Compensated Emancipation Act Anniversary and Revamped Website

The first page of a petition from slaveholder John Harry, seeking compensation for 27 slaves.

With the approach of the 150th anniversary of the Compensated Emancipation Act, our newly revamped and relaunched Civil War Washington site makes available 200 petitions written by Washington, DC slaveholders in the spring and summer of 1862. (By the summer of 2013, Civil War Washington will feature the more than 1,000 petitions filed in response to the act.) The petitions offer unique insight into the lives and experiences of slaves in our nation’s capital. The act, signed by Abraham Lincoln on April 16, 1862, predated the Emancipation Proclamation by eight months and freed all slaves in Washington, DC and the surrounding area. Slaveholders were asked to describe their slaves, estimating their monetary value in order to receive government compensation. And now, 150 years after their creation, these petitions have been digitized, transcribed, and are freely available online. For more on the petitions, see Emancipation Petitions: Historical Contexts at


The Civil War Washington project team, with images of the Emancipation petitions in the background.

Project co-director Kenneth Winkle took part in a ceremony at the National Archives in Washington, DC on April 11, 2012 commemorating both the anniversary of the act and the publishing of these largely forgotten documents. Additionally, the release of the petitions has received coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Lincoln Journal Star, and the Washington Post. Check out the Journal Star article here. The National Archives also made a short video about the petitions, which can be viewed here.

The rest of the Civil War Washington site has a new look as well, including a new interactive mapping application (see image below), complete with several historical and current map layers and a time slider. We have also added more issues of historical hospital newspapers, updated and made searchable our collection of medical cases, and redesigned and updated our fully searchable database.


A screenshot of the new mapping application.

– Kevin McMullen

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