Between Freedom and Equality

The History of an African American Family in Washington, DC

Barbara Boyle Torrey and Clara Myrick Green
Forewords by James Fisher, with Tanya Gaskins Hardy, and Maurice Jackson

"[G]roundbreaking.... [A] worthy contribution to the history of Washington."
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An original history of six generations of an African American family living in Washington, DC

Between Freedom and Equality begins with the life of Capt. George Pointer, an enslaved African who purchased his freedom in 1793 while working for George Washington’s Potomac Company. It follows the lives of six generations of his descendants as they lived and worked on the banks of the Potomac, in the port of Georgetown, and in a rural corner of the nation’s capital. By tracing the story of one family and their experiences, Between Freedom and Equality offers a moving and inspiring look at the challenges that free African Americans have faced in Washington, DC, since the district’s founding.

The story begins with an 1829 letter from Pointer that is preserved today in the National Archives. Inspired by Pointer’s letter, authors Barbara Boyle Torrey and Clara Myrick Green began researching this remarkable man who was a boat captain and supervisory engineer for the Potomac canal system. What they discovered about the lives of Pointer and his family provides unique insight across two centuries of Washington, DC, history.

The Pointer family faced many challenges—the fragility of freedom in a slaveholding society, racism, wars, floods, and epidemics—but their refuge was the small farm they purchased in what is now Chevy Chase. However, in the early twentieth century, the DC government used eminent domain to force the sale of their farm and replaced it with an all-white school. Between Freedom and Equality grants Pointer and his descendants their long-overdue place in American history.

This book includes a foreword by historian Maurice Jackson exploring the significance of the Pointer family’s unique history in the capital. In another very personal foreword, James Fisher, an eighth-generation descendant of George Pointer, shares his complex emotions when he learned about his ancestors. Also featured in this important history is a facsimile and transcription of George Pointer’s original letter and a family tree.

Royalties from the sale of the book will go to Historic Chevy Chase DC (HCCDC), which has established a fund for promoting the legacy of George Pointer and his descendants.

Table of Contents

Foreword by James Fisher and Tanya Gaskins Hardy

Foreword by Maurice Jackson



1. From Slavery to Freedom

2. The Risks of Freedom in a Slave State

3. Nat Turner’s Long Shadow

4. The Gathering Storm

5. The First Regiment of US Colored Troops at War

6. Reconstruction and Retreat

7. At Home in Georgetown

8. Migrating North

9. Dry Meadows and the Encroaching City


Appendix 1. Letter Facsimile and Transcription of the Petition of Capt. George Pointer, September 5, 1829

Appendix 2. The Family Tree of George Pointer

Appendix 3. The Adventure of Genealogy




About the Authors


"Between Freedom and Equality is a moving narrative of Washington, DC told through the lives of one of its founding families. From working with George Washington to fighting in the Civil War, this family’s story reveals the ingenuity, genius and courage of the Black Washingtonians who formed and shaped their city for the better, even as others worked to exclude and destroy them. Between Freedom and Equality is an outstanding example of collaboration between researchers and descendants working to restore a long-denied history. It stands as a powerful reminder that the stories of so many heroes of our past have been buried because they were Black. Between Freedom and Equality works to undo some of that damage, giving us the histories of American heroes who may never have been given monuments, but who can still inspire us today."—Anna-Lisa Cox, award-winning author of The Bone and Sinew of the Land

"Barbara Torrey and Clara Myrick Green, with the partnership of Tanya Hardy and James Fisher, have produced a stirring, thorough, and surprisingly optimistic history of Black Washington through the six generations of the George Pointer family. Stirring because it is a dramatic story of freedom amid slavery and its aftermath. Thorough because it is deeply and often serendipitously researched. And optimistic because it documents this family's ability to isolate itself from racism by owning land in DC until white powers take that land away. It also weaves the fabric of times when segregation was not so rigid and isolating. As American society experiences a renewed need for historical context, Between Freedom and Equality meets the moment."—Jane F. Levey, managing editor, Washington History, magazine of the DC History Center

"Torrey and Green’s years of painstaking research are revealed in details large and small that bring the Pointer family to life. . . . The result of their tireless efforts is a rich journey through two centuries of Washington DC—and American—history, as lived by George Pointer and his descendants."—Faith Mitchell, fellow, the Urban Institute

"[G]roundbreaking.... [A] worthy contribution to the history of Washington."—Hill Rag

"[A] solid contribution to genealogical and historical literature."—CHOICE

"The authors’ contextualization of the family’s history and attention to their continued legacy make this book essential reading for scholars and lay people interested in African American history generally and the history of Black life in DC."—Washington History


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Barbara Boyle Torrey is the former executive director of the Division of the Behavioral and Social Sciences at the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. She has authored two local histories and edited three books.

Clara Myrick Green has written a local history on a Potomac River community and coauthored two historical articles on George Pointer.

184 pp., 6.5 x 9.5
8 color photos, 6 color illus., 12 b&w photos, 14 maps
ISBN: 978-1-64712-081-8
Jun 2021

184 pp., 6.5 x 9.5
8 color photos, 6 color illus., 12 b&w photos, 14 maps
Jun 2021

184 pp.
8 color photos, 6 color illus., 12 b&w photos, 14 maps
ISBN: 978-1-64712-082-5
Jun 2021

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