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Contrabands and Freedmen's Memorial Cemetery
Alexandria, Virginia

contrabands freedmens cemetery
Contrabands & Freedmens Memorial Cemetery

GPS: 38.794413, -77.049585

Church and South Washington Streets
Alexandria, VA 22314

Published: August 26, 2016
Total records: 1,900

Contraband's and Freedmen's Memorial Cemetery is owned by the City of Alexandria.


The Contrabands and Freedmen's Cemetery was established in 1864 as a burial ground for African Americans who fled slavery, seeking a safe haven in Union-controlled Alexandria during the Civil War.

More than 1,800 people were buried there over the five years that the federal government managed the cemetery. After 1869 the cemetery may have been used unofficially by families as a burial ground but was likely not maintained formally. Over the years, the site has been compromised and hundreds of graves lost from a number of actions: the removal of soil from the cemetery for brick making; the adjacent development of two major highways; and the construction of a gas station and office building on the sacred site.

Most people were unaware that a burial ground survived under the pavement on the commercial property until historical research began to reveal the presence of the cemetery in 1987. Community interest and archaeological investigations over the last ten years have resulted in an appreciation for the cemetery, the largest historic African American burial site in the city, and its long forgotten story. While other physical sites that recalled the once-considerable African American presence in Alexandria have been lost, the City of Alexandria acquired the property in 2007 in order to remove the buildings, reclaim the cemetery, and create the present-day memorial.

"Contraband" was a term used by the federal government during the American Civil War referring to a slave who escaped to or was brought within the Union lines while "Freedmen" was a term used referring to individuals who had been freed from slavery.

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