Guide to the Records of Beneath the Underground:
The Flight to Freedom and the Communities of Antebellum Maryland
A fundamental objective of Beneath the Underground is to explore the legacy of the Underground Railroad with the primary documents available at the Maryland State Archives. The purpose of this guide is to help website visitors understand the usefulness and history of the records mined for this project, as well as, to give insight into our research methodology. The core focus years of the Beneath the Underground study are 1830 to 1880.
The Maryland State Archives began organized research on individuals fighting against enslavement in the fall of 2001. The project began with volunteers working from original records. The first incident located by volunteer Jerry Hynson, was from the BALTIMORE COUNTY COURT, Criminal Docket, MSA C 314, MdHR 8451, 2-15-7-34, was one for an Aaron Saulsbury, Charged with aiding and abetting escape of slave...' in November of 1834. Intrigued by this entry, the Deputy of Reference Services and Volunteer Coordinator, Chris Haley, enlisted the aid of two additional Archives volunteers, Mary McCutchan and Vernon Roberts, to broaden in the study.
The original concept of the project was to discover unknown 'heroes' of slave flight and resistance. In addition to acknowledged icons of the Underground Railroad movement, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, who also happen to be native born Marylanders; it was irrefutable that evidence exists in the records of thousands of unnamed others who have remained as hidden as the underground effort which demanded their secrecy. Through prospective review of court records, laws, newspapers, and maps, the Archives' staff set out to create case studies of individuals who deserve their due in the history of Maryland's struggle with human enslavement. This beginning phase of the project resulted in the publication of two significant lists of laws specifically related to both free and enslaved Blacks. These lists can be found on the Beneath The Underground site under, History of Runaway Laws. All Maryland laws can also be found within the Archives of Maryland Online webpage.
Several case studies were also researched and made accessible within the Archives Historical and Biographical Series. Among these were three of the earliest subjects: Anne Matthews, Phebe Myers and Marc Cesar. Myers and Matthews' stories have been incorporated into the Maryland Public Television underground railroad educational website, Pathways to Freedom.
In the fall of 2001, David Taft Terry was hired as Research Associate for the Commission to Coordinate the Study, Commemoration, and Impact of Slavery's History and Legacy in Maryland. Also in 2001, the Archives was informed of a grant opportunity through the National Park Service Network to Freedom Program by Mid-Eastern Region Coordinator, Jenny Masur. Consulting with Haley, Research and Student Outreach Director, Emily Oland Squires, and State Archivist Edward C. Papenfuse, Terry formalized a proposal that considerably expanded the scope of the Archives' Underground Railroad study. The work evolved into an examination of Maryland, a border state, the particular geographic regions within it and the circumstances that shaped anti-slavery efforts for enslaved and free labor communities. Primary research entailed stripping of United States Federal Census records for free and enslaved blacks and runaway ads from particular newspapers throughout Maryland between 1830 and 1860. The resulting grant application received an award of $25,000. This grant paid the majority of salaries of a full contingent of 7 interns for the summer of 2002 when matched with financial contributions from partner institutions Goucher College, Morgan University and Maryland Public Television.
Amended to broaden its scope further, the Archives submited an application in 2002 for a grant from the US Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education and were awarded a sum of approximately $250,000. Re-applying the next year, the Archives secured three additional years of support totalling just over $500,000. In addition to Goucher, Morgan, and Maryland Public Television, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum also provided in-kind contributions to underground railroad related research which continued throughout 2006. Subsequent grants were awarded from the City of Bowie and the City of Annapolis, and in 2010 another mulit-year grant application to the US Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural Program was successful. To date, over 60 professional and volunteer, regular and intern staff have been involved in the production of Beneath The Underground Railroad: The Flight to Freedom.