A Special Visit to Whitehall

By Bernadette Pulley-Pruitt, Administrative Support, MHT Office of Preservation Planning and Museum Programs

Rideout Family cemetery at Whitehall

Ridout Family cemetery at Whitehall

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 .

Timothy Harris tombstone, Ridout Family cemetery

Timothy Harris tombstone, Ridout Family cemetery

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.”

Amelia Martin tombstone, African American burial ground. Photo credit: Dalyn Huntley

Amelia Martin tombstone, African American burial ground. Photo credit: Dalyn Huntley

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.

Portrait of Mary Calvert-Martin

Portrait of Mary Calvert-Martin

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.

The author with Mr. Orlando

The author with Mr. Orlando “Lanny” Ridout IV

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19 thoughts on “A Special Visit to Whitehall

  1. Bernadette, I remember your excitement in telling me of your travels to this cemetery to visit your relatives. Glad you were able to share this fascinating story with others.

  2. Beautiful, Bernadette. I loved hearing about aspects of your family history during our last MHAA away meeting. We are lucky to have you working on behalf of preservation in Maryland.

  3. Bernadette, what a wonderful well delivered story! A special thank you for sharing. Great pic of Lanny and you. The last time I saw Lanny was at Orlando’s funeral at Whitehall Cemetery. Take care…Mir

  4. Bernadette, this was an enlightening story of your family’s history! Thank you for sharing this untold story with the world. You have managed to make history into her story. Much Love from your SIL.

  5. Hello Bernadette I really enjoyed reading this article. I can understand the passion that you always put into the history of the family. May God continue to bless you on your journey.

  6. Bernadette, What an amazing and important story! And you’re right; we should all be recovering and telling those stories all over the state. I hope your dream of finding and identifying your ancestors’ remains comes true.

  7. Thank you, Bernadette. The more fully we can tell all sides of the story, the more secure these stories will be in our memory. I am glad we share this special place.

  8. More than a personal story, this reflects the experience of many thousands of Marylanders, white and black, interred in private burying grounds around the state. Only now, generations later, do we have the means and the will to identify the stories of those who, typically, lacked the property, social position, and wealth to receive stone markers or other forms of enduring recognition. Thank you, Bernadette, for your efforts.

  9. Bernadette, I will be on a tour of Whitehall on July 12 and I will look for your great-great grandfather’s tombstone in the Ridout family cemetery.

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