History of 1315 Duke Street
History of 1315 Duke Street
The Franklin and Armfield Slave Pen at 1315 Duke Street was one of the largest slave trading companies in the country and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The three-story brick building with mansard roof was built as the residence of Robert Young, Brigadier General of the second Militia of the District of Columbia. By 1828, it was leased by Isaac Franklin and John Armfield and used as a "Negro Jail" or slave pen for slaves being shipped from Northern Virginia to Louisiana. Franklin and Armfield were active until 1836, exporting over 3,750 slaves to cotton and sugar plantations in the Deep South. Later, other firms continued trading in slaves here. A sign seen in Civil War period photographs has the name of Price, Birch & Co. During the Civil War the building and its surrounding site were used as a military prison for deserters, the L'Ouverture Hospital for black soldiers and the barrack for contraband-slaves who fled the confederate states and sought refuge with Union troops.
Building and Property History
The following building and property history is centered on the structure currently at 1315 Duke Street in the City of Alexandria, Virginia and the infamous slave jail complex that once stood there. This four-story brick building, while heavily modified, is the only portion of this slave jail complex still standing.
Built c. 1812 on what was then the edge of town, 1315 Duke Street originally consisted of the main block of the current structure, which was then only three stories tall, and possibly the original kitchen wing to the rear, and was the home of Brigadier General Robert Young. Between 1828 and 1861, this building served as the offices and headquarters of a series of slave-trading businesses, including Franklin & Armfield, one of the largest domestic slave trading firms in the country between 1828 and 1837. They converted the residence into a massive slave jail complex that encompassed half of the block by adding a pair of yards enclosed by high brick walls, one to either side of the main block, and fenced in the remainder of the property. It was used until the Civil War by a series of subsequent businesses also engaged in human trafficking, first under George Kephart, formerly an agent for Isaac Franklin and John Armfield, and then by C. M. Price and John C. Cook. On May 24, 1861, the Union Army liberated the slave jail complex when they entered Alexandria the day after Virginians voted to adopt the State’s ordinance of secession.
During the Civil War, the Union Army used the site as a military prison, slightly modifying the jail primarily to confine Union soldiers accused of various rule infractions and to accommodate the adjacent L’Ouverture Hospital and Contrabands Barracks. Shortly after the war, the majority of the complex was demolished by a private developer building new townhouses, save for the original residence and rear wing consisting of its original kitchen and passageway. The building was rented as a boarding house or apartments throughout the late 19th and for much of the 20th century, with a major renovation in the first decade of the 20th century seeing an additional story added to the front and back of the building and new windows. Another major renovation of the structure occurred in 1984 when the rear yard was enclosed within an addition to the building and the interior of 1315 Duke Street was reconfigured from apartments into office space. The Northern Virginia Urban League purchased the property in 1997and 23 years later, sold 1315 Duke Street to the City of Alexandria.
The following building history narrative for 1315 Duke Street represents our current and best understanding of the history of the building and the property and has been drawn from an array of primary and secondary sources. These include deeds, newspapers, censuses, City tax lists, published narratives, maps, historic photographs, the 1987 archaeology report of excavations at 1315 Duke Street by Engineering-Science, Inc. (Artemel et al., 1987), Michael Ridgeway’s 1976 thesis A Peculiar Business: Slave Trading in Alexandria, Virginia, 1825-1861, Robert Gudmestad’s 1999 dissertation A Troublesome Commerce: The Interstate Slave Trade, 1808- 1840, and Calvin Schermerhorn’s 2015 book The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815-1860. A forthcoming book by Joshua Rothman, The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America, and an upcoming expansion of the Slave Voyages database (slavevoyages.org) to include the domestic slave trade will certainly further refine this history. This document represents a first attempt to pull together existing material that documents the site as well as additional historic, archival, and archaeological research not presented in these sources. From this analysis, there are issues raised in the following pages that are contradictory, not well-documented, or unclear from the evidence so far uncovered. Where possible, these uncertainties have been identified and future research has been recommended. It is hoped that any gaps or deficiencies in this document serve as a roadmap future research.
Out of necessity, this report is not comprehensive. While related, it does not focus on the domestic slave trade in either Alexandria or in Washington, D.C. It does not address the contours of urban or agricultural slavery in the City. It largely omits biographical sketches of the individuals mentioned here and it does not include a discussion of surviving ledgers, letters, or other records like shipping manifests that highlight the scope and scale of the activities of the businesses operating out of 1315 Duke Street beyond that which is relevant to a discussion of the physical building and property. These are relevant topics to the history of 1315 Duke Street but are planned to be addressed in separate research products to be produced in the future, including a more detailed architectural analysis of the current structure and a reanalysis of the previous archaeology conducted at the site.
Building and Property History, 1315 Duke Street. Benjamin Skolnik, Office of Historic Alexandria (2021)
Chain of Title
A timeline of the Chain of Title for 1315 Duke Street is followed by details of ownership. Also view a Chain of Title Narrative for more information.
Historic Structures Report
The Historic Structures Report (HSR) for 1315 Duke Street, the Freedom House Museum, was formally presented by SmithGroup on October 28, 2021. The report was updated in 2023.
A historic structure report provides documentary, graphic, and physical information about a property's history and existing condition. Broadly recognized as an effective part of preservation planning, a historic structure report also addresses management or owner goals for the use or re-use of the property. 1315 Duke Street was once part of the headquarters for the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States, Franklin and Armfield. Enslaved people were brought from the Chesapeake Bay area and forced to the slave markets in Natchez, Mississippi and New Orleans either by foot or ship. On March 25, 2020, the City of Alexandria completed the purchase of the 1315 Duke Street from the Northern Virginia Urban League (NVUL). This purchase allows the City to preserve and interpret this National Historic Landmark and ensure it is open to the public for future generations.
This Historic Structures Report was funded in part by a generous donation from John Bessette and a grant from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Read Historic Structures Report (Final 2023)
View HSR report summary (Updated 2023)
0:00 - Welcome by Audrey Davis, Director, Alexandria Black History Museum
2:04 - Introductions of Presenters
4:11 - Project Background
9:05 - Investigative Process
20:47 - Building's History and Significance
35:54 - Periods of Development
46:22 - Period of Significance (1828-1861)
47:48 - Physical Description and Inventory
49:22 - Conditions Assessment
50:07 - Work Recommendations
51:58 - Treatment and Use - Options and Recommendations
55:29 - Further Recommendations and Studies
1:00:47 - Live Q&A
National Register of Historic Places
The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Franklin and Armfield Office. Read the nomination form on the Virginia Department of Historic Resources website.
- Alexandria's African American Community: Online Resources
- "A Loathsome Prison:” Slave Trading in Antebellum Alexandria, a lesson plan for teachers.
- Slaves in the Alexandria Jail, 1861. This article, from the National Republican of January 20, 1862, was taken from a letter addressed to Massachusetts’ anti-slavery Senator Henry Wilson. It expresses outrage at the poor conditions and inhumanity of treatment of slaves in the Alexandria Jail, even under federal occupation. (Courtesy, Friends of Freedmen’s Cemetery)
19th Century Images
20th Century Images
21st Century Images: Freedom House Museum 2009-2018
This exhibit was created in the basement of 1315 Duke Street on behalf of the building's inhabitants, the Northern Virginia Urban League (NVUL). The current exhibit, which opened in 2022, is on the upper floors of the building because of the steep and narrow staircase and water issues in the basement.