May 21: Emancipation of Nelly Ann Easton (1862)

On May 21, 1862, a petition for compensation for the release of slave Nelly Ann Easton was submitted by Ann Briscoe of Washington, DC. This was the result of legislation signed by President Lincoln on April 16 “for the release of certain persons held to service or labor in the District of Columbia.” The plan relied on a three-person Emancipation Commission to distribute the allocated funding. In order to receive compensation, former slaveholders were required to provide written evidence of their ownership, as well as state their loyalty to the Union. As a result of the act’s passage, 3185 slaves were freed. Ann Briscoe stated that she had gained ownership of Nelly Easton by way of inheriting Nelly’s mother, Louisa Easton, from the estate of her father, Dr. Edward Briscoe of Charles County, MD.

In Miss Briscoe’s petition, Nelly is described as “five feet 8 inches high, copper colored, large features, thin face, ordinary size, and a very superior cook.” The petition asked for $800 in compensation. The commission granted $262.80. In addition to Nelly, Miss Briscoe was also petitioning compensation for Nelly’s daughter, Floreed, who was described as having a “pleasing bright countenance.” Floreed had been baptized at Epiphany in 1849. Nelly was confirmed there seven months later. Through the Civil War years, Nelly Easton stood as a sponsor at the baptism of at least seven African-American infants. Due to the requirements of parochial reports, these individuals are labeled as “colored.” The last evidence of Nelly Ann Easton at Epiphany was in 1864 when she served as sponsor at the baptism of Sophia Davis. In 1867, to give African Americans greater autonomy, Epiphany and St. John’s established St. Mary’s Church in Foggy Bottom.

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