|Death: ||Jan. 17, 1880|
Diarist, Michael G. Shiner, when asked to describe himself, modestly answered, "I am a laboring man in the paint-shop in the Washington navy-yard." Today, Shiner, is famous for his Diary, chronicling events at the Washington Navy Yard and the District of Columbia from 1813 to 1869. Among the diary's better known passages are his account of the War of 1812, the 1833 abduction of his family by slave dealers and the strike and race riot of 1835. Born in Maryland in 1805 and his early years were spent enslaved on the farm of William Pumphrey. He appears to have come to the District of Columbia in about 1812. On August 1827 Pumphrey made his last will which directed that all his slaves were to be " term slaves" to serve for the amount of time specified in the will and then manumitted. Pumphrey noted that "Michael... to served fifteen years". In January 1828, Pumphrey's son Lloyd sold Michael to Thomas Howard, Sr., Chief Clerk of the Washington Navy Yard. Howard continued to rent him to the navy yard paint shop, where over the next decade, learned painting trade. About the same time, he married Phillis, who belonged to William Pumphrey's brother James Pumphrey. On Thomas Howard's death in 1832, a provision in his will, stipulated, that he be manumitted in eight years, making his manumission September 1836.
To gain his freedom Shiner filed a petition December 1836 in the District of Columbia Circuit Court stating that the Howard family were keeping him in bondage. Shiner may have felt forced to take action since knowing Thomas Howard left a large family and no government pension and that Ann Howard and her son William E. Howard were reluctant to manumit him and forgo their regular monthly income his work at the navy yard provided. petition to the District of Columbia Circuit Court follows the same format as Davis and Thompson. Shiner states he is free and that slaveholders Ann Howard and William E. Howard are illegally holding him in bondage. His lawyer James Hobban Jr introduced the case to the DC Circuit Court by presenting a preliminary document stating that Shiner was entitled to his freedom, and that his case be tried before Judge Cranch and that he be "discharged from servitude."
The District of Columbia Marshall then served summons on the Howards. In the District of Columbia court rulings were determined by a jury decision. The jury restricted to the white majority. Both the prosecution and defense had the opportunities to interrogate witnesses and the petitioner in order to establish credible evidence to establish or disprove freedom respectively. Unfortunately, we have no surviving court ruling as most of these early nineteenth century freedom petitions only exist in a fragmented state.
For Michael Shiner's actions we have only his 1836 petition and the District Court summons to the Howard's. Calculation reveals the difference in possible manumission dates would have added another year to Shiner's servitude. The Howard' s may have been reluctant to challenge Thomas Howard's 1832 will or to take the financial uncertainty of actively defend their case. In summary this suggests he gained his freedom in 1836. But absent a certificate of freedom dated 1836 or manumission document, inevitably uncertainty remains. The 1840 US census for the District of Columbia enumerated Michael Shiner and his family as "free black".
After Pumphrey's death in 1832, Shiner's wife Phillis and the couples three children were sold by Pumphrey's heirs to John Armfield and Isaac Franklin, two of the nation's most notorious slave dealers. The Shiners' were then moved to Alexandria, and confined to the firm's slave jail. Shiner after a desperate struggle, was able to secure their manumission with the aid of a number of influential white friends. On Phillis's death in 1848, Shiner married again on September 8, 1849, this time to Mrs. Jane Jackson, a young widow.
In the 1850 District of Columbia U.S. census lists Michael Shiner as living in Ward 6 and as a free black man, aged 46. His family was listed as: Jane 19 years (second wife), Sarah 12, Isaac 5 and Braxton 6 months. After the Civil War, Shiner, continued to work at the navy yard. In his last two decades, he became a prosperous businessman, and took an active role in Republican Party politics. Shiner and his son Isaac ran for public office and were leaders in the Black community. At age 70, Shiner, was appointed a police officer, by the District Board of Police Commissioners on November 11, 1875, and was assigned to work the Eastern Market.
Shiner died January 17 1880, at the age of 75, during an outbreak of smallpox. Tragically his beloved son Isaac Shiner and daughter Rosana Shiner Grayson died in the same outbreak. He was buried in the segregated, Union Beneficial Association Cemetery, also known as Becketts Cemetery Washington DC. This burial ground was located across from the gates of Congressional Cemetery in Square 1102, bound by E & D, and 17th and 18th Streets S.E. The cemetery has since been paved over,however, Shiner's real monument, is his Diary, which recounts his active life and struggle for freedom,and dignity.
On one occasion, Shiner summed up his struggle, reflecting on his hard won freedom, he stated emphatically, "the only master I have now is the Constitution…"
Phillis Shiner (1808 - 1848)
Jane Jackson Shiner (1834 - 1884)
Mary Ann Shiner Almarolia (1833 - 1904)*
Joseph Shiner (1836 - 1868)*
Isaac Shiner (1845 - 1872)*
Beckelts Cemetery (Defunct)
District of Columbia
District Of Columbia, USA
Created by: John & Gene Sharp
Record added: Jul 02, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 54405653