The Friends of Freedmen's Cemetery

Oscar Payne and Joseph Henry Ball, runaways, 1858

From William Still, The Underground Rail Road, (William Still, 1871), pp. 486-488.

Such announcements [referring to a facsimile of a "runaway" ad for Oscar Payne1] never frightened the Underground Rail Road Committee; indeed, the Committee rather preferred seeing the names of their passengers in the papers, as, in that case, they could all the more cautiously provide against Messrs. Slave-hunters. Oscar was a "prime, first-class article," worth $1,800. The above description of him is endorsed. His story ran thus:

"I have served under Miss Mary Dade, of Alexandria-Miss Dade was a very clever mistress, she hired me out. When I left I was hired at the Episcopal school-High School of Virginia. With me times had been very well. No privilege was allowed me to study books. I cannot say that I left for any other cause than to get my freedom, as I believe I have been used as well as any slave in the District. I left no relatives but two cousins; my two brothers ran away, Brooks and Lawrence, but where they went I can't tell, but would be pleased to know. Three brothers and one sister have been sold South, can't tell where they are." Such was Oscar's brief narrative; that he was truthful there was no room to doubt….

[Payne arrived in Philadelphia with eight other individuals from the District of Columbia, Maryland and northern Virginia, including…]

JOE2, who also came with this band, was half Anglo-Saxon; an able-bodied man, thirty-four years of age. He said, that "Miss Elizabeth Gordon, a white woman living in Alexandria," claimed him. He did not find much fault with her. She permitted him to hire his time, find his own clothing, etc., by which regulation Joe got along smoothly. Nevertheless he declared, that he was tired of wearing the yoke, and felt constrained to throw it off as soon as possible. Miss Gordon was getting old, and Joe noticed that the young tribe of nephews and nieces was multiplying in large numbers. This he regarded as a very bad sign; he therefore, gave the matter of the Underground Rail Road his serious attention, and it was not long ere he was fully persuaded that it would be wisdom for him to tarry no longer in the prison-house. Joe had a wife and four children, which were as heavy weights to hold him in Virginia, but the spirit of liberty prevailed. Joe, also, left two sisters, one free, the other a slave. His wife belonged to the widow Irwin. She had assured her slaves, that she had provided for them in her will, and that at her death all would b freed. They were daily living on the faith thus created, and obviously thought the sooner the Lord relieved the old mistress of her earthly troubles the better.

Although Joe left his wife and children, he did not forget them, but had strong faith they would be reunited. After going to Canada, he addressed several letters to the Secretary of the Committee concerning his family, and as will be seen by the following, he looked with ardent hopes for their arrival:

TORONTO, Nov. 7th, 1857.

DEAR MR. STILL:—As I must again send you a letter fealing myself oblidge to you for all you have done and your kindness. Dear Sir my wife will be on to Philadelphia on the 8th 7th, and I would you to look out for her and get her an ticket and send her to me Toronto. Her name are May Ball with five children. Please send her as soon as you can.

Yours very truly, JOSEPH BALL.

Will you please to telegrape [sic] to me, No. 31 Dummer st.

1 The advertisement read: "$200 REWARD.-Ran away from the service of the Rev. J.P. McGuire, Episcopal High School, Fairfax county, Va., on Saturday, 10th inst., Negro Man, Oscar Payne, aged 30 years, 5 feet 4 inches in height, square built, mulatto color, thick, bushy suit of hair, round, full face, and when spoken to has a pleasant manner-clothes not recollected. I will give $200 for his recovery if taken out of the State, or $150 if taken in the State and secured that I can get him. T.D. FENDALL."
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2 Alexandria Circuit Court Order Books, August 4, 1858: "…Joseph Henry Ball, a mulatto man, the property of, and owing service and labor to Elizabeth Gordon of Alexandria, Virginia, fled and absconded…to some one of the non slaveholding States on Saturday the 10th day of July A.D. 1858. The said mulatto slave man is about twenty eight years of age, about five feet seven or eight inches in height, has a full, long and bushy suit of hair, usually kept neatly combed, is quite intelligent, & when cleanly dressed is a fine looking negro."
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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 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.

July 5th, 2007