Franklin and Armfield Office, Alexandria, Virginia

The Franklin and Armfield Office at 1315 Duke Street in Alexandria, around the early 1860s. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

The scene in 2021:

The Franklin and Armfield Office at 1315 Duke Street in Alexandria, Virginia was built in 1810. It was originally built as a private residence for Brigadier General Robert Young of the Second Militia of the District of Columbia, but he was forced to sell the home in 1820 due to financial problems. By 1828, the home was leased, and eventually bought by infamous slave traders, Isaac Franklin and John Armfield. Franklin and Armfield were the largest slave traders in the United States between 1828 and 1836, and the Duke Street home was turned into their main office.

Since the transatlantic slave trade was banned in 1808, Franklin and Armfield would send agents across Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware in search of slave owners who were willing to part with their slaves for relatively cheap prices. The enslaved people would then be shipped back and held in the high-walled courtyards surrounding the offices (Seen to the left and right of the house in the top picture). In these courtyards, the enslaved people were subject to brutal beatings, rapes, and countless other forms of cruel control. Rapes were so frequently done by Franklin and Armfield to their slaves, that they bragged about them in letters between each other, and both men would father children to enslaved women in their captivity. Franklin would later go on to sell the woman he raped and the child he fathered with her. A two-story extension was added to the back of the building to serve as jail cells. These cells could be used to isolate certain slaves but were more often rented out by travelling slave owners who wanted to keep their slaves on the Virginia side of the Potomac.

Due to a surplus of enslaved people in the Upper South, slaves did not fetch high prices in Alexandra. The enslaved people were typically kept in the home’s courtyards until enough of them were bought for them to all be shipped together or marched to their offices in Natchez and New Orleans. Once in the Deep South, they could be sold at much higher prices than they were bought for in Virginia. It’s estimated that Franklin and Armfield sold between 1,000-2,000 people each year, transporting all of them by way of cramped slave ships or forced marches across the South.
By 1836, Franklin decided to retire, and his partner Armfield decided to sell off most of the business. He sold the Duke Street offices to another slave trader, George Kephart. He would continue the practice of selling slaves until he sold it to yet another slave trading firm, Price, Birch & Co. in 1858.

Price, Birch & Co. would become infamous not for their volume of slaves sold, but rather for one particular man that they enslaved. Solomon Northup, a freed slave from Saratoga Springs, New York was kidnapped in Washington, DC in 1841. He was shipped down to New Orleans where we was bought by a planter and re-enslaved. It would take Solomon 12 years before he would once again gain his freedom with the help of Samuel Bass. A Canadian working on the plantation, Samuel was able to get word back to New York about Solomon’s re-enslavement. After an appeal to the Governor of New York, Solomon was granted his freedom in 1853. Solomon would later go on to write his famous memoirs, 12 Years a Slave. In his memoirs, Solomon named his kidnapper as “Burch”, but it’s largely been accepted that the man he was talking about was James H. Birch, of Price, Birch & Co. in Alexandria. It should be noted though that Solomon Northup does not appear to have actually passed through the Alexandria slave pens, only that Birch used the building as his offices. Price, Birch & Co. would go on to own the building until the Civil War, when it was occupied by Union Forces in 1861. During the Civil War the slave pens were ironically, used as jail cells for captured Confederate soldiers.

After the Civil War, a railroader by the name of Thomas Swann bought the property in 1870 and tore down the slave pen extension. The buildings exterior also underwent changes that give it its modern appearance, such as the fourth story windows being added as well as the arches over the windows on the front façade. The property changed hands multiple times over the last century, serving as apartments for most of that time before being sold in 2017 to the Northern Virginia Urban League. Today, the building has been re-named the Freedom House, and features a museum to the building’s history on the first floor, and offices for the Northern Virginia Urban League on the upper floors.

Marshall House, Alexandria, Virginia

The Marshall House at the corner of King and Pitt Streets in Alexandria, around 1861-1865. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

The scene in 2021:

The Marshall House in Alexandria, VA was built in 1799, originally as a tavern and inn called the Washington Tavern. Some time around the mid-1820s, the name of the tavern and inn was changed to the Marshall House, and by the eve of the Civil War it had become a popular meeting spot for secessionists. One of these secessionists was the recently hired manager of the Marshall House, James W Jackson. Jackson was a fiery secessionist, and months before the firing on Fort Sumter, decided to raise a massive, 18 foot wide Confederate flag up the flagpole that stood at the top of the Marshall House. The flag was so large and conspicuous, that it was reported to have been able to be seen with a spyglass from Washington, DC. To protect his flag, Jackson borrowed a ceremonial cannon from his neighbor and placed it in the backyard of the tavern facing the front door. Exclaiming that the flag would be removed over his dead body, his words would end up becoming perfectly prophetic.

May 24, 1861 marked the day that the Union Army began their advance across the Potomac river into Virginia. Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth, close friend of President Lincoln and commander of the famous New York Fire Zouaves (11th New York Infantry), was tasked with cutting telegraph wires leading out of Alexandria. As Ellsworth marched past the Marshall House though, he felt it was his sole duty to first remove the flag of secession from the top of the tavern. Taking Private Francis E. Brownell with him, Ellsworth managed to make his way up to the roof of the tavern and remove the flag. On their descent though, they were surprised by Jackson pointing a double-barreled shotgun at Ellsworth. Jackson immediately shot Ellsworth in the chest, killing him instantly. Simultaneously, Private Brownell shot Jackson in the face and bayoneted him, killing him instantly as well. This incident at the Marshall House would mark the first Union officer to die in the Civil War. Ellsworth’s body would be sent to the White House for public mourning, while Jackson’s actions made Southerners view him as their first martyr of the war.

During and after the war the Marshall House attracted many tourists, soldiers and civilians alike. Many took souvenirs of the carpet, floorboards, or the outside signage. In 1873 most of the tavern burned down by an arsonist. Only the brick exterior remained after the fire. The building was restored after the fire, although with many Victorian style decorations added to the exterior. By the time the Marshall House was razed in the 1950s for downtown development, it resembled little of how it did during the Civil War.

Fittingly enough, the spot where the Marshall House was is today a hotel. The latest iteration of the site is The Alexandrian Hotel, owned by Marriott Bonvoy. Nothing currently marks the spot where Ellsworth and Jackson died, although up until recently there was a plaque on the side of the hotel posted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans that read:

THE MARSHALL HOUSE
stood upon this site, and within the building
on the early morning of May 24,
JAMES W. JACKSON
was killed by federal soldiers while defending his property and
personal rights as stated in the verdict of the coroners jury.
He was
the first martyr to the cause of Southern Independence.
The justice of history does not permit his name to be forgotten.

Not in the excitement of battle, but coolly and for a great principle,
he laid down his life, an example to all, in defence of his home and
the sacred soil of his native state.
VIRGINIA

Marriott Bonvoy seems to have quietly removed the plaque after pushback from the community.

Interestingly, the Marshall House also played a much smaller role in the Civil War. In 1859, the tavern issued tokens with an image of Minerva in profile on them. Tokens from private businesses were common before the war in both the North and the South. People hoarded metal coinage, believing their value would go up once war started. To counteract this, many businesses made their own tokens made from less valuable metals to help stimulate commerce. The tokens from the Marshall House eventually made their way down to Richmond, where the engraver Robert Lovett, Jr. used its image of Minerva as an exact model for his Confederate cent prototypes.

Mount Vernon, Virginia (4)

Looking south along the east piazza of the Mount Vernon mansion in Virginia, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As shown in the previous post, perhaps the most distinctive feature of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate is the piazza here on the east side of the mansion, although it is not original to the house. The house was constructed in several stages, starting around 1734 when the future president’s father, Augustine Washington, built a small house here. This was later expanded twice by George Washington, first in 1758 with the construction of a full second story, and then in 1774 with additions on both the north and south sides, along with the piazza on the east side.

The mansion sits on a bluff about 125 feet above the Potomac River, and from here the piazza offers expansive views of the river and the Maryland shoreline on the opposite side. Following the American Revolution, George Washington had envisioned that the river would serve as the primary gateway to the west, with all of the resulting east-west traffic literally passing by his front door. He was even involved with establishing the Patowmack Company, which made navigational improvements further upstream. The river ultimately did not become the great trade route that he had hoped, but it did become the site of the new national capital of Washington, D. C., which was built only 15 miles upstream on Mount Vernon.

After George Washington’s death in 1799 and his widow Martha’s in 1802, Mount Vernon remained in the Washington family for more than 50 years. It steadily declined during this period, though, and by the late 1850s the piazza was in danger of collapsing, with ship masts being used to support the roof. Then, in 1858 the last Washington owner, John Augustine Washington III, sold the property to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. This organization restored the mansion, and opened it to the public and a museum in 1860, making it one of the first historic house museums in the country.

Very little has changed here at Mount Vernon since then. The first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, showing at least nine visitors, mostly women, on and around the piazza. More than a century later, it looks essentially the same as it did then, with even the same style chairs still lined up here. The estate is still owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, and it remains open to the public as one of the most popular tourist attractions in Virginia.

Mount Vernon, Virginia (3)

The Mount Vernon mansion in Virginia, seen from the east side around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in a previous post, which shows the house from the west side, Mount Vernon was the estate of George Washington, who lived here from 1754 until his death in 1799. This property had been in the Washington family since 1674, when it was acquired by John Washington. His grandson, George Washington’s father Augustine Washington, later owned the land, and around 1734 he built the original portion of this house, on the banks overlooking the Potomac River.

In 1739, Augustine Washington gave the property—which was then known as Little Hunting Creek—to his oldest son Lawrence. He subsequently renamed it Mount Vernon, in honor of his former commanding officer Admiral Edward Vernon, and he lived here until his death in 1752, when he was in his early 30s. Lawrence and his wife Anne had four children, although all of them died young, and shortly after his death she remarried to George Lee and moved out of the house.

Under the conditions of Lawrence’s will, Anne owned Mount Vernon for the rest of her life, at which point his brother George would inherit it. With the house vacant, though, Anne began leasing it to her brother-in-law starting in 1754, when George Washington was about 22 years old. In 1758 he expanded the house by adding a second story, and then in 1761 he gained ownership of the property upon Anne’s death.

In the meantime, in 1759 Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow who was a year older than him. They never had any children together, but Martha had two surviving children from her first marriage, and they grew up here at Mount Vernon. This was also around the time that Washington became involved in politics. He had served with distinction as a colonel in the Virginia militia during the French and Indian War, and in 1758 he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he served until the beginning of the American Revolution.

Washington further expanded the mansion here at Mount Vernon in 1774, with two-story additions on either side of the original house. The large piazza here on the east side was also added as part of this project, and it would later become perhaps the most recognizable feature of the house. However, Washington did not get to enjoy the enlarged house for very long, because in 1775 he traveled north to take command of the Continental Army, and he was away from Mount Vernon for eight years before the war ended.

At the end of the war, Washington resigned his commission in the Continental Army and returned to civilian life here at Mount Vernon. His retirement did not last for long, though, because in 1789 he was elected president. For the next eight years, Washington spent most of his time in the temporary capital cities of New York and Philadelphia, before eventually returning to Mount Vernon at the end of his second term in 1797. He lived here for the last two and a half years of his life before his death in 1799, and Martha Washington died in 1802.

With no biological children, George Washington left Mount Vernon to his nephew, Bushrod Washington, who was a justice on the U. S. Supreme Court. After his death in 1829, his nephew John Augustine Washington II inherited it, followed by John’s son, John Augustine Washington III. He was the last member of the Washington family to own Mount Vernon, and in 1858 he sold the estate to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which preserved it and turned it into a museum.

By the time the association acquired the property, the mansion was in poor condition. As with many other southern planters, the Washington family owned vast amounts of land, but had relatively little cash. Consequently, the house suffered from many years of neglect, to the point that by the 1850s ships’ masts were being used as makeshift supports for the piazza roof, which was in danger of collapsing. However, the house was subsequently restored, and it opened to the public in 1860.

The first photo was taken about 40-50 years later, showing the mansion’s appearance at the turn of the 20th century. As shown in the second photo, very little has changed since then, aside from the removal of the small porch on the left side and the balustrades over the piazza, neither of which existed during George Washington’s ownership. The estate is still owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and open for public tours, and it remains a popular tourist attraction, drawing an estimated one million visitors here each year.

US Capitol, Washington, DC (3)

The view of the Capitol from the west side, around 1880-1897. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

This scene shows the west portico of the Capitol, the side of the building that faces the Mall and the Washington Monument. As discussed in an earlier post, which shows the view from the east side, the Capitol has been in use since 1800, although it has undergone significant changes during this time. The building was burned by the British in 1814 during the War of 1812, and it was subsequently rebuilt. This work was completed in 1826, but the Capitol was much smaller at the time, consisting of only a low dome and the two small wings on either side. The north wing, visible immediately to the left of the dome in this scene, housed the original Senate chamber, while the House of Representatives was located in the south wing.

By the mid-19th century, Congress had outgrown the building, so in the early 1850s work began on a major expansion, with two new wings that extended the Capitol further to the north and to the south. The project included new chambers for both the House and the Senate, which opened in 1857 and 1859, respectively. These wings are only partially visible in this scene, with the present-day Senate chamber on the far left, and the House chamber on the far right. Aside from these wings, the project also included a new, much larger dome, which was completed in 1863 and topped with the 19.5-foot bronze Statue of Freedom, as shown in these photos.

With the completion of the dome, the Capitol largely assumed its present-day appearance. The first photo was taken several decades later, around the 1880s or 1890s, and very little has changed in this view since then. Today, the west portico is probably best known as the site of the presidential inauguration, which occurs here every four years on January 20. However, for most of the building’s history the event was held on the east portico, and it was not until the 1981 inauguration of Ronald Reagan that it was held here on the west side. This was done in part as a cost-saving measure, and also as a way to allow for more spectators, with the mile-long Mall providing plenty of open space and views of the Capitol. With the exception of Reagan’s second inauguration, which was held in the Capitol Rotunda, every ceremony since then has been held here. Of these, Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 reportedly drew the largest crowd, with an estimated 1.8 million visitors gathering on the Mall.

US Capitol, Washington, DC (2)

The U. S. Capitol, seen from the northwest around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The Capitol in 2018:

This view of the Capitol is similar to one in a previous post, except it shows the building from the northwest instead of the northeast. As discussed in that post, construction on the Capitol began in 1793, and the partially-completed building was first used by Congress in 1800, when the federal government moved from Philadelphia to Washington. It subsequently burned during the War of 1812, and for several years afterward Congress met in temporary quarters on the current site of the Supreme Court building. Congress returned to the Capitol in 1819, although the building was not fully completed until 1826.

At the time, though, the exterior of the Capitol was very different from its current appearance. Instead of its current cast iron dome, it was topped with a low copper-covered wood dome, and on either side of the Rotunda were small wings for the House and Senate. However, as the country grew so did the size of Congress, and by the mid-19th century the Capitol was becoming too small. This resulted in a massive expansion project that began in the early 1850s and was completed in 1863. As part of it, new wings were constructed for the two houses of Congress, and a new, much larger dome was added above the Rotunda.

By the end of the Civil War, the exterior of the Capitol had largely assumed its current appearance. The first photo was taken about 50 years later during the 1910s, looking up the walkway towards the west portico of the building. Remarkably little has changed in this scene since then. Perhaps the only significant difference in the present-day scene is the barricade in the distance at the base of the steps, in place as a security measure. Otherwise, though, this view looks the same as it did a century ago, and the Capitol remains an iconic symbol of both Washington D. C. in general and the federal government in particular.