Picture of residents of Freedman's Village

Freedman’s Village was officially dedicated on December 4, 1863. Originally, federal officials envisioned Freedman’s Village as a temporary refugee camp where former slaves would receive a basic education and learn vocational skills that would enable them to be self-sufficient. Residents occupied the village for nearly twenty-five years until the federal government leveled the site in the 1890s. [Wikimedia Commons]

Freedman's Village Facts

1863 - 1887

Key facts about Freedman's Village near Arlington, Virginia.

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Location:

  • Arlington, Virginia

Opening date:

  • 1863

Closing Date:

  • 1887

Significance:

  • When the Civil War began, the federal government established several temporary refugee camps in Washington, D.C., to house former slaves.
  • On May 5, 1863, Lieutenant Colonel Elias M. Greene, chief quartermaster of the Department of Washington, and Danforth B. Nichols of the American Missionary Association announced plans to construct a new refugee center across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., to accommodate former slaves.
  • Construction began on Freedman’s Village during the summer of 1863.
  • Freedman’s Village was constructed on Arlington Estate, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s plantation and the former home of George Washington Parke Custis, President George Washington’s adopted son and step-grandson.
  • Former slaves began occupying Freedman’s Village during the summer of 1863.
  • Freedman’s Village was officially dedicated on December 4, 1863, during a ceremony attended by Congressional delegates and other notable federal officials.
  • From 1863 until early 1865, the U.S. Army and special agents from the Treasury Department governed Freedman’s Village.
  • After it was established on March 3, 1865, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands assumed control of Freedman’s Village.
  • Federal officials envisioned Freedman’s Village as a temporary refugee camp where residents would receive a basic education and learn vocational skills that would enable them to be self-sufficient.
  • Freedman’s Village included a primary and secondary school, an industrial school where students learned several trades, a “home” for the aged and infirm who were incapable of caring for themselves, a fifty-bed hospital, a community laundry, a community kitchen, and at least two churches.
  • The schools at Freedman’s Village were administered by the American Tract Society, headquartered in Boston.
  • When the primary school at Freedman’s Village opened on December 7, 1863, 150 students, including children and adults, were in attendance. A year later, nearly 900 learners were enrolled.
  • By the summer of 1865, nearly 150 students were attending Freedman Village’s secondary school.
  • Freedman Village residents lived in one-and-a-half-story wooden houses.
  • Originally designed to shelter about 600 residents, the population of Freedman’s Village may have approached 3,000 at its peak.
  • The able-bodied residents of Freedman’s Village were required to work, either for nearby employers or on government farms surrounding the village.
  • Freedman’s Village workers were paid $10 each week but between ten to fifty percent of their salary was appropriated for rent and to offset the community’s operating costs.
  • Many Freedman’s Village residents resented the harsh discipline and severe lifestyle that existed within the community.
  • Although Freedman’s Village was established as a temporary stopover to prepare hundreds of transient freedmen for success outside of its boundaries, it gradually morphed into a semi-permanent settlement that housed a fixed population that numbered in the thousands.
  • As Freedman’s Village grew, it suffered from overcrowding and the population spilled out into surrounding areas, prompting protests from white neighbors.
  • As early as 1868, the federal government began considering plans to close Freedmen’s Village.
  • In 1882, local government officials embraced a federal proposal to dismantle Freedmen’s Village and use the land as a public park.
  • Freedman’s Village residents elected John Syphax, whose mother had been a slave at Arlington, to represent their interests when the federal government announced plans to abolish the community.
  • On December 7, 1887, federal officials notified the residents of Freedman’s Village that they had ninety days to vacate their homes.
  • In 1888, John Syphax petitioned the War Department to compensate each displaced Freedman’s Village homeowner $350 for improvements made to the property.
  • During the 1890s, the federal government leveled Freedman’s Village.
  • In 1900, federal officials transferred the land formerly occupied by Freedman’s Village to the Department of Agriculture.
  • In 1900, federal officials awarded reparations of $75,000 to the former residents of Freedman’s Village or their heirs.
  • Today, the Pentagon, the Navy Annex building, and part of Arlington National Cemetery are located on the land formerly occupied by Freedman’s Village.
  • In section 27 of Arlington National Cemetery, near the Netherlands Carillon and the Marine Corps Memorial, more than 3,800 markers bearing the inscriptions of “civilian” and “citizen” mark the graves of former Freedman’s Village residents.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Freedman's Village Facts
  • Coverage 1863 - 1887
  • Author
  • Keywords freedman's village
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 26, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 17, 2021
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