A far different sale of commodities


Upper Duke Street is feeling the effects of the developing Carlyle business and residential area from the south, and the developing office community of upper King Street, but somehow the former Bruin Slave Jail has remained unscathed.

The privately owned building at 1707 Duke Street is owned by Charles Hooff, where he runs Hooff Realty, but its history will soon be recognized when the 1701 Duke at Edmonson Plaza building goes up. The Edmonsons were slaves that were in the jail at one time.

The house dates back to the original builder, John Longden in 1820, and was sold to Joseph Bruin in 1844. Bruin was a slave trader and used this house as a holding pen while finalizing deals with plantations in the south. In 1848, a group of slaves boarded a ship, The Pearl, and tried to escape down the Potomac but were caught. Some of these escaping slaves were sold to Bruin and held in the jail, including the Edmonson sisters, aged 14 and 16. There was talk he was going to sell them down in New Orleans, and likely into prostitution, but in those days, the prostitutes didnt walk the streets or hang out in brothels. I think they were called fancy girls said Pam Cressey, a city historian. You could get more money for attractive women, she said.

Bruin had offers from abolitionists to purchase the girls, but he headed off with them to New Orleans where he felt he could get a better price. Yellow fever epidemic broke out and they all returned to the area. Abolitionists and Edmonsons friends raised $2,250 and bought the girls. Among that fundraising group was Harriet Beecher Stowe, who later wrote Uncle Toms Cabin, and followed up with The Key to Uncle Toms Cabin after Stowe was accused of fictionalizing the slavery situation in her first book.

The second book told of the Edmonsons and of Bruins slave trade from the house.

The house changed hands a few times until 1951, when the property was purchased by Charles R. Hooff, and continues to serve as the Hooff real estate office, where they currently operate in commercial real estate. The interior has old wood floors and dated architecture, but there is no sign of previous tenants, i.e. no ghosts, Hooff said. He did find passes for citizens to cross Civil War battle lines under the floor one day.

At the time of the Civil War, the owner allegedly buried his silver out back, Hooff said. There will be some archaeological work performed before the construction on the new building starts.

Currently, the house is on the National Historic Register and the congressionally designated list on the Network to Freedom, a list that is reserved for underground railroad-connected facilities, but since this house played a significant part in the slave trade, it qualified.