Lecture: D.C. Slave Escapes Through Bladensburg

Douglas P. McElrath, director of special collections, University of Maryland

During the 18th and 19th centuries, D.C. was steeped in pro-slavery sentiment. In this talk, Douglas McElrath tells the stories of enslaved people who escaped captivity through Bladensburg and northwest Washington between 1790 and 1850.

When the Federal City was established in 1790, slavery was very much a part of the local economy. Enslaved individuals took many opportunities to escape their bondage in the Capital, using routes and paths through the northwestern region of the District. Often, slave owners would attempt to recapture theses runaway enslaved people, as George Washington did in 1796 with his enslaved servant Ona Judge. Attempts to recapture individuals were not always successful, and many people achieved their freedom from slavery in the District.

About Douglas McElrath

Douglas P. McElrath is the director of special collections and university archives at the University of Maryland. He also serves as a digital humanities incubator fellow at the Maryland Institute for Technology. McElrath has over 30 years of experience working with rare books and history—most recently using primary sources to reveal the history of Bladensburg during the foundation of the American Republic.

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