Freedman's Village: Villager Resistance

The people of Freedman's Village did not take the threat of eviction lightly.  As more and more pressure began to mount from the growing white population in Arlington County and the Federal Government they began to see excuses for them to leave start to pile up.   Many saw the reasons for leaving given to them as unfair and sometimes downright untrue.  Some felt that they were deceived by the Government into thinking that they could purchase the property they had been renting.


The community began to plead their case to the War Department claiming rights to the land they worked on just like George Washington Custis Lee did years prior.  The Village got their local Representative John B. Syphax to advocate for them.  Syphax was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1874 to 1875 and the son one of the slaves of George Washington Parke Custis, grandfather of George Washington Custis Lee.  Syphax claimed that since the Freedmen farmed the land and were responsible for most of its upkeep they had a valid claim to the property they lived on.  He even stated, "coming from the shades of the past, these people have proven, in their new condition of self-reliance, more thrifty, and less vicious than could be reasonably anticipated (Bestebreurtje 2018).”    They worked in the fields, built churches and homes, and even planted trees.  He even claimed that if ultimately the Freedmen can not live on the property they should be justly compensated for their homes and other property before leaving.


The Government complied with Syphax's reccomendation to pay the villagers for their property.  Unfortunately however, what the Freedmen ended up receiving for their homes was far below their actual market value.  Some villagers did not end up receiving anything for their homes and were left with nothing.  By this point it was clear that the villagers were in a losing battle and tried everything to remain on what they had called home for more that twenty years.  The filed petitions that delayed eviction a little further but ultimately by 1900 the last of the villagers had left the Arlington estate and were now on their own with no one to protect or advocate for them.


By Ryan Keith


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