Bruin Slave Jail

  • 1707 Duke Street
  • Alexandria, VA 22314
  • Details
    The Bruin Slave Jail, at 1707 Duke Street, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and featured on the National Park Service website “Aboard the Underground Railroad.” The building is not open to the public.

    Joseph Bruin, a slave dealer in Alexandria, Virginia, used this brick Federal-style dwelling as his holding facility, or "slave jail" for slaves awaiting sale to individuals and other dealers. Bruin purchased the large house in 1844. Bruin had been a slave dealer in the Alexandria area since 1840, and with the purchase of the Duke Street house and its adjacent two acres (used as an exercise area), he had sufficient space in which to conduct his trade. In December 1845, he and partner Henry Hill advertised in the Alexandria Gazette: "NEGROES WANTED: All persons having Negroes to sell will find ready sale and liberal prices for them by calling at the new establishment of BRUIN & HILL."

    Harriet Beecher Stowe, in The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1854), described how she employed her knowledge of Bruin's slave jail as background for her explosive 1852 novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. In The Key, she described the escape of a number of slaves from Washington, DC, on April 15, 1848, in the ship Pearl, who were later captured and returned for eventual sale in New Orleans.

    Bruin & Hill purchased a slave family known as the Edmondsons, and brought them to the slave jail. According to Stowe, Bruin's daughter begged that Mary and Emily Edmondson be excluded from the group that was eventually sent to New Orleans for sale there, a group that included other Edmondson siblings. Their father, Paul Edmondson, traveled north to try and raise funds for the purchase of two of his daughters. He eventually met Reverend Lyman Beecher, Stowe's father, who raised the sum overnight. Bruin and his "large slave warehouse" are mentioned approximately 20 times in The Key. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Bruin fled Alexandria but was captured and then confined in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, DC, until the end of the war. In his absence, his slave jail was used as the Fairfax County courthouse until July of 1865.

    A statue was erected in 2010 as a memorial to the Edmondson sisters and others who passed through the Slave Jail.