The Friends of Freedmen's Cemetery


Oscar D. Ball (alias John Delaney) and Montgomery Graham, runaways, 1857

From William Still, The Underground Rail Road, (William Still, 1871), pp. 414-417.

Although the name of John T. Gordon appears signed to the above advertisement,1 he was not the owner of Montgomery and Oscar. According to their own testimony they belonged to a maiden lady, by the name of Miss Elizabeth Gordon, who probably thought that the business of advertising for runaway negroes was rather beneath her.

While both these passengers manifested great satisfaction in leaving their mistress they did not give her a bad name. On the contrary they gave her just such a character as the lady might have been pleased with in the main. They described her thus: "Mistress was a spare woman, tolerably tall, and very kind, except when sick, she would not pay much attention then. She was a member of the Southern Methodist Church, and was strict in her religion."

Having a good degree of faith in his mistress, Oscar made bold one day to ask her how much she would take for him. She agreed to take eight hundred dollars. Oscar wishing to drive a pretty close bargain offered her seven hundred dollars, hoping that she would view the matter in a religious light, and would come down one hundred dollars. After reflection instead of making a reduction, she raised the amount to one thousand dollars, which Oscar concluded was too much for himself. It was not, however, as much as he was worth according to his mistress' estimate, for she declared that she had often been offered fifteen hundred dollars for him. Miss Gordon raised Oscar from a child and had treated him as a pet. When he was a little "shaver" seven or eight years of age, she made it a practice to have him sleep with her, showing that she had no prejudice.

Being rather of a rare type of slave-holders she is entitled to special credit. Montgomery the companion of Oscar could scarcely be distinguished from the white folks. In speaking of his mistress, however, he did not express himself in terms quite so complimentary as Oscar. With regard to giving "passes," he considered her narrow, to say the least. But he was in such perfectly good humor with everybody, owing to the fact that he had succeeded in getting his neck out of the yoke, that he evidently had no desire to say hard things about her.

Judging from his story he had been for a long time desiring his freedom, and looking diligently for the Underground Rail Road, but he had many things to contend with when looking the matter of escape in the face. Arriving in Philadelphia, and finding himself breathing free air, receiving aid and encouragement in a manner that he had never known before, he was one of the happiest of creatures.

Oscar left his wife and one child, one brother and two sisters. Montgomery left one sister, but no other near kin.

Instead of going to Canada, Oscar and his comrade pitched their tents in Oswego, N.Y., where they changed their names, and instead of returning themselves to their kind mistress they were wicked enough to be plotting as to how some of their friends might get off on the Underground Rail Road, as may be seen from the appended letters from Oscar, who was thought to be sluggish, etc.

OSWEGO, Oct. 25th, 1857.

DEAR SIR:—I take this opportunity of writing you these few lines to inform you that I am well and hope these few lines will find you the same (and your family) you must excuse me for not writing to you before. I would have written to you before this but I put away the card you gave me and could not find it until a few days sins. I did not go to Canada for I got work in Oswego, but times are very dull here at present. I have been out of employ about five weeks I would like to got to Australia. Do you know of any gentleman that is going there or any other place, except south that wants a servant to go there with him to wait on him or do any other work, I have a brother that wants to come north. I received a letter from him a few days ago. Can you tell me of any plan that I can fix to get him give my respects to Mrs. Still and all you family. Please let me know if you hear of any berth of that kind. Nothing more at present I remain your obedient servant, OSCAR D. BALL

But my name is now John Delaney. Direct your letter to John Delaney Oswego N.Y. care of R. Oliphant.



OSWEGO, Nov. 21st, 1857.

MR. WILLIAM STILL, ESQ. DEAR SIR:—Your letter of the 19th came duly to hand I am glad to hear that the Underground Rail Road is doing so well I know those three well that you said come from alex[andria] I broke the ice and it seems as if they are going to keep the rack open. But I had to stand and beg of those two that started with me to come and even give one of them money and then he did not want to come. I had a letter from my brother a few days ago, and he says if he lives and nothing happens to him he will make a start for the north and there is many others there that would start now but they are afraid of getting frost bitten, there was two left alex[andria] about five or six weeks ago. Ther names are as follows Lawrence Thornton and Townsend Derrit. Have they been to philadelphia from what I can learn they will leave alex[andria] in mourning next spring in the last letter I got from my brother he named a good many that wanted to come when he did and the are all sound men and can be trusted. He reads and writes his own letters. William Triplet and Thomas Harper passed through here last summer from my old home which way did those three that you spoke of go times are very dull here at present and I can get nothing to do. But thank God have a good boarding house and will be sheltered from the weather this winter give my respects to your family Montgomery sends his also Nothing more at present.

Yours truly JOHN DELANEY.


1 "FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS REWARD.-Ran away from the owner in Alexandria, Va., on the night of the 13th inst., two young negro men, from twenty to twenty-five years of age. MONTGOMERY is a very bright mulatto, about five feet, six inches in height, of polite manners, and smiles much when speaking or spoken to. OSCAR is of a tawny complexion, about six feet high, sluggish in appearance and movements, and of awkward manners. One hundred dollars each will be paid for the delivery of the above slaves if taken in a slave state, or two hundred dollars each if taken in a free state. One or more slaves belonging to other owners, it is supposed, went in their company. Address: JOHN T. GORDON, Alexandria, Va."
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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 Freedmenís Cemetery
638 North Alfred Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
E-mail: freedmen@juno.com

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.

July 5th, 2007