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Certificate of Freedom for Harriet Beall Beans
Submitted by John Sharp

Certificate of Freedom

When the District of Columbia was established in 1800, the laws of Maryland, including its slave laws, remained in force. Additional laws on slavery and free blacks were then made by the District, and by Southern standards its slave codes were moderate. District slaves were permitted to hire out their services and to live apart from their masters. Free blacks were permitted to live in the city and to operate private schools. By 1860 the District of Columbia was home to 11,131 free blacks and 3,185 slaves. For free blacks in Washington DC life was better then for African Americans living further south. The District of Columbia Municipal Code 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.1

The laws in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia,2 required all African Americans who were born free to record proof of their freedom in a county court. In the District of Columbia such certificates were issued by the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia for Washington County. This court had the authority to issue manumission certificates which were a requirement to free an enslaved person and to issue certificates of freedom to those individuals who had been born free or those persons who required papers to travel about. In order to issue a certificate of freedom, the court, required proof of freedom, either a copy of a slave manumission document, a legally binding will which contained manumission provisions or lastly affidavits by creditable (white) witnesses that the individual requesting the certificate was free. If the black applicant had been manumitted, the court clerk or register of wills would look up the manumitting document before issuing a certificate of freedom.

A typical certificate of freedom, not only indicates how the person became free, but also 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 court would retain a copy in its registers and the other copy went to the applicant. Freedom certificates like this one were cherished documents. The certificate below issued April 12 1825 is for Harriet Beall Beans.3


This transcription was made from a digital image of
Manumission and Emancipation Record 1821 -1862
District of Columbia, Volume 1 page 190.
The spelling, punctuation and the use of ampersands are those of the original document. My thanks to Mr. Robert Johnson Archives Specialist , National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC for generously allowing me to copy this document.
John G. Sharp            July 29, 2008

Certificate of Freedom - Harriet Beall Beans
				Registration No. 174
				(Vol.1, page 190)

Harriet Beans         } 		Recorded April 12th 1825
Certificate of Freedom}

District of Columbia}  
Washington County   } to wit  

			Be it remembered that it has been made appear to my entire 
satisfaction that Harriet Beans a bright mulatto women about twenty two years of age was 
free born & is entitled to all the privileges & immunities of people of colour.  She will 
therefore be permitted to pass and repass without molestation she demeaning herself 
  according to law

				Witness my hand and this 12th day of April 1825 - 

                                      		Dan Rapine 

							Justice of the Peace 


1 Washington A History of the Capitol , 1800-1950, Constance Mc Laughlin Green, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey 1976 p 54-55
The Secret City A history of Race Relations in the Nation's Capitol. Constance Mc Laughlin Green, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey 1967 p 24 - 25.
These two excellent works by a fine scholar are the basis for much of this article and my understanding of the issues. I have also found the White House Historical Association web site helpful.
Dorothy S. Provine's District of Columbia Free Negro Registers 1821-1861 (Volume 1 & 2) Heritage Books, Bowie, Maryland 1996, is absolutely essential for the researcher. Provine not only provides a short summary of each D C register entry but she links these documents where possible to DC wills, probate proceedings, marriage, birth records and apprentices indentures. She is simply the sine qua non for all District of Columbia genealogical and historical research.

2 The District of Columbia Slave Code 1860 is now available online at

3 Harriet Beans her name is also spelled Beans and Beanes. Harriet married Scipio Beans on 18 October 1819. Scipio Beans was carpenter living in the District of Columbia. Scipio Beans was one of the founders with George Bell of the Resolute Beneficial Society School in 1818.Harriet maiden name Beall may mean that she is in fact is the daughter of George Bell who's name is routinely spelled Beall. This conjecture is based on the fact that Scipo Beans and George Bell were both carpenters and both sponsors of the Resolute Beneficial Society and George Bell had a daughter named Harriet Bell or Beall. School See Dorothy S. Provine, District of Columbia Free Negro Registers. Volume 1 page 41 Heritage Books 1996.

The 1822 Directory of Washington lists his address: "Beans, Scipio, (col'd man) carpenter, s side As btw 1 and 2e Cap Hill"

The 1880 US Census for the District of Columbia lists "Heneritta Beans", race black mother in law as 83 years of age living in the household of Judson Bell


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