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Slave Auction House Receives State Protection

An Alexandria, Va., building that served as a slave trading center for more than three decades has just received permanent historic protection through an easement approved by the state's Department of Historic Resources. Slave business at that location didn't end until 1861, when union troops occupied the town.

Known as the Franklin & Armfield Office, the three story building at 1315 Duke St. now serves as the headquarters for the Northern Virginia Urban League. It maintains a museum on the Alexandria slave trade.

The business established by Isaac Franklin and John Armfield in 1828 was unusual for its size and scope. The complex grew to cover much of a city block, with Armfield's home and office at its core. A high brick wall enclosed much of the property that included holding cells, outdoor courtyards, an infirmary, tailor shop and a dining area. While housed there, the enslaved received relatively good food, medical attention and new clothes as a way to make them as attractive as possible to potential buyers.

A report in the Alexandria Gazette in the late 1820s called the Franklin and Armfield property "a loathsome prison" and lamented the scene of slaves being driven through the town's street on route to or departing from the auction house.

The men expanded their business to include three ships to transport slaves to major trading areas, mostly New Orleans and Natchez, where Franklin had his offices. Both men became enormously rich.

Although they closed the firm in 1836, Armfield remained in the slave trade until the 1850s. The property was sold several times to others in the same business. Union soldiers arriving in the city confiscated the property for use as a jail for prisoners of war. In 1870, the slave pens were torn down and the building was restored to its original use as a residence.

The easement, donated by the Urban League to the state, guarantees the perpetual protection of the property while leaving it in private hands, according to information supplied by the historic resources department. Such easements sometimes lead to significant tax reductions for the owners.

By Linda Wheeler  |  March 17, 2009; 1:44 AM ET
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“A well written remembrance.

A valuable historic structure remains for our families to remember the never forgotten roots for many Americans.

Great article, and, Virginia's easement protection by it's Department of Human Resources is testimony to our human survivals and our historic growth out of troubled times.

A very good article.

Thank you from a great-great grand child of slaves who freed themselves with the aid and comradery with many of Virginia's wealthy history emancipating themselves; families of every stripe and courageous fortitudes.”

Posted by: eglobegus | March 17, 2009 7:51 PM | Report abuse

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