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 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 provided 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 criterion for Association membership was that a man be free. Most members were previously enslaved. Others were born free, including members of some of Washington’s earliest free Black families. 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. 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 and Shaw neighborhoods. They worked as government messengers, coach drivers, servants in the White House and private homes, and in other jobs. The group included founders of the city’s first 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, 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 in 1849 at 12th and V streets, NW. The “Free Young Men’s Burying Ground” operated until 1870, when 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 cemetery abutted the city’s only Quaker cemetery, founded in 1807. The Association named its new ground “Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery.” 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

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