University of Nebraska Scholars Debut New Online Archive Documenting Slavery in Washington, D.C.

Eight months before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the Compensated Emancipation Act was signed into law. The legislation called for freedom for all slaves in the District of Columbia. But the legislation also provided for compensation for slave owners from the federal government.

The owners of slaves were required to file paperwork in ordered to be compensated. Those documents are now available online. They are included in a larger online project entitled Civil War Washington that includes photographs, documents, and other resources.

As an example of the content of the new archive, here is a passage of a petition filed by Thomas Scrivener, in which he described two slaves that he had set free:

  • 1st Linda or Linda Harris, female, slave for life; aged about thirty (30) years; of an olive brown complexion with full suit of hair, free spoken and intelligent
  • 2nd Edward Maddox, male, slave for life; aged about seventeen (17) years; of very dark complexion, long and narrow head and face; short knotty hair and slow in speech.

The petition filed by Scrivener went on to assert that “Linda and Edward still voluntarily remain at his house No 16 A street North Capital Hill Washington D.C. where they may be inspected or summoned.”

Scholars at the University of Nebraska have transcribed the documents in order that scholars can use key word searches when conducting their research. The funding for the project was provided by a three-year, $220,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Here is a video about the project.


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