Barbara Cole Williams (1809-1892): An Enslaved and Free Resident of Georgetown

This short essay attempts to sketch out the life of Barbara Cole Williams (1809-1892), who spent at least the first four decades of her life in slavery at Tudor Place in Georgetown. I share what is known of her life and indicate some of the major mysteries and areas of inquiry that remain.

Parentage and Descent

Barbara’s maternal grandmother was Sall Twine (c. 1761, died after 1802), a dower slave derived from the estate of Daniel Parke Custis (1711-1757), the first husband of Martha Dandridge, later Martha Custis Washington, the wife of George Washington. Sall’s mother was presumably a dower slave, and thus Sall was as well, under the custodial control, if not the full ownership, of George Washington throughout George Washington’s life. (A widow or her new husband retained use value of dower slaves, but could not sell or transfer them without court permission. Dower slaves were normally passed onto the heirs of the widow’s late husband’s estate after her death).

1799 Inventory of Dower slaves, showing Sall Twine and her children. List : “Negroes Belonging to George Washington in his own right and by Marriage”, July 1799: Digital Collections of the Washington Library, Mount Vernon

Sall resided and labored with other dower slaves at Dogue Run and Muddy Hole farms, two of the five farmes that made up the Mount Vernon estate, She had an estimated six children with the enslaved man George, a gardener owned by George Washington who was based at the Mount Vernon Mansion House farm. Under the terms of George Washington’s will, George was to be freed after Martha Custis Washington’s death, and was in fact freed by her before her 1802 death, probabky in 1800. The dower slaves, however, including Sall, remained enslaved and were distributed among the Custis heirs. Over sixty Custis slaves had been previously transferred to Martha Custis Washington’s son’s daughter Martha Parke Custis (1777-1854) and her husband the Georgetown merchant and mayor Thomas Peter (1769-1834), on the occasion of their wedding in 1795; many of these individuals had sold off by the Peters.

After Martha Washington’s death in 1802, ownership of Sall and her children passed to Martha Parke Custis and her husband Thomas Peter, who at this point resided at K street and Rock Street, to the immediate east of Georgetown, within the site of the new Federal City.

I am not sure of what became of George, the now free husband of Sall Twine, after this point. (Perhaps he eventually relocated to Gum Spring, along with other of the freed former slaves of George Washington.)

[In A Georgetown Life (2020) Grant Quertermous asserts that the mother of Baraba Cole was Sall Twine, but this is contrary to the oral history shared by the Barbara Cole’s descendants, and seems inconsistent with available documentary evidence.]

According to the 1799 inventory of slaves at Mount Vernon, reproduced above, Sall Twine, then based at Dogue Run farm, was the mother of Barbary, born around 1788, Abbay, born around 1789, Hannah, born around 1795, and George, born around 1798.

Hannah, age 7, presumably the daughter of Sall Twine is listed in Thomas Peter’s note of 1 April 1803 as being assigned to work at the Peter’s farm in Maryland, presumably the Oakland property (Kail 2016). The same note references George, age 6, being assigned to labor at the same property; I presume this is the young son of Sall Twine, enumerated in the 1799 Mount Vernon census of the Washington slaves. This George, as I have noted elsewhere (Auslander 2012), appears to have been later transferred to the son of Thomas and Martha Parke Custis Peter, John Parke Custis Peter, and labored through most of his life at Seneca farm and quarry, which had been part of the Oakland estate along the Potomac in Montgomery County, Maryland. (An 1835 court petition notes that prior to the death of Thomas Peter, he transferred forty-six slaves to his two sons, John Parke Custis Peter and George Washington Peter, and a family associate.)

Sall’s daughter Barbary (b. 1788) was evidently transferred to Martha and Thomas Peter, who at the time of Martha Washington’s death were residing at their house on K Street near Rock Creek (now 2018 K Street), before they purchased in 1805 the eight acre property in north Georgetown that became Tudor Place. The Peters during the early decades of the 19th century alternated residence seasonally between their new property at Tudor Place and their 500 acre farm “Oakland” in southern Montgomery County, Maryland, along the Potomac River, in the vicinity of present day Seneca and Lock 24 on the C&O canal. The Peters also owned a smaller farm property known as Effingham, between present-day Sixth and Seventh streets in Washington D.C. (Kail 2016) Presumably. their enslaved people were transferred between these properties based on agrarian and domestic labor needs.

Barbary gave birth to her daughter, Barbara (later known as Barbara Cole Williams), around 1809. It is not clear whom the father might have been. (If the 1860 census entry mentioned below for Barbara Williams pertains to “our” Barbara, then she was born in the District of Columbia, which presumably means born at the Tudor Place property.)

The Cole and Williams Surnames

Barbara (b, 1809) is at times referred to as Barbara Cole and at times as Barbara Williams. Her daughter Hannah used the Cole surname, including in registering her 1847 marriage with the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1867. It is not clear if Barbara was born with the Cole surname, or if she acquired it through marriage to an enslaved or free man of color. Perhaps the surname was used by her mother Barbary, daughter of Sall Twine, or perhaps by her unknown father.

As noted below, I believe that Barbara Cole acquired the surname Williams through marriage to a William Williams in 1856.

I list enslaved and free Cole’s in antebellum District of Columbia in Appendix I. Perhaps future research will uncover connections between some of these families and Barbara Cole.

Life at Tudor Place and Oakland

Barbary’s daughter Barbara Cole (b, 1809) seems from an early age to have been assigned to look after Britannia Wellington Peter (later Kennon), born 1815, the youngest child of Thomas and Martha Peter to reach adulthood. In time, Barbara was Britannia’s principal maid, and later looked after Britannia’s only child, Martha “Markie” Custis Kennon (1843-1886) as a nurse (Quertermous 2020). As noted below, it appears that Barbara continued to work as a nurse or nursemaid until late in life.

According to oral history among the Pope descendants, Barbara (b 1809) was impregnated in 1828, at around age nineteen, by a white member of the Peter family, possibly one of Britannia’s brothers. She bore twin girls on 28 December 1828: Barbary who died in infancy and Hannah Cole, who lived until 1912. The Pope descendants note that their biogenetic relationship to the Dandridge line (as in Martha Dandridge Custis Washington) is confirmed by DNA testing and that they have numerous white DNA cousins descended from Martha Custis Washington.

We do not know if this sexual relationship with a white member of the slaveowning Peter household was transitory or long term. There are family stories that Barbara was resistant to control, and was at times transferred out to one of the family farms, perhaps at Oakland, as punishment.

According to their descendants’ reminiscences, Barbara and Hannah resided together in the attic of Tudor Place.

Barbara and Hannah would have had close interactions with the other enslaved people in the Peter household, including the cook Charity and her daughter Fanny; before they were sold to the Governor of Virginia James A. MacDowell (1795-1851) on 13 January 1845; Sarah the chambermaid; Charles, the groom; and Henry and the waiter and coachman.

After the marriage in 1842 of Britannia Wellington Peter to US Navy Commander Beverley Kennon, Barbara and her daughter Hannah were given to the new couple as part of their dowry from the Peter family. These two enslaved women moved with the young bride Britannia to the Washington Navy Yard, which Beverley Kennon commanded. They would have been at the Navy Yard during the birth of the Kennon’s couple’s only child Martha “Markie”, and at the time of the tragic death of Beverley Kennon, when a naval gun exploded on board the USS Princeton during a demonstration cruise on the Potomac in 1844.

Following the death of their owner Beverley Kennon in 1844, Barbara and her daughter Hannah appear in the Household Appraisal of Beverly Kennon’s Estate, as  “Negro Girl Hannah $350.00. Negro Girl Barbara $ 200.00.” (Tudor Place Archives MS 7 Box 1 –26). They would then have become dower slaves, controlled by Britannia Peter Kennon, and evidently returned with her to Tudor Place.

The immediate aftermath of Beverley Kennon’s death must have been a deeply unsettling time for the enslaved people at Tudor Place. in the settlement of the estate, as noted above, the cook Charity and her daughter were sold away in January 1845. Hannah was also sold that year, it would appear, by Britannia to the former Congressman, Georgetown attorney John Carter, who lived several blocks south of Tudor Place. Britannia’s reminsicences assert that the sale was made to allow Hannah to marry her beloved, Alfred Pope, then enslaved and owned by John Carter. This may have been the case, or the sale may have been primarily motivated by the financial pressures to settle the Kennon estate.

In any event, an 1867 Freedmen’s Bureau document records the marriage between Hannah and Alfred as having taken place in 1847. The following year Hannah gave birth to the couple’s first child, the girl Jedidah, named for Alfred’s mother. Also in 1848, Alfred joined the attempted mass escape on the schooner Pearl, and was recaptured. In contrast to nearly all of the Pearl escapees, Alfred was not sold to slave dealers, but was returned to reside with his owner. Two years later, Alfred, his wife Hannah, mother Jedidah, and daughter Jedidah, along with other enslaved people in the Carter household, were freed under the terms of John Carter’s will. The Pope family continued to live in Georgetown, several blocks from Tudor Place.

The 1850 slave schedule lists a “J. Peters” in Georgetown owning four female slaves, born around 1795, 1819, 1825, and 1837. None of these match the age of Barbara Cole, and it is not clear who precisely “J. Peters” was. It is possible that Sall’s daugher Hannah, born around 1795 according to the 1799 inventory at Mount Vernon, the aunt of Barbara Cole, is the eldest slave in this record, listed as born 1795. The 1850 census (of free persons) lists only one person with the Peters surname residing at Tudor Place, “M. Peters,” who must be Martha Custis Peter. The “J” in the slave schedule was presumably a mistake by the census enumerator.

It seem possible that Alfred and Hannah Pope might have labored during this period to raise the funds to secure the freedom of Hannah’s mother Barbara. or Barbara herself may have attempted to purchase her freedom. The fact that Charity and Fanny had been sold away may have increased their sense of urgency to secure Barbara’s freedom. If this was the case, no record of any such payment has survived, to my knowledge, in the District of Columbia manumission records of the period. Since Barbara was most likely a dower slave, there would have been legal challenges to manumitting her, although that consideration does not seem to have prevented Britannia from selling Charity, Fanny, and Hannah.

When Did Barbara Become Free?

There are several piece of indirect evidence that Barbara was free before 1860, and perhaps even before 1850:

  1. The 1850 census lists a Barbara Cole, a free woman of color, born in the District of Columbia around 1815, residing in Washington Ward 1 in the household of “Mathew” (a mistaken rendition of “Nathaniel” ) Towson, a brigadier general in the US Army, who served as the Army’s Paymaster General. General Towson, who lived at 17th and F streets, just north of the Executive Mansion and opposite the Navy Department, employed two other live-in black servants, Luand (?) Witherson, born around 1825, and William Pierre (mistakenly written as “Pier” in the census), born 1824. Could Barbara already have attained freedom by this point? Given the circles that Britannia Wellington Kennon Peter traveled in, as widow to the former Commandant of the Navy Yard (who also headed the Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repairs), it seems possible that she might have been able to secure Barbara a place in the Towson household.
  2. The District of Columbia marriage records indicate that Barbara A. Cole married William Williams on 17 November 1856 (Film Number: 002079252). This is consistent with the 1890 District of Columbia City Directory entry that lists Barbara as the widow of William Williams (see below). This record would seem to imply that Barbara was free by 1856.

3. The 1860 slave schedule does not list any slave-owners with the surname Kennon or Peter in Georgetown, so it may be that by then there no enslaved people residing at Tudor Place. Britannia’s close Peter relatives retained extensive slave holdings at several sites in nearby Montgomery County, Maryland, including in Seneca (the former Oakland property) and the four women listed in the 1850 slave schedule might have been transferred to one of those properties by 1860. It is known that Britannia regularly rented out some of the enslaved people she owned, and perhaps for this reason none are listed in the 1860 census.

4. The 1860 census lists a Barbary Williams, age 50 (born around 1810 in the District of Columbia ), living as a free black servant in the household of the Georgetown merchant Corrnelius Stribling, at the corner of Gay and Green Streets (present day N and 29th streets), along with two other free black servants Mary Carter and Eliza Carter. This household was two blocks due south from the home at O and 29th streets, of Alfred Pope and Hannah Cole Pope, the daughter of Barbara Cole Williams, and about four blocks from Tudor Place, where Britannia Wellington Peter Kennon still resided.

1860 Censsus entry in Georgown for Barbary William, b. 1810,

Speculatively the surname Carter of the two other servants in the Stribling household might suggest they had some connection with the household of Congressman Congressman John Carter, where Alfred and Hannah Pope had been enslaved up until 1850.

Barbara’s employer in 1860, Cornelius K. Stribling II, was the first son of Rear Admiral Cornelius K. Stribling, the third commandant of the US Naval Academy. Cornelius II was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and was married to Emma Josepha Nourse, son Dr. Benjamin Franklin Nourse, descendant of James Nourse, whose family was prominent in Georgetown and environs. Britannia was on familiar terms with the Nourses, and through her late husband USN Commandant Kennon, knew many senior figures in the Navy. Perhaps she helped secure Barbara her position in the Stribling household.

(In 1850, in Norfolk VA, the father of Cornelius Stribling II, Admiral Cornelius Stribling owned six slaves. However, I do not see any evidence that Cornelius II owned any slaves.

Who was William Williams?

Who was William Williams, who evidently married Barbara Cole in 1856?

The 1850 census lists a William M. Williams, a free man of color living in Washington’s Ward 1, born around 1824 in Virginia, evidently a servant in the household of Maria Sperden. The 1853 City Directory lists a William Williams, colored, working as a driver and living downtown on C street between 3rd and 4th.

The 1858 District of Columbia Directory lists a William Williams, colored, employed as a coachmen residing in an alley between M and N streets, north, near Vermont Avenue. This location was about two miles due west of Tudor Place and the residence of Alfred and Hannah Pope (who lived at 78 Montgomery street in Georgetown, now 28th and O streets.) Two years later, the 1860 directory lists a William Williams, colored, as a waiter, living nearby at 235 L street, north. (There is not a black William Williams of credible age in the 1860 census in the District.)

At least fifteen black men named William Williams served in the US Colored Troops and at least eleven black men of the same name enlisted in the Union Navy during the Civil War; I am not sure at this point if Barbara’s husband served in the Union Army or Navy.

In Appendix II, I list enslaved and free people of color in the District of Columbia with the surname Williams, some of whom may be related to Barbara’s husband.

Post Civil War

It is possible that Barbara alternated between the Williams and Cole surnames. The 1865 Georgetown directory lists a “Mrs. Barbara Cole, col’d” (colored), living at 23 Fourth street (present day Volta Place), about three blocks from Tudor Place, just across High Street (the present day Wisconsin Avenue).

1865 Georgetown Directory for Mrs. Barbara Cole

The 1870 and 1880 censuses gives no indication of a Barbara Cole, a Barbara Williams or a William Williams of the correct age living in Georgetown or elsewhere in the District of Columbia. I am not sure what point Barbara became widowed.

On August 18, 1871, Hanna Cole Pope opened a Freedman’s Bank account in the District, and listed as her mother “Barbara Williams,” but giving no indication of where Barbara was living at the time.

During the later decades of her life, Barbara Cole Williams must have known her granddaughter and namesake, the remarkable Barbara Ellen Pope (1858-1908), daughter of Hannah Cole and Alfred Pope. Barbara Pope, a teacher, accomplished writer. and Niagra Movement member, was famously arrested in 1906 for refusing to sit in a “Jim Crow” segregated railroad car and subsequently won her legal case with Niagra Movement support, establishing the right of interstate transportation without discrimination based on race. (Harris 2015).

The 1876 City Directory lists a Barbara Williams as a servant at 810 20th Street. After this there is no listing of Barbara for twelve years until the the 1888 City Directory lists a Barbara Williams as a nurse at 1143 Connecticut Avenue.

1890 District of Columbia Directory

Two years later, the 1890 District of Columbia Directory lists Barbara Williams, widow of William, nurse, residing at 2900 O Street in Georgetown, the same address as her daughter Hannah Cole Pope and son in law Alfred Pope, where Barbara E. Pope resided as well. [The Pope family descendants recall that Barbara E. Pope lived her entire life in her parents’ house, escpt for time she spent at Tuskegee. According to the 1900 census, Barbara Cole Williams’ granddaughter Barbara E. Pope, occupation schoolteacher, resided at te 2900 O Street address ,where she is also listed in the 1860, 1870 and 1880 censuses.]

Family Search’s database of DC deaths (record 662) notes that Barbara Williams died on 18 August 1892 in Washington D.C, at age 86. She is buried in Mount Zion Cemetery in north Georgetown: The record from an undertaker reads,” Barbara Williams born 1806/died Aug 9 , 1892 – place of death 2900 O Street, NW,” the home of her parents Alfred and Hannah Pope. . Her eldest granddaughter Jedidah A, Pope Thompson, died 10 August 1897, and is buried in the Old Methodist burying ground of Mount Zion Cemetery (Sluby 1975, p 57). In contrast, Barbara Cole Williams’ granddaughter Barbara E. Pope (who never married) is buried in Columbia Harmony Cemetery (subsequently moved from Rhode Island Avenue to Hyattsville, Maryland).

Appendix I. Enslaved and Free Persons of Color with Surnames Cole in the District of Columbia

A. Free persons of color with the surname Cole in antebellum DC in 1860 include:

The family of James and Catherine Cole in Ward 2:

James Cole 42
Catharine Cole 38C
Georgiana Cole 18
Wm Cole 16
Wille Ann Cole 10
Hester Tyler 25
Ida Tyler 4
(Georgeanna Cole’s freedom was attested to on 5 May 1859, by John S. Norris in front of a Justice of the Peace.)

On July 2, 1860, George Cole, a free man of color, states that he has been illegally arrested and confined to jail as a runaway slave. He sought a writ of habeas corpus, which was granted.

B. Enslaved Persons with the surname Cole

The 1862 Compensated Emancipation petitions in the District of Columbia indicate that at least fourteen enslaved people with the surname Cole were freed. These includeL

Sibey (or Libey) Cole, born around 1787, and her likely daughter Rachel Cole, born around 1833, owned by Ulysses Ward. (Sibey was acquired from Ulysses’s wife).

Ellen Cole, born around 1810, owned by Matthew McCleod (Inherited by Matthew’s late wife from her mother in law, Mrs. Mary Manning of St. Mary’s County Marylan.)

James Henry Cole, born around 1840, owned by Michael R Combs (received as a deed of gift from Michael’s grandfather Michael Sardo)

Maria Cole, born around 1847, owned by Thomas H. Barron, acquired through Thomas’ marraige. (Maria was in Prince George’s County when the act of emancipation was passed.)

Milly Cole, born around 1819 and her children Jacob Cole, b. 1839 and Rosa Cole , owned by Charles Lyon. Milly Jacob and Rosa, born 1852, were all purchased from Thomas and Cathereine Barron in 1854 An associated note indicates taht Jacob Cole, a “good mechanic, ” was purchased by Charles Lyons from Mr Sheckell of Washington City D. C. a Negro dealer about the year 1854” (Rosa Cole is not emancipated in 1862, so perhaps died at some point.)

Julia Cole, born around 1822, and her children Joseph, William, Robert and Albert, owned Mary A Harvey. (All inherited from Mary’s late father the late Michael Sardo last of Washington County in the District of Columbia. (Note that Michael Sardo also bequeatheed James Henry Cole )

Joanna Cole (alias Alexander) born around 1835 owned by Lieut. Henry L. Abbott, US Army, Acquired, “By virtue of a bill of sale from Mary Helen McLeod of Georgetown D.C. executed on the 19th day of June 1860” )

Appendix II. Enslaved and Free Persons of Color with Surnames Williams in the District of Columbia

A. Enslaved Persons with surname Williams:

Owned by Thomas Donoho (who purchased Selina Wiliams and child John Henry from Joshua Talbot in 1833):

Salina​ Williams 51
James Henry (son of Selina) 30
Lydia (daughter of Selina). 24
Lewis (son of Selina 15.1 mo
Marion (daughter of Selina 20
Gertrude (daughter of Marion 6
Laura (daughter of Marion 3
Edward (son of Lydia 6
Albert (son of Lydia 18 months

These are presumably related to Harriet Williams, owned by Thomas Talbert [Jr.] in the 1857 tax assessment in unincorporated Washington County,

Dick [i.e., Richard] Williams, 18, in the 1855 tax assessment, owned by Margaret C. Barber (current grounds of the Naval Observatory)

Owned by Fielder Magruder:

Duke Willams, born 1822
Adeline Williams
Lewis Williams
Charles Williams
Maria Williams (daughter of Adeline )

(Fielder purchased all except Maria around 1856, from John Throckmorto. Maria “born of Adeline since i purchased her.”)

B. Free Williams:

William Williams a free man of who in the District of Columbia in March 1836 sought an injunction against a Thomas Duvall, to prevent Duvall from transporting his enslaved wife and child out of the District of Columbia Williams asserted Duvall had imprisoned his wife and child in a slave jail with the intention of selling them to a slave dearlr. . (Petition details at: )

In Georgetown Ward 2 in 1860

Nathaniel Williams 57
M A Williams 30
Rebecca Williams 25
Joseph Williams 29

In Georgetown Ward 2 in 1860

Joseph Williams 53 mulatto
Bessie Williams 49

In Georgetown Ward 4 in 1860:

Charles Williams 53
M A Williams 50
Sarah Williams 21
John Williams 20

Washington Ward 1 in 1860:
Mary Williams 54
Mary Williams 12

Washington Ward 1 in 1860:

Chas Williams 40
Mathilda Williams 38
Mary Williams 19
Charles Williams 17
Francis Williams 16
Richard Williams 12
Martha Williams 7
Isabella Williams 6
Julia Williams 2

Washington Ward 2 in 1860:

Emily Williams, 28, servant in the household of William Thompson. plumber and gas fitter

Washington Ward 4 in 1860:

Frederic Williams 30
Lucy Williams 30
William Williams 18
Percilla Williams 15
Ann Williams 12
Charles Williams 10
James Williams 8
George Williams 4
Robert Williams 1

NOTE: Of possible significance, there is an intriguging free black family with Williams and Cole surnames, in Washington DC, Ward 1, in the 1860 census:

Geo Williams 47 laborer
Delphia Williams 63
Sarah Cole 25
Jos Cole 7
Eugene Cole 4

NOTE: Of possible significance, there is an intriguging free black family with Williams and Cole surnames, in Washington DC, Ward 1, in the 1860 census:

Geo Williams 47 laborer
Delphia Williams 63
Sarah Cole 25
Jos Cole 7
Eugene Cole 4

I do not know if this Williams-Cole family is somehow related to Barbara Cole Williams.


I am grateful to Wendy Kail, former archivist, Tudor Place, for her assistance in researcing enslaved persons at Tudor Place and at related Peter properties. Ann Chinn, historian and direct descendant of Barbara Cole Williams, has generously shared her family knowledge of this rich and complex history. Many thanks to Lisa Fager, (Executive Director Mt. Zion – Female Union Band Society
Historic Memorial Park, Inc) for sharing information on Mt Zion burials; and to David Taylor for sharing information on Barbara E. Pope’s burial.


Mark Auslander. Enslaved Labor and Building the Smithsonian: Reading the Stones Southern Spaces. December 12, 2012.

Jennifer Harris. 2015. Legacy Profile: Barbara E. Pope. Legacy. Vol 32 (2): 281-304.

Wendy Kail. Oakland: Far from the Madding Crowd. March 2016

Grant Quertermous. (ed). A Georgetown Life: The Reminsciences of Britannia Wellington Peter Kennon. Georgetown University Press. 2020

Paul Sluby. The Old Methodist Burying Ground (typescript), 1975.

Enslaved Persons in the 1855-62 Tax Assessments, Washington County, District of Columbia

List : “Negroes Belonging to George Washington in his own right and by Marriage”, July 1799. Digital collections of the Washington Library. Mount Vernon

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