When History Comes Alive!

Three Generations of Tobias Henson Descendants

Janice Moore with her daughter and grandchildren, descendants of Tobias Henson

 

As the curator for “How the Civil War Changed Washington” I told the histories of places and stories of people that were changed or that changed Washington before, during, and right after the Civil War. One of these fascinating stories was that of Tobias Henson. Henson was an African-American held in slavery by the Evans family of Maryland in an area which eventually would become part of Washington after the creation of the nation’s capital.
He was born around 1767. The first time Henson appeared in the official record was in an 1817 slave list in the estate appraisal of his owner, Philip Evans. Even then he was listed only as “Toby about 50 years of age” and given the value of $350. Also among the estate slaves were 22-year-old Matilda and 12-year-old Mary Ann, daughters of Tobias and his wife, Bessie Barton. Bessie, according to the family lore, was a red-headed Irish woman. But Tobias was only chattel, “an item of tangible movable or immovable property.”

After the death of his owner, Henson became the property of Philip Evans Jr. On Christmas Eve, 1818 Henson paid the inflated price of $400 for his freedom. He was deemed “able to work and gain a sufficient livelihood.” Tobias Henson was now known by his complete name and not by the nickname “Toby.”

In 1820, Henson married his second wife, Betsy Evans, another free African American. Between 1826 and 1833 Tobias Henson bought land and the freedom of his daughters and grandchildren. Ironically the 26 acres of land he bought, which became known as “The Ridge,” bordered the land that belonged to Mary Evans, the widow of his former owner. Master and former slave were now neighbors.

Besides being a hard worker, Henson was also very shrewd. He did not free his children immediately. By owning them, he could protect them from the hardships imposed on freed African-Americans. It also gave him some economic leverage. In 1832, he bought the freedom of Matilda and her child Mary Jane from Henry Evans, the younger son of Philip Evans. One year later, he bought the freedom of his other daughter Mary Ann from James Middleton for $300. Evidently short of cash at the time of the transaction, Tobias Henson obtained a loan from Henry Evans. He signed a promissory note for $150 in which he promised the services of Mary Ann to Evans for four days a week. Very soon he repaid the loan, freeing his daughter from the obligation. Now his family was completely free and able to progress, and so they did.

On Tuesday, October 25, 1859, on the eve of the Civil War, several of Tobias Henson’s descendants went to downtown Washington to get copies of their free papers. They might have donned their best clothes, piled into a cart or ridden smart-looking horses to go downtown. Registering at the U.S. District Court, they declared that they had been born free because decades earlier Tobias Henson had achieved his goal of obtaining freedom for himself and his family.

Tobias Henson’s descendants lived at “The Ridge” for several generations and formed a vibrant community. The last house to belong to a Henson descendant on “The Ridge,” always mentioned as the “home place,” was located at 1501 Alabama Avenue SE. It was sold in the early 1980s to the District of Columbia and razed in the early 2000s.

Henson’s memory did not fade completely from the oral history of the family. Although the surname Henson disappeared because Tobias fathered only girls, generations of Addisons, Douglasses, Smiths, and other families heard about their ancestor, Tobias Henson. “The Ridge” remained a distinct parcel of land on the maps of SE Washington, D.C. located off Hamilton Road later named Alabama Avenue well into the 20th century.

Then Janice Moore, a fourth-generation descendant of Tobias Henson, took up the research of his history and the history of the family. It was to her that I went in 2012 when I started researching Henson’s history for the Civil War exhibit.

I wanted to make a stark contrast in my exhibit between the free African-American community at “The Ridge” and the Giesborough Plantation, which belonged to George Washington Young. The plantation, which was the largest within the boundaries of the nation’s capital, and “The Ridge” were located a little over a mile away from each other.

Janice was wonderful. She provided me with all the information she had. She came to Washington, D.C. at her expense for a videotaped interview. She reviewed my work to make sure that I was telling the history of her family right.

On July 1, 2015, Janice came to see the exhibit with three generations of her family, they represented the 4th, 5th and 6th generations of descendants of Tobias Henson from “The Ridge.” It was with great pleasure that I guided them through a tour of the exhibit telling them how proud I was that they were bringing history alive with their presence.

When I started working on the script for this exhibit, I said to my bosses: “I don’t want to talk about Lincoln, the generals, battles and so on. I want to talk about people.” Tobias Henson and his descendants were part of this history that I have very proudly portrayed, and it was an honor to receive the visit of his descendants.

A Fallen Hero-Fire Fighter Lt. Kevin McRae

excerpt from ‘How the Civil War Changed Washington, D.C.’

“On May 19, 1864, the city decided to establish a paid Fire Department, which was organized on July 1, 1864. Only four companies were paid at first, with a chief engineer and five commissioners appointed for the new organization dubbed the Washington City Fire Department. This was effectively the beginning of professional fire fighting in Washington, D.C.”

Just over 150 years later, the District buried it’s 100th fire fighter who died while in the line of duty. Lieutenant Kevin Andre McRae was laid to rest after a large public ceremony honoring his service to District. He suffered a heart attack while fighting a two-alarm in an apartment building in NW DC on May 6th.

Lt. McRae joined the long line of fire fighters nearly 25 years ago. He left behind a wife, three sons and a daughter. He was 44 years old.

His public viewing was held at the Armory in Northeast, D.C. It was likely one of the few places that would hold the hundreds attendees would came to pay their respects to this man. Many were fire fighters from companies, not only from the District, but from all over the country. Congresswoman Norton, Mayor Bowser, Chairman Mendelson all spoke at his service. He was laid to rest at Lincoln Cemetery. Witnesses said the procession was the longest they had ever seen.

That seems fitting for a  fallen city hero.

Rest in Peace Lieutenant McRae

Mourners Entering the Services

Mourners Entering the Services

 

ire Company Waiting to Enter the Services

ire Company Waiting to Enter the Services

 

Lt. McRae's Company Fire Engine

Lt. McRae’s Company Fire Engine

 

Inside the Program

Inside the Program

 

Memorial Services Program

Memorial Services Program

 

Exterior of the Armory

Exterior of the Armory

 

The services

The services

 

Lt McRae Fire truck

 

“Contrabands” African American Refugees in Washington During the Civil War

An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 enslaved African Americans fled from Virginia and Maryland to Washington during the Civil War. They were originally called “contrabands.” This was a term coined by the press after General Major General Benjamin Butler’s decision in 1861 to not return three fugitive slaves who had come to Fort Monroe, Hampton Roads in Virginia. Rather than sending them back to their owner—where they had been building a Confederate artillery position—Butler opted to hold them as contraband war loot. Ironically, this legal loophole allowed Union soldiers an opportunity to grant escaped slaves a type of freedom by continuing to treat them as property.

In Washington, these new arrivals were first thrown into jail by the city’s authorities and later taken under the care of the military and interned in a sequence of camps. Subjected to crowding and unsanitary conditions they were decimated by contagious diseases such as tuberculosis, smallpox, typhoid fever, diphtheria, and cholera. Infants died due to fevers, diarrhea, and convulsions.

Children often were separated from their families. Some of them were taken in by the military and served as servants for the officers. Others were sent to the Orphan Home located in Georgetown where conditions were as bad as they had been in the camps. Still others were hired out to people who promised to provide education, health care, housing and clothing in exchange for their service, but who, in some instances, mistreated them badly.

Out of these desperate circumstances emerged after the Civil War a population, often identified as “Freedmen,” who made their home in Washington determined to live a new life as free people. In 1860, the African American population of Washington was 14,316, by 1870 the number had raised to 35, 455, an increase of over 200%. These newcomers were the first wave that would make of Washington a majority African American city in mid-20th century.

Today, 150 years after the Civil War, Washington is changing again. Fast-paced gentrification, which has brought into the city a number of young, affluent residents of many ethnicities, has reversed the trend and Washington is no longer a majority African-American city.

 

 

 

 

African American refugees at Camp Brightwood

African American refugees at Camp Brightwood

Come work with ACM! Internships available

Spring 2015 Internships with the Anacostia Community Museum!

Below are the internship opportunities for the Research and Collections Departments. All internships are unpaid. Contact information for each supervisor is included in the description. Start and end dates are flexible. We are looking forward to working with you!

Transportation: Free round trip shuttle service to the Anacostia Community Museum can be provided from the National Mall or L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station Monday-Friday for all interns.

Museum Mission: The mission of the Anacostia Community Museum is to enhance understanding of contemporary urban experiences and strengthen community bonds by conserving the past, documenting the present, and serving as a catalyst for shaping the future. More information on the Museum: http://anacostia.si.edu

INTERNSHIP DESCRIPTIONS

Curatorial intern (Panama project)
Intern will work directly with Dr. Ariana Curtis, curator of Latino Studies and gain valuable, on-site experience in curatorial processes and exhibition preparation. Intern will assist in planning public programming and creating tangible resources for upcoming exhibition Bridging the Americas: Community and Belonging from Panama to Washington, D.C. Familiarity with Panama preferred but not required. Research experience required. One position available. Contact: CurtisA@si.edu

Curatorial intern(s) Museum interactives (Latino Studies general)
Intern will work with the curatorial staff under the direction of Dr. Ariana Curtis, curator of Latino studies and gain valuable on site experience in curatorial processes and exhibition preparation. Intern will visit various museums in the immediate DC area to research and document multilingual and interactive exhibition elements in various exhibitions. This position is unpaid. Multiple positions available. Contact: CurtisA@si.edu

Research intern(s) Census and Latino Community Change
Interns will work directly with Dr. Ariana Curtis, curator of Latino Studies and gain valuable research experience on identification, representation, and government reporting. Intern(s) will assist in research with US census data, American Community Survey data, changing racial/ethnic categories over time, and the identification of Latino populations. Project entails reviewing old census forms and data, reading/synthesizing secondary source data, and following current debates about Latino racialization and racial identification. Previous experience using census data not required. Strong writing skills preferred. Multiple positions available. Contact: CurtisA@si.edu

Research intern(s) Neighborhood Change
Opportunity to work at the Smithsonian Institution, Anacostia Community Museum doing research on two topics related to neighborhood change in Washington, D.C.:
*How the building of the Suitland Parkway during the Second World II impacted the surrounding SE community
*The transformation of the African-American St. Philip’s Hill community in NW Washington, D.C. into the affluent         mostly white University Terrace community in the 1950s and 60s
Research will include working with materials at the National Archives, the Washingtoniana Collection of the D.C. Public Library, and the Archives of the Anacostia Community Museum among others. Research will also include participating in the oral interviewing of individuals who might have information on the areas being studied and the transcription of these interviews. The research will be undertaken under the supervision of Mrs. Alcione M. Amos, Museum Curator. For questions please contact Alcione Amos amosal@si.edu

Archival Collections Processing intern(s)
Interns will gain focused experience in arrangement, description, and preservation of archival collections and knowledge of descriptive standards including DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard). The internship entails conducting research on collection subject and context, creating EAD formatted finding aids using Archivists Toolkit, and sharing information about processed collections through social media. Interns work under the guidance of the museum’s archivist. Strong writing and organizational skills preferred. This position is unpaid. Interested students may contact Jennifer Morris: morrisj@si.edu.

Cataloging intern(s)
Interns will assist with cataloging item level and series descriptions in the Horizon database system for the Smithsonian’s online database (www.siris.si.edu). The intern will conduct research on the archival items, create MARC-based records, and disseminate information about newly cataloged materials through social media. Interns work under the guidance of the museum’s archivist. The ideal candidate has working knowledge of MARC and DACS. Attention to detail and strong organizational skills preferred. Intern will gain insight into the application of MARC in an archival setting. This position is unpaid. For questions contact Jennifer Morris: morrisj@si.edu.

Transcription intern(s)
Interns will help make collections more accessible by digitizing documents for transcribing by the general public for the Smithsonian Transcription Center (https://transcription.si.edu/). Interns will also apply embedded metadata to digitized assets, write summaries utilizing collections, and review transcribed text. Attention to detail and strong writing skills preferred. This position is unpaid. For questions contact Jennifer Morris: morrisj@si.edu.

Object Collections Care and Cataloguing Support
In support of ACM’s goal of providing the highest quality housing for, description of and access to its permanent collection, this Internship will include general collections management projects including:
– rehousing of object collections prioritizing access, physical support and conservation-grade materials
– promoting intellectual access to collections through digitization as a component of the cycle of care
– facilitating discovery and access through lexicon and authority based cataloguing
– facilitating discovery and access by connecting collections for distribution to online databases
Under the direction of the Collections, we are currently organizing our permanent collection with the goal of delivering a complete catalogue with digital surrogates to collections.si.edu by the end of 2014. Projects within the Collections department would seek to expand the reach of these digital collections through description, research and topical cataloguing of museum collections.
Interns can also expect to receive training in the handling and care of collections in support of projects advancing the preservation priorities of the museum. Educational goals for this internship will focus on best practices in handling and care as well as innovative methods for online description and access. Internships will entail handling, processing and rehousing of coherent collections providing opportunities for demonstrating and documenting mastery. The ACM will provide guidance and access to necessary readings, resources and institutional expertise in support of these deliverables. This internship will provide an opportunity to become familiar with collections management processes and standards within a community museum. Contact: Josh Gorman at GormanJ@si.edu

Veterans Remembrance Ceremony at Saint Elizabeths Hospital East Campus

St Elizabeths historic cemetery. Photo by Susana Raab

St Elizabeths historic cemetery. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Tucked away behind Johnson Middle School on 12 Place SE, lies the remains of many of Saint Elizabeths Hospital former residents, veterans all.  Today at 11 AM a small but significant group of people gathered to honor these veterans, many of them anonymous, but some with stories that persevere.  Among those gathered to honor were: Arrington Dixon, President of the Anacostia Coordinating Council, keynote speaker and Civil Rights activist Dr. Frank Smith, now Director of the African American Civil War Museum, members of the Anacostia High School Junior ROTC, members of FREED, the Female Re-Enactors of Distinction, and the combined chorus of the US Coast Guard and St. Elizabeths Hospital, among other notables.  It was a beautiful ceremony on a perfect Washington autumn day, complete with a bagpiper, bugler, and speeches that recognized the struggles of those who were interred in the Cemetery, advocated for mental health care, and honored those who continue to serve in the US Armed Forces.

Dr. Frank Smith, Director of the African American Civil War Museum delivers the keynote address at the Veterans Remembrance Ceremony at Saint Elizabeths Hospital East Campus. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Dr. Frank Smith, Director of the African American Civil War Museum delivers the keynote address at the Veterans Remembrance Ceremony at Saint Elizabeths Hospital East Campus.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

The Coast Guard Color Guard posts during the Veterans Remembrance Ceremony at Saint Elizabeths Hospital East Campus. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

The Coast Guard Color Guard posts during the Veterans Remembrance Ceremony at Saint Elizabeths Hospital East Campus.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

 Members of FREED (Female Reenactors of Distinction of the American Civil War): Judy Williams, Joyce Bailey, Helen Hassell, Asa Gordon, Carol Gordon, and Shirley Holmes pose for a portrait before the commencement of the Veterans Remembrance Ceremony at Saint Elizabeths Hospital East Campus. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Members of FREED (Female Reenactors of Distinction of the American Civil War): Judy Williams, Joyce Bailey, Helen Hassell, Asa Gordon, Carol Gordon, and Shirley Holmes pose for a portrait before the commencement of the Veterans Remembrance Ceremony at Saint Elizabeths Hospital East Campus.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Members of FREED (Female Reenactors of Distinction of the American Civil War): take a cellphone photograph during the Veterans Remembrance Ceremony at Saint Elizabeths Hospital East Campus. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Members of FREED (Female Reenactors of Distinction of the American Civil War): take a cellphone photograph during the Veterans Remembrance Ceremony at Saint Elizabeths Hospital East Campus.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

 

-Jeffrey Burton of the US Coast Guard Pipe Band plays during the Veterans Remembrance Ceremony at Saint Elizabeths Hospital East Campus.   Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

-Jeffrey Burton of the US Coast Guard Pipe Band plays during the Veterans Remembrance Ceremony at Saint Elizabeths Hospital East Campus.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Members of the Anacostia High School Junior ROTC places flags on graves of soldiers during the Veterans Remembrance Ceremony at Saint Elizabeths Hospital East Campus. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Members of the Anacostia High School Junior ROTC places flags on graves of soldiers during the Veterans Remembrance Ceremony at Saint Elizabeths Hospital East Campus.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

A gravestone in Saint Elizabeths Cemetery.  Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

A gravestone in Saint Elizabeths Cemetery. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

 

 - The historic Saint Elizabeths Cemetery at Saint Elizabeths Hospital East Campus. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

– The historic Saint Elizabeths Cemetery at Saint Elizabeths Hospital East Campus.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Student Conservation Association Cleans up Civil War Ring Trail in SE DC Green Space

One thing people don’t realize prior to visiting Washington, DC is how green the city is.  A ring of Civil War forts encircled the city’s heights, and today the remnants of these forts are connected by a series of ring trails, suitable for hiking and biking.  One trail connects Fort Stanton to Fort Dupont, DC’s largest city park. Fort Stanton is located just across the street from the museum.

Last week I found these young students cleaning the trail for the Student Conservation Association, whose  mission is to build the next generation of conservation leaders and inspire lifelong stewardship of the environment and communities by engaging young people in hands-on service to the land.  They were just in the nick of time too, as a cyclist rounded the bend just as the team was finishing up for the afternoon.

There is a lot to discover East of the River.   

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