Franklin and Armfield

Historical Significance

One of the nation's largest slave trading firms, Franklin & Armfield operated from this townhouse on Duke Street from 1828-1836. Enslaved African Americans awaiting shipment to slave markets in New Orleans and Natchez were imprisoned in walled pens behind the house. At night they slept in a two-story rear wing with grated doors and windows. During their imprisonment, the prisoners feared being sold to the deep south, both because of the resulting separation from their families and because the conditions on the large tobacco and cotton plantations were considered much harsher than their more northern counterparts.

Franklin & Armfield were among the first slave traders to realize they could buy slaves cheaply in the upper South and sell them at a profit further south. "We will give Cash for one hundred likely YOUNG NEGROES," read one of their ads in the Alexandria Gazette in 1828. "Persons who wish to sell, would do well to give us a call, as the negroes are wanted immediately. We will give more than any other purchasers that are in the market or may hereafter come into the market."

In mid- to late- summer, slave drivers from Franklin & Armfield, armed with guns and whips, marched a chained and manacled coffle of slaves through Tennessee to the Forks of the Road slave market in Natchez, Mississippi. Every month from October to May, the firm also shipped slaves from Alexandria to New Orleans on their fleet of steamboats and ships, including one named for partner Isaac Franklin.

Franklin managed the sale of slaves in Natchez and New Orleans. John Armfield, his nephew by marriage, bought slaves in Virginia and held them on Duke Street, where he lived. At the firm's peak in the 1830's it sold between 1,000 and 1,200 enslaved African Americans a year, making it a key player in the interstate slave commerce that transported enslaved blacks from upper South hubs in Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, Norfolk, Nashville and St. Louis to markets further south in Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, Natchez, and New Orleans.

Between 1820 and 1860, the slave trade accounted for a significant portion of the South's economy. About 650,000 people were sold across state lines; twice as many were sold locally. The slave trade enriched not only slave traders but landlords, provisioners, physicians, insurance agents, and other businesses in the cities and states where they were sold.

In 1846, the Duke Street property was purchased by a Franklin & Armfield agent, George Kephart, and in 1858 to a third slave trading firm, Price, Birch, and Co.

The site was added to the National Historic Landmarks List in 1978; an historic marker was erected at the site in 2005. It was added to the National Historic Register in 2008. 

Physical Description

The building was originally constructed in 1812 as a residence for General Andrew Young, but passed into the hands of slave traders from 1828 to 1861. The complex served as a Civil War prison for Union army deserters from 1861 to 1865. It also housed freed "contraband" blacks after Alexandria fell to Union troops in 1861. In 1863, the building provided the first meeting place for Shiloh Baptist Church, founded by formerly enslaved African Americans once housed there. The slave pens were demolished in the 1870s. After the war it housed the Alexandria Hospital from 1878 to 1885. It was converted to apartments and subsequently renovated as offices in 1984.

The Franklin and Armfield office is an L-shaped, Adamesque style, three story structure of gray painted brick. The exterior and interior of the structure have undergone considerable alterations, but the pine flooring and open-well, three flight staircase is original. There were once walled living and eating areas for males and females on either side of the office building. 

Geographical and Contact Information

1315 Duke St.
Alexandria, Virginia
Phone: 703-836-2858