When I began working on the CWW project I thought there was only one set of petitions relating to the District’s Emancipation Act. However, after scanning the microfilm of the 966 petitions, we noticed in addition a Supplemental Act (mentioned in my last post). The Supplemental Act was a continuation of the first act. While the District Act expired after three months (in July), the Supplemental Act not only extended it for another three months, but also had new terms to help African Americans achieve emancipation.
The District Emancipation Act freed all slaves, but not all slave holders filed for compensation – subsequently not all freed their slaves – and, even worse, some stole their slaves out of the district to avoid emancipating them. Accounts of this slave smuggling are present in many of DC’s newspapers. Even after its passage people tried smuggling their slaves out of the District. Reports surfaced of owners fraudulently imprisoning people, effectively keeping them in servitude.
To offset the aforementioned problems this second bill was drafted and passed in Congress on July 12, 1862. This allowed slaves to file petitions for themselves if they had been covered under the original Act. The same committee met over three months to decide upon the validity of each petition, and granted certificates of freedom accordingly. A part of the Supplemental Act allowed slaves from other states who had been employed in the District to be emancipated, as well. This was conditional, because owners technically had to give consent for a slave to receive their certificate of freedom under this bill. Owners testified that the slave had been employed/ in the District on or after April 16, 1862. Only 22 of these 161 petitions were rejected.[i]
Often contradictions appear in the testimony included in these petitions. The Supplemental Act equally weighed black testimony with that of whites when conflicts arose.[ii] Charlotte Beckett is an example of this sort. She was owned by Mary Bibb and granted a certificate of freedom on October 1, 1862, for herself and children (George, Zara, Mary Ann, and Bohemia). Of Beckett’s 18 witnesses most affirmed her testimony about working in the District upon the bill’s passage. One witness, H. Key Hunter testified that she’d known Charlotte for 12 years and she definitely had been working in Georgetown before April 16. Witnesses also testified to the fact her owner’s husband took the Becketts out of the DC when the District Emancipation Act first passed. Owners were supposed to give consent, yet Mary Bibb claimed she’d had no knowledge of Charlotte’s intent to petition and that all of her slaves were fugitives as the Fugitive Slave Law was still enforced in DC at this time. The commissioners still issued certificates for Charlotte and her children.[iii]
The biggest difference between the Supplemental Act and the earlier compensated emancipation act was that the final result often ended up being the issuing of a certificate of freedom to former slaves instead of compensation to former slave owners. In the Supplemental Act slave owners were longer entitled to compensation. Another difference was the petitions themselves. These petitions were just testimonials. Petitioner had to bring at least two witnesses to testify on their behalf but there were no formal petition template. Also, it was geographically expanded to cover the surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia. When the Supplemental Act was first implemented slaves still had to have been in the District on or before April 16, 1862. Later it became that if their owner was a DC resident they qualified. The committee otherwise went through the same process of evaluating these petitions.
[i] Kurtz, Michael J., “Emancipation in the Federal City,” in Civil War History: A Journal of the Middle Period, ed. Hubbell, John T. (The Kent State University Press, 1978, vol. XXIV) 264-266.
[ii] Kurtz, Michael J., “Emancipation in the Federal City,” 264.
[iii] R. G. 217: Records of the U.S. General Accounting Office: Records of the Board of Commissioners for the Emancipation of Slaves in the District of Columbia, 1862-1863. Microfilm Publication M520, rolls 6 frames 830-836.