Philip Fenwick Plantation Site: Capital City Slavery Tour

In 1855, Philip Fenwick is listed in assessment records as the owner of 145 acres in Northwest Washington and seven unidentified enslaved persons.[1] Maps indicate a variety of buildings on the former plantation site that may include the springhouse (pictured above) which can be found on Lowell School’s campus. It is estimated that the springhouse was constructed around 1855, while the farm was in full operation. It is unclear if enslaved persons contributed to the construction of the building, as no records exist to indicate who exactly built the springhouse. However, Philip Fenwick would have been 65 in 1855, and the only other free male listed on the property was his 26-year-old son. Five enslaved men lived on the property, and it is likely that they contributed heavily to the daily labor at the plantation, and likely constructed most of the Fenwick farm buildings (including the springhouse).

In 1862, Fenwick emancipated the individuals he enslaved. It is unclear how long John Foogood (32 years old), Margaret Dorsey (22 years old), Louisa Thomas (20 years old), Henry Warren (19 years old), Lewis Johnson (17 years old) and Joseph Johnson (15 years old) were enslaved by Philip Fenwick. The only individual who was assured freedom from a young age was the infant Lewis H. Didney, who was enslaved for 20 months and then freed.

The emancipation records often bring more questions than answers—who did the child belong to? Did the mother lovingly give the son the name of the father, or was the son fathered through assault? Were Lewis and Joseph Johnson brothers? Did these individuals stay in the District following the war? Did they continue working on the farm? Some of these questions can never be answered—but documenting and remembering the names of enslaved individuals gives their personal narrative the central place it deserves in the larger history of the national capital.

Historic Preservation Status: The springhouse is listed as a contributing structure in the Marjorie Webster Junior College Historic District. The nomination form notes Philip Fenwick’s role as a slaveholder, but does not list the names of the individuals he enslaved or their role in developing the land.

D.C. Inventory: September 22, 2011
National Register: February 24, 2014

Within the Marjorie Webster Junior College Historic District


[1] County of Washington Assessment Records, 1855-1864, National Archives, RG 351, Volume 1 of 12.



1640 Kalmia Road NW Washington, D.C. 20012