Posts Tagged Robert F. Martin

Last original member of MPD remembers hunting for John Wilkes Booth in Anacostia

Lingarn B. Anderson, of Anacostia, 95 years old, oldest member of Metropolitan Police, full-length, standing on porch. Courtesy LOC. [www.loc.gov/pictures/item/93513633/]

 

With the formation of the Metropolitan Police Department in 1861, there was an immediate tension between the flood of military recruits in the city and the newly constituted municipal force. Lingarn B. Anderson, an Anacostia native, was one of the first policemen, attached to the Anacostia precinct his whole career.  (According to City Directories, Anderson, of the 300 block of Jefferson Street, was a neighbor to Frederick Douglass in old Anacostia.)

The old Anacostia substation, originally the first precinct, “was a converted coal office with a part of the room roped off, and we had to keep guard there all the time or prisoners would step over the rope and walk out of the front door.”

Anderson reminisced a half-century later to a newspaperman and the chief of police about the “devilment” that crawled in the city during the war. “Then there were Southern sympathizers,” he remembered. “They’d get busy in barrooms with a gang of abolitionists, and the first thing you knew there would be artillery play, and some of those boys could shoot.” He had a bullet wound in his left thigh to prove it.

“I hunted for him,” Anderson said, his memory shifting to John Wilkes Booth’s escape on horseback from Washington which took Booth over the Navy Yard bridge and into Uniontown where he waited for Davy Herold before galloping towards Southern Maryland. “We heard for a while that he was around Anacostia.”

Suspicions that John Wilkes Booth might be hiding out in Uniontown were not unfounded as testimony of the Lincoln Conspiracy Trial revealed. Dr. Samuel Mudd, Mary Surratt, and others associated with Booth were seen around the area in the immediate weeks and months leading to President Lincoln’s assassination.

Robert F. Martin’s Farmers and Drovers Hotel, at the junction of Monroe and Harrison Streets in Uniontown about a hundred yards from the Navy Yard bridge, was a frequent point of rest for Marylanders from Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s County, Bryantown in Charles County, and Leonardtown in St. Mary’s County bringing their products to the markets of Washington. In March of 1865 Martin was appointed postmaster for Uniontown, in Washington, D.C. The Baltimore Sun commented that the “post office there will be of great advantage to the large number of mechanics and other workmen, soldiers.”

During the trial Martin testified he had seen Dr. Mudd in the market on Christmas Eve 1864 and that in March and April of 1865 he had stayed at his hotel. Martin could not verify if Mudd was or was not up from his Southern Maryland farm for the purpose of meeting Booth in Washington.

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Farmers’ & Drovers’ Hotel, Harrison Street, Anacostia & Robert F. Martin [1877 Boyd’s City Directory, Washington, DC]

Before the Civil War a Farmers & Drovers Hotel was off Maryland Avenue. Later the Farmers & Drovers Hotel in Anacostia would come to be more widely known. For some years it was run by Robert F. Martin, who was appointed Postmaster in 1865 and served until 1881 when Henry A. Griswold, a banker, real estate investor, and eventual President of the Anacostia Street Railway company.   Among Uniontown’s prominent citizens at the time was their new neighbor Marshal Frederick Douglass who lived a couple blocks off Harrison Street.

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While Civil War still going on, Robert F. Martin appointed local postmaster of Uniontown

LOC FDP

Nearly one-hundred and fifty years ago there was a hotel and a post office in Uniontown. Today, there’s no post office or hotel within Historic Anacostia.

According to Arthur Hecht’s extensive research into the history of the postal service in the city for the Washington Philatelic Society, Anacostia’s first post office was established on February 6, 1849. It was discontinued on December 3, 1855 and then reestablished less than three months later on February 26, 1856.

The name was formally changed from Anacostia to Uniontown on March 9, 1856 and then changed back to Anacostia on February 8, 1869. (I need to consult another set of notes but the name change from Uniontown to Anacostia is reflected in the Congressional Record.) The post office in Anacostia was then discontinued on July 31, 1900.

Among Anacostia’s Postmasters were Robert F. Martin (appointed March 9, 1865), Henry A. Griswold (appointed October 31, 1881), and George Pyles (appointed twice), and Julias Tolson (appointed November 6, 1894). According to Hecht the annual compensation was $25 in 1865, $66 in 1867, $40 in 1869, and $80 in 1871.

In the Baltimore Sun’Washington Letter” column from March 13, 1865 it was announced that Robert F. Martin was appointed postmaster.

“A post office has just been established by the Postmaster General at what is called Uniontown, Washington county, D.C., with Mr. Robert F. Martin as postmaster. The location of this town is immediately opposite the Washington navy yard, on the east side of the Anacostia River, at the termination of the bridge and being near to Giesboro’, the great cavalry and quarmaster’s depot, the post office there will be of great advantage to the large number of mechanics and other workmen, soldiers, & c., there stationed.

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Frederick Douglass monthly statement from Robert F. Martin, dealer in groceries, provisions, feed, & C. at Cor. of Monroe & Harrison Streets, Uniontown, DC [Nov. 6, 1881]

Library of Congress, FDP

During his quarter century of living, working, and paying taxes to the District of Columbia Frederick Douglass was not an abstract, impersonal, aloof resident. He walked the streets, he attended meetings organized to advocate for District suffrage, he mentored students at Howard University, he went to church, and he went to the store.

Viewing the personal receipts available on the Library of Congress’ Frederick Douglass Papers collection you can see Douglass had a collection of favorite tailors, a favorite fine tea shop, a favorite house painter, and a handful of favorite grocers. Throughout his years in DC, even if these merchants would change locations Douglass’ business would follow their move.

Historians have analyzed Douglass’ relationships with President Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison, Martin Delany, Ottilie Assing, Ida B. Wells Barnett, and other notable men and women of his era, but his interactions and relationships with the “little guy” have evaded investigation.

One of the men in Uniontown Douglass knew and was friendly with was Robert F. Martin, a man of many hats and influence in old Uniontown. Martin was at one time or another the Postmaster for Anacostia (Uniontown), the proprietor of the infamous Farmers and Drovers Hotel, and a dealer in groceries, provisions and feed at the prime time corner of Monroe & Harrison Street, today the corner of Good Hope Road & Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue.

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