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Freed Slaves Buried in Arlington National Cemetery at Former Freedman’s Village Near Arlington Heights, VA

Mon February 15 2016 6:30 pm
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Freedman’s Village was the first free settlement in Arlington. Built on Robert E. Lee’s confiscated land, the settlement housed more than 1,000 freed slaves. The residents are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery was established on land confiscated from Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. and his family in 1861 after the general took command of the Confederate forces.

On April 16, 1862, Congress passed legislation freeing all slaves in the District of Columbia. Blacks from Virginia and elsewhere flocked to the city in search of work and shelter. Already struggling to meet the needs of their impoverished residents by the fall of 1862, the modest freedmen’s camps which the Government had erected in the city were overwhelmed after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in the Confederate states January 1, 1863.

— Freedman’s Village (

The Civil War leaders of the Union buried dead soldiers on the property of a thriving black town near Arlington Heights, Virginia — Freedman’s Village — in hopes that Lee would never want to return.

A remote site from Washington D. C. with a spectacular view of the nation’s capital and the Potomac River, and occupied by the Union army since with start of the Civil War in 1861, Arlington emerged as a sensible choice for the new camp. 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 officially selected the Arlington Estate as the site for Freedmen’s Village, which they intended to be a model community for freedpersons.

The design and layout of the village were intended to create a climate of order, sobriety and industry, consistent with the War Department’s goal of making the former slaves self-sufficient.

The village turned into a semi-permanent settlement and the government developed facilities and infrastructure to support the several thousand residents. Able adult tenants who did not have work elsewhere worked on the government farms which occupied the acreage surrounding the village at Arlington. In exchange for their work, the laborers were paid ten dollars per month, half of which they were required to pay to a general fund to maintain the village.

More than 1,100 former slaves lived in about 50 one-and-a-half story duplexes surrounding a central pond. The freed slaves built churches, stores, a hospital, mess hall, a school, a laundry, an “old people’s home.”

Freedman’s Village was torn down in 1900, and residents were evicted from the property to make way for the cemetery. A total of $75,000 was compensated to the villagers. Arlington National Cemetery holds little history acknowledging the existence of Freedman’s Village, except a model of the town inside Arlington House, General Lee’s former home. The only reminder of Freedman’s Village are the plot of graves in Section 27 near the Iwo Jima Memorial. The graves are marked civilian or citizen.

See also …

Freedman’s Village Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial

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