We all learned in history class that Abraham Lincoln freed slaves in Confederate states by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862. But did you know that until April 16, 1862, slavery was still legal and widely practiced in Washington, DC? Today DC celebrates Emancipation Day, marking the passage of the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act that legally freed all slaves owned in DC.
1848 was a busy year for the residents of Washington, D.C. The Washington monument was under construction and Congress was hotly debating the question of slavery in the new territories. Closer to home, most white Washingtonians favored slavery though many had objections to actual slave-trading taking place in the capital. D.C.’s large free black population, which contained a great many marriages between enslaved and free, sought freedom for those who didn’t yet posses it, and were spurred by an increasing number of abolitionists flocking to the city.
To put it mildly, Washington was a tense place in April 1848, and it was about to get even moreso. Enter the Pearl.
Yarrow Mamout was the most prominent African American in early Washington. He was a Muslim, educated in West Africa to read and write in Arabic. He and a sister arrived in America from on a slave ship in 1752. After forty-five years as a slave of the Beall family of Maryland, Yarrow (his last name) gained his freedom and settled in Georgetown. In 1800, he acquired the property at what is now 3324 Dent Place and lived there the rest of his life.
The house on Yarrow Mamout’s old lot in Georgetown is scheduled for demolition, but efforts are underway to save any artifacts from his occupancy as well as his mortal remains from the bulldozer.
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