Historical Marker- Freedman's Savings and Trust Company
Located near the west entrance to the US Treasury Annex Building, this historical marker designates the location of the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company, which was located here from 1865 until its dissolution in 1874. The bank was established by the government as part of the Reconstruction era effort to help formerly enslaved persons by creating a banking institution intended to serve their needs in an era when few other banks were willing to do so. The bank was chartered by the federal government but like many other banks, of the era, it lost money in the Panic of 1873 and became insolvent which caused substantial losses for its account holders. The law that created the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company was signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1865. The bank building was demolished shortly after the government sold the property in 1882.
Backstory and Context
This Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company Bank was established by the United States Congress on March 3, 1865, to help aid ex-slaves transition to freed citizens. The initial idea for the savings bank was to benefit African Americans who were compensated for their services in the Civil War and needed a safe place to deposit their money. However, John W. Alvord, a congregational minister, and abolitionist advocated Congress for the savings bank to instead help all emancipated slaves transition to freedom and be integrated into the economic system.
Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner brought a bill before Congress to have the bank secured by the federal government. President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the “Act to Incorporate the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company”. The charter allowed low-risk investments and no loans. Between 1865 and 1871, the bank expanded to thirty-seven branch offices in seventeen states and the District of Columbia. Printed on the bank materials was “on temperance, frugality, economy, chastity, the virtues of thrift & savings”. In 1867, the bank’s headquarters was moved to Washington, D.C. Eventually, Congress loosened the regulations and allowed loans and higher-risk investments.
The bank brought promise to the African American community at first, but then it failed miserably. The Panic of 1873 and other series of breakdowns caused the bank to collapse. Contrary to the proposition that the bank was secured by the federal government, it did collapse in June 1874. The branches also closed, and many African Americans lost their account balances. At the time of closing, $2,993,790.68 was due to 61,144 account holders. This event caused a major rift in the economic development of African Americans.
Because of its existence, the bank records provide valuable information for African American history. The bank records hold information on ex-slaves that include birthplace, residence, age, employer, family members, and former slave owners and names of the plantations. The information can be found at the National Archives and is used by the genealogical websites.
The institution was created with good intentions, but it was damaging to the population it was trying to advance. The failure hindered growth and prosperity for many African Americans after the Civil War. The Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company Bank is a crucial advancement in African American History. The U.S. Department of Treasury Annex is now located on this site.
Freedmen's Savings and Trust Company (1865-1874). Retrieved from http://www.blackpast.org/aah/freedmen-s-savings-and-trust-company-1865-1874
Sager, Julie. (2017). Historical Echoes: The Legacy of Freedman's Savings and Trust. Retrieved from http://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2017/02/historical-echoes-the-legacy-of-freedmans-savings-trust.html
Washington, Reginald. (1997). The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company and African American Genealogical. Retrieved from www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1997/summer/freedmans-savings-and-trust.html
Source: Library of Congress and National Archives