The Friends of Freedmen's Cemetery

Alexandria Civil War Sesquicentennial Lecture Series: Excavations at the Contrabands and Freedmen’s Cemetery and the Concept of the Proper Coffin in the Mid-19th Century

Dr. Steven J. Shephard, a retired City archaeologist with Alexandria Archaeology, will provide a special look at one of Alexandria’s – and indeed Virginia’s – most significant burial grounds. From 1864 to 1869, the Contrabands and Freedmen’s Cemetery was the burial place for at least 1,800 African Americans seeking their freedom behind Union lines. Archaeologists conducted a series of four excavations in preparation for developing the property into a memorial park. The results of the excavations and documentary research indicate that there was an idea of what a “proper” coffin was like in mid-19th-century America. In his illustrated lecture, Dr. Shephard, one of the Freedmen’s Cemetery project researchers, will discuss the history of the cemetery, some results of the excavations, and the idea of a “proper” coffin.

Thursday, February 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Lloyd House, 220 N. Washington Street

Freedmen's Cemetery Historical Site Marker - E 109 Freedmen's Cemetery - Federal authorities established a cemetery here for newly freed African Americans during the Civil War. In January 1864, the military governor of Alexandria confiscated for use as a burying ground an abandoned pasture from a family with Confederate sympathies. About 1,700 freed people, including infants and black Union soldiers, were interred here before the last recorded burial in January 1869. Most of the deceased had resided in what is known as Old Town and in nearby rurual settlements. Despite mid-twentieth-century construction projects, many burials remain undisturbed. A list of those interred here has also survived.

Friends of Freedmen’s Cemetery
638 North Alfred Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Freedmen's Cemetery Logo - This logo was designed by Alexandria Archaeology Assistant City Archaeologist, Dr. Steven Shephard, in 2006. The beautifully executed final drawing was made by Alexandria Archaeology volunteer, Mr. Andrew Flora, who made a few modifications. At the center of the logo is a headboard of the design seen in historic photographs of the Alexandria National Cemetery, established at the north end of Wilkes Street in 1862. These grave markers were supplied by the U.S. Army Quartermaster Department in Alexandria and records state that this department also supplied the headboards and coffins for Freedmens Cemetery. The pine boards were whitewashed and the plot number, and presumably, the name of the deceased, and possibly the date of death, were painted in black on the headboard. The number 1864 in the logo represents the year that the cemetery was established. The black silhouette of the African American woman in the center of the board is meant to represent the people, the Freedmen, who were buried at the cemetery. Civilian men, women and many children were buried here, along with African American soldiers of the United States Colored Troops. The rays radiating from the top of the headboard are meant to represent the light of freedom, as well as the souls of the Freedmen ascending into heaven and their final reward. The F and C are for Freedmen's Cemetery. The surrounding broken chain wreath symbolizes the severed bonds of slavery which resulted from the American Civil War which transformed Alexandria and the nation.

January 31st, 2014