History of slavery in Maryland
|By country or region|
|Opposition and resistance|
The institution of slavery in Maryland would last around 200 years, from its beginnings in 1642 when the first Africans were brought to St Mary's City, to the final elimination of slavery in 1864 during the penultimate year of the American Civil War.
Initially, slavery developed along very similar lines to neighboring Virginia. The early settlements and population centers of the Province tended to cluster around the rivers and other waterways that empty into the Chesapeake Bay and, as in Virginia, Maryland's economy quickly became centered on the farming of tobacco for sale in Europe. Tobacco demanded cheap labor to harvest and process the crop, the more so as tobacco prices declined in the late 1600s, even as farms became ever larger and more efficient. At first, emigrants from England in the form of indentured servants supplied much of the necessary labor but, as Englishmen found better opportunities at home, the forcible immigration and enslavement of Africans began to supply the bulk of the labor force.
By the 18th century Maryland had developed into a plantation colony, requiring vast numbers of field hands. In 1700 the Province had a population of about 25,000, and by 1750 that number had grown more than 5 times to 130,000. By 1755, about 40% of Maryland's population was black. An extensive system of rivers facilitated the movement of produce from inland plantations to the Atlantic coast for export. Baltimore was the second-most important port in the eighteenth-century South, after Charleston, South Carolina.
During the American Civil War, fought in part over the issue of slavery, Maryland remained in the Union, though many of her citizens (and virtually all of her slaveholders) held strong sympathies towards the rebel Confederate States. Maryland, as a Union border state, was not included in President Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which declared all slaves in Southern Confederate states to be free. Slavery would hang on in Maryland until the following year, when a constitutional convention was held which culminated in the passage of a new state constitution on November 1, 1864. Article 24 of that document at last outlawed the practice of slavery. The right to vote was extended to non-white males in the Maryland Constitution of 1867, which remains in effect today.
- 1 Beginnings
- 2 Eighteenth Century
- 3 Revolutionary War
- 4 Voices for Abolition
- 5 Underground Railroad
- 6 Civil War
- 7 Emancipation and the end of slavery
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Notes
- 11 External links
From the beginning, tobacco was the dominant cash crop in Maryland. Such was the importance of tobacco that, in the absence of sufficient silver coins, it served as the chief medium of exchange. John Ogilby wrote in his 1670 book America: Being an Accurate Description of the New World: "The general way of traffick and commerce there is chiefly by Barter, or exchange of one commodity for another".
Since land was plentiful, and the demand for tobacco was growing, labor tended to be in short supply, especially at harvest time. The first Africans to be brought to English North America landed in Virginia in 1619. These individuals appear to have been treated as indentured servants, and a significant number of African slaves even won their freedom through fulfilling a work contract or for converting to Christianity. Some successful free people of color, such as Anthony Johnson, acquired slaves or indentured servants themselves. This evidence suggests that racial attitudes were much more flexible in the colonies in the 17th century than they would subsequently become.
Import of African slaves
The first Africans were brought to Maryland in 1642, when 13 slaves arrived at St. Mary's City, the first English settlement in the Province. However, their legal status was initially unclear and colonial courts tended to rule that a slave who accepted Christian baptism should be freed. In order to protect the rights of their owners, laws began to be passed to clarify the legal position.
In 1661 the Maryland Assembly passed a law explicitly forbidding "miscegenation", that is to say marriage between different races. Three years later, in 1664, under the governorship of Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore, the Assembly ruled that all slaves should be slaves for life, and that the children of slaves should also be enslaved for life. The 1664 Act read as follows:
- Be it enacted by the Right Honorable, the Lord Proprietory, by the advice and consent of the Upper and Lower House of this present General Assembly, that all negroes or other slaves already within the Province, and all negroes and other slaves to be hereafter imported into the Province shall serve durante vita. And all children born of any negro or other slave shall be slaves as their fathers were for the term of their lives."
In this way the institution of slavery in Maryland would become indefinitely self-perpetuating, and the numbers of slaves in Maryland would grow inexorably until the institution's final eradication, 200 years later, during the American Civil War.
The wording of the 1664 Act suggests that Africans may not have been the only slaves in Maryland. Although there is no direct evidence of the enslavement of Native Americans, the reference to "negroes and other slaves" may imply that, as in Massachusetts, local Indians may have been enslaved by the colonists. Alternatively, the wording in the Act may have been intended to apply to slaves of African origin but of mixed-race ancestry.
Further legislation would follow, entrenching and deepening the institution of slavery. In 1671 the Assembly passed an Act stating expressly that baptism of a slave would not lead to freedom. The Act was apparently intended to save the souls of the enslaved; such that no slave owner should be discouraged from baptizing his human property for fear of losing it. In practice, such laws permitted both Christianity and slavery to develop hand in hand.
However, at this early stage in Maryland history slaves were not especially numerous in the Province, being greatly outnumbered by indentured servants from England. the full impact of such harsh slave laws would not be felt until large scale importation of Africans began in earnest in the 1690s. During the second half of the 17th century, the British economy gradually improved and the supply of British indentured servants declined, as poor Britons had better economic opportunities at home. At the same time, Bacon's Rebellion of 1676 led planters to worry about the prospective dangers of creating a large class of restless, landless, and relatively poor white men (most of them former indentured servants). Wealthy Virginia and Maryland planters began to buy slaves in preference to indentured servants during the 1660s and 1670s, and poorer planters followed suit by c.1700. Slaves cost more than servants, so initially only the wealthy could invest in slaves. By the end of the seventeenth century, planters shifted away from indentured servants, and in favor of the importation of African slaves.
During the eighteenth century the numbers of slaves imported into Maryland greatly increased, as the tobacco economy became dominant, and the state developed into a plantation colony. In 1700 there were about 25,000 people in Maryland and by 1750 that had grown more than 5 times to 130,000. By 1755, about 40% of Maryland's population was black.
Slave labor made possible the export-driven plantation economy, albeit built on an foundation of slave labor. The English observer William Strickland wrote of agriculture in Virginia and Maryland in the 1790s: Nothing can be conceived more inert than a slave; his unwilling labour is discovered in every step he takes; he moves not if he can avoid it; if the eyes of the overseer be off him, he sleeps. The ox and horse, driven by the slave, appear to sleep also; all is listless inactivity; all motion is evidently compulsory.
In 1753 the Maryland assembly took further harsh steps to entrench the institution of slavery, passing a law which prohibited any slave owner from voluntarily manumitting his slaves. This meant that even slave owners who wished to free their own slaves were henceforth prevented by law from doing so.
At this stage there were few voices of dissent in Maryland. Although only the wealthy could afford slaves, even poor whites who did not own slaves may have aspired to own them someday. And the identity of many whites in Maryland, and the South in general, was by now tied up in the idea of white supremacy. As the French political philosopher Montesquieu noted in 1748: "It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures [enslaved Africans] to be men; because allowing them to be men, a suspicion would follow that we ourselves are not Christians."
The principal cause of the American Revolution was liberty, but only on behalf of white men, and certainly not slaves. The British, desperately short of manpower, sought to enlist African American soldiers to fight on behalf of the Crown, promising them liberty in exchange. As a result of the looming crisis in 1775 the Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, issued a proclamation that promised freedom to servants and slaves who were able to bear arms and join his Loyalist Ethiopian Regiment:
...I do require every Person capable of bearing Arms, to resort to His MAJESTY'S STANDARD, or be looked upon as Traitors to His MAJESTY'S Crown and Government, and thereby become liable to the Penalty the Law inflicts upon such Offenses; such as forfeiture of Life, confiscation of Lands, &. &. And I do hereby further declare all indented Servants, Negroes, or others, (appertaining to Rebels,) free that are able and willing to bear Arms, they joining His MAJESTY'S Troops as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing this Colony to a proper Sense of their Duty, to His MAJESTY'S Crown and Dignity.--- Lord Dunmore's Proclamation, November 7, 1775
About 800 men joined up; some helped rout the Virginia militia at the Battle of Kemp's Landing and fought in the Battle of Great Bridge on the Elizabeth River, wearing the motto "Liberty to Slaves", but this time they were defeated. The remains of their regiment were then involved in the evacuation of Norfolk, after which they served in the Chesapeake area. Unfortunately the camp that they had set up there suffered an outbreak of smallpox and other diseases. This took a heavy toll, putting many of them out of action for some time. The survivors joined other British units and continued to serve throughout the war. Blacks were often the first to come forward to volunteer and a total of 12,000 blacks served with the British from 1775 to 1783. This factor had the effect of forcing the rebels to also offer freedom to those who would serve in the Continental army. Such promises were often reneged upon by both sides.
In general though, the war left the institution of slavery largely unaffected, and the prosperous life of Maryland planters continued. The writer Abbe Robin, who travelled through Maryland during the American Revolutionary War, described the lifestyle enjoyed by families of wealth and status in the Province:
- "[Maryland houses] are large and spacious habitations, widely separated, composed of a number of buildings and surrounded by plantations extending farther than the eye can reach, cultivated...by unhappy black men whom European avarice brings hither...Their furniture is of the most costly wood, and rarest marbles, enriched by skilful and artistic work. Their elegant and light carriages are drawn by finely bred horses, and driven by richly apparelled slaves."
Voices for Abolition
Methodists and Quakers
The American Revolution had been fought for the cause of liberty, and the irony of this was not lost on the many Marylanders who opposed slavery. Methodists in particular, of whom Maryland had more than any other state in the Union, were opposed to it on Christian grounds. In 1780 the National Methodist Conference in Baltimore officially condemned slavery, and in 1784 the church went further, threatening Methodist preachers with suspension if they owned slaves.
The Methodist movement in the United States as a whole was not of one voice on the subject of slavery; indeed many Southern congregations supported the institution, often citing Old Testament scriptures which appeared to represent slavery as a part of the natural order of things.
For example, Leviticus Chapter 25, verses 44-46, state as follows:
- 44 Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.
- 45 Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession.
- 46 And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour.
Passages such as this meant that pro-slavery advocates often seemed to have the better part of the argument, at least in terms of scriptural support. New Testament writings were sometimes used to support the case for slavery as well. Some of the writings of Paul, especially in Ephesians, instruct slaves to remain obedient to their masters. In addition Southern ideology also argued that slavery was beneficial for slaves as well as their owners, arguing that slaves were offered protections from many ills.
In the mid-1790s the Methodists and the Quakers drew together to form the Maryland Society of the Abolition of Slavery. Together they lobbied the legislature, and in 1796 successfully achieved the repeal of the 1753 law which had prohibited a slave owner from voluntarily manumitting his slaves. In 1815 the two groups again co-operated to form the Protection Society of Maryland, a group which sought protection for free blacks living in the state.
Other churches in Maryland were more equivocal. The Roman Catholic Church in Maryland had long tolerated slavery. Despite a firm stand for the spiritual equality of black people, and the resounding condemnation of slavery by Pope Gregory XVI in his bull In Supremo Apostolatus issued in 1839, the Catholic Church in Maryland continued in deeds, if not in public discourse, to support slaveholding interests.
Frederick Douglass was an influential voice in favour of abolition. Douglass was born a slave in Talbot County, Maryland, between Hillsboro and Cordova, probably in his grandmother's shack east of Tappers Corner ( ) and west of Tuckahoe Creek. The exact date of his birth is unknown, though seems likely he was born in 1818. Douglass wrote of his childhood:
Douglass wrote several autobiographies, eloquently describing his experiences in slavery in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became influential in its support for abolition.
Maryland State Colonization Society
One organization which sought to end the practice of slavery was The Maryland State Colonization Society, founded in 1817, an auxiliary branch of the American Colonization Society which had been founded in Washington D.C. in 1816. The MSCS had strong Christian support  and was the primary vehicle for proposals to return free African Americans to what many Marylanders considered greater freedom in Africa. It helped to found the colony of Liberia in 1821–22, as a place for freedmen. The Maryland State Colonization Society was responsible for founding the Republic of Maryland in West Africa, a short lived independent state that in 1857 was annexed by Liberia.
The society was founded in 1827, and its first president was the wealthy planter Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who was himself a Marylander and a substantial slaveholder. Although he supported the gradual abolition of slavery, he did not free his own slaves, perhaps fearing that they might be rendered destitute in the process. Carroll introduced a bill for the gradual abolition of slavery in the Maryland senate but it did not pass.
Many wealthy Maryland Planters were members of the MSCS. Among these were the Steuart family, who owned considerable estates in the Chesapeake Bay, including Major General George H. Steuart, who was on the board of Managers, along with his father James Steuart, who was vice-president, and his brother, the physician Richard Sprigg Steuart, also on the board of managers.
In an open letter to John Carey in 1845, published in Baltimore by the printer John Murphy, Richard Sprigg Steuart set out his views on the subject of slavery in Maryland. Such opinions must have been widespread among Maryland slaveholders:
- "The colored man [must] look to Africa, as his only hope of preservation and of happiness...it can not be denied that the question is fraught with great difficulties and perplexities, but...it will be found that this course of procedure...will...at no very distant period, secure the removal of the great body of the African people from our State. The President of the Maryland Colonization Society points to this in his address, where he says "the object of Colonization is to prepare a home in Africa for the free colored people of the State, to which they may remove when the advantages which it offers, and above all the pressure of irresistible circumstances in this country, shall excite them to emigrate."
The society proposed from the outset "to be a remedy for slavery", and declared in 1833:
- "Resolved, That this society believe, and act upon the belief, that colonization tends to promote emancipation, by affording the emancipated slave a home where he can be happier than in this country, and so inducing masters to manumit who would not do so unconditionally...[so that] at a time not remote, slavery would cease in the state by the full consent of those interested."
Republic of Maryland founded in Africa
In December 1831, the Maryland state legislature appropriated US$10,000 for 26 years to transport free blacks and ex-slaves from the United States to Africa. The act appropriated funds of up to $20,000 a year, up to a total of $200,000, in order to commence the process of African colonization. Most of the money would be spent on the colony itself, to make it attractive to settlers. Free passage was offered, plus rent, 5 acres (20,000 m2) of land to farm, and low interest loans which would eventually be forgiven if the settlers chose to remain in Liberia. The remainder was spent on agents paid to publicize the new colony.
At the same time, measures were enacted to force freed slaves to leave the state, unless a court of law found them to be of such "extraordinary good conduct and character" that they might be permitted to remain. Any slave manumitted by his master must be reported to the authorities, and county clerks who did not do so could be fined. It was in order to carry out this legislative purpose that the Maryland State Colonization Society was established.
In 1832 the legislature placed new restrictions on the liberty of free blacks, in order to encourage emigration. They were not permitted to vote, serve on juries, or hold public office. Unemployed ex-slaves without visible means of support could be re-enslaved at the discretion of local sheriffs. By this means the supporters of colonization hoped to encourage free blacks to leave the state.
John Latrobe, for two decades the president of the MSCS, and later president of the ACS, proclaimed that settlers would be motivated by the "desire to better one's condition", and that sooner or later "every free person of color" would be persuaded to leave Maryland.
For braver souls, impatient with efforts to abolish slavery within the law, there were always illegal methods. The Underground Railroad was established to guide slaves to safety in Northern states. The many Indian trails and waterways of Maryland, and in particular the countless inlets of the Chesapeake Bay, afforded numerous ways to escape north to Pennsylvania. As the numbers of escaping slaves grew, so did the reward for their capture. In 1806 the reward offered for recaptured slaves was $6, but by 1833 it had risen to $30. In 1844 recaptured slaves fetched $15 if recaptured within 30 miles (48 km) of the owner, $50 if captured more than 30 miles (48 km) away.
By the 1850s few Marylanders still believed that Colonization was the solution to the problem of slavery. By this time around one in every six Maryland families had slaves, but support for the institution of slavery was localized; varying according to its importance to the local economy. Marylanders might agree in principle that slavery could and should be abolished, but turning theory into practice would prove elusive. Slavery was too deeply embedded into Maryland society for it to be voluntarily eradicated, and the end would come only with war and bloodshed.
Approach of war
Like other border states such as Kentucky and Missouri, Maryland found herself in a difficult position as war approached, with opinion heavily divided between supporters of North and South. The western and northern parts of the state, especially those Marylanders of German origin, tended to favour remaining in the Union, whilst the low-lying Chesapeake Bay area, with its slave economy, tended to support the Confederacy if not outright secession.
However, Maryland would remain part of the Union during the United States Civil War, thanks to President Abraham Lincoln's swift action to suppress dissent in Maryland. The belated assistance of Governor Hicks also played an important role, as Hicks, initially indecisive, eventually co-operated with federal officials to stop further violence and prevent a move to secession.
As in Virginia and Delaware, many planters in Maryland had freed their slaves in the years following the Revolutionary War, and by 1860 Maryland's free black population comprised 49.1% of the total number of African Americans in the state. After John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now in West Virginia), some citizens in slaveholding areas began forming local militias. Of the 1860 population of 687,000, about 60,000 men joined the Union and about 25,000 fought for the Confederacy. The political sentiments of each group generally reflected their economic interests.
The first bloodshed of the Civil War occurred on April 19, 1861 in Baltimore involving Massachusetts troops who were fired on by civilians while marching between railroad stations. After that, Baltimore Mayor George William Brown, Marshal George P. Kane, and former Governor Enoch Louis Lowe requested that Maryland Governor Thomas H. Hicks, a slave owner from the Eastern Shore, burn the railroad bridges and cut the telegraph lines leading to Baltimore to prevent further troops from entering the state. Hicks reportedly approved this proposal. These actions were addressed in the famous federal court case of Ex parte Merryman.
Emancipation remained by no means a foregone conclusion at the start of the war, though events soon began to move against slaveholding interests in Maryland. On December 16, 1861 a bill was presented to Congress to emancipate slaves in Washington, D.C., and in March 1862 Lincoln held talks with Marylanders on the subject of emancipation. Marylanders like Representative John Crisfield resisted the President, arguing that freedom would be worse for the slaves than slavery, though such arguments became increasingly ineffective as the war progressed.
On April 10, 1862, Congress declared that the Federal government would compensate slave owners who freed their slaves. Slaves in the District of Columbia were freed on April 16, 1862 and their owners were duly compensated. In July 1862 Congress took a major step towards emancipation by passing the Second Confiscation Act, which permitted the Union army to enlist African-American soldiers, and barred the army from recapturing runaway slaves. In the same month Lincoln offered to buy out Maryland slaveholders, offering $300 for each emancipated slave, but Crisfield (unwisely as it turned out) rejected this offer.
On September 17, 1862 General Robert E. Lee's invasion of Maryland was turned back by the Union army at the tactically inconclusive but strategically important Battle of Antietam, which took place near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Five days later, on September 22, encouraged by relative success at Antietam, President Lincoln issued an executive order known as the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared all slaves in Southern states to be free. The order went into effect in January 1863, though Maryland, like other border states, was exempted since she had remained loyal to the Union at the outbreak of war.
For now, Maryland remained a slave state, but the tide was turning. In 1863 and 1864 growing numbers of Maryland slaves simply left their plantations to join the Union Army, accepting the promise of military service in return for freedom. One effect of this was to bring slave auctions to an end, as any slave could avoid sale, and win their freedom, by simply offering to join the army. In 1863 Crisfield was defeated in local elections by the abolitionist candidate John Cresswell, amid allegations of vote-rigging by the army. In Somerset County, Maryland, Cresswell outpolled Crisfield by a margin of 6,742 votes to 5,482, with Union soldiers effectively deciding the vote in favor of Cresswell. The Civil War was not yet over, but Slavery in Maryland had at last run its course. The abolitionists had almost won.
Emancipation and the end of slavery
The issue of slavery was finally confronted by the constitution which the state adopted in 1864. The document, which replaced the Maryland Constitution of 1851, was pressed by Unionists who had secured control of the state, and was framed by a Convention which met at Annapolis in April 1864. Article 24 of the constitution at last outlawed the practice of slavery.
The constitution was submitted for ratification on October 13, 1864 and was narrowly approved by a vote of 30,174 to 29,799 (50.31% to 49.69%) in a referendum widely characterised by intimidation and fraud. The vote was only carried after Maryland's soldiers' votes were included in the count. Marylanders serving in the Union Army were overwhelmingly in favor (2,633 to 263). Maryland soldiers who were fighting for the Confederacy, and therefore could not vote, would likely have overwhelmingly opposed it.
The institution of slavery in Maryland had lasted just over 200 years, since the Assembly had first granted it formal legal status in 1663. In the end Maryland slaveholders received no compensation for their human property, the loss of which was estimated at around $30 million, a very large sum by the standards of the time.
- History of Maryland
- Maryland in the American Civil War
- Province of Maryland
- Slavery in the colonial United States
- Slavery in the United States
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