husband Abraham, a laborer, continued for a time to live in Georgetown, but by 1880 they and their children – Lucy, Mary, Sarah, William, and Samuel – were living elsewhere in the city. Lucy was baptized at Holy Trinity in 1860, Samuel in 1874. By 1900 Ann was a widow and was working as a charwoman. (12)
Mary Dorsey was enslaved by Ann Green. By 1870 Dorsey and her 5 children – Susan, Francis, Gustavus, Solomon, and Elizabeth – had moved out of Georgetown. She, Susan, Francis, and Gustavus had been enslaved together; the four were all working as domestics in 1870. (13)
Agnes Bennett and her daughter Anne were the slaves of Louisa Kearney of Georgetown. By the time of the 1870 census, Agnes was a lodger with a Georgetown family and worked as a domestic, but Anne, now 12, was not living with her mother. Instead, she was still in the household of their former enslaver, who described her as “a smart child to whom the family is much attached.” In 1880 Agnes and Anne were living under one roof in Georgetown, and Agnes was working as a cook. (14)
James Summerville was a gardener while the slave of John Kidwell. After his emancipation, he moved out of Georgetown and found work as a laborer, living with his wife Jane and their children, Ezekiel, Julia, Isaac, Robert, Clara, and Gertrude. Sarah Brooks, also enslaved by Kidwell, boarded near Georgetown after her emancipation. (15)
Mary Coquire, enslaved by Sarah King, worked as a domestic in a Georgetown household after her emancipation. (16)
Frank Mockabee was the slave of Eliza Mosher of Georgetown. After emancipation he worked in Washington as a laborer. Also emancipated by Mosher was Martha Snowden, the wife of William Snowden who had been enslaved in a different household in Washington; the Snowdens had one son, Samuel. After emancipation, William Snowden worked in Washington as a cartman, then as a coachman. He died in the mid-1880s when he was in his mid-50s. (17)
Benjamin Lyles was enslaved along with Mary Ann Norris Foster in the household of Pierce Shoemaker and continued to work there as a farmhand after his emancipation. By 1880 he was a widower. Joseph Simms also worked in this household, and after emancipation he lived near Georgetown with his wife Milly and their children Anna, James, Henry, John, and Ernest. Simms worked as a porter and then as a janitor. (18)
In addition to these, many others were also freed by parishioners under the District of Columbia Emancipation Act whose stories we are not yet able to tell at this early stage of our research. Still, we are able now to at least say their names. We are able to remember them. (19)
1 An Act for the Release of certain Persons held to Service or Labor in the District of Columbia.
2 “Receipts – Pew Rent, [1831-33],” Archives of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, box 101, folder 14, Georgetown University Archives, Booth Family Center for Special Collections, Washington, D.C.
3 Pew Rent Records, 1842-51, Holy Trinity Church Arch., box 6, folder 3, Georgetown Univ. Arch., Booth Center.
4 Pew Rent Records, 1851-1871, box 3, folder 1, Holy Trinity Church Arch.; Compensated Emancipation in the District of Columbia: Petitions under the Act of April 16, 1862, ed. Dorothy S. Provine (Westminster, Md., 2008).
5 Compensated Emancipation, ed. Provine, petitions 792, 550, 85, 367, 819, 185, 343, 715, 177, 780, 43, 435, 461, 73, 885, 277, 905, 338, 494, 748, 564, 55, 50, 287.
7 Peter J. Albert, “’Climbing the Back Stairs’: Church Seating at Holy Trinity,” in Holy Trinity History (https://www.curavirtualis.org/post/climbing-the-back-stairs-church-seating-at-holy-trinity); Compensated Emancipation, ed. Provine, petitions 185, 564, 792, 550, 715; 1870, 1880, and 1900 federal censuses and Washington, D.C., city directories.
8 Holy Trinity Church, Baptisms, 1835-58, Digital Georgetown Manuscripts Collection, Georgetown Univ. Arch., pp. 38, 169.
9 Compensated Emancipation, ed. Provine, petition 85; 1870, 1880, and 1900 federal censuses; Holy Trinity Church, Baptisms, 1858-71, Digital Georgetown Manuscripts Coll., Georgetown Univ. Arch., pp. 262, 299; Holy Trinity Church, Baptisms, 1871-80, Digital Georgetown Manuscripts Coll., Georgetown Univ. Arch., pp. 259, 435.
10 Compensated Emancipation, ed. Provine, petition 367, 494; 1870 and 1880 federal censuses; Holy Trinity Church, Baptisms, 1835-58, pp. 328, 375, 423; Holy Trinity Church, Baptisms, 1858-71, p. 298.
11 Compensated Emancipation, ed. Provine, petition 367; 1870 and 1880 federal censuses.
12 Compensated Emancipation, ed. Provine, petition 343; 1870, 1880, and 1900 federal censuses; Holy Trinity Church, Baptisms, 1858-71, p. 59; Holy Trinity Church, Baptisms, 1871-1880, p. 171.
13 Compensated Emancipation, ed. Provine, petition 780; 1870 federal census.
14 Compensated Emancipation, ed. Provine, petition 43; 1870 and 1880 federal censuses.
15 Compensated Emancipation, ed. Provine, petition 435; 1870 and 1880 federal censuses.
16 Compensated Emancipation, ed. Provine, petition 461; 1870 federal census.
17 Compensated Emancipation, ed. Provine, petitions 885, 616; 1870 and 1880 federal censuses; Washington, D.C., city directories.
18 Compensated Emancipation, ed. Provine, petition 494; 1870 and 1880 federal censuses.
19 These include Edmund Stewart, Susan Hutchins, Lucy Clarke, Clara Ridgley, Mary Hutchins, Rachel Hutchins, David Hutchins, Tobias Hutchins, George Hutchins, Eliza Hutchins, Louis Hutchins, Jack Clarke, James Ridgley, William Ridgely (Compensated Emancipation, ed. Provine, petition 367); Josephine Furgeson (ibid., petition 819); Sarah Duglas (ibid., petition 185); Robert Shorter (ibid., petition 343); George Carter, Theodore Butler, Mary Carter, Adelaide Carter, Susan Mason (ibid., petition 715); Rachel Yearby, Kate Adams, Noble Harris (ibid., petition 177); Henry Dorsey, Charles Dorsey, Thomas Waters, Aaron Edmonson, Vachel Henry Edmonson, Phebe Edmonson (ibid., petition 780); Mary Summerville (ibid., petition 435); Mary Chase, Rachel Coquire, Selina Coquire, John Coquire, Annette Coquire (ibid., petition 461); Joanna Cole (ibid., petition 73); Mary Davis (ibid., petition 885); William Mills, Harriet Davis (ibid., petition 274); Lloyd Mason, Hillary Young, George Phenix (ibid., petition 905); Louisa Carter (ibid., petition 338); George Dover, Rachel Lyles, Elizabeth Lyles, Matilda Lyles, Albert Lyles, Catharine Lyles, Leander Lyles, Rebecca Lyles, Osceola Lyles, Emma Lyles, John Simms, Mary Simms (ibid., petitions 494 and 748); Nace Claxton (ibid., petition 50); Mary (ibid., petition 287).