History

»  History of Decatur House

»  Owners and Tenants

»  African Americans

»  Lafayette Square

 


 

African American Residents

 

Charlotte Dupuy

Though it is unclear exactly who might have worked for the Decatur’s, they certainly could not have managed their home without help – likely provided by individuals hired from three different groups: white servants, free blacks, and enslaved persons “hired out” by their owners. “Hiring out” was a common practice in southern urban areas that offered the possibility of the enslaved person eventually “buying” their own freedom.

Charlotte (“Lottie”) Dupuy, however, is one well-known woman enslaved at Decatur House by Secretary of State Henry Clay. Dupy sued Clay for her freedom and that of her two children, Charles and Mary Ann, in 1829, seventeen years before Dred Scott filed his well-known legal challenge to slavery. She based her claim on a promise of freedom made to her by her previous owner, which she believed transferred to Henry Clay when he purchased her in 1806, after she married Aaron Dupuy, a man already enslaved in Clay’s household. The family most likely moved to Washington with Clay when he became a Congressional representative in 1810.

 
Charlotte Dupuy's Petition
 

As the petition from Dupuy’s attorney indicates, Clay’s preparations to leave the capital dictated the timing of her legal challenge. Indeed, Clay took Dupuy’s husband and children back to Kentucky with him, but she remained at Decatur House, earning wages and working for the home’s next resident, Secretary of State, and later the 8th President, Martin Van Buren.

The court ultimately ruled that the earlier promise to Dupuy was not applicable to any new ownership, but she refused to return to Kentucky. As a result, authorities jailed her in Alexandria, Virginia, until arrangements could be made for her transport to Clay’s daughter’s home in New Orleans. Eleven years after her lawsuit, in 1840, Henry Clay granted Charlotte and Mary Ann Dupuy their freedom. Charles Dupuy remained enslaved by Clay for another four years, during which time he traveled with Clay to speaking engagements throughout the country, portrayed by Clay as an example of how “well” he treated his slaves.

 

King and Williams Families

The slave quarters at one time housed more than 20 people, mainly from the King and Williams families, all enslaved by John Gadsby. These men, women, and children lived in the second floor rooms of the slave quarters, and likely worked at Gadsby’s National Hotel, as well as to attend to the needs of his own home. After John Gadsby’s death in 1844, his property passed to his wife, Providence; and upon Providence Gadsby’s death in 1858, court documents enumerated her property, including the following listing of the King and Williams’s family.

Name:
Age:
Declared $ Value:
Harry [Henry?] King
55
500
Maria King
50
500
Seely [Celia] King
30
700
Charles King
28 [23?]
1,000
George King
14
700
Harry King, Jr.
8
300
Marsha King
6
200
Dick King
11
300
Joshua [James?] Long
45
500
Kym Long (Kyin/Kyia?)
42
500
Mary Francis [Williams?] Long
23
600
Maria Williams
44
500
Jim [James] Williams
16 [14?]
900
Lewis Williams
9
300
Rosa Marks
65
100
Nancy Syphax
55
100

 

In 1862, the United States Congress freed the enslaved people in Washington, DC through the District of Columbia Emancipation Act, nearly a year before the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. The government, however, deemed it appropriate to reimburse slave owners in Washington, D.C. for their financial losses, and the Gadsby family was compensated for their freed slaves in the following amounts:

For Henry King
$175.20
For Maria King
$175.20
For Maria Williams
$175.20
For Nancy Syphax
$87.60
For George King
$613.20
For Martha King
$262.80
For James Williams
$525.20