Looking back at my blogs over the last three months, I have quite unintentionally fallen into theme-based posts. During the summer, I tended towards sports-related topics and in September and early October, it seemed my posts all had to do with education, as students made their way back to classes. I’m going to break out of that mold and explore a variety of topics over the next few months. This week’s post begins with a leather shoe, deemed to have been made for a slave and found at the Birely Tannery site (18FR575) in Frederick County. This modest footwear will serve as a vehicle for examining the institution of slavery in our state.
The first people of African descent arrived early in the Maryland colony’s history. Mathias de Sousa, a mulatto servant who accompanied Father Andrew White to the colony in 1634, was among the first (Brugger 1988:43). As in the neighboring Virginia colony, some of Maryland’s African population during parts of the seventeenth century appeared to have been employed as servants, working a set period of indenture before gaining their freedom. But as the century wore on and English sources of indentured labor started to evaporate, Maryland’s African population began, as in Virginia, to experience greater levels of discrimination, eventually facing lifetime bondage. Changes in British trading laws with Africa, as well as an increase in the price of tobacco at the beginning of the eighteenth century, allowed more planters the ability to purchase African labor (Brugger 1988:46), thus setting the scene for Maryland to become a slave colony. A law passed in 1664 enslaved all African-Americans brought into the Maryland colony (Proceedings and Acts).
By 1775, the number of enslaved in North America reached half a million, 90,000 of whom were in Maryland, at the time the second largest slave holding colony in North America (Calderhead 2003:34). Virtually all slaves arriving in Maryland in the eighteenth century came directly from Africa rather than spending time in the West Indies. Analysis of transatlantic slave trade sources has refined our understanding of these forced immigrants’ cultural backgrounds (Eltis 2001). The upper Chesapeake’s enslaved population was derived largely from Senegambia, Ghana and Sierra Leone. Considerable cultural and linguistic diversity was apparent among Africans brought to the Upper Chesapeake, suggesting that opportunities for any degree of cultural continuity in this area were limited (Walsh 2001:159).
With initial settlement occurring in the Chesapeake, whose economy relied heavily on the cultivation of tobacco, the majority of the enslaved performed agricultural tasks. In 1747, 90% of Maryland’s agricultural production was in tobacco, a figure that had dropped dramatically to 14% by the mid-nineteenth century (Fields 1985:5). As the agricultural economy transitioned to wheat and other grains, the labor force adjusted their work routines and seasonal schedules. Not all slaves were employed in agricultural pursuits; they were also critical as skilled woodworkers, tailors, shoemakers, seamstresses, laundresses, watermen, blacksmiths and weavers, among other professions (Russo 1988:408). Industries formed a more important part of the economy in the northern and western parts of Maryland, where the enslaved worked in tanneries, gristmills, sawmills, iron foundries, coal mines and lime kilns. Slaves also formed an important part of the urban workforce throughout the state, working as house servants, craftspeople, in shipbuilding and other industries (Phillips 1997:19).
Maryland, located between dedicated slave holding states to the south and anti-slavery states to the north, was divided about the issue of slavery. The agricultural base and plantation economy of southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore made these parts of the state more sympathetic to the Confederate cause. Western and central Maryland, however, were largely pro-Union. In 1826, citizens of Baltimore County tried to pass a law that would eventually outlaw slavery across the state (Brugger 1988:210). Numbers of enslaved laborers decreased slowly but steadily across the state from the 1810s to the 1830s, while numbers of free blacks, particularly in urban areas, was on the rise (Brugger 1988:210-211). Slavery was abolished in Maryland in 1864, having lasted as an institution for two hundred years.
Calderhead, William L.
2003 Slavery in Maryland in the Age of Revolution, 1775-1790. Maryland Historical Magazine 1 (Spring 2003).
2001 The Volume and Structure of the Transatlantic Slave Trade: A Reassessment. William and Mary Quarterly, 3d series, Volume LVIII, Number 1, pp. 17-46.
Fields, Barbara Jean
1985 Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground; Maryland during the Nineteenth Century. Yale University Press, New Haven.
1997 Freedom’s Port; The African American Community of Baltimore, 1790-1860. University of Illinois Press, Chicago.
Proceedings and Acts
1664 An Act concerning Negroes and other slaves. Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly of Maryland January 1637/8-September 1664, Volume 1:533. Archives of Maryland Online. Website http://aomol.net/000001/000001/html/am1–533.html accessed October 10, 2013.
1988 Self-Sufficiency and Local Exchange; Free Craftsmen in the Rural Chesapeake Economy. In Colonial Chesapeake Society. Edited by Lois Green Carr, Philip D. Morgan and Jean B. Russo. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, pp. 389-432.
2001 The Chesapeake Slave Trade: Regional Patterns, African Origins, and Some Implications. William and Mary Quarterly, 3d series, Volume LVIII, Number 1, pp. 139-170.