handshakeclear“Experience has proved that the association of individuals and the formation of societies for the express purpose of benevolence, have seldom if ever failed to meet the sanction of both God and man …” from the Constitution of the Free Young Men’s Benevolent Association, Washington, DC,  founded 1838

The Colored Union Benevolent Association established Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery in 1870 at today’s Walter Pierce Park. The group was founded in October 1838 as the Free Young Men’s Benevolent Association. Like other Black fraternal organizations that arose in East Coast cities in the early 19th century, its members aided one another in times of sickness, unemployment and death.

The Association held meetings at Asbury Methodist Church, shown here as it looked in 1866, at 11th and K streets, N.W.

The Association, which was multi-denominational, held meetings at Asbury Methodist Church, shown here as it looked in 1866, at 11th and K streets, N.W.

Before slavery was outlawed in the District in 1862, the first criterion for Association membership was that a man be free. Most members were previously enslaved. Others were born free, hailing from some of Washington’s earliest free African American families. The Association was multi-denominational. Members were required to lead exemplary lives: profanity, drunkenness and other undignified behavior were grounds for expulsion. Despite city laws that banned secret meetings among free Blacks, Association members agreed not to divulge details of their meetings to outsiders.

Many Association men were related by birth or marriage. Many lived in today’s West End, Shaw, and Downtown neighborhoods, working as government messengers, coach drivers, servants, and laborers. They were activists. Members founded many of the city’s first African American schools, churches, and civic organizations. Some members–notably Charles H. Brown (1805-1868)–waged early legal battles for civil rights, challenging an oppressive set of city laws known as the “Black Code.” In 1848, Association members were deeply involved in Washington’s largest known Underground Railroad escape attempt, when 77 enslaved men, women and children secretly boarded the schooner Pearl near the Seventh Street wharf in hope of sailing north to freedom.

Famed Baptist pastor and church founder Sandy Alexander was an active member of the Colored Union Benevolent Association.

Famed Baptist pastor Sandy Alexander was an active member of the Association.

The Association established its first burial ground in 1849 at 12th and V streets, NW, operating the  “Free Young Men’s Burying Ground” until 1870. Then the Association purchased 6.75 acres of land next to Rock Creek from the son of John Quincy Adams, who had owned a mill at the site. The new “Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery” abutted the city’s only Quaker cemetery, founded in 1807. Mt. Pleasant Plains quickly became one of Washington’s busiest African American cemeteries, providing burial spots for as many as 10,000 people until its forced closure in 1890. The Colored Union Benevolent Association was dissolved in 1923.

Between 1838 and 1923, more than 70 men joined the Colored Union Benevolent Association. They were:

  • Sandy Alexander, ca. 1815-1902
  • Henry Bell
  • Hanson Bell, b. ca. 1812
  • Daniel Bond, d. ca. 1851
  • Ignatius Bond, ca. 1820-1876
  • Frederick Bonner, ca. 1839-1876
  • John H. Brent, ca. 1804-1885
  • John S. Brent, 1843-1917
  • Henry Brooks, ca. 1818-1896
  • Chas. H. Brown, ca. 1805-1868
  • Robert Brown
  • Thomas Brown
  • James Bush, ca. 1824-ca. 1865
  • William Bush, 1798-1866
  • Andrew Carroll, ca. 1823-1900
  • John A.R. Chase
  • Isaac Clark, ca. 1812-1892
  • Charles F. Datcher, ca. 1822-1871
  • Hilleary Davis, ca. 1832-1901
  • James W. Day, ca. 1811-1878
  • Ephraim Dorsey
  • John E. Dorsey, d. 1900
  • Tilghman Ford
  • Thomas H. Fox, b. ca. 1813
  • Benjamin C. Freeman, ca. 1814-1865
  • George H. Garrison, ca. 1808-1881
  • James Griffin
  • Charles G. Hawkins
  • Alexander Hays, ca. 1803-1870
  • James F. Herbert, ca. 1827-1912
  • Anthony Hickman, ca. 1815-1895
  • William Hill
  • Washington Ingram, ca. 1817-1863
  • George Jackson
  • William Jasper, ca. 1815-1883
  • Alfred Jones, ca. 1816-1877
  • John B. Jones
  • Solomon Jones
  • Gillis Key, ca. 1820-1917
  • William Landrick, 1833-1910
  • James H. Lewis, ca. 1831-1905
  • Benjamin Little
  • Henry Logan, ca. 1813-1899
  • William Louden, b. ca. 1820
  • Hamilton Martin, ca. 1812-1897
  • Aaron Mason
  • Benjamin Minor, ca. 1810-1868
  • Perry Mitchell
  • Lindsay Muse, ca. 1805-1888
  • Henry Neale
  • Benjamin H. Nugent, ca. 1826-1899
  • Eli Nugent, ca. 1790-1861
  • Eli E. Nugent (Jr.), ca. 1810-1852
  • Richard H. Nugent, ca. 1816-1862
  • Sampson Nutter
  • Denis Orme, d. 1871
  • James H. Paynter, 1835-1907
  • Henry Pleasants, ca. 1818-1860
  • Charles H. Shorter, 1844-1916
  • Charles W. Shorter
  • John Shorter, ca. 1814-1885
  • Joseph Shorter, ca. 1823-1910
  • Gurden Snowden, ca. 1809-1885
  • Wm. H. Smallwood
  • Stephen Smith
  • Alfred (Alexander?) Taverns
  • Henry Taylor
  • William Taylor
  • James Terrell, 1832-1894
  • Alfred Thomas
  • John C. Thomas, ca. 1819-1872
  • Samuel Thomas
  • John Thornton
  • Charles Tinney, ca. 1813-1884
  • Robert Wilkinson, ca. 1772-1872
  • Charles Wilson, ca. 1823-1900
  • James H. Wright, ca. 1820-1891
  • Edward O. Young, ca. 1846-1875
  • Forrester Young, b. ca. 1810
  • John Young

2 responses to “THE BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION, 1838-1923

  1. Hi Martha: Sorry to be so late responding to your question about whether descendants of the Colored Union Benevolent Association (the founders of Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery at Walter Pierce Park) ever meet. The descendants don’t meet except for our annual public gatherings at the park, which we haven’t held for a while due to the pandemic. I’ll add you to my mailing list for upcoming events, once we start scheduling them again.
    Are you a descendant of a CUBA member or someone in the cemetery? Thanks very much for your interest,
    Mary Belcher, moderation of
    my email:

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