It seems to me that finding their names, saying their names, and doing some of the work of remembrance should be at the heart of good scholarship and good citizenship.
In that spirit--a spirit I find in projects ranging from Heather Andrea Williams’s wonderful Help Me to Find My People (UNC 2012) to initiatives tied to the Freedmen’s Bureau described here and here--this post shares information on another “Information Wanted” ad from the Recorder, one that took stunning archival twists.
The ad ran in the 19 May 1866 Recorder:
Of Oliver Franklin Lee and Charles William Lee, the children of Alfred and Eliza Ann Lee. Oliver belonged to William H. Cassaday, of Virginia, and Charles to David and Josephine Denham of Virginia.
The mother and father, who are anxious to see them, reside on M street, between 16 and 16 1/2 streets, Washington, D.C.
Alfred and Eliza Ann Lee lived on M Street for several years, eventually owning a home at what was then 1614 M Street. In the 1870 Census of Washington, DC (Ward 1, page 26B), Alfred Lee was listed as a laborer, 48, “M,” “M,” Virginia-born, and illiterate. Eliza Ann was listed as a laundress, also 48, “F,” “M,” also Virginia-born, and also illiterate. Six children lived with them: Alfred, 19, also a laborer; Edmonia, 18, a “domestic servant”; Leslie, 15; Letty, 10; Martha, 2; and William, 1. The eldest two had been born in Virginia; the rest had been born in DC. The two youngest may have been grandchildren; extant sources disagree.
Alfred was free by mid-1863, when he registered for potential Civil War service, but I don’t yet know the circumstances surrounding his freedom. I’m still looking.
But Eliza Ann, the eldest four children in the 1870 household, and one other unlisted daughter were actually part of the DC emancipation discussed in the opening chapter of Black Print Unbound.
For folks unfamiliar with DC’s emancipation scheme, which was launched in the year before the Emancipation Proclamation, I’ll note that it was based on a compensation model: reportedly for the good of the nation, the government would “compensate” slaveowners for the “loss” of their “property” and free the people marked as such “property” with some encouragement toward colonization.
The document that collected the various claims for such “compensation” lists them on page 59:
No. of Claim: 737
Name of Petitioner or Claimant: Amos Denham, trustee of A. E. Balmain
No. Persons Held to Service or Labor: 
Names of Persons Held to Service or Labor and Value of Each
Eliza Ann Lee $284.70
Mary Eliza Lee $394.20
Alfred Lee $306.60
Edmonia Lee $240.90
Leslie Lee $175.20
Lettie Lee $ 87.60
Total Value: $1489.20
To Whom Paid: Amos Denham, trustee of A. E. Balmain, Annie E. Balmain, A. Balmain.
Seeing them listed complete with their “values” was a powerful reminder of how filled with sadness the “lucky” moments of discovery are.
This document was never meant for considering Black families, their lives, or their connections, never meant to “speak” with an “Information Wanted” ad. Seventy-nine pages long, it was prepared by the US Treasury for submission to the US Congress and bears the title Letter from the Secretary of the Treasury. It was essentially a ledger, an accounting of funds paid and “goods” purchased.
The paperwork that went toward the Letter tells us more. In addition to, like the Letter, naming the family who owned Eliza Ann Lee and several of her children, a short list directed to DC’s Circuit Court and a longer petition from Denham add age, sex, and “particular description” as categories. We thus know that Eliza Ann Lee was listed as 36, likely shaving some years off of her age; Mary Eliza, 15; Alfred, 13; Edmonia, 11; Leslie, 8; and Lettie, 3. “Particular description” turns out to have meant a judgment on color and race: Eliza, Alfred, and Lettie are listed as “Bright Mullatto”; Mary Eliza and Edmonia, as “Dark Mullatto,”; and Leslie as “Light Mullatto.”
The fuller petition echoes these descriptions but also implicitly argues for more compensation by noting the “values” of these people the last time such were assessed. It marks Eliza Ann, Mary Eliza, and Alfred at $1000 each, Edmonia at $850, Leslie at $650, and the toddler Lettie at $450.
The rest of the petition offers another stunning turn: a history of the ownership of Eliza Ann and this group of her children. “Andrew Balmaine,” “of Washington City, DC” had placed the Lees “in trust” for the benefit of his spouse, Amy Ellen Balmain, in August 1858. The petition notes that he had “obtained them through his wife who obtained them”--or, more properly, “a portion of them and their increase”--from the estate of Amos Denham of Loudoun County, Virginia, “about 20 years since.” The Amos Denham who filed the claim was the namesake son of this Amos Denham; Amy Balmain was the daughter of the elder Amos and the sister of the younger.
And thus we can track Eliza Ann and this group of her children back through the series of brief census notations. Andrew Balmain’s entries in the 1860 slave schedule are “38 F M,” “12 F B,” “10 M M,” “8 F M,” “6 F M,” “8/12 F M.” Their names are not listed--there wasn’t even a space on the slave schedule to do so--but these people are most certainly Eliza Ann, Mary Eliza, Alfred, Edmonia, Leslie, and Lettie Lee. Balmain’s entries in the 1850 slave schedule mark the “increase” noted above: “25 F B” and “1 F B,” almost surely Eliza Ann and Mary Eliza Lee.
Andrew Balmain was a clerk in the Surgeon General’s Office for several years, and though that occupation might sound modest, the 1870 census estimated his property at a total of almost $14,000, and his family’s census listing included a live-in African American domestic (page 48B). Born in DC in 1807, he would die 19 December 1874. His wife Amy Ellen Denham Balmain, born c.1815, would live until 17 January 1892.
Knowing that Eliza Ann Lee came to Amy Balmain as inheritance, likely as a teenager, places her with the Amos Denham family before the elder Amos’s death on 31 August 1838. It also suggests that she could well be one of the eighteen enslaved people tallied with the elder Amos Denham in the 1830 Census of Loudoun County, Virginia.
Either way, tracing young Eliza Ann to Amos Denham also traces her to a specific location--and to a building still standing.
Bearing the lyric name “Rose Hill,” the federal style house that Denham built c.1820 outside of Upperville, Virginia, is on the National Register of Historic Places—a “two-and-one-half story, five-bay, gable-roofed brick house with four gable-end chimneys.” Comparing the home to James Monroe’s Oak Hill, the National Register application notes “a wealth of original Federal-style woodwork, including eight hand-carved mantels, two cupboards, a dividing arch in the hall, a central stairway, and reeded and paneled window reveals.” Polishing that wood would certainly have been the kind of duty that fell to a young enslaved girl like Eliza Ann. Did her mother teach her? Did her father do some of that woodworking? Or was she even ever allowed to know her parents? It is easy to let the idyllic pictures of Rose Hill floating around the internet deny such questions.
Tracing the Denhams also gives us more on Alfred and Eliza Ann Lee’s “Information Wanted” ad. The “William H. Cassaday, of Virginia” who owned Oliver Lee was the husband of Amy Balmain’s sister Mary Jane. The “David and Josephine Denham of Virginia” who owned Charles Lee were Amy Balmain’s brother and sister-in-law. As in many well-off large Southern families, there seems to have been some “exchange” and “sharing” of enslaved people--a kind of family-based slave trade.
Cassaday (sometimes spelled Cassady), for example, was well-off--listed with real estate valued at $20,000 in the 1860 census of Loudoun County (page 423) and ten enslaved people. Looking at that listing, I find myself wondering if the “17 M B” or the “11 M B” among his enslaved people represents Oliver. Cassaday is also a reminder that many of the South’s wealthy came through the War with their positions intact: the 1870 census (page 69B)lists him with $25,000 in real estate—plenty of funds to send his second son to medical school and to keep three live-in Black domestics.
I have not yet found either Oliver or Charles Lee. I wonder if the Oliver Lee (38, “M,” “B”) who was a farm worker in 1870 in Cedar Run, Fauquier County (page 403A) might be possible. He lived with his wife and five children. He may well be too old, but if we dropped five years from his age, as some census records do, he would be a possibility. I also haven’t found Mary Eliza yet; I’m hoping that her absence from both the 1866 “Information Wanted” ad and the 1870 census listing means that she married.
There are so many loose ends to the Lee family story. From various readily-available digitized records--city directories, censuses, other records--I can say that the elder Alfred Lee seems to have died in the early 1890s, but worked steadily as a laborer up until then. Eliza seems to have lived well into the twentieth century, perhaps as late at 1915. Her listing in the 1900 DC census (page 4A) names her as Elizabeth and gives a a birth date of August 1819.
That census listing is particularly interesting, as it marks Martha (only a toddler in the 1870 census) as a daughter, even though the 1880 census lists her as a granddaughter. Eliza Ann and Martha shared the home at 1614 M Street with Edmonia, who seems to have remained single and who is listed as a laundress, and the 25-year-old George Lee, a coachman, noted as a grandchild in both the 1880 and the 1900 census.
Eliza Ann is listed as having had 12 children, and the 1900 census marks only four of them as still living. My sense is that Oliver Franklin Lee and Charles William Lee were counted among the dead by this point--though they were clearly not forgotten. Eleven year old Charles William Lee, noted as a grandchild, was first listed as living with Alfred and Eliza Ann in the 1880 census, and city directories list this young man--undoubtedly named for his lost uncle--as a “driver” living with the Lees into the 1890s.
Among the children I’m sure were alive in 1900 were Lettie (also listed as Letitia and Lettie V. Lee, who worked as a domestic and lived at 1320 L Street into the early 1900s), Leslie (who worked as a domestic, and, though not listed in the 1900 census family group, lived at 1614 M Street in the early teens), and Edmonia, who continued to live with Martha (either her sister or her niece) for the rest of her life. Usually listed as a laundress but sometimes as a domestic, census records often misnamed her as “Edna.” She seems to have lived into the 1930s.
Martha Lee is the member of the 1870 household--not even born with the “Information Wanted” ad was placed--that I’ve been able to trace the farthest. Also single, she lived into at least the mid-1930s, sharing the home with Edmonia until about 1920, when both of them, for reasons yet unknown, moved to a small two-story brick townhome at 1326 Riggs Avenue NW. (The Washington Bee of 20 December 1920, though, noted that she was “well pleased with her new residence” in a short society item.)
City directory listings in the 1930s mark her as either a domestic or a laundress, but those between 1905 and 1930 have her working at the Government Printing Office, the entity, back in 1864, was the probable printer of the Letter from the Secretary of the Treasury that listed her family members and their “values.” She was a press operator, listed in most directories as a “feeder” or “press feeder,” and her work was noted in both the 10 March 1917 and 31 January 1920 issues of the Washington Bee.
As with many of these stories, I’m not sure how to end this blog post.
I still find myself thinking, “Oh, maybe you could check there for the Lees.” “Or maybe there.” Certainly they are illustrative of the ways the tiniest items in the Black press call for more attention and embody both what we’ve been able to salvage and what’s been erased, hidden, or simply ignored. Illustrative of how much more research we need to do.
How much more remembering.