Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Franklin & Armfield Slave Office

 One of the nation’s largest slave trading firms, Franklin & Armfield, operated from this townhouse on Duke Street from 1828-1836. Enslaved Africans awaiting shipment to slave markets in New Orleans and Natchez were imprisoned in walled pens behind the house. At night they slept in a two-story rear wing with grated doors and windows.

For enslaved Africans in Virginia, there were few fates worse than Duke Street. “Louisiana was considered by slaves a place of slaughter,” wrote emancipated slave Jacob Stroyer. With the same sentiment, Rev. Josiah Henson, thought to be the basis for Harriet Beecher Stowes’ fictional Uncle Tom, wrote in his autobiography that the fear of being sold south filled enslaved individuals of the upper South with “perpetual dread.”

Now known as Freedom House, the Franklin and Armfield Office was started by Isaac Franklin and John Armfield. The office was known to have been the largest slave trading firm in the antebellum south. At its height in the 1830s, the firm transported between 1,000 and 1,200 enslaved individuals from Alexandria to Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, Natchez and New Orleans each year.  In 1846 the Duke Street property was purchased by a Franklin & Armfield agent, George Kephart, and in 1858 to a third slave trading firm, Price, Birch, and Co. The Adamesque structure, built in 1812 for General Andrew Young, was used to jail Union army deserters and house freed “contraband” Blacks after Alexandria fell to Union troops in 1861. In 1863 the building provided the first meeting place for Shiloh Baptist Church, founded by former slaves housed there. The slave pens were demolished in the 1870s. The property was used by the Union to imprison Confederate soldiers and was then a hospital from 1878-1885.