By Bernadette Pulley-Pruitt, Administrative Support, MHT Office of Preservation Planning and Museum Programs
Most people know Whitehall outside of Annapolis – if they know it at all – as a beautiful 18th century home and National Historic Landmark. For me, it has a special meaning and connection as the place where some of my ancestors were enslaved by the Ridout Family. When Michael Winn of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church organized a visit with Mr. Orlando Ridout IV and church members to the property’s cemeteries, I jumped at the chance to visit the graves of my family members .
Buried in the Ridout Family cemetery, my great-great-grandfather Timothy Harris was born into slavery in 1834 and died in 1905. After Emancipation, he continued to work for the Ridouts as a carriage driver and eventually purchased land near Whitehall. He and his wife Mary E. Bailey Harris donated a portion their land to build the now-demolished Skidmore School for African Americans. The epitaph on his tombstone reads “With the Upright Man, thou shalt show thyself upright.”
On the other side of the fence, adjacent to the Ridout Family cemetery, is an African American burial ground where many of Whitehall’s enslaved are interred. Only one permanent tombstone remains, belonging to Amelia Martin (1878-1899), the daughter of my great-great-grandmother Mary Calvert-Martin, who was also enslaved by the Ridouts. Over time, the name “Calvert” was changed to “Colbert”, and the “Col-Mar” and “Colbert” roads near the property refer to our family.
Today we do not know how many others are buried in the African American cemetery. Their markers, likely wooden, deteriorated over time or were removed by owners of the Whitehall property. I hope that one day we will be able to identify the graves of those buried there, perhaps with ground-penetrating radar, and erect a plaque in their honor, so that their lives will not be forgotten.
Of course, this is not a story unique to Whitehall, or to my family — these stories and these places exist all over Maryland. Many are threatened by time or neglect or ignorance of what is there. We must do what we can to save them and tell these stories, because we still have so much to learn about ourselves and our histories.