Revisiting a 19th-century Flea Glass from the Southern Dispensary

by Patricia Samford, Director of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation (MAC) Lab

Since the theme of Maryland Archeology Month 2021 is  “The Archeology of Healing and Medicine,” I thought it would be a great time to revisit a rudimentary microscope called a “flea glass,” which I first studied in a February 2017 Curator’s Choice piece. The monthly Curator’s Choice series highlights significant or unusual artifacts from the Maryland Archaeological Conservation (MAC) Lab collections, and a 19th-century flea glass from the Southern Dispensary in Baltimore qualifies on both counts.

“The eye of a human being is a microscope,
which makes the world seem bigger than it really is.”
– Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)

Nineteenth-century physicians often required more than just the naked eye to assist them in offering quality health care to their patients. Using magnifying devices, like this simple microscope, also called a flea glass, allowed them to gain a better view of wounds or conduct routine visual examinations of ears, eyes, and throats.

An example of a handled Flea Glass Dating to the Second Quarter of the Nineteenth Century.
(Source: https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/simple-microscope-flea-glass-245822098)

Invented in the 1500s, flea glasses were used primarily for studying insects and other small life forms rather than for medical purposes—hence the name. A small, convex lens held nearest to the eye and a larger, flat lens at the opposite end of a short metal tube allowed for magnification ranges of 6x to 10x.

The lenses and iron fittings of a flea glass or similar simple microscope were recovered from a circa 1850-1870 privy excavated at the Federal Reserve site (18BC27) in Baltimore. This magnifying instrument may have been originally mounted on a stand. A medical use for this scientific instrument was assumed because the privy fill also contained a number of other artifacts relating to medical care, including a mortar and pestle, a salve jar, a pill tile, a leech jar, a number of medicine bottles, and a possible stethoscope.

Flea Glass or Simple Microscope from the Federal Reserve Site (Top and Side Views).
Photo by Nicole Doub, MAC Lab.

Documentary records indicate that the privy was located near the Southern Dispensary, a branch of the Baltimore General Dispensary. A dispensary supplied free medicine and health care for citizens who could not otherwise afford medical services. The Southern Dispensary, funded by charitable donations and a small appropriation from the city, was incorporated in 1847 and remained in operation until at least 1889 (Woods 1847; Register 1890). The dispensary offered both clinic and in-home health care (Polk 1888).

Simple Microscope Mounted on a Stand.
Similar instruments were illustrated as early as 1685 in Oculus Artificialis by Johann Zahn

With large populations living in close proximity, it was critical for cities to provide medical services. At various times during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, cholera, yellow fever and smallpox, struck Baltimore (Mdmedicine 2017). Clinics like the Southern Dispensary played key roles in treating infected individuals and preventing widespread epidemics.

References

Bradbury, S.
1968 The Microscope Past and Present. Pergamon International Popular Science Series. Pergamon Press, Ltd., Oxford.

Mdmedicine
2017 Epidemics in Maryland. Website accessed January 13, 2017. http://mdhistoryonline.net/mdmedicine/index.cfm?action=epidemics

Polk, R. L.
1888 The Medical Directory and Register for Baltimore, Washington, Maryland and District of Columbia. R. L. Polk & Co., Baltimore.

Register
1890 Annual Reports of the Register of the City and the Commissioners of Finance. John Cox, Printer, Baltimore.

Woods, John W.
1847 The Act of Incorporation and By-laws, of the Southern Dispensary of Baltimore: Together with a List of Officers for 1847. Baltimore.

Zahn, Johann
1685 Oculus Artificialis Teledioptricus Sive Telescopium. Würzburg, Germany.

Erosion Threatens Cultural Resources at the 17th-century Calverton Site: Maryland’s Flood Awareness Month and Archeology Month Align

by Zachary Singer, MHT Research Archaeologist, and the Staff of Applied Archaeology and History Associates, Inc.

In addition to celebrating Maryland Archeology Month in April, Governor Larry Hogan proclaimed April 2021 as the first Maryland Flood Awareness Month. Although, April 2021 is the first official concurrent observance, 2017’s Archeology MonthAt The Water’s Edge: Our Past on the Brink addressed the effects of flood hazards on archaeological sites. In the 2017 Archeology Month Booklet, Jason Tyler of Applied Archaeology and History Associates, Inc. (AAHA) contributed an essay entitled “A Return to Calverton, or What’s Left of It”. In the essay, Jason described the results of a 2015 survey to document archaeological resources along the banks of Battle Creek in Calvert County and highlighted the impacts of shoreline erosion on the late 17th-century Calverton site (18CV22). Calverton was laid out in 1668 and served as the seat of government within Calvert County from 1668-1725. Jason concluded the chapter by advocating to protect the site from erosion and flood hazards and also to document the site through archaeology to learn about the threatened cultural resources at Calverton.

The Calverton Shoreline, 1682 vs. Today

Following Jason’s recommendation, the 2017 and 2018 Tyler Bastian Field Sessions with the Archeological Society of Maryland were held at the Calverton site to investigate the site before storm-surge flooding and the wind-driven waters of Battle Creek further eroded what evidence remained of the town. The field sessions focused on ground-truthing anomalies identified during a magnetic susceptibility survey by the MHT Office of Archaeology. The Field Session investigations identified a part of the Colonial town that had not entirely washed into Battle Creek, including intact sub-plowzone cultural horizons and features. In the summer of 2020, AAHA conducted supplemental archaeological investigations at Calverton to continue documenting those portions of the site at heightened risk from shoreline erosion and flooding caused by sea level rise. The 2020 work was supported by the Calvert County Government and a grant from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority.

Magnetic Susceptibility Data Collected by the MHT Office of Archaeology

Prior to AAHA’s 2020 field investigations, the MHT Office of Archaeology conducted a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey within 10 meters of the eroding bank overhanging Battle Creek to identify anomalies in the area of the site most at risk to further loss from wind and water action. The GPR essentially uses a 350MHz (megahertz) antenna to send radio pulses into the ground which bounce off of subsurface anomalies and return to the antenna. Through the use of special software, the data collected by the GPR operator can be used to create a detailed 3 dimensional model (called a 3D time slice) that reveals both the horizontal and vertical relationships amongst radar anomalies including potential cultural features (trash pits, cellars, privies), potential modern disturbances, and natural tree root systems.

MHT archaeologists identified seven likely anthropogenic features via examination of the radar time slices. There were two large rectilinear anomalies in the eastern portion of the survey area. A deep, roughly circular anomaly near the center of the survey area was interpreted as a possible well. To the west of the possible well was an irregular anomaly that corresponded with a magnetic aberration identified during a 2019 gradiometer survey. To the east of the possible well was another amorphous anomaly. One trench-like linear anomaly was identified running roughly north-south in the western portion of the survey area. Additionally, one irregularly-shaped anomaly appeared in the southwest corner of the survey area and roughly corresponded to the location of a feature identified in 2017: a cluster of artifacts partly eroding from the bank of Battle Creek. In addition, the rectangular footprint of a test unit from previous excavations was identified, confirming the projection of these anomalies in real space. All seven potential cultural features were recommended for ground-truthing during AAHA’s 2020 archaeological fieldwork.

In total, AAHA excavated eight Test Units during the 2020 fieldwork to assess the form and function of the GPR anomalies. The excavations resulted in the identification of ten cultural features and the recovery of 3,369 artifacts mostly dating from the late 17th and early 18th century including tobacco pipes, a Charles I sixpence coin (1639-1645), and sherds of tin glazed earthenware. Of the ten features identified and excavated by AAHA in 2020, seven are related to the occupation of Calverton most likely from the late seventeenth century and the first quarter of the eighteenth century. The largest and most artifact-dense features related to the colonial occupation of Calverton were identified in the central portion of the study area and represent a posthole/mold (Feature 15/22), a small cellar (Feature 14 – the anomaly originally thought to be a possible well), and a possible trash pit (Features 16 and 17). Also identified was a small trench or ditch feature for what was probably once a paling fence in the western portion of the study area (Feature 19).

The 2020 archaeological investigation at Calverton provided additional data crucial to understanding the colonial occupation of the town in the portions of the site most vulnerable to flooding and erosion. Most significantly, it identified a previously unknown cellar (Feature 14) and an associated post hole/mold (Feature 15/22) both of which likely reflect the location of a colonial structure. While the small window into this structure excavated to-date has allowed some preliminary conclusions to be drawn, additional excavations could further reveal the size, layout, and function of the former building. Additional excavation and GPR survey in the vicinity of the paling trench identified during the 2020 investigation (Feature 19) could also provide valuable data on lot divisions in Calverton and colonial towns as a whole.

Another important aspect of the 2020 project was to monitor the shoreline at Calverton to continue assessing the risk of the site to the destructive power of wind and water action along Battle Creek, which remains an imminent threat to the archaeological resources at the site. MHT map projections show that the town’s important public buildings, including the courthouse and chapel, have already been lost to Battle Creek. AAHA’s comparison of the 2020 location of the Battle Creek bank to the location recorded by a 2017 Calvert County LiDAR survey shows shoreline loss ranging from 0.0313 meters to 3.204 meters, with an average of 1.333 meters of loss over two years, or 60- 70 centimeters per year. Most alarmingly, seven of the 28 points taken for the analysis (25% of the total) show shoreline loss in excess of 2 meters and these points occurred over the entire length of the surveyed shoreline. At this rate, the late 17th/early 18th-century cellar feature (Feature 14) will be lost to erosion by 2028 without intervention. With climate change comes increasing numbers of catastrophic storms. Tidal surges during such storm events can wreak havoc on the shoreline, severely undercutting the bank at Calverton.

Map Depicting the Rate of Shoreline Loss at Calverton between 2017 and 2020

This reinforces the urgent need for additional archaeology at Calverton before the resource is entirely lost. Maryland Flood Awareness Month aligning with Maryland Archeology Month provides the perfect opportunity to discuss the impacts of flooding on archaeological resources. To learn more about planning efforts to protect archaeological sites from the impacts of flood hazards, please see the MHT’s guide for Planning for Maryland’s Flood-Prone Archeological Resources.

Introducing mdFIND: a Collector App for Unanticipated Artifact Discoveries

By Matt McKnight, Chief Archaeologist

A routine part of my job, and part of the job for most of the archaeologists at the Maryland Historical Trust, is fielding the occasional inquiry from an interested member of the public about an artifact (or possible artifact) that they’ve found on their farm, in their back yard, or while out on a hike. These interactions usually start with an email or phone call to our office from the interested party. That exchange leads invariably to a request from one of us for a photo. The photo often comes back with nothing for scale, making it hard for us to interpret, and requires several follow-up emails. The photos may elicit more curiosity and a request for a map of the find location from MHT (something the caller may or may not be able to provide). The process involves a lot of back-and-forth and we thought, “There has to be an easier way!”

Hand holding historic artifacts recovered in the field.

Historic Artifacts Recovered in the Field

Today, I’m pleased to share that we have one! Several months ago, my colleague, Dr. Zac Singer and I began discussing ways to develop a smartphone app that could streamline the process of reporting unanticipated artifact discoveries in the field. To be clear, this app is not meant to replace completion of our standard Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (MIHP) Archaeological Site Form for reporting newly discovered sites. Rather, we envisioned it as a supplemental tool, not meant for sites, but for individual artifact finds. This tool could be used by professional archaeologists for reporting isolated finds, but what we really wanted was something that could be used by an ASM member, a property owner, a metal detectorist, an arrowhead collector, or even just a hiker who found something interesting on their trek.


While I certainly have my qualms about some of these activities and the damage that can be caused to archaeological sites when they are done in an irresponsible or uncontrolled manner (I’ll be speaking in a Maryland Archeology Month webinar on the topic of “relic hunting” later this month), there may be instances where responsible admirers of the material culture record wish to record and report such finds to the state. MHT is the “home” of the MIHP, which includes nearly 14,000 archaeological sites and over 43,000 historic and architectural resources. For us (and by “us” I mean the collective body of Maryland’s residents) to learn about our shared history and cultural heritage, we need to have an accurate record of not just the known sites, but also isolated finds. These are often the first clues that lead to the discovery of new sites. And since it’s not just professional archaeologists that wander the fields and forests, hobbyists, hikers, beachcombers, and others needed a tool that would allow them to be a part of this discovery and documentation project. We also thought such a tool might be useful for “citizen scientists” to conduct coastal surveys for cultural resources after major storm and flooding events. After all, April is not just Maryland Archeology Month, it’s also Maryland Flood Awareness Month!

Image of a smartphone with the mdFIND app loaded.

To that end, today we are releasing mdFIND, a crowdsourcing app that allows any member of the public to record and photograph unanticipated artifact discoveries in the field, and report those findings to the MHT Office of Archaeology. The app is built on ESRI’s Survey123 technology. Though the app presents you with a sign-in screen in case you have an ESRI account, no account is necessary, and you can click to simply continue without signing in. You can download the app for free at https://arcg.is/1PnOL10 or by scanning the QR code in the handy mdFIND flyer available at https://mht.maryland.gov/documents/PDF/research/mdFIND.pdf. The app will even work directly from a web browser with no download needed: just follow the simple prompts to report your find to MHT.

The app allows you to upload or capture up to five images of the object(s), report the location using your phone’s GPS, specify the broad artifact type or the diagnostic artifact name (if you know it), and report your name and contact info (if you wish) for any follow-up. Easy-to-use drop-down menus and links to external webpages (such as JPPM’s Diagnostic Artifacts Page) make filling out the form a breeze. If you use the app (as opposed to the web browser), mdFIND will even allow you to keep a record of your own personal submissions to the database on your phone (within the app). You can edit these previous finds and resubmit them later if new information comes to light.

We hope you find this new tool as useful as we do. Getting out into the warmer weather and recording some exciting new discoveries seems to me like a great way to spend some of Maryland Archeology Month. How about you?

Maryland Archeology Month 2021: The Archeology of Healing and Medicine

By Charlie Hall, State Terrestrial Archaeologist

When the Maryland Archeology Month Committee “met” (and we all know what it means to “meet” these days!) this past Fall our most important piece of business was to select the theme for the 2021 celebration. While this is a bit routine – choosing the theme is always the most important item on the agenda at our kick-off meeting – there was a difference this year. Try as I might to generate some debate (we had many excellent candidates), there really was no question that the Maryland Archeology Month theme for 2021 would echo the principal theme of these times: the worldwide effort to overcome COVID-19. The Committee was clear, however, that the theme should reflect the hopeful and positive aspects of the current stage of the pandemic. We are currently vaccinating over 3,000,000 people every day in the US, and are within weeks of the time when everyone will be eligible to receive a vaccination. This is indeed hopeful and positive. At this rate Maryland Archeology Month 2022 may mark the return to the usual menu of in-person public-engaging events including lectures, workshops, public excavations, open labs, and more.

2021 Maryland Archeology Month Poster - Featuring images of medically-related artifacts.
2021 Maryland Archeology Month Poster

That was no typo. I meant 2022. This year will mark the second COVID-19 affected Maryland Archeology Month (MAM). The virus hit with a vengeance last March just as we were preparing to celebrate. We were all reeling from the changes the response to the state of emergency meant in our day-to-day lives, and for MAM event sponsors this meant cancelations. Yet we
persevered! Governor Hogan declared that April 2020 was Archeology Month in Maryland. The mailing went out as usual. Within the confines of the restrictions that were being put into effect, efforts were made to mark the celebration. Several blogs and video lectures were posted on the internet, and a web-based storymap was launched.

This year we have the added benefit of being able to plan with the pandemic as the controlling factor. We know that most in-person events will not be possible. As a result, we have planned many more virtual events. Below is a sampling of events you can attend without leaving the comfort – and safety – of your home. Note that information regarding these and other events, as well as links to the host organization’s website, can be found on the Maryland Archeology Month website at www.marylandarcheologymonth.org. Visit this website often as the list of events will no-doubt grow!

Digging History: Screening with Q&A: Archaeological Discoveries at the Hagerstown Jonathan Street Cabin. This virtual event will stream live from 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM on Tuesday April 6th. Hosted by Preservation Maryland with the Maryland Department of Transportation, Maryland Public Television, and the Western Maryland Community Development Corporation, this free event will feature a 5 minute mini-documentary featuring the archaeological investigation of the Jonathan Street Cabin in the heart of an African American neighborhood in Hagerstown. Archaeologists will answer questions from the audience following the mini-documentary screening. Visit https://www.preservationmaryland.org/ and look for Upcoming Events to register.

How Do I Get a Job in Archaeology These Days? If you are looking to get a job as an archaeologist then this webinar, hosted by the Council for Maryland Archeology and the University of Maryland is for you! Join host Jessica Brannnock and a panel of employed archeologists on Thursday April 8th from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM to learn how you too can get the job you want! Visit https://cfma-md.com/ and click on Announcements for information and to register.

Maryland Archeology Month: Rockville Students Excavate the Riggs House. Join this free Zoom lecture at 12:00 PM Thursday April 15th . Join the Peerless Rockville Historic Preservation, Ltd., and retired Richard Montgomery High School teacher and avocational archaeologist Bob Hines as they discuss the four seasons of archaeological investigations at the home site of one of Montgomery County’s most influential families. Visit the Peerless Rockville website (https://www.peerlessrockville.org/) and click on Events to register.

Finding Common Ground: Can Relic Hunters and Archeologists Work Together? Are metal detectorists and archaeologists the oil and water of the search for the material past? Is there a way the two can coexist and perhaps even benefit each other? Join a diverse panel of experts on Thursday April 15th at 1:00 PM for this free webinar, hosted by Preservation Maryland (https://www.preservationmaryland.org/, look for Upcoming Events).

Unearthing St. Mary’s Fort, the Founding Site of the Maryland Colony. Found it! If you follow the news you know about this national headline story. Funded by an MHT Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grant, archaeologists at Historic St. Mary’s City found the first fort built by the English colonists who settled Maryland in 1634. Learn about this historic discovery from the Director of Research and Collections Dr. Travis Parno between 7:00 PM and 8:00 PM on Thursday April 15th (visit https://www.hsmcdigshistory.org/events/ and click on Visit Us, then on Events to learn more about this YouTube event).

The Archeology of Healing and Medicine. Three authors of essays published in this year’s Archeology Month booklet will discuss their topics in a free webinar hosted by the Council for Maryland Archeology and the Maryland Historical Trust on Thursday April 22nd between 2:00 PM and 3:00 PM. Visit https://cfma-md.com/ and click on Announcements for information and to register. In addition to these live streaming events, the Council for Maryland Archeology and the Maryland Historical Trust will be posting short video interviews with each of the eight authors of the essays published in this year’s Archeology Month booklet on the Maryland Historical Trust’s YouTube channel. These video interviews will be available on demand this month (and beyond!)

You can expect additional written blogs and other online content as well. You’ll want to visit the Maryland Archeology Month website (www.marylandarcheologymonth.org) often as new content will be developed and links will be posted throughout the month. This website is also your source for this year’s Maryland Archeology Month poster and booklet, both of which can be downloaded there. Other content, including a listing of year-round volunteer opportunities, is available from this website, and will be updated often throughout the year. Cross listing of events on the hosts’ websites, as well as on the website of the Archeological Society of Maryland (www.marylandarcheology.org) will help to spread the word as widely as possible.

You’re going to be busy this April!

Mary Bostwick Shellman: Carroll County Activist and Suffrage Leader

By Heather Barrett, Administrator of Architectural Research

Founded in 1909, the Just Government League (JGL) was the largest women’s suffrage organization in Maryland. Its headquarters at 817 North Charles Street in Baltimore hosted numerous organizational meetings and public events that raised statewide awareness of the suffrage movement. Grassroots efforts throughout the state soon established local chapters that held community meetings, distributed petitions, recruited members, and sought political support for the cause.[1]

When organizers established the JGL of Carroll County in the county seat of Westminster on January 10, 1913, Mary Bostwick Shellman, a prominent citizen with deep roots in the city, served as the first president. Eleven women became members at that initial gathering, and the first public meeting of the League, which had grown to 40 members, was held at the Opera House at 140 East Main Street on February 13.[2]

Mary Bostwick Shellman, ca. 1877. Photograph courtesy of the Historical Society of Carroll County.

Following the passage of the 19th Amendment, the JGL of Carroll County offered a “school of citizenship” at the Westminster Armory in September 1920. Over 200 women attended the non-partisan meeting, where they received guidance on the voting process. The Republican Party provided an “instruction” room for new women voters near each polling location to provide sample ballots and assistance via knowledgeable advocates. The Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House at 206 East Main Street, owned by Mary Shellman from 1909-1939, functioned as one of the instruction rooms. [3]

Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House, ca. 1880. Photograph courtesy of the Historical Society of Carroll County.

In addition to suffrage activism, Shellman distinguished herself as a leader in numerous local and national reform movements, including advocacy for better care of residents of the county’s almshouse and work on behalf of Civil War veterans. She organized the first Memorial Day observance in Carroll County in 1868 and continued to serve as master of ceremonies for the annual event for decades. She held memberships in the Red Cross, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the League of Republican Women in Maryland. Further, she served as the first manager of the Westminster Division, Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, where she oversaw finances and worked as an operator.[4]

Contemporary photo of the Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House. Photograph courtesy of the Historical Society of Carroll County.

Shellman briefly left Westminster for Oklahoma in 1932, and in 1937, she returned to be honored at the Carroll County Centennial. Mary Bostwick Shellman died on October 4, 1938, leaving the Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House as a testament to her legacy. The house currently serves as the headquarters of the Historical Society of Carroll County, which was established in 1939 to save the local landmark from demolition.


[1] The Baltimore Sun, August 3, 1912. Rohn, Kacy. 2017. The Maryland Women’s Suffrage Movement. Draft report available at the Maryland Historical Trust, Crownsville.

[2] The Democratic Advocate (Westminster, MD), January 23, 1914. Breaking Barriers. 2020, Historical Society of Carroll County, Westminster, MD.

[3] Breaking Barriers. 2020, Historical Society of Carroll County, Westminster, MD; “Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House: A Piedmont Maryland House Museum,”Historical Society of Carroll County, Westminster, MD, date unknown. Accessed at: https://hsccmd.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/SHERMAN.pdf.  Carroll County Deed, Liber LDM 171, Folio 291, John H. Cunningham (executor for Mary Bostwick Shellman) to The Historical Society of Carroll County, October 3, 1939.

[4] Ibid. The Democratic Advocate (Westminster, MD) September 27, 1918 and June 4, 1920.

Freedmen’s Communities in Maryland

After years of African American resistance to slavery and self-emancipation, as well as investment as Union soldiers in the Civil War, Maryland abolished slavery in 1864 when voters approved a new state Constitution.[1] Land ownership carried important practical and symbolic protections following emancipation – property served as a homeplace for Black families that white enslavers had separated, as a means for self sufficiency through farming and raising livestock, and as an important message of individual rights and citizenship. In these post-war years, some white landowners sold property to African Americans, although this land was often less than ideal; it might be swampy or have dense forests that needed to be cleared.[2] Despite these challenges, African Americans developed small enclaves of houses and farms that grew in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These communities also built churches, schools, and fraternal organization lodges.[3]

Some of these important places have been documented in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (MIHP) – our repository of places with known or potential value to the history of the State of Maryland. We have provided some highlights below and encourage you to share in comments if you know of other communities near you!

Rossville, Prince George’s County

Located north of Beltsville in Prince George’s County, Rossville’s origins date to 1868, when six African American men purchased a third of an acre of land to construct Queen’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church. Prior to the purchase, local African Americans had already created a cemetery on the property. The first church was a small log structure that burned in the late 1890s, but Queen’s Chapel continues to exist today in a 1956 brick building across Old Muirkirk Road from the cemetery and original site.

Queen’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church, Prince George’s County (PG:62-21). Photo source: MIHP

In the 1880s, more land in the Rossville area became available after the death of a local white farmer. African Americans, many of them employed at the nearby Muirkirk Iron Furnace, purchased 12 surveyed lots and soon built residences. A fraternal organization called the Benevolent Sons and Daughters of Abraham also purchased a lot and constructed a lodge in 1889. This organization served a very important role in the community by providing social services and financial assistance to members in a time when many white institutions refused to work with African Americans. This building – a two-story, front-gabled frame structure – still exists and now is home to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s Black History Program.

Abraham Hall, Prince George’s County (PG:62-7). Photo source: MHT staff

The lodge building also served as a school for the first two decades of the twentieth century. However, Rossville residents pressured the County Board of School Commissioners for the construction of a dedicated school in the community. A building committee of local community members supervised the construction of a new school in 1922, which was partially funded by the Julius Rosenwald Fund’s School Building Program. (Philanthropist and former president of Sears, Roebuck and Company Julius Rosenwald created this special program to provide communities and local boards of education with financial and technical assistance for the construction of new, state-of-the art school buildings in 15 states in the rural south.) The school had two rooms with a capacity of 48 students. Today, the former schoolhouse serves as the American Legion Post 235.

Bacontown, Anne Arundel County

In 1860, the locally prominent Dorsey family freed an enslaved woman named Maria Bacon and gave her 30 acres of property. Sources indicate that Bacon was already living on this land prior to her manumission. Bacon, her three children, and several other manumitted African Americans formed the community known as Bacontown in northwestern Anne Arundel County near the Howard County line. The oldest building in the area is the late nineteenth-century Mary Elizabeth Henson House, the home of founder Maria Bacon’s daughter.

Mary Elizabeth Henson House, Anne Arundel County (AA-893). Photo source: MIHP

Like Rossville, Bacontown also had a fraternal organization lodge built by the Benevolent Sons and Daughters of Abraham, a cemetery, and a church. The Bacontown community constructed the existing Mt. Zion Church building in 1913, which replaced an earlier log church that previously stood nearby. The stucco-covered Mt. Zion Church with a center steeple and entry reflects Gothic Revival architecture, a style that was common in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century church buildings.

Mt. Zion Church, Anne Arundel County (AA-892). Photo source: MIHP

Unionville, Talbot County

On the Miles River Neck, a cape northeast of Easton, eighteen African American Union soldiers returned from Civil War service and founded the town of Unionville. A local white man named Ezekiel Cowgill sold and leased lots to them with the intent of creating a new community. (Cowgill was a Quaker, a religion with many adherents who were abolitionists in the years before the Civil War.) The name that the founders chose for the town sent a significant and courageous statement in an area where many white residents supported the Confederacy.

In 1892, in the center of town, local community trustees constructed St. Stephen’s A.M.E. Church, detailed with Gothic Revival features including a pointed arch door and window openings and a three-story, pyramidal roofed tower. To the rear of the church is a cemetery where all 18 of the founding Civil War veterans are buried: John Blackwell, Ennels Clayton, Isaac Copper, John Copper, Benjamin Demby, Charles Demby, William Duane, William Doran, Horace Gibson, Zachary Glasgow, Joseph Gooby, Joseph H. Johnson, Peter Johnson, Edward Jones, Enolds Money, Edward Pipes, Henry Roberts, and Matthew Roberts.

St. Stephens A.M.E. Church, Talbot County (T-789). Photo source: MIHP

To serve as a school building for Unionville, the Talbot County School Board relocated an existing school from McDaniel, a small town northwest of St. Michaels, during the Great Depression in 1932. As described in a reminiscing newspaper article, movers hauled the circa 1910 school building across the land and the structure traversed the Miles River on a purpose-built scow (a wide, flat-bottomed boat). The building, built with frame construction, lapped wood siding, and a steeply pitched clipped gable roof, ceased operations as a school in 1957.

Unionville School, Talbot County (T-794). Photo source: MIHP

Freedmen’s communities tell important stories in the history of Maryland. Some of them have been destroyed, and others are threatened by development and systemic economic disinvestment. Documenting these places in the MIHP is one way to help preserve their legacy. You can search the MIHP via MHT’s cultural resource information system, known as Medusa, on our website: https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/medusa/.


[1] “A Guide to the History of Slavery in Maryland,” Maryland State Archives and University of Maryland College Park, February 2008, https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/intromsa/pdf/slavery_pamphlet.pdf.

[2] George W. McDaniel, Hearth and Home: Preserving a People’s Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982), 188-190.

[3] Michael Bourne, Orland Ridout V, Paul Touart, and Donna Ware, Architecture and Change in the Chesapeake (Crownsville, MD: MHT Press, 1998), 10.