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Effort to 'honor humanity' of enslaved in Arlington moves ahead

Local database now has 1,500 names, many with background information

A joint effort by the Arlington Historical Society and Black Heritage Museum of Arlington is shining a light on those who lived in bondage from the 1600s to the 1800s in what is present-day Arlington.

Information on more than 800 individuals has been unearthed through the effort, said Jessica Kaplan, one of the organizers of the Memorializing the Enslaved in Arlington initiative, in a July 13 update to Historical Society members.

“Those are 800 people who are no longer forgotten,” she said.

Kaplan, Tim Aiken and Scott Taylor have taken the lead in the initiative with the support of volunteer researchers and funding from Virginia Humanities. They have scoured court and land records, news articles, diaries, census data, gravesites and more over the past 18 months to unearth facts about those whose stories have never been told.

“We hope to bring them to life and honor their humanity,” Kaplan said.

The result is a spreadsheet with information about 1,500 individuals, slightly more than half of whose names are known. It is, organizers say, a work in progress, with more data to be reviewed and incorporated into the findings.

In the first half of the 1800s, a period for which documentation is generally available, between 260 and 300 people were held in bondage in modern-day Arlington, which from 1800 until 1847 was part of the District of Columbia before being returned (as “Alexandria County”) to Virginia. That represented between 20 and 30 percent of the total population.

Memorializing the Enslaved in Arlington project information can be found at