Aunt Betty's Story

Aunt Betty's Story (HM1DS5)

Location: Washington, DC 20011
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Country: United States of America
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N 38° 57.812', W 77° 1.777'

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Battleground to Community

— Brightwood Heritage Trail —

Elizabeth Proctor Thomas (1821-1917), a free Black woman whose image appears on each Brightwood Heritage Trail sign, once owned 11 acres in this area. Known, respectfully in her old age as "Aunt Betty," Thomas and her husband James farmed and kept cows here. When the Civil War came in 1861, her hilltop attracted Union soldiers defending Washington.

As Thomas later told a reporter, one day soldiers "began taking out my furniture and tearing down our house" to build Fort Stevens. Then a surprising visitor arrived. "I was sitting under that sycamore tree . . . with what furniture I had left around me. I was crying, as was my six months-old child, . . . when a tall, slender man dressed in black came up and said to me, 'It is hard, but you shall reap a great reward.' It was President Lincoln."

For years afterward, even though her land was returned, Thomas unsuccessfully pressed the federal government to pay for her destroyed house. "[H]ad [Lincoln] lived, I know the claim for my losses would have been paid," she often said. Thomas died at age 96 after a lifetime of community leadership and activism.

After the war, Fort Stevens fell into neglect. Brightwood civic leader William Van Zandt Cox (1852-1923) decided to rescue it from being used as a dump. In 1900 he personally bought a portion of the land and lobbied the War Department to restore it, but died before the government finally purchased the site. In 1938 the Roosevelt Administration's Civilian Conservation Corps rebuilt the portion of earthworks you see today.

The Church of the Nativity, to your left, has served the Brightwood community for more than 100 years. The building replaces a series of smaller churches built near the corner of Peabody Street and Georgia Avenue, which are still used by the congregation.
HM NumberHM1DS5
Series This marker is part of the Defenses of Washington series
Marker Number17
Year Placed2008
Placed ByCultural Tourism DC
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Thursday, September 4th, 2014 at 4:19pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 324153 N 4314688
Decimal Degrees38.96353333, -77.02961667
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 38° 57.812', W 77° 1.777'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds38° 57' 48.72" N, 77° 1' 46.62" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)202
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 6001-6099 13th St NW, Washington DC 20011, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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