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Washington D.C. Genealogy Trails
Certificates of Freedom



Certificates of Freedom:

For free blacks in Washington D.C., life was generally better then for African Americans living further south. However, the District of Columbia’s Municipal Code, like that of most southern cities placed curfews of the movements of all blacks, free and enslaved and required free blacks to carry on their person a "certificate of freedom" without a certificate of freedom an individual could be jailed as runaway slave. A typical certificate of freedom, not only indicates how the person became free, but may lists physical characteristics that could be used to establish identity. These include height, eye color, complexion, and hair color and texture. Often, blacks would bring to the courthouse witnesses or affidavits as proof of freedom. District of Columbia affidavits contain a wealth of information including on some, the names of the person's parents, the names of former owners, and how the person became free. Typically the District court would retain a copy in its registers and the other copy went to the applicant. The following are transcribed examples of District of Columbia Certificates of Freedom:

COF for Harriet Beall Beans COF for Phebe & Elleanor Holland
COF for Hezekiah Liverpool COF for Betsey Simms
COF for William Winters COF for Mary Smallwood
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