Bruin's Jail

Historical Significance

From the 1840s until Union troops seized the property in 1861, slave trader Joseph Bruin imprisoned enslaved blacks in this two-story brick building. In December 1845, Bruin and his partner Henry Hill advertised in the Alexandria Gazette: "NEGROES WANTED: All persons having Negroes to sell will find ready sale and liberal prices for them by calling at the new establishment of BRUIN & HILL."

With the decline of the tobacco economy in Virginia, planters increasingly "hired out" their slaves to work in the factories, docks, and hotels of cities like Richmond, Alexandria, and Washington, D.C. As Alexandria's manufacturing economy declined after 1830, slave-trading and fishing became the city's two major commercial activities. 

Urban blacks enjoyed a measure of independence, but it was tempered by the greater likelihood that they would be "sold South," where slaves were sometimes worked to death on rice and cotton plantations. Like the more famous slave trading company of Franklin & Armfield, located four blocks east at 1315 Duke Street, Bruin & Hill maximized its profits by transporting local blacks to slave markets in the Deep South.

Greater concentrations of hired-out blacks, coupled with increased anxiety about being "sold South," may have contributed to a daring escape attempt on April 15, 1848 when 77 enslaved blacks from Alexandria, Georgetown and Washington, D.C. escaped aboard the schooner Pearl. After their capture in the Chesapeake Bay, Bruin and Hill bought many of these individuals from their enraged owners and sold them to owners in New Orleans. 

The enslaved Edmonson family was brought to Bruin's jail, where Bruin's daughter pleaded unsuccessfully that Mary and Emily Edmonson, 15 and 13 years old, not be sold South with their siblings. A yellow fever epidemic prompted Bruin & Hill to return the girls to Alexandria, where their price was set at $2,250. Mary and Emily were liberated by their father, Paul Edmonson, in November 1848. Reverend Lyman Beecher helped Edmonson raise the money to buy his daughters. Beecher's daughter, Harriet Beecher Stowe, later incorporated her knowledge of Bruin's jail into her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Joseph Bruin fled Alexandria but was captured and then confined in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. In 1863, his property on Duke Street, which also included his personal residence, was confiscated by the U.S. Marshall and used as the Fairfax County Courthouse until 1865. The former Bruin & Hill building is the last surviving historic structure in the former village of West End, annexed to Alexandria in 1915. 

The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

Physical Description

A brick federal-style two-story 42 x 34 foot structure remains. This building was used as the "Negro jail." There was once a wash house, as well as Bruin's home with attached 31 x 14 kitchen and dining room in the complex.

Geographical and Contact Information

1707 Duke St
Alexandria, Virginia