In 1847, seventy slaves went to the Maryland courts to enforce a deed of manumission granting them their freedom. What should have been a simple matter exploded into a nine-year court case that spun furiously around the ominous question at its core: if a man frees his slaves on moral conviction, does that make him insane?
When Reverend Eli Nugent witnessed the silencing and segregation of fellow Black worshippers at a D.C. church, he decided that his community would be better off worshipping somewhere else. His efforts created one of the first and oldest Black churches in the city: Asbury United Methodist.
If you lived in nineteenth-century D.C. and wanted your picture taken, you couldn’t just whip out your own camera — you’d visit Pennsylvania Avenue NW, known locally as “photographer’s row.” This stretch of the avenue, between the White House and the nearly-finished Capitol building, was home to a cluster of photography studios and galleries. Between 1858 and 1881, the most fashionable and famous was Brady’s National Photographic Art Gallery. It was run by Mathew Brady and his manager, Alexander Gardner, whose partnership endured its own civil war.
Today she is widely remembered for her heroism during the War of 1812, when she saved a portrait of George Washington from being taken and burned by British invaders. But during her lifetime, Dolley Madison was best known as a prominent socialite, hostess, and politician in her own right — one of the country’s first celebrity personalities.
In the years leading up to the Civil War, the debate over the future of slavery raged through the halls of Congress. Abolitionists in the North, however, had little faith that their fight could be won through political discourse. A quarter of Washington, D.C.’s black population was enslaved, and the slave trade in the District was one of the most lucrative markets in the country. Abolitionists reasoned that they needed to resort to other means to combat slavery in this socially hypocritical and politically entrenched environment. In the early months of 1848, a local cell of the Underground Railroad devised a plan to smuggle slaves out of the area and take them north to free territory.
We have the states of Maryland and Virginia to thank for the land that created Washington, D.C. It was through their cession of territory — 69 square miles from Maryland and 31 square miles from Virginia — that Congress was able to establish a permanent home for a federal government on the banks of the Potomac River in 1801. However, almost from day one, Virginia was looking for a way to get its land back. Four decades later, it finally did.
Sometimes, the most memorable thing someone can do is die. William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States was the first U.S. president to die in office, and, having died only a month in, that's about all he did in office. Harrison's other claim to fame, his lengthy inauguration speech, is also what killed him.
March 4, 1841 was an wet, overcast day with a cold wind. John Quincy Adams wrote in his diary that the celebrations of the day were the biggest seen in the country since 1789. Harrison, nicknamed “Tippecanoe,” had run a campaign on an image of log cabins and hard cider and his supporters were a boisterous sort. A magnificent carriage had been constructed and presented for Harrison to ride to the Capitol. The old general declined and instead rode a horse along the avenue.
Gouvernuer gives a snapshot of the capital in very distinct time of the city — still a young city and still immersed in that peculiar institution of slavery. This description, especially concerning the haphazard city planning, falls well in line with previous Impressions of Washington we've posted on the blog. She also gives an enlightening summary of the commercial life in Washington.
The nation’s capital is chock full of statues, memorials, monuments, historic markers, and museums. As the seat of the United States government, Washington has a unique niche as both a repository of history and as a tourist spot. Some monuments are world-famous, some now reside in hidden corners, some are the centers of conspiracy theories (as Dan Brown and National Treasure fans will know), and some have been forgotten altogether. One statue in particular has been all of these things – and more – since it was first created: Horatio Greenough’s George Washington.