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Tag: freedom

Emancipation Proclamation: A Certificate of Freedom

Today’s blog post comes from National Archives social media intern Anna Fitzpatrick.

Before President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, the Federal Government took steps to begin the process of freeing the slaves. In July 1862—acting on Lincoln’s warning that freeing slaves in parts of the South occupied by Union troops might ”become a necessity” and in hopes of crippling the Confederacy—the Congress passed the Second Confiscation and Militia Act.

This act gave the military the power to seize and confiscate the property of the Confederate people—to seize their slave ”property” in occupied areas. As a result, the progress of Union troops meant the promise of freedom for many. Troops successfully freed slaves belonging to members of the Confederate military or Confederate sympathizers in those areas.

Image: Order Granting Freedom to Wally Caruz and Family, 08/15/1862; General James R. Chalmers' Papers, 1874–1899; War Department Collection of Confederate Records, 1825–1927, Record Group 109; National Archives Building, Washington, DC. (National Archives Identifier 3854715)

The Army issued this pass to Wally Caruz and his family. The pass amounted to a certificate of freedom and declared them ”forever emancipated.” The order says that:

Wally Caruz family a colored . . . formerly Slaves having by direction of their owner been engaged in the rebel service, are hereby confiscated as being contraband of war, and not being

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Emancipation Proclamation: Flight to Freedom

Today’s blog post comes from National Archives social media intern Anna Fitzpatrick.

Page 1 of Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Case of U.S. ex. rel. John Wheeler v. Passmore Williamson, 07/19/1855; Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685 – 2004, Record Group 21; National Archives at Philadelphia. (National Archives Identifier: 2641488)

Before the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, many men and women in bondage ran away from their owners to freedom. These escape attempts were dangerous, and not all of them were successful. Abolitionists sometimes helped slaves in their flight to freedom, like these two men in the case of the escaping slave Jane Johnson and her children.

Jane Johnson and her two young sons were enslaved by John Hill Wheeler, the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua. While on his way to South America, Wheeler brought Jane and her sons to New York and Philadelphia. Once the three slaves were in Philadelphia, abolitionists William Still and Passmore Williamson helped Johnson and her two sons escape to Boston.

Wheeler petitioned the court to have Williamson return his slaves. In the Writ of Habeas Corpus commanding Williamson to return Jane and her sons, Williamson stated that he was unable to do so:

Passmore Williamson the defendant in the within writ mentioned for return thereto respectfully submits that the within named Jane, Daniel and Isaiah .

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Emancipation for DC

D.C. Emancipation Act, Public Law 37-50, April 16,1862

D.C. Emancipation Act, Public Law 37-50, April 16,1862

Today is Emancipation Day for the District of Columbia. Some of you might immediately wonder if this is related to DC’s current efforts to win representation and a vote, but it is a celebration for a different kind of freedom for the residents of DC.

Eight and a half months before he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln signed a bill ending slavery in the District of Columbia.

Lincoln had struggled with how to resolve the issue of slavery, even encouraging freed slaves to return to Africa. And of course, slavery in the nation’s capital was an even thornier issue—antislavery advocates spoke of “the national shame.”

The bill had some success. Over the next  nine months, the Board of Commissioners appointed to administer the act approved 930 petitions, completely or in part, from former owners for the freedom of 2,989 former slaves.

Although its combination of emancipation, compensation to owners, and colonization did not serve as a model for the future, the District of Columbia Emancipation Act was an early signal of slavery’s death. In the District itself, African Americans greeted emancipation with great jubilation. For many years afterward, Emancipation Day was celebrated with parades and festivals.

The D.C. Emancipation Act is currently at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. At Archives.gov, you can see a larger [ Read all ]