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[[image - drawing of an Anacostia neighborhood]]

Anacostia - Past and Present

Anacostia, which occupied about one-fifth of the territory of the District of Columbia, is divided from it by the Anacostia branch of the Potomac River and land which was very marshy. The region developed slowly and independently. It has been noted by residents and visitors to the community that Anacostia appears to be a small town, going its own way, seemingly not a part of the District of Columbia.

Noting the above statements, the question might well be asked, "How did Anacostia become so independent of its neighbor? A brief history of the region may well explain how it has developed from a riparian village to the important seat of a famous mental institution and various business and governmental enterprises.

Anacostia, as we visualize it today, is a community unique  in its background and social history predating that of the Civil War days. This region is situated on the Anacostia River from Giesboro Point almost to Bladensburg. Anacostia, or Nacotachtank, as it was originally called by the Nacotachtank Indians, first appeared on a map published by Captain John Smith in 1612. Captain Smith and the of his companions explored the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay and landed on the south bank of the Anacostia River. They were well received by the Indians who inhabited this region and trading flourished with the colonists of Jamestown. Perhaps the genial, friendly natives, the mild climate, the abundance of wild game and fish and the easily navigable river contributed much to the early success of this settlement. At this point, in 1622, however, discord became evident between other exploring parties from, the Jamestown area in search of "goodly cornfields" 1 and later many of these Indians were killed, their cabins plundered and destroyed. Jesuit settlers who came later latinized the name of "Nacochtank" and it became Anacostia.

From this period until approximately two hundred years later, the name, "Anacostia" remained to designate this region comprising about seven-hundred fifty acres. In May, 1854 the Union Land Association made known to the public that it possessed a tract of land directly opposite to the Navy Yard. These tracts were immediately bought by white people. Since an Act of Congress stipulated that Negroes were prohibited from the acquisition of land in "Uniontown," 2 so called from the Union Land Association, it is unique that we find an influx of colored refugees were armed and used in a military manner by Confederate soldiers. When the opportunity presented itself, however, these Negroes deserted and became infiltrated into Union lines. This great influx of Negro contrabands created the problem of adequately caring for them and General Oliver Otis Howard, Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau, was charged with supplying food, clothing and the necessary shelter for these people. Due to the ravishes of poverty and disease the ranks of these people were thinned and General Howard found it expedient to secretly purchase the old Barry Farm as a permanent home for these people. Mr. James Barry used much of this land for growing
1. Document 1. "Along the Eastern Branch" by John Clagett Proctor-July, 1947.
2. Document 2. W. Lee White-"Origin of Anacostia"-Washington Post April, 1905.

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