Mason's Island is now known as Theodore Roosevelt Island because of the Theodore Roosevelt monument there. It is wooded with several archaeological sites in addition to the monument. The Potomac River flows into two channels surrounding the island. It is the site of both a camp for refugees from slavery and Camp Greene, a camp for African American troops partly recruited from freedom seekers.
In 1861, many escaped bondsmen began pouring into Union lines, placing great strain on the fabric of nearby cities. In the District of Columbia, the population influx of both fleeing bondsmen and newly freed blacks created an immediate need for food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. The refugees from slavery came to be known as "contrabands" because they were not returned to slavery on the legal basis that they were seized "property" of the Confederates. The government established "contraband" camps to address their needs. The able-bodied found work with the government, though sheer numbers soon overwhelmed the camps. Freedman's Village, established on the Arlington Estate, soon became so overcrowded that a new "employment depot" was built on Mason's Island, which then in turn became so overcrowded and disease-ridden that reforms were necessary.
On New Year's Day, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which not only freed bondsmen in rebellious states, but also opened the door for formal enlistment of African American troops in the army. The First Regiment, one of the first formally established African American units, was recruited mainly in the District of Columbia, from both free African Americans and freedom seekers. For example, in order to enlist, John Chen escaped slavery in Caroline County and Henry Bailey slavery in Suffolk, Virginia. The army's Camp Greene was created on the island, in addition to the camp for contrabands. Camp Greene was an encampment for the First Regiment of United States Colored Troops between May to September 1863. It was so located partly to protect the soldiers from harassment in the city. Among others, the poet Walt Whitman came to visit the troops.
Theodore Roosevelt Island is located in the Potomac River off the George Washington Memorial Parkway near Rosslyn, Virginia. There is no entrance fee, and ranger-led programs on the island are free. Theodore Roosevelt Island is open year-round from 6 am to 10 pm. There is no visitor center on the island itself. Information, brochures, and maps are available at other George Washington Memorial Parkway visitor centers and at George Washington Memorial Parkway headquarters. [for photo see NPS website]
Last Modified: EST