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Alexandria lecture explores harrowing story of woman who killed her children rather than have them sold into slavery

1315 Duke Street after March 1863 by Andrew Russell (or Mathew Brady), image via City of Alexandria

Dorcas Allen faced an impossible choice.

In 1837, Allen was sold, along with her four children, to a slave trader and sent to a pen on Duke Street — where the Freedom Museum stands today.

Faced with the prospect of seeing her children taken and sold into slavery, Allen killed her two youngest children. Allen pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

A lecture by historian Alison Mann on Thursday, April 18, will discuss the murder of the children and its impact on the region. Mann is a historian at the National Museum of American Diplomacy and a subject matter expert in the field of diplomatic history at the U.S. Department of State.

The lecture is scheduled from 7-8 p.m. at the Lyceum (201 S. Washington Street).

Tickets are $15 per person or $12 for volunteers/members of Historic Alexandria. All proceeds go to supporting the Freedom House Museum.

According to the Office of Historic Alexandria:

Learn about Dorcas Allen, a woman living with her husband and four children as a free Black woman in Washington D.C. who was enslaved by James Birch, imprisoned in Alexandria, and tried for the murder of her two youngest children. A jury acquitted her by reason of insanity and, with John Quincy Adams’ assistance, she regained her freedom. This is a story of African American agency in the most desperate of circumstances…when an enslaved mother feels death is better for her children than life in bondage.