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The Congressional Cemetery: A Stop on the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom

Washington, D.C., and its surrounding areas are known for countless historical monuments and markers. Today’s post highlights some less well-known memorials, focusing on individuals buried at the Congressional Cemetery who have been recognized by the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Created by an act of Congress in 1998, the Network to Freedom program unites government entities with individuals and organizations to “honor, preserve and promote the history of resistance to enslavement through escape and flight, which continues to inspire people worldwide.” Researchers who are interested in learning more about the hundreds of locations that have been designated under this program can explore its sites, programs, and facilities using an interactive map created by the National Park Service.

Map of locations on the underground railroad network to freedom in washington dc, with callout to graves at the congressional cemetery

Screen capture of the National Park Service’s interactive map with sites on the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Below you will find information about individuals whose gravesites are listed under the Network to Freedom, as well as their connections to the Underground Railroad (UGRR). The information in the parentheticals indicates where each person’s tombstone can be found in the Congressional Cemetery.

William Boyd, 1820-1884 (R5 S222)

Overhead view of gravesite of William Boyd, 1820-13 Feb. 1884, taken at the Congressional Cemetery.

Gravesite of William Boyd, 1820-1884. Photo taken by Anna Price.

William Boyd was known as a “conductor” on the UGRR. According to a February 14, 1854 (col. 7) obituary notice from the Evening Star, Boyd was “determined to engage in the work himself, and when a runaway arrived he generally was secreted by Boyd till he got his wagon – one with a false bottom, in which the runaway could hide . . . and would make his way to the Pennsylvania line.” In November 1858, he was caught near Pennsylvania with two enslaved persons in the back of his wagon, for which he was tried and sentenced to 14 years of hard labor in February 1860 (col. 2). In 1863, President Lincoln pardoned Boyd, who continued advocating against slavery while residing in Washington, D.C. During a riot in southwest D.C. in 1865, Boyd was seriously injured when he was struck in the face with a brick, which broke his jaw and blinded him in one eye (col. 5). Boyd passed away in his home on February 13, 1884.

John Dean, 1813-1863 (R83 S181)

Overhead view of gravesite of John Dean, 16 Aug. 1813-17 Oct. 1863, taken at the Congressional Cemetery

Gravesite of John Dean, 1813-1863. Photo taken by Anna Price.

Shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation was published, John Dean, an attorney, originally moved to Washington, D.C., from New York to work for the Treasury Department (col. 2). Soon after his arrival, he began taking on cases to challenge the application of “fugitive slave laws,” particularly the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Between 1862 and 1863, Dean represented clients in approximately seven cases to “test certain points of law” (col. 2) but seldom prevailed. According to various accounts, four of his clients were returned to people who claimed ownership over them, outside D.C.; one person joined the military (col. 5) to avoid recapture. Dean died of pneumonia in his home on October 16, 1863 (col. 5).

David A. Hall, 1795-1870 (R34 S63)

Overhead view of gravesite of David A. Hall, 16 Oct. 1795-24 Dec. 1870, taken at the Congressional Cemetery.

Gravesite of David Hall, 1795-1870. Photo taken by Anna Price.

David Hall moved to D.C. around 1820 to study law. As a lawyer, Hall represented freedom-seekers in courts across the District and Maryland. He is known for representing William Jones, a free Black man who had been falsely arrested and confined in a D.C. jail. According to a petition by Jones and Hall, which was presented to Congress by Rep. Joshua Giddings, Jones was notified that he would be “sold as a slave by the marshal of the United States to pay the expenses of his imprisonment . . .” Additionally, Hall defended individuals who were criminally charged for the Pearl incident. He later gained a reputation for representing abolitionists who were accused of “abducting” enslaved persons, including William Chaplin (col. 3), who was arrested for transporting two enslaved persons from D.C. to Pennsylvania.

Hannibal Hamlin, 1809-1862 (R64 S75)

Overhead view of gravesite of Hannibal Hamlin, 30 Jan. 1809-13 Nov. 1862, taken at the Congressional Cemetery.

Gravesite of Hannibal Hamlin, 1809-1862. Photo taken by Anna Price.

Born in 1809, Hamlin moved to D.C. in 1861 to work for the Treasury Department. At this time, many freedom-seekers from Maryland and Virginia were moving to the area based on rumors that President Lincoln was planning to sign a bill emancipating enslaved persons in D.C. In response to this influx, Hamlin co-founded the National Freedman’s Relief Association of Washington, D.C. (col. 2). According to a posting about the organization in the Evening Star, the purpose of this group was “to furnish assistance and protection to the large number of ‘contrabands’ who [were] flying to Washington as a city of refuge.” In 1862, Hamlin traveled to Fort Monroe in Virginia to review the living conditions of self-emancipated individuals who were seeking refuge there. After his trip, he fell ill and died on November 14, 1862 (col. 2).

To learn more about the Congressional Cemetery, you can read some of our blog posts, such as Congressional Cemetery Series: Celebrating Pride Month, Which Signatory of the Declaration of Independence is Buried in Washington, DC?, and “Would You Be Interested in Getting (Attorney General) William Wirt’s Head Back?” Rebecca Roberts Brings Us a Tale From the Congressional Cemetery.

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