Early 1800's saw rise of free black society

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Early 1800's saw rise of free black society

February 16, 1995
By Pamela Cressey

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 the first archaeological investigations of African-Americans in Alexandria, conducted in 1978 with a grant from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, recorded thousands of artifacts from free black homes such as William Goddard’s, one of the founders of a free black neighborhood.
"In the name of God Amen. I William Goddard of the town of Alexandria in the District of Columbia do make my last will and Testament as follow to wit."

So began the 1815 will of a seemingly ordinary man, who appears to me quite extraordinary. William Goddard`s life spanned the years which saw a dramatic shift for Alexandria's African Americans, and as a result, the community as a whole. He and his wife witnessed the transformation of Alexandria from a town where virtually every black person was enslaved to one with free black neighborhoods. The Goddards' lives personify this shift.

When William walked the streets of Alexandria in 1795 he was a slave to Benjamin Dulaney, who resided at 601 Duke Street. By his death in 1819, William would have walked from his own home to his garden as a free man. Almost one out of two other blacks that he would have greeted had their freedom and independent households.

In the year 1795, Dulaney's neighbor James Lawrason purchased William Goddard, a "mulatto slave." Two years later Goddard appears as a witness to the sale of another Dulaney slave, Lucy. The condition of the sale was Lucy's freedom after 10 years at age 28. Then in 1798, Lawrason rents land on the 300 block of South St. Asaph street to Goddard for $18.75 silver dollars per year. The 1799 census records that Goddard was a carpenter.

By the early 1800s, Lawrason emancipated a salve named William Gordon after payment of 120 pounds (The tax records use "Goddard" and "Gordon" interchangeably. When Goddard lived in his small frame house valued at $150 with his wife and dog, he was a free man engaged in carpentry.

Over the next 19 years, William Goddard’s name appeared frequently in deeds, emancipation papers and census and tax records. He purchased his own half - acre market in the 900 block of Wilkes street for $900. Goddard also facilitated the freedom of many other Blacks.

Godard's first acts of his freedom apparently centered around members of his family. He purchased his bother Jack from Benjamin Dulaney, and Lawrason arranged to free Goddard’s son, William. Goddard assisted 18 African-Americans in securing their freedom.

In his will, Goddard ensured that his family would continue to own his property. Son William inherited "my black colt and small buffaloe cow." He appointed "my friends" Spencer Gray and Thomas Lawrason - James’s son - as executors. Singed with an X, William Goddard’s will perpetuated his achievements and set conditions for several others to be free. He was an extraordinary man.

Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.