The Friends of Freedmen's Cemetery

Charlotte (Pankus) Gordon Carroll

The following short biography is drawn from the Special Report of the Commissioner of Education on the Improvement of Public Schools in the District of Columbia, 1871, Section C, "History of Schools for the Colored Population," Part I, pp. 272-274. This section of the report was authored by M.B. Goodwin.

Mrs. [Charlotte] Carroll, well known as one of the capable colored teachers of Washington for twenty-five years, under the name of Charlotte Gordon, was born and grew to womanhood a slave in Alexandria. Her owner, Mrs. Mary Fletcher, a good woman, believed in educating her servants and practiced her faith. She sent the child, Charlotte Pankus, to the best schools accessible to colored children in that city from the earliest school age. Sylvia Morris, Alfred Parry, and Joseph Ferrell were the excellent colored teachers whose schools she attended… This girl attended also for nearly two years an admirable school for colored girls which was maintained in Alexandria by the Sisters of Charity, who at the same period had a large boarding school for white girls in that city… Miss Edmunds, who had a boarding school in the city at that period, and Benjamin Hallowell, the eminent Quaker schoolmaster, both befriended her, the latter named teacher instructing her in Latin, of which she acquired some knowledge. She began to teach when a mere girl in Alexandria, and had a school there at the time of the Snow riot in Washington in 1835. Some years later her owner, with the desire to make her free, sent her to Washington without registration in order that she might acquire her freedom by the operation of the registry law, and she was in Washington when Alexandria retroceded in 1846. Before this period she married Wm. H. Gordon, who a few years later went to California and died there, leaving her with a family of small children, whom she raised in a respectable manner by her industry and intelligence as a teacher. Her first school in Washington was in a house on I near Eleventh street, west, where she taught six years, with an average of some forty scholars. From this place she moved her school to New York avenue, near Thirteenth street, into one of the houses of the locality known in that day as "Cover Tan Yard," where she had an average of about fifty scholars for five or six years, till about 1858, when she moved to Eighth between N and O streets, in the northern section of the city-a location then known as "Nigger Hill," at that time and now the centre of a large colored population. Her school here was very large, and in 1860 she occupied two adjoining small brick buildings, which were filled with scholars, her daughter being assistant. She established also a Sabbath school in connection with this school, and several white ladies took great interest in its progress, giving their personal aid as teachers and contributing to secure books… The day school was crowded when the war broke out, and was dispersed in the spring of 1861 when the soldiers began to throng the city, the small children, of which the school was mostly composed, being intimidated by the tramp of the armies. She had on her list at that time nearly a hundred and fifty scholars… In 1861 she was married to Mr. [David] Carroll, and the work which she did in the cause of enlightening her race during the war was perhaps the most useful of her life. David Carroll was born a slave, owned by Charles Carroll, of Carrolltown, but was early put to a trade and manumitted…

The first colored school in the District [of Columbia], outside of the limits of the two cities [Washington and Georgetown], was established by Mrs. David Carroll in August, 1861, and it was the first established in the District specially intended for educating slave children… David Carroll was one of the founders of the colored Presbyterian church of Washington, an original elder in the church, a man of property and superior character. This family went out to the farm-house belonging to Mr. Cornelius T. Boyle, beyond Benning's bridge, across the Eastern Branch, and took up their residence, shortly after the first battle of Bull Run, with a view of buying the farm. The next Sabbath after they became occupants of the premises, Rev. Selby B. Scaggs, a white Methodist preacher and a farmer in that neighborhood, locked up the chapel in which he was wont to preach, and when the people came to the church they found him patrolling, key in hand, in front of the house, and declaring that he would have no more praying for the President and the success of the Union arms on his premises. It appeared that the pious officers and soldiers from the neighboring forts had taken part in the Sabbath services and given this offence to the pastor. In this emergency the colored people were invited to hold their services and Sabbath school at the Boyle farm-house on that day. They did so, and David Carroll addressed them, urging the building of a church in which the prayer for the Union would be justified… The Sunday school, which had been maintained with the greatest interest at the Boyle farm-house, was moved into the new house [on John Payne's farm]… and from that time the house has been crowded with scholars, old and young, many of them coming five or six miles to enjoy the weekly privileges. The first teachers were mostly Christian soldiers from the forts, but those who were the early scholars have now the entire management of the school… The books for the Sabbath school were at first procured by contributions taken up in the church and school, but afterwards, Mrs. Carroll, who at first had the entire charge of the school, procured them from the managers of the Soldiers' Free Library in Washington…

Mrs. Carroll opened a day school in the Boyle house with twenty children the same week in which she started the Sunday school. The number rapidly increased to double that number, and as the colored people from the Maryland plantations pressed inside the District the school filled nearly the whole house, numbering at some periods nearly or quite a hundred. Mrs. Carroll's daughter by a former husband, Miss Rebecca T. Gordon, was assistant in the school, which was continued with undiminished success till April, 1865. Mr. Carroll having died the previous year, the family returned to their house in Washington.

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