The Hayti neighborhood grew from a nucleus of free black homes in the 1790s to become one of the most influential black neighborhoods in Alexandria. Like its Caribbean namesake, Hayti was an island of relative security for free blacks, who poured into Alexandria after the growing port town became part of the District of Columbia in 1801. Prominent Hayti families established businesses, churches, and civic organizations that sustained the city's black population from the early days of the republic through the Civil War and into the 20th century.
Alexandria's African-American population surged in the early 19th century. By 1820, blacks accounted for more than a third of the city's population, and by 1840, 60% of that population was free. Black laborers rented inexpensive houses in Hayti from sympathetic Quaker landlords. Relatively affluent free black families were attracted to Hayti's more central location and its stock of fine brick homes along the 400 block of South Royal Street. Another advantage was the nearby First Methodist Episcopal Church, now Trinity United Methodist, where many blacks worshiped before founding a black congregation on the outskirts of Hayti in 1830.
Prominent antebellum residents included landowner Moses Hepburn and his aunt, Hannah Jackson, who had bought his freedom; and builder George Seaton, Alexandria's first black state legislator. They and other Hayti residents spearheaded the creation of the Odd Fellows Joint Stock Company, a benevolent association, and churches such as Davis Chapel, now Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church.
Several wood and brick townhouses still survive on the 400 block of South Royal Street and the 300 block of South Fairfax Street.
The Hayti neighborhood consisted mostly of residences and a few groceries in the southeastern part of Alexandria, along Royal Street. Today, several wood and brick townhouses still survive on the 400 block of South Royal and the 300 block of South Fairfax Streets. Thousands of artifacts have been excavated from Hayti house lots and are interpreted at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum. The center of the neighborhood, a total area of about 5 blocks, was located at 400 South Royal Street and the Wilkes Street Tunnel. Prince Street marks the northernmost border, South Pitt Street the western border, South Fairfax Street the eastern border, and the southern border was between Wilkes and Gibbon Streets.
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400 block South Royal Street area