Analostan Island served as the city's training center and living quarters for African American soldiers during the Civil War. Because it was an island and somewhat isolated, it was considered an ideal location to keep black soldiers safe from white hostility in a city full of southern sympathizers. While many African Americans welcomed the opportunity for black men to fight as soldiers, many whites saw this as an affront to white supremacy and feared that formerly enslaved men would seek revenge with government weapons. By the middle of 1863, when blacks were permitted to join the Union forces, at least two companies of “colored troops” were stationed on the island.
During the war, Analostan Island was also one of several U.S. government-run camps for African Americans from Virginia and Maryland seeking freedom in Washington. Approximately 11,000 of the 40,000 blacks who had relocated to Washington in the 1860s passed through these camps. Abolitionist and writer Sojourner Truth visited Analostan Island when she first arrived in Washington in 1864.
The earliest known written name for the island was “Anticostan,” a variation of the name of the Native American group that lived here. In 1717 George Mason, a white landowner and statesman, purchased the island for his residence. From that point on it was called both Mason's Island and Analostan Island. In 1931 it was renamed Theodore Roosevelt Island after the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association purchased the 88 acres.
Constance McLaughlin Green, Secret City (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), 70-71.
James F. Duhamel, “Analostan Island,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society 35-36: 133-145.
Stanley Harrold, Subversives: Antislavery Community in Washington, DC, 1828-1865 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003): 225-226.
Philip Woodworth Ogilvie, Along the Potomac, Images of America Series (Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2000).
Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996).
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