Slavery In Maryland


Figure 1.   Leather shoe found at Birely Tannery in Frederick, Maryland.  Researchers at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation concluded that it was a slave shoe.

Figure 1. Leather shoe found at Birely Tannery in Frederick, Maryland. Researchers at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation concluded that it was a slave shoe.

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). Continue reading

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The Birely Tannery Fleshing Knife-An Artifact of Frederick County’s Industrial Past


Most people are aware of the roles tobacco and other agricultural crops played in Maryland’s history. But I would wager that not nearly as many Marylanders know that the tanning of leather was second only to agriculture in economic importance in some parts of the state during the 18th and 19th centuries. In honor of that key role, I have chosen a tool used in the tanning industry as the starting point for this week’s blog on a trade that has all but disappeared from Maryland’s economy.

fleshing knife2

Wooden handled fleshing knife found during excavations at Birely Tannery.

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