The Friends of Freedmen's Cemetery


James Carter's Account of His Suffering, 1807

From the Manuscript Collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

To the care of Mr. John B. Wallace, Philadelphia, or to Elias Boudinot, Burlington, for one of the Friends [at] Philadelphia.

A small journal of an only and beloved brother and two sisters.

My poor brother Henry was born in the family of Mrs. Lucy Armistead of Caroline County, Virginia, near the Bowling Green. Until he was 22 years old-he was then sold to one George Buckner of that county without knowing of it, and Buckner bearing a very cruel name, my brother would not go with him and runaway. A few days after, I saw him and persuade him to go and try Mr. Buckner, but Buckner had advertise him for 20 dollars reward and threatening to send him to Miller's Ironworks in North Carolina. He was afraid, but after some time persuading, he consent to go and set off from me at Fredericksburg to go to his master and met Mr. Wm. Woodford, who knowed him and want to take him up. My brother run from him. This was opposite to Mr. Mam Page's. Mr. Woodford call to Mr. Page's overseer and tell him to stop my brother. The overseer run as fast as he could but could not overtake my brother. He in this time got to the Rappahannock River near Mr. Page's mill, where he found a shelving rock and crept under it. There was some little boys playing at the mill. The overseer call to the boys and ask them where that man went as came down to the river. The boys told him that he was under the rock. My brother hearing this, he came from under the rock and took to the river to swim across. The overseer immediately begun to stone him and struck him on his head, which put an end to his life. These is the last words of my brother: "Lord, have mercy on me! You have killed me. Help, help me, for God's sake. I am almost gone," and [he] sunk to the bottom. The next morning we heard of it and went to look for him and was out 5 days looking for him. The 6th day after his death, I ask my master if I might go with my father to look for my brother. He said, "No, you must go to Dumfries after my horse." It appear that he had more regard for his horse than he had for my poor dead brother. Dumfries is about 25 miles off from Fred[ericksbur]g. My mother said to me, "Do, my son, try and get home by sunset. We may hear of your brother, and you can help your father to get him home." I made all the haste I could and got home as the sun was setting. The first thing I saw in the yard was a horse and cart with a coffin. My mother [said], "I am glad you have come. We have heard of your brother. He is 4 miles down the river on the other side." We immediately set off and cross the river, and inquiring at every house until we came to where he was and call up the black men. They got some knots of pine wood and lit them and got a little boat and went down the river where my brother was tied to a bush with a grape vine. The boat was so very small it would not bear us all, and the bank was so steep we could not get him up. We was oblige for to put him in the water again and float him on the water until we could land him. We put him in the coffin and brought him home to the burial ground, and we was not able to take him out of the cart. This was about 3 in the morning. My father said to me, "You must stay here until I go into the town and get some person to help us. He ask me if I was not afraid to stay. I told him no, that I was not afraid of my brother and that I had never did the dead bodies any harm, and for that reason, I was not afraid, and when my father came with the man, I was fast asleep leaning on the coffin. My brother's coffin look very dreadful at being open, but I was not the least afraid. My mind tell me not to be afraid, that nothing will hurt me. My brother left under the rock a little knapsack which contains 1 lb. of sugar, 1 bottle of molasses, and a few gingerbreads, which I gave him to take to his wife and one child.

My sister Nelly was sold to one Johnson, a merchant of Fred[ericksbur]g. It is true that Johnson is a speculator, but his greatest speculation is on human flesh. He sold my sister Nelly whom I have never heard of since. My little sister Judy was sent for from my mother's house to be brought to Benson's tavern by Mr. Landon of Severn Hall-who is a son-in-law of Mrs. Lucy Armistead-to be viewed by these bloodthirsty fellows. This child was about 8 years old and was very much afraid of them. She cried very much. My mother and myself begged Mr. Carter not to sell this child out of Fred[ericksbur]g. He gave us his word and honour that he would not, but as soon as we left him he sold the child to these fellows and did not let us know of it, and as soon as the fellow had got as many [slaves] as he could conveniently convey along, he came to my mother's house and take the child by its arm and led it off. He would not so much as to tell my mother [from] what part [of] the country he was. My mother in this time had got part of the money to purchase the child. We have never heard of the child since.

My mother has had 9 children and although she and Mrs. Armistead has been brought up together from little girls. She has suffered all my mother's children to be picked from her. My mother's family has served the family of Mrs. Armistead upwards of one hundred and 30 years. My mother is at this time 64 years old, and she has just gave her the discharge, as she cannot be of any service to them. My father is 67 years old, and I have offered Mrs. Armistead one hundred dollars for him, and she would not take it, as I want him to go and live with my mother.

I was sold to Mr. James Sutton of Alexandria, a clerk at the bank-by a son of Mrs. Armistead, who was my master-and served him 15 months. The last 3 months he hired me to 2 gentlemen who live in Camden, South Carolina to attend them to that place, which is about 6 hundred miles, and afterwards was left there to get home to Alexandria as I could. They paid me my wages, which was 24 dollars, and 12 dollars to bring me home, and I walk all the way home and paid Mr. Sutton 24 dollars, and 6 days after I had got home he sold me to the Negro-drivers. They came to my house about 2 o'clock in the morning and knock at the door. My master said to me, "Get up." I got up and open the door. He said to me, "You must go with these men." I ask him where. He said, "To where they live." I ask him if he was going to sell me, I would thank him if he would let me get a master in Alexandria. He said to me, "I am nothing more to do with you, and you have sense enough to come back if you do not like the place." These words to me was what compel him to return the money which he had received for me. They took me and carried me 75 miles on their journey. One night they put us in a room, and I got off from them, and with a very great difficulty, I got to Philadelphia where I got to live with Mr. Elias Boudinot, who I soon found was a charitable man, and I told him of my mistress. He immediately wrote to my master and did everything to release me. He was very kind to my family. He employ my wife; he gave her 60 dollars per year for washing. He gave my family clothes, and there is not one article of this life but what he gave my family, and in the time [of] the yellow fever he take my family to his house in the country for 2 and 3 months. Mrs. Boudinot and Mrs. Bradford, the daughter of Mrs. Boudinot, also was very kind to my family, and through [Mr. Boudinot's] goodness and the goodness of God, I have got my freedom.[i]

Wrote by me the 16th July 1807 in Alexandria. James Carter, a mulatto man.

N.B.: I had a brother-in-law carried off in one of the droves, and he wrote me a few lines. He says when he got back to Tennessee country he had ticks on his back as large as the ends of his fingers, being not able to take them off for the iron bands. There is not a week but what the long droves go through this city, men all link together with iron bands. At this moment this gaol is full of men, woman and children to be carried off by the Negro-drivers. They generally take them off in [the] night. James Carter.

For one of the Friends in Philadelphia as a request of Doctor Stabler, Alexandria, Virginia. Mr. Boudinot please to tell what Friend it is.


i Sutton freed Carter May 25, 1805 upon the payment of $200. Sutton had purchased Carter in 1800 for seven years' service. Alexandria County Circuit Court Deedbook L:419.
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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.

April 29th, 2007