“From the Archives” Saint Mary’s Early Black Parishioners, Slave and Free

There were many black individuals living in colonial Alexandria, both slave and free. By the 1800 census, Alexandria was home to 1,172 slaves (19.7% of the city’s population) and 383 free people of color (.064%). The number of slaves grew, reaching its peak in 1820 (1,857—19.1%), then tapered off somewhat. By 1860, the number of slaves had dropped to 1,386 (11%). The number of free blacks also grew, reaching its peak in 1830 (1,548 persons counted), but was dropping by 1860 (1,415), when there were more free blacks than slaves.

Many of Alexandria’s enslaved and free blacks were Catholic, owned by wealthy white Catholics who brought them from Maryland. These individuals often had no last names or took the last name of their owner. Typical baptismal listings in pre-Civil War parish records include:

February 28, 1801 – ULIA ANN, daughter of CHARITY and ORANDA, slaves to W.H. Foote

September 3, 1809 – MOORE, LUISA, colored. Simply baptized slave of Capt. Moore. Sponsor Mrs. Moore. Aged about 18 months.

July 9 1831 – CATHERINE, daughter of SIMON and HENNY, his wife. Aged 9 months, and a slave of Richard Mason of Fairfax County, VA

July 9, 1831 – BUTTS, MARY and HELEN, twins, daughters of MARY BUTTS, free and colored. Aged 9 months.

July 1832 – MAGDALENE, daughter of ELIZA, a colored person free. Aged seven months.

February 8, 1846 – ELIZABETH JOHNSON, a woman of color and near 100 years old. Baptized conditionally.

Since the majority of early Saint Mary parishioners were shopkeepers and small merchants, tradesmen and laborers – professions that had no need for slaves – they generally either did not own slaves, or owned one or two at most.

Other parishioners owned larger numbers of slaves. For example, Slave Manumissions in Alexandria Land Records, 1790-1863 in Friends of Freedmen’s Cemetery, 2007, lists Saint Mary parishioner William Hayward Foote as having freed 44 of his slaves in his will, probated in 1852. He did not free them outright, however, when he died. Concerned they would have no means of support, Foote and his widow Cecelia freed them gradually over several years, and urged them to “…look to my dear wife as their protector.”  A newspaper clipping from the Alexandria Gazette, inserted in the parish records by Father Joseph Bixio, reveals the high esteem Foote held for one of his elderly slaves, Bob Foy.  Foote’s tribute included the following:  “If an honest man be the noblest work of God, then was Bob Foy one of nature’s nobility.” Some of Foote’s freed slaves bore the name “Quander,” a name associated with the Washington family and Mount Vernon. Saint Mary Church records show marriages and baptisms of several Quanders, free persons. A number of Quanders settled in Fairfax County, just south of Hunting Creek. Quander Road bears their name today.

– Kitty Guy, Parish Historian

Throughout 2020, the Basilica of Saint Mary will present “From the Archives.” It is a weekly feature online and in our bulletin spotlighting the history of the parish. All of our “From the Archives” features are located here

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