Prince George's County held more enslaved African Americans than any other
county in the state. Toward the end of the Antebellum Era, Prince
George's County held fewer free blacks than any other county in the state,
except Allegany (467), and Charles (1,068). The county's slave communities
represented both the benefactors and beneficiaries of free blacks in Washington,
D.C. Along with other jurisdictions in nearby Maryland and Virginia,
Washington's free black community grew as manumittees and free-borns from
adjacent regions migrated there in the nineteenth century. Ties of
friendship and kinship bound these people to those left behind on plantations.
When flights occurred, both fugitives and their pursuers looked to
the nation's capital for possible accomplices.
Prince George's County, with no sizeable free black population of its
own, and likely few internal white opponents of slavery, was connected
to Washington D.C.'s population. Much as Baltimore City, and to a
lesser degree Frederick City, Hagerstown, and Cumberland offered opportunities for runaways in the northern
regions of the state. Washington, D.C.
provided them in Southern Maryland. There was a substantial presence of the Northern Underground Railroad
in Washington, D.C. through the actions of abolitionists such as Charles T. Torrey.
However, the accomplices of those reformers, and others acting independently
of the Northern Underground Railroad, were found in the slave-holding counties
of Maryland, of which contiguous Prince George's was the largest.
There were large clusters of African Americans, mainly enslaved, Within
Prince George's County. The holding of thirteen slaves per capita
by 1850 only partially reveals the clustering of the black population.
Of the 879 slave holders in the county by that year, 177 (20%) held
at least twenty enslaved blacks, thirty-two (4%) held at least fifty slaves, and
nine (1 %) enslaved seventy-five or more. There was also a concentration of
these holders in and around the county seat, Upper Marlborough. It was
little more than a hamlet, but in 1850 tobacco planters kept 2,793 blacks
slaves there. A mere ten miles separated Upper Marlborough from Washington
to the west, fifteen from Annapolis to the east, and thirty from Baltimore
to the northeast.
In the Antebellum Era, black slaves out-numbered all other groups in Prince
George's County. It was situated between the Potomac River and Patuxent
River, and featured a densely wooded area at its heart, literally called,
"the Forest of Prince George's County." The county's access to Washington,
D.C., its rivers, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and within fifteen miles,
the Chesapeake Bay, offered would-be fugitives a plethora of routes and
possible destinations. It is likely, however, that Pennsylvania by
way of Northern and Western Maryland represented typical paths, for these
seem to have been accessible from Washington, D.C. Approximately
eight percent of slaves arrested in Baltimore for whom owner information was docketed
fled from Prince George's County.
A survey of selected newspapers from several Maryland counties and Washington,
D.C. suggests an overrepresentation of Prince George's County slaves on
the run, or at least being sought within the state through newspaper advertisements.
Fully twenty-two percent of all runaway advertisements placed in several Maryland newspapers,
including the Baltimore Sun, and the Daily National Intelligencer concern
an enslaved man or woman who fled Prince George's County. By contrast,
the two other Maryland counties of this study, Baltimore and Frederick
were less represented with four percent and two percent respectively. Few though they
were, rightly or wrongly, free blacks in Prince George's County found themselves
implicated at several points during the Antebellum Era for their alleged
hand in episodes of slave flight. For example, authorities issued a warrant
to search the home of free black Prince Georgian, Theophelus McDaniel,
as they pursued the fugitive slave, Sarah, who had fled from Charles
County, Maryland. Likewise, the State indicted Alexius Boone of Prince
George's County for his alleged role in the escape of an enslaved woman,
Peggy. Clement Brooks, a free black man in his mid-twenties, received
a sentence to the Maryland Penitentiary in 1848 for allegedly enticing
a slave to runaway. Another free African American resident of Prince
George's County, William Taylor, suffered the same fate. Taylor was
convicted in April 1857 for enticing slaves to run away. He served
five years, three months in prison.
Whether or not these individuals played a hand in slave flight, records
indicate that many of the enslaved fled Prince George's County, often with
assistance from others. In summer 1830, at age fifteen, a African
American boy named Harry fled from Notley Young's plantation in the "Forrest
of Prince George's County." His pursuers believed he was headed to
family and acquaintances in Washington D.C., many of whom were free.
Young feared their aim was to have the boy escape permanently. Kinship
bonds were a suspected resource to other county fugitives as well.
In February 1846, for example, Bill Carroll fled from Baruch Mullikin's
farm in Nottingham near Upper Marlboro. He was known to have a wife
on the Skinner Estate, also in Nottingham. The forty-five-year-old
Carroll remained at large in the county for the better part of three months,
before crossing the Patuxent into Calvert County. And, when forty year-old
Mary fled with two other enslaved blacks from slaveholder Robert A. Clagett
of Upper Marlboro in September 1851, their pursuers believed them to be
moving east toward Bladensburg, on the Anacostia River. Mary had
once been held there as the property of George W. Bowie, and some of her
relatives were still there. Mary was also being sought northward,
in "The Forest of Prince George's County," where her husband (by Samuel
L. Brooke), and her father (by Dr. Benjamin Berry) were held as slaves.
The lowly socio-political status of enslaved and free blacks did not keep them from being a resource to those of their
number on the run. For enslaved blacks, especially, the gesture might
be reciprocated. There is evidence of successful fugitives, having secured
their own freedom out of Maryland, returning to snatch away kinfolk.
An example of this involves a family held by a small holder in northern
Prince George's County.
Adam Smith, age thirty, fled Isaac Scaggs's Beltsville plantation on
August 22, 1857. Smith's mother was held by a Mr. Hamelton, near
Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. He perhaps headed for her, but he
definitely fled to Washington D.C. Adam had run before, and between his
duties for Scaggs and visits with his mother, he had likely familiarized
himself with the city. A short time after absconding, Smith arrived
in Philadelphia, and was received by the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee.
Within two weeks, the time it had taken him to travel
to Philadelphia initially, Smith had allegedly returned to Scaggs's Plantation,
unbeknowst to the owner. When he left again, this time Smith took
his wife, Maria, and their four boys (Dall, Lem, Bill, and Ben) with him.
The aid blacks gave runaways within slave states, especially to the kin
and friends, should not be underestimated. For Maryland, especially
in Prince George's County, black's role was essential to any successful
William "Bill" Brown decided to flee Prince George' County as his life
promised to become more difficult following a confrontation with his owner.
His owner, William Elliott, was representative of many young planters during
the 1850s who were coming into their own and attempting to curb an enslaved
labor force who they perceived as growing more restless with their condition.
Prince George's County tobacco planters were stabilizing and expanding their operations, contrary to the state-wide trend of the Antebellum Era when tobacco farming was generally decreasing.
Elliott, by 1850 in his mid-twenties, had a wife and daughter, held real
property valued at nine thousand six hundred dollars, and a plantation on a 224 acre lot called Cool
Spring Manor. The plantation was located in the easternmost part
of the county, in what after the early-1840s became Queen Anne's District.
Cool Spring Manor was situated near the Patuxent River, on the boundary
between Queen Anne's District and Marlborough, just across the river from
Anne Arundel County. Part of Elliott's personal property was held
in chattel slaves - twenty-five blacks, most under the age of fifteen. By 1860,
however, his real holdings had expanded to eighteen thousand dollars, and the worth of his
personal holdings, including now thrity-five enslaved blacks, was twenty thousand dollars.
Part of the growing black community at Elliott's plantation was the
Brown Family. One of their number, William "Bill" Brown, enacted
an act of rebelliousness and insubordination by refusing, in all probability
violently, to be flogged. He expected that he might be sold South
as punishment. He learned, however, that he was to be worked cruelly to make an effective example of him to the other slaves at Cool Spring
Brown fled on November 17, 1855, traveling for five weeks to Philadelphia.
Fearing that Brown was "making for a free state," Elliott advertised for
the fugitive in the Baltimore Sun rather than more nearby press. In his
add, Elliot assured readers that Brown "went off without the slightest
provocation." When Bill Brown fled, he was perhaps aided by his father,
six siblings, and a grandparent who he left behind in slavery.
Similar to the experience of Bill Brown, in terms of his struggles
with his owner and his successful flight, was that of Jim Belle, who fled
the county in 1857. Zachariah Berry of Washington was a member of
a prominent land-holding family in Prince George's County and Washington,
D.C. In 1849, Zachariah Berry's father, Washington Berry of Washington
[D.C.], purchased a tract of land from Richard C. Bowie. Located
in the Queen Anne's District of Prince George's County, along the road
leading from "the Brick Church" (modern-day Church Road), in the middle
of "the Forest," Berry began organizing his father's operation at the newly
acquired plantation called "Bellmont." Encompassing parts of three
districts (Marlborough, Bladensburg, and Queen Anne), the region represented
the heart of Prince George's County slave holdings, and perhaps the most
concentrated slaveholding region in the State. While greater than
fifty percent of Prince George's County slaves were held in these three
districts alone, less than thirty percent of its free blacks lived there.
Alone, these three districts of Prince George's County held more slaves
than all but three Maryland counties. Only Anne Arundel County (7,332),
Charles County(9,653), and St. Mary's County (6,549) had more.
Bellmont became Zachariah's property outright with his father's death
At the time Berry began building Bellmont, 11,510 enslaved blacks were
held in Prince George's County. By far the largest slaveholding county
in the state, Prince George's County accounted for thirteen percent of
slaves held statewide. In 1850, a year after the Berrys purchased
Bellmont, sixteen thousand people lived in District 7 (Queen Anne's District), fully
sixty-six percent were black, and of those ninety-one percent were enslaved.
Some of the largest holders of the district lived within walking distance
of Bellmont. Zach Berry attempted to solidify his operations with
laborers purchased from various sources. Nearby planters sold slaves
to each other, though the numbers of the county's slaves continued to climb
throughout the period, and out-migration never surpassed natural increase
and in-migration. Outside of the county, the largest sources of enslaved
blacks for sale were slave dealers head-quartered in Baltimore City, but
with agents throughout the state. Through these processes, Berry
came to own Jim Belle, an enslaved black man from Baltimore County.
Belle's first owner, Edward Stansbury, died during the 1850s. At
an estate sale following his death, one of Baltimore's - indeed, the nation's
- top slave dealers, Bernard Moore Campbell purchased Belle. In business
with his brother, William Lewis Campbell, Bernard built a solid network
of dealers and traffickers which did much to transplant Maryland's surplus
labor to a ready market in the Deep South. Indeed, between the mid-1840s
and mid-1850s, the Campbell Brothers are credited with having sold more
than one thousand six hundred enslaved blacks from their Baltimore City base to the markets
of New Orleans.
Presumably, Berry purchased several slaves from the Campbells.
However, Berry did a poor job in securing his slaves.
Numerous flight attempts from Bellmont are known to have occurred throughout
the 1850s. For example, Hannah Dikes fled during June 1854.
Before that month ended, at least two more of Berry's bondspeople - this
time "Dick" and "Betsy" - fled together. These two had familial connections
to other Prince George's plantations, as well as others in Calvert County.
The following spring and summer saw more escape attempts. Luke Carroll,
purchased from the estate of a local planter earlier in the decade, fled,
as did Dinah Young, a woman in her twenties who had experience in Baltimore
and a husband in Calvert County. Luke Williams, who also fled Bellmont
during Summer 1855, had kinfolk not only in Prince George's Countybut in urban
areas like Annapolis, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Luke, in fact,
was at least a two-time offender, having run before in 1851. Perhaps emboldened
or even educated by the example of previous of previous escapes, the twenty-five
year old Benjamin Duckett fled September 16, 1856. Three weeks later,
he reached the home of William Still in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In order to continue building his plantation, and perhaps to replace
fugitive slaves, Zachariah Berry of Washington bought from neighbors and
dealers like the Campbells. Berry purchased Belle during June 1856.
Berry seemed to look for opportunities to reinforce his authority of his
slaves, reportedly flogging Jim once for misspeaking his title, calling
him "Mister Zach," not "Master Zach." On July 25, 1857, after only
a year at Bellmont, Jim fled. With a wife and mother-in-law, both
presumably free, living in South Baltimore, and perhaps still other kinfolk
living on the several Baltimore County plantations near the place which
he had been previously held, his options for assistance were likely considerable.
How Jim made his way from Prince George's County to Philadelphia is not
known with any specificity. Jim Belle's pursuers believed his family
and friends in Northern Maryland would give him aid. By whatever
means, Jim reached freedom.
A final example of the role kinship and familial aspirations may have
played in slave flight from Prince George's County concerns Nace Shaw,
who fled from Sarah Ann Talburtt of Upper Marlboro, on September 11, 1858.
Talburtt's household consisted of five women, who were on average, forty years
old in 1858. "A more disagreeable family of old maids could not be
found in a year's time," reported Shaw. The matriarch of the house,
Sarah Ann Talburtt was a woman of some personal wealth, by 1860 holding
twenty-five thousand dollars in real estate and twenty-eight thousand dollars in personal assets, including twnety-six bondspeople.
Shaw played a significant role as foreman on the Talburtt Plantation in
the Forest of Prince George's County. Of the county's 13,606 blacks,
ninety one percent were enslaved by 1860. Furthermore, by 1860, blacks
constituted six out of every ten Prince Georgians. Nace's age (45) and
privileged position as a foreman at once made him an unlikely candidate
to flee, but also represented increased possibilities for flight.
Shaw certainly had connections and acquaintances within nearby slave communities.
He also enjoyed familial links to Washington, D.C., less than fifteen miles
away. Nace Shaw fled from Maryland, claiming "I wanted a chance for
my life; I wanted to die a free man." He traveled first to Washington,
D.C., perhaps to his mother's home. Nace Shaw latter arrived in Philadelphia,
en route to his ultimate destination in Canada.