In 1861, Union officials designated slaves who escaped to Union lines as "contraband," refusing to return them to their owners despite the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The term "contraband" was a mere political convenience, however. These African Americans are more properly understood as a class of refugees. After Union armies liberated large sections of the South, thousands of freed slaves from nearby Virginia and Maryland began to move north and settle in Washington, D.C. Camp Barker, a former barracks was converted into a refugee camp for the newly freed slaves.
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