“Georgetown as a neighborhood founded in 1751 reflects the history of our nation, including its cultural, social, economic, and architectural, development. Unlike other historic sites, Georgetown as a living museum with thriving residential and commercial immersive experiences continues to evolve and serve as a mirror on changes to the larger society as a whole.”
Jonathan Mellon, Goulston & Storrs and US Commission on the Arts member.
The Algonquin Indians were here. And the Nacotchankes or Anacostian tribe dotted the Potomac River’s bank according to Thomas Jefferson. Georgetown, it was said, hosted over 40 tribes from the Atlantic Ocean to the Potomac River as a central meeting place. When John Cabot arrived in 1608 the tribes had already settled in Georgetown. In the years to come, from N Street to the Potomac River, Georgetown positioned itself as one the most powerful commercial and shipping ports in the world. Georgetown’s importance ranked high in George Washington’s decision to move the Federal City to the banks of the Potomac. Today the Native Americans are long gone and mostly forgotten.
The Potomac River, which served these indigenous people’s needs and Georgetown so well, also brought the ships. The sketchy and incomplete records tell only part of the story. According to Emory University’s The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database, documentation lists the Port of Georgetown, also call North Potomac, as one of the first points of disembarkment from Africa. The first ships came in 1732. The Liverpool Merchant, sailed with 187 enslaved people from Gambia. That same year, the William & Betty brought 164 enslaved also from Gambia. Only 65 and 89 enslaved respectfully disembarked at the Port of Georgetown, not including those sent to other cities. The eighty-five documented deaths do not accurately represent the voyages’ toll. Seven ships in all with a total of 754 enslaved arrived with human cargo and marched up Potomac Street, though the sewage outlet leading from the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, to the basement of Dean and Deluca (3276 M Street ) on their way to the auction block awaiting them in the basement.
A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY
“We acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade, including the transatlantic slave trade, were appalling tragedies in the history of humanity not only because of their abhorrent barbarism but also in terms of their magnitude, organized nature and especially their negation of the essence of the victims, and further acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity”.
Declaration of the World Conference against Racism (Durban, 2001, Paragraph 13)
The 1800 census reported that there were 277 free African Americans and 1,449 enslaved among a total population of 5,120 in Georgetown. By 1810, the free African American population increased to 551 and the enslaved declined to 1,161 while the total population shrank to 4,948. Georgetown’s total population grew during 1830 to 8,441 and the free population to 1,204. From 1860 to 1870 with the end of the Civil War, the African American population increased from 1,935 to over 3,271 with the total population increasing to 11,386. By 1969, the black population declined to only 5% (of what total population or give # African Americans).
This project is not about the prestige of Georgetown, but rather, how it became and maintained its prestige, with the aid of a stabilized free and enslaved African American community that served it well.
Why highlight Georgetown’s free and enslaved population when the entire nation participated in the exploitation of free labor and the denial of historical accuracy? Georgetown, founded in 1751, existed before the United States and forty years before the founding of the District of Columbia in 1791. The diversity of its residents during this period commands attention. There were native Indians, rich and poor whites, there were free and enslaved African Americans, apprentices and indentured servants all living in close proximity and working to build, grow and maintain Georgetown as a thriving community.
Many in Georgetown know the stories of Yarrow Mamout, Mount Zion United Methodist Church, Patrick Healy, and Alfred Pope and the Edmonson sisters attempted escape on the ship, The Pearl, or the 272 slaves Georgetown College (now known as Georgetown University) sold in order to help finance the school which was in debt. But Georgetown’s African American community was much more. The African American community became self-sustaining within the city boundaries. There were doctors, skilled artisans, tradesmen and entrepreneurs. There were churches built to serve as spiritual, social and educational support systems. There were the enslaved tending to the needs of the enslaver, providing the free labor without recognition or pay, which enabled them to prosper and become wealthy. This project is about all free and enslaved African Americans some who struggled with less than nothing to forge a life and better existence. American history has been distorted to obfuscate African American contributions. The project corrects and adds to the accuracy of Georgetown’s historical records and commemorates African Americans’ presence in an attempt to learn from their collective experiences.
Today the willingness of the community to support the project attests to the evolving social changes taking place in Georgetown and across the nation to discuss and address the impact these atrocities against humanity have had on the country and the desire to become inclusive of all historical accuracy. Enjoy the journey into the lives of Georgetown’s free and enslaved African Americans.
272 Georgetown Community Group