01468 - Slave pen, Interior view; Alexandria, Virginia [LC-DIG-cwpb-01468]
Alexandria Virginia was the perfect gateway for buying and selling of slaves. Due to its proximity to Maryland and the railroad lines leading to the Deep South slave from here could be easily transported to their final destination. While importing of new slaves had been outlawed by Congress in 1808, the practice remained legal and thrived with the existing population already in the United States. Additional slaves were smuggled in, but the penalty for capture was stiff, up to and including death.
The slave firm of Franklin and Armfield bought this property on Duke Street in 1828 and operated one of the most successful slave auction houses in the country. At the time of the Civil War they were responsible for nearly half of the slave trade between New Orleans and Maryland. With this success came a few “luxuries”. The slave pens, shown here, were larger than others in the area, the site boasted a kitchen, tailor shop and even a hospital to ensure that top dollar was brought for any slave sold.
Due to its proximity to Washington D.C., Alexandria was one of the first cities to fall when the war began in 1861. While slavery would remain legal in Virginia until the Emancipation Proclamation nearly two years later, this location was immediately surrendered to the Union Army. For much of the remainder of the war the slave pen area became a federal prison and housed Southerners who committed any number of crimes from illegal sale of liquor to jeering at Union troops to not having the proper pass.
By 1864 the hospital area had re-opened as L'Ouverture Hospital and served African-American troops as well as “Contrabands” as runaway slaves where known. Following the war the slave pens were torn down and the location became a local row house for the next 120 years. In 1996 the location was purchased by the Northern Virginia Urban League which renamed the location “Freedom House”. Currently they are renovating the property to restore some of the pens that existed prior to the Civil War.