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 1862, the first requirement for initiation into the Association was that a man be free. Most members had once been 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, living downtown in today’s West End and Shaw neighborhoods. They worked in government offices as messengers and drivers. Some worked in the White House as domestic staff. 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, many members were involved with Washington’s largest known Underground Railroad escape attempt, when 77 enslaved men, women and children boarded the schooner Pearl with the hope of heading north on the Chesapeake Bay 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 site was named Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery.  Association members removed the bodies from their earlier cemetery to Mt. Pleasant Plains in 1873, selling the old ground 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.

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. 1820–)
  • 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
  • Eli E. Nugent Sr. (ca.–)
  • Eli E. Nugent Jr. (ca. 1832–)
  • Richard H. Nugent (ca. 1818–)
  • 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
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