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Freedman’s Savings Bank

The Freedman’s Savings Bank on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington

The Freedman’s Saving and Trust Company, known as the Freedman’s Savings Bank, was a private savings bank chartered by the U.S. Congress on March 3, 1865, to collect deposits from the newly emancipated communities. Within 7 years of its formation, the bank opened 37 branches across 17 states and the District of Columbia and collected funds from over 67,000 depositors. At the height of its success, the Freedman’s Savings Bank held assets worth more than $3.7 million in 1872 dollars, which translates to approximately $80 million in 2021.

However, the rapid development of the bank was largely driven by false claims and was coupled with mismanagement and fraud. The bank failed in 1874, weighed down by speculative loans issued by the bank’s white officials throughout its existence. Historians believe that the bank’s failure not only destroyed the savings of many African Americans, but also their trust in financial institutions.

The archives of the Freedman’s Savings Bank provide unique information regarding a large share of its depositors. The registers of signatures cover 28 branches from 1865 to 1874 and include information on depositors’ identity, age, occupation, complexion, place of birth and also relatives. The site where the bank’s headquarters once stood was later occupied by the Treasury Annex. The Annex was renamed the Freedman’s Bank Building in 2016.