Those enslaved in the District of Columbia were emancipated by the Compensated Emancipation Act of 16 April 1862. All slaves were freed immediately and slave holders had 90 days to file a petition for compensation. The website Civil War Washington has transcribed and indexed those petitions, with images of the original documents attached–an outstanding resource for any African-American searching for ancestors in the city. Because both owners and the enslaved frequently moved back and forth across city limits, this source also should be searched for those with Maryland or Virginia roots. Most former slaves left their owners immediately, and by 1870 70% of those emancipated had left the city. So even if your family has no known connection to DC, you should take a few minutes and search these petitions.
Farther down this page, you’ll find a summary of all the African-American Magruders I have found in the petitions, along with notes about possible connections to other enslaved families and to white Magruders and McGregors. You will find other references to white Magruders, if you search the site. Several are named as witnesses, which establishes a firm connection with the principle parties in each petition.
See also: my blog post of 4 January 2015 regarding slaves imprisoned in Baltimore by owners attempting to evade DC emancipation and Union recruiting.
Using the Civil War Washington site:
When you use the Search function on the CWW site, the default sorting of results is by relevance. So, for example, when I search “Magruder” the first results listed are those in which either the petitioner or a slave is named Magruder. Farther down the list are petitions in which Magruders are named as witnesses or in other detail, such as where the slave was purchased. Most petitions include slaves with more than one surname, who may be related, or may provide clues that lead to relatives.
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966 slave holders filed petitions, of which 94% were accepted for compensation. As always, the best sources for details about enslaved people are those created at moments when it was in the slave owner’s interest to provide a full name and a full description. Petitioners had to present their slaves for examination, or, if a person had run away, produce witnesses who could testify to the slave’s condition and value. Petitions provide surnames, physical descriptions, and, in many cases, details about the enslaved person’s skills, living situation, and family members. Petitioners also had to say how and from whom they acquired each person–more priceless detail for genealogists.
Congress had also provided funds to transport emancipated people who volunteered to leave the country for Liberia or Haiti, a process known as Colonization. This was a largely symbolic gesture, to help get the bill passed, and very few people elected colonization. Some, however, having heard of this part of the bill feared colonization would be mandatory and fled into Maryland or Virginia.
More than 150 slave holders failed to file a petition. To receive compensation, each had to swear (among other things) loyalty to the Union; so most of those who failed to file are assumed to have publicly supported the Confederacy. Others were residents of Maryland or Virginia, whose slaves had been living–perhaps hired out, perhaps fugitive–in the District.
On 12 June 1862 Congress passed a supplemental act allowing slaves to petition for their own freedom. Each of these supplemental petitions includes the individual’s request for freedom plus the testimony of witnesses who could verify ownership, residence in the District, and other details. These “supplemental petitions” were the first instance in which slaves were allowed to petition and give testimony in a Federal court, a legal precedent with far-reaching consequences. Here’s how Civil War Washington explains it–
The supplemental petitions are particularly valuable for providing insights into the experience of slavery and freedom as recorded by the slaves themselves rather than their white owners. They were also extraordinary in representing the first instance in which the federal government allowed African Americans to testify as both petitioners and witnesses in a formal judicial proceeding. The supplemental act therefore set a precedent that soon resulted in the admission of African Americans to federal courts as plaintiffs, witnesses testifying against whites, and jury members. When the slaves established their right to emancipation, they received freedom certificates or “free papers” from the federal government. The commission evaluated 166 supplemental petitions and granted 86 percent of them. They rejected the claims of slaves who could not establish that they were residents of the District of Columbia without their owners’ permission. One of the profound legacies of the supplemental act of June 1862 was the granting of freedom for slaves without any provision for or expectation of compensation for their owners, a principle that infused the long overdue blanket emancipation of slaves embodied in the Emancipation Proclamation that Lincoln issued on January 1, 1863, and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 6, 1865.
I highly recommend the entire article, “Emancipation Petitions: Historical Contexts,” from which I have pulled this paragraph.
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Among those who failed to file was Nathaniel M. McGregor, brother of Roderick M. McGregor and of Ellen McGregor Ewell–three of the children of John Smith Magruder, who changed all his children’s names to McGregor. Nathaniel had a residence and business in Washington, but lived primarily in Prince George’s County, MD, on the plantation his sons, Roderick M. McGregor (II) and John Francis McGregor, had inherited from their uncle Roderick. Census records and slave schedules record Nathaniel as a D.C. resident. Four people he held in slavery in D.C. obtained their freedom by supplemental petition: Stephen Smith (40); Sarah Carroll (48), and Sarah’s children William Carroll (11) and Mary Carroll (3). A man named John Wheeler testified for Stephen Smith. I have not identified John Wheeler; his words were recorded thus:
Known servant Stephen for 10 years. first knew him in the store of Rich J. Ryon. Since 1855 he has been in Mr McGregors employ. Don’t know ownership. Reputed as McGregors servant. always heard he belonged to McGregor. Have no doubt in my own mind that he is McGregors. known him there constantly at McGregors store.
Stephen Smith, in turn, testified for Sarah Carroll and her children, making him one of the first African Americans to give testimony in a Federal Court. His words were recorded as:
I know servant. this woman raised me. They belonged to Mr N. McGregor.
Note that he was raised by a girl, now a woman, just eight years older than himself, from which we can conclude Stephen Smith’s mother was not there. Tracks lead out from these details into other questions surrounding the Magruder/McGregor family and the Berry family that Roderick married into. For instance–
- In 1850, Roderick McGregor‘s estranged wife Ann Eversfield McGregor (maiden name Berry, widow Eaton) was living in Prince George’s County in a household that consisted of Ann’s mother, Margery Berry (a.k.a. Margery Ferguson), plus Elizabeth Ryon, a white woman 23 years old. The Ryon name crops up in other records related to Magruders.
- In the same census, Eliza McGregor, wife or widow of Nathaniel and Roderick’s brother, Henry McGregor, was living close by in household headed by William Wedge, a free mulatto man, along with his wife and children. (It is unclear when Henry died. He does not appear on the 1850 census, though other sources place his death in 1851.)
A supplemental petition was also filed by G[eorge] Wedge, a free man of color, on behalf of his wife, Emeline Wedge, (21 or 22) and their children Martha Ann Elizabeth Wedge (4 or 5) and George Washington Wedge (3 or 4). There were many witnesses, among them William Wedge.
- The Wedge family were descendants of Mary Wedge, a white woman who in 1727 was convicted of having given birth to a child fathered by an enslaved man named Daniel. (For more about the laws that ensnared such women and their descendants in servitude and slavery, see my page on Priscilla Gray & Descendants.) Mary Wedge was a servant of Thomas Harwood, whose descendants intermarried with the Berrys right up to the time of these petitions. In 1850 there were three free Wedge households in Prince George’s County.
- I am struck by the coincidence of Emeline Wedge, in this family, and Emaline Magruder, named below. Some names rarely found today are fairly common in 19th c. records, but this is not one of them.
Questions also arise about Nathaniel M. McGregor.
- In 1862, the year of the DC petitions, Nathaniel McGregor was asked by the court to explain why he had not settled the estate of Eliza Hamilton, for whom he was Executor. Eliza Hamilton’s will freed all her slaves, left to some of them a duplex house in Washington and to others cash bequests. Her estate was still not settled in 1867 when Nathaniel McGregor died. (Other sources say he died in 1870.) (See Magruder-Hamilton slaves) The coincidence of his failing to act in two situations that involved the freeing of slaves suggests that Nathaniel was unwilling to free them.
- Specific to the DC compensation petitions, however, is the requirement that petitioners be able to prove loyalty to the Union. Nathaniel McGregor’s nephew and son-in-law, John Ridout McGregor, served briefly in the Confederate army and was afterwards widely suspected of being a Confederate spy, so it may have been impossible for Nathaniel to petition for compensation. Five years later, in 1867, former enslavers in Maryland had the opportunity to file for compensation for slaves freed by the state’s new constitution and/or conscripted into the Union army. Neither Nathaniel nor his sons–Roderick and John Francis, who had inherited slaves from their uncle–filed for compensation.
- In 1860, as executor of his brother Roderick’s will, Nathaniel did follow Roderick’s directions to free William and Matilda Bowie and several of their children, and to settle them in Washington, DC, with a house, horse and cart, and a cash legacy. See William & Matilda Bowie page.
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Af-Am Magruders named in the petitions:
Lucy Magruder (28), formerly Lucy Chase, is named in a petition by Samuel A.H. Marks, along with her son Daniel Magruder (8 months) and Basil Chase (28). Basil was a coachman and Lucy a house servant. Marks testified that he had purchased Lucy and Basil from two separate owners, to save them from being sold south. Nathaniel McGregor was a witness to the sale of Lucy (Chase) Magruder.
- A man named Anthony Chase appears in both estate papers and runaway ads from Roderick McGregor‘s Prince George’s County plantation. (The P.G. County McGregors were a Magruder family who had changed their name.)
- Several men named Basil also appear in the Roderick M. McGregor’s estate records and in the estate of his father, John Smith Magruder. Some of those Basils are from the Mullen family. See my pages on the Mullen family, Will of John Smith Magruder, Will of Roderick McGregor, and Runaways from his plantation.
Ann Magruder (52) is named in a petition by Francis and Robert P. Dodge, along with Emaline Magruder (24), John Magruder (22), Maria Warren (40), and Nelly Warren (42). Ann was a cook and dairy maid; Emaline a chamber maid; John a waiter and gardener; Maria a pastry cook and house servant; Nelly a cook and house servant. (This sounds like an elegant household.) A petition filed by Edward Chapman names the estate of Francis Dodge as the source of three enslaved people named Middleton, and his petition was witnessed by H. Magruder. Others named Duffin and Coates are also named in the Chapman petition.
- A man named Frederick Chapman ran away from Roderick McGregor’s plantation in 1838. There is no indication in surviving records that he was ever caught, though it is possible he was caught and immediately sold. See Runaways from Roderick McGregor.
Dennis Magruder (60) is named in a petition by Ann Scott, along with Ellen Magruder (45), and people surnamed Bender, Singleton, Tilghman, and Parr. Scott testified that all the named slaves were inherited from her father, “most of them being the children of old family servants.” So, if you think your people are among those named in her petition, tracing the family of Ann Scott may lead you to other ancestors.
All information on this page comes from Civil War Washington
except the additional information & speculation marked with bullet points.