The Free Young Men’s/Colored Union Benevolent Association, 1838-1923

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 Association itself was founded 32 years earlier, in October 1838, as the Free Young Men’s Benevolent Association. Like other Black benevolent associations that arose in cities along the East Coast, its members provided mutual aid to 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 held meetings at Asbury Methodist Church, shown here as it looked in 1866, at 11th and K streets, N.W.

Before District emancipation in April 1862, the first criterion for Association membership was that a man be free. Most members had been previously enslaved; others were born free. The Association was multi-denominational, including Baptists, Methodists, and others. Members were required to lead exemplary lives. Profanity, drunkenness and other undignified behavior were grounds for expulsion. Members agreed not to divulge details of their meetings to outsiders.

A number of Association men were related by birth or marriage. Many were neighbors who lived in today’s West End and Shaw neighborhoods. They worked in government offices as messengers and coach drivers, and as servants in the White House. The Association included founders of the city’s earliest Black schools, churches, and civic organizations. Some members–notably Charles H. Brown (1805-1868)–waged early legal battles for their civil rights, challenging an oppressive set of city laws known as the “Black Code.” In 1848, several Association members were 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, called the “Free Young Men’s Burying Ground,” in 1849 on City Square 272 at 12th and V Streets, NW. It operated until 1870, when the Association purchased 6.75 acres of land from the heirs of John Quincy Adams. The new cemetery abutted the city’s only Quaker cemetery, which was founded in 1807. The Association named its new ground “Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery.” It moved the bodies from its earlier cemetery to Mt. Pleasant Plains and sold the old property so that Children’s Hospital could be built. The new cemetery quickly became one of the busiest African American cemeteries in Washington, providing burial spots for as many as 10,000 people until the cemetery’s 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 (ca. 1812–)
  • Daniel Bond (– ca. 1851)
  • Ignatius Bond (ca. 1805-1876)
  • 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. 1868)
  • William Bush
  • Andrew Carroll (ca. 1823-1900)
  • John [A.R.?] Chase
  • Isaac Clarke (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 (–1900)
  • Tilghman Ford
  • Thomas H. Fox (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 (ca. 1829–)
  • James H. Lewis (ca. 1831-1905)
  • Benjamin Little
  • Henry Logan (ca. 1813-1899)
  • William Louden (ca. 1820–)
  • Hamilton Martin (ca. 1812-1897)
  • Aaron (John?) Mason
  • Benjamin Minor (ca. 1810-1868)
  • Perry Mitchell
  • Lindsay Muse (ca. 1803-1888)
  • Henry Neale (ca. 1825–)
  • Benjamin H. Nugent (ca. 1826-1899)
  • Eli Nugent (ca. 1790–1861)
  • Eli Nugent Jr. (ca. 1832–)
  • Richard H. Nugent (ca. 1816–1862?)
  • Denis Orme (–1871)
  • James H. Paynter
  • 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 Taverns
  • Henry Taylor
  • William Taylor
  • James Terrell
  • 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 (ca. 1810–)
  • John Young

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s