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.

Maryland Heritage Areas Funding Helps Share the Story of Frederick Douglass

By Ennis Barbery Smith, Assistant Administrator, Maryland Heritage Areas Program  

Public domain image of Frederick Douglass from the Met, Rubel Collection, via Wikimedia Commons

Frederick Douglass – the widely recognized abolitionist, human rights activist, orator, writer, and son of Maryland’s Eastern Shore – is one of the original pillars of Black History Month. Although documentation indicates he was born in February 1818, he did not know the exact date. After fleeing Maryland to self-emancipate, he chose to celebrate his birthday on February 14, and celebrations of February 14 as “Douglass Day” popped up shortly after his death in 1895. Eventually, Carter G. Woodson laid the foundations of Black History Month in February – in part – because Black communities were already celebrating Douglass’s life and contributions around this time.  

While the exact date was uncertain, Douglass knew the location. In the first chapter of one of his autobiographies, he says, “I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot County, Maryland.”  

The entrance to Frederick Douglass Park on the Tuckahoe
Photo by Mark Sandlin, provided courtesy of Talbot County Tourism

The new Frederick Douglass Park on the Tuckahoe is taking shape as a place where visitors can come to reflect on Douglass’s time in Maryland, not just during Black History Month, but in any season – even during a pandemic, when many indoor history museums have limited capacity.   

Talbot County acquired the 107 acres of shoreline and wetlands for the park in 2006 using Program Open Space funding. Cassandra Vanhooser, Talbot County’s Director of Economic Development and Tourism, said that it was clear to her immediately when she learned about this land, in close proximity to Frederick Douglass’s privately owned birthplace, that the new park was well positioned to honor Douglass’s legacy and to share the story of his life with visitors.

The County pulled together a team of historians, local leaders, and Frederick Douglass descendants to guide the development of the new park. In 2018, the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) awarded a matching grant to Talbot County for the creation of two plans:  a master plan to map out the park’s infrastructure and an interpretive plan to explore the stories that the park will evoke for visitors. After a series of public meetings and many hours of behind-the-scenes work, the County hopes to share these plans with the public in March of 2021. 

A view of the landscape at Frederick Douglass Park on the Tuckahoe
Photo by Mark Sandlin, provided courtesy of Talbot County Tourism

Ms. Vanhooser described the park’s unspoiled wetlands and viewshed, saying, “This is the landscape into which Douglass was born, the world that shaped his youth.” She went on to say “What Douglass was able to accomplish in his life is extraordinary by any measure. His words transcend time and place. They are as inspiring today as they ever were, and that is why we are telling Frederick Douglass’s story here.” 

When visitors make their way to the park today, they will find serene, undeveloped views of the Tuckahoe River, evocative of what Douglass would have seen in his lifetime. Four new interpretive signs located at the park describe Douglass’s life on the Tuckahoe, his journey away from Maryland to freedom, and his important roles as a conductor on the Underground Railroad and as an internationally recognized voice for the abolition of slavery.  

Lt. Governor Boyd K. Rutherford unveils one of the new interpretive signs on September 1, 2020.
Photo by Melissa Grimes-Guy, provided courtesy of Talbot County Tourism

The park is also one stop on a series of four driving tours, shared here, that guide visitors through the landscapes and the places that Douglass experienced in Talbot County. The new interpretive signs and the website showcasing the driving tours were funded in part by the Stories of the Chesapeake Heritage Area (SCHA), with funds from MHAA.   

Gail Owings, Executive Director of SCHA, spoke of the importance of the new park. She said the local heritage area is thrilled to be able to support the County’s efforts. She added “the views of the landscape and water – they set the stage for Douglass’s life,” emphasizing how closely tied the park’s viewsheds are with what Douglass would have seen in his youth, an important time that he reflects on in his writings.  

Visitors can also explore Douglass’s connections to other regions of Maryland by following this state-wide driving tour developed by Maryland Office of Tourism

Announcing FY2021 African American Historic Preservation Program Grant Recipients!

By Charlotte Lake, Ph.D., Capital Grant and Loan Programs Administrator

We are pleased to announce this year’s African American Heritage Preservation Program (AAHPP) grant recipients! This is the tenth year of grants since the program’s launch, marking $10 million total in funding awarded to 128 grant projects. The Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture and the Maryland Historical Trust jointly administer this program to promote the preservation of Maryland’s African American heritage sites. Grants fund construction projects at important sites throughout the state. This year’s projects include museums, cemeteries, an interpretive memorial, a historic lodge, community centers, and a historic school. Read more about our newly funded AAHPP grant projects below.

Project: Laurel Cemetery – Baltimore City ($88,000) | Sponsor: Laurel Cemetery Memorial Project, Inc.

Incorporated in 1852 as Baltimore’s first nondenominational cemetery for African Americans, Laurel Cemetery became known as one of the most beautiful and prominent African American cemeteries in the city. Descendants attempted to purchase the cemetery, but the owner prevailed against their legal challenges and leveled the cemetery for development in 1958. As a result, much of the cemetery currently lies beneath the parking lot of the Belair-Edison Crossing Shopping Center. Grant funds will support repairs to the retaining wall and construction of a pathway with interpretive signage in the unpaved portion of the cemetery, where recent archaeological investigations have identified undisturbed burials.

Project: Historic Oliver Community Firehouse – Baltimore City ($100,000) | Sponsor: African American Fire Fighters Historical Society, Inc.

Baltimore’s African American Fire Fighters Historical Society will use grant funds to acquire the historic firehouse, Truck House #5, through the City’s Vacants to Value program. The overall project will rehabilitate the building and convert it into the International Black Fire Fighters Museum & Safety Education Center.

Project: African American Heritage Center – Frederick, Frederick County ($100,000) | Sponsor: The African American Resources-Cultural and Heritage Society Incorporated

Grant funds will support the creation of a new center for African American heritage within a commercial space inside a modern parking garage. The project will reconfigure the commercial space and add accessibility improvements so that it can be used for exhibits, collections, and public programs to share Frederick County’s African American heritage and present this history within a broader regional and national context.

Carver School, photo courtesy of City of Cumberland

Project: Carver School – Cumberland, Allegany County ($100,000) | Sponsor: Mayor and City Council of Cumberland

Built in 1921 to accommodate the growing African American population of Cumberland, Carver School (previously known as Cumberland High School and the Frederick Street School) soon attracted students from outside Allegany County, including attendees from nearby areas of West Virginia. The school was renamed in 1941, when Principal Bracey held an election and students voted to name the school after Dr. George Washington Carver, who consented by letter to having the school named after him. The grant will fund necessary repairs to the building so that it can be rehabilitated for community use.

Project: Diggs-Johnson Museum – Granite, Baltimore County ($100,000) | Sponsor: Friends of Historical Cherry Hill A.U.M.P., Inc.

The Cherry Hill African United Methodist Church, now known as the Diggs-Johnson Museum, was built in the late 19th century, and functioned as a church through the 1970s before its conversion to a museum in the 1990s. The museum documents the history of the African American community of Baltimore County, and in particular the enslaved and free African Americans of Granite, many of whom worked the area’s granite quarries. The grant project will fund repairs to the church’s foundation and grave markers in its burial yard.

Kennedy Farmhouse, photo courtesy of John Brown Historical Foundation

Project: Kennedy Farm / John Brown Raid Headquarters – Sharpsburg, Washington County ($99,000) | Sponsor: John Brown Historical Foundation, Inc.

This grant will fund repairs to the timber and chinking of the Kennedy Farmhouse, a log building used as the headquarters by John Brown and his band in planning their famous raid on Harper’s Ferry. While the raid was planned, the farmhouse also served as living quarters for the five African American members of the band:  Dangerfield Newby; Lewis Leary; Shields Green; John Copeland, Jr; and Osborn Anderson. The raid on Harper’s Ferry is considered a pivotal moment in the lead-up to the American Civil War.

Project: Galesville Community Center – Galesville, Anne Arundel County ($45,000) | Sponsor: Galesville Community Center Organization, Inc.

Of the fifteen schools in Anne Arundel County built using money provided by the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which supported the establishment of African American schools throughout the southern United States, only six survive today. The grant project will fund repairs to the roof, siding, and windows of the Galesville Rosenwald School, built in 1929, which now serves as a vibrant community center.

Howard House, photo courtesy of Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Project: Howard House – Brookeville, Montgomery County ($100,000) | Sponsor: Department of Natural Resources – Maryland Park Service

The Howard House, currently in ruins, is the last intact building associated with Enoch George Howard. Born enslaved, George Howard purchased his freedom and eventually became a prosperous landowner, donating land to establish Howard Chapel and a community school. The grant project will restore the stone house’s exterior to its original appearance for interpretive use.

Project: Bazzel Church – Cambridge, Dorchester County ($100,000) | Sponsor: Good Shepherd Association

In 1911, the Bazzel Church was either built on or moved to its current site, where the original 1876 chapel stood before it burned down. The church, located in Bucktown, is best known for its association with Harriet Tubman, whose family members reportedly worshipped at the original church building. Initial stabilization of the church was completed in the summer of 2020, and the grant will fund the next phase of repairs, eventually leading to the rehabilitation of the building for use as an interpretive center.

Project: Mt. Zoar AME Church – Conowingo, Cecil County ($32,000) | Sponsor: Mount Zoar African Methodist Episcopal Church

Mt. Zoar African Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1881 and the earliest known burial in the adjacent cemetery dates to 1848. Over 30 veterans are buried in the cemetery, including soldiers whose graves are marked with Grand Army of the Republic flag holders. The grant project will fund repairs to the cemetery and grave markers.

Prince Georges African-American Museum & Cultural Center, photo courtesy of Prince George’s African-American Museum & Cultural Center at North Brentwood, Inc.

Project: Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center – North Brentwood, Prince George’s County ($20,000) | Sponsor: Prince George’s African-American Museum and Cultural Center at North Brentwood, Inc.

Through exhibitions and educational programs, the Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center shares the county’s untold stories of African Americans. The grant-funded pre-development project will involve the design of facility renovations and an addition to provide support space and affordable housing space for African American artists.

Project: Millard Tydings Memorial Park – Havre de Grace, Harford County ($25,000) | Sponsor: The Sgt. Alfred B. Hilton Memorial Fund, Inc.

Established as Bayside Park in the late 1800s, Millard Tydings Memorial Park includes recreational amenities as well as memorials to those who served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Grant funds will help construct a new monument dedicated to Sergeant Alfred B. Hilton, Harford County’s only recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The monument will include permanent interpretive material about Sgt. Hilton and the role of his U.S. Colored Troops regiment in the Civil War.

Project: Union of Brothers and Sisters of Fords Asbury Lodge No. 1 – White Marsh, Baltimore County ($91,000) | Sponsor: The Union of Brothers and Sisters of Fords Asbury, Inc.

In 1874, Dr. Walter T. Allender constructed and donated this building to the Baltimore County School Commissioners for use as an African American School, initially known as Colored School 2, District 11. The Union of Brothers and Sisters of Ford’s Asbury Lodge No. 1, an African American benevolent society, held monthly meetings on the second floor of the school building until 1922, when Baltimore County Public Schools donated it to the lodge. The grant project will fund repairs and accessibility improvements that allow the building to be used by the public again.

If you are planning to apply for funding for an AAHPP project, the FY2022 grant round will begin in the spring of 2021, with workshops in April and applications due July 1. For more information about AAHPP, please visit our website or contact Charlotte Lake, Capital Grant and Loan Programs Administrator, at charlotte.lake@maryland.gov.

International Underground Railroad Month in Maryland, Part II: “A State Located at the Intersection of Slavery and Freedom”

International Underground Railroad Month in Maryland, Part II: “A State Located at the Intersection of Slavery and Freedom”

Q&A Compiled By Ennis Barbery Smith, MHAA Assistant Administrator  

“Growing up…. in my mind, Maryland was firmly part of the Union, but Maryland is also below the Mason-Dixon line, and so what does that mean? It’s a state located at the intersection of slavery and freedom, a state that never seceded from the Union…. The people of Maryland had mixed allegiances… And that made it a hotbed of Underground Railroad activity.”

– Mark Thorne, Historic Site Manager for the Josiah Henson Museum and Park

In Part II of this blog series, Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) staff continue the conversation with six experts working on Underground Railroad history across the state. Read Part I of the conversation here for more on the experts’ backgrounds and their recommendations for where to visit.

Posts like this one guide visitors through Woodlawn Manor’s Underground Railroad Experience Trail. Photo by MHAA staff

For Part II of our conversation, we asked three questions:

1. What is something about Maryland’s Underground Railroad history that surprised you?

Mark Thorne, Historic Site Manager at the  Josiah Henson Museum and Park, answered:

 “If you look at the fact that one of the largest slave markets in North America was in Washington, DC at one time, and – around the same time – Baltimore had the largest of concentration of free Blacks in the country. So think about that: both of these places in close proximity, and Maryland allowed slavery but was located right across the border from freedom in Pennsylvania until the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. That is also part of why Maryland was such a hotbed of Underground Railroad activity. And then there’s the fact that many in Maryland wanted to secede. Annapolis was occupied by Union troops [in 1861], and the Governor moved the special legislative session to Frederick, Maryland. Some of the legislators called for a vote to secede. [Maryland] was essentially an occupied state, occupied by federal troops.” 

“As a native Washingtonian, I didn’t really understand a lot of that history, that Maryland was debating whether or not to secede from the Union… All of this is Underground Railroad related: the role of slavery in Maryland; the fact that you had Quakers here, who as a group agreed to disavow those owning enslaved persons, that would have helped those seeking freedom; that you had ports in Maryland where those who escaped were able to often find work on ships and to escape via the waterways and ships. It’s the total history of the institution of slavery in Maryland and how it resulted in Maryland as a hotbed of those looking for self-emancipation that keeps surprising me.”   


Herschel Johnson, curator for the Stanley Institute and volunteer for the  Harriet Tubman Museum, answered:

“One thing that surprised me has been about my own family history and how it is connected with the Underground Railroad. I first thought that no one was enslaved in our family, but I later found out that wasn’t true.”  

Mr. Johnson described how his great-great-grandmother Sarah Young had been listed and freed in the last will and testament of Henry Nichols of East New Market and how a man named Samuel Green was also granted freedom, five years after Nichols’ death, in the same document. William Still documented that Samuel Green’s son, Samuel Green Jr., was one of the many enslaved people of Maryland’s Eastern Shore to whom Harriet Tubman gave directions about how escape to freedom. Read more here on Samuel Green Sr.’s life, including details about how he was imprisoned for possessing a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin


Diane Miller, Program Manager for the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, answered:

“I realized a couple years ago how many really prominent figures in the 19th century African American community came from Maryland and were freedom seekers: Harriet TubmanFrederick DouglassJosiah HensonJames W.C. PenningtonHenry Highland Garnet, and the William Still family came from Maryland, although he [William Still] was born in New Jersey. [Maryland] was an incubator, I think, of African American leadership in the days of the Underground Railroad.” 

This quote form Harriet Tubman is highlighted in the exhibits at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in Church Creek. Photo by MHAA staff

Julie Gilberto-Brady, Manager for the Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area, answered:

“I continue to be amazed by the stories of the people who worked tirelessly and secretly to do what was right, to overcome the scourge of slavery. These people risked their lives over and over, and the strength of their convictions is inspiring. There is so much history – so close to home. One example that comes to mind is the story of Elizabeth “Lizzie” Amby, who was enslaved by Dr. Alexander Bayly in Cambridge and escaped to freedom in 1857 with her husband and thirteen others. As part of the virtual and augmented reality tour we are developing to enhance the Underground Railroad Audio Guide, a reenactor has portrayed Lizzie Amby at that pivotal, suspenseful moment, just as she would have been deciding to run away. The new tour is supported in part by an MHAA grant.” 


Bruce Russell, Board President for the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum, answered:

“Two things: How central this general area [the upper Chesapeake Bay region] was to the escape routes [for enslaved people seeking freedom]. How much of what is known [about this history] is [known] through oral history and tradition. Also, how much is unknown [because] secrecy and staying below the ‘radar’ was what black freemen, white abolitionists and others needed to succeed and survive. We have so many questions. The more we research, the more questions we have.” 


Anthony Cohen, founder of the Menare Foundation, answered:

The sheer number of both historical and natural sites and resources associated with Underground Railroad history in Maryland still surprises me. Looking at the Network to Freedom, 80 Maryland sites are listed, perhaps more than any other state.” 

2. How has Underground Railroad history shaped the way you think about places and landscapes in Maryland?

Mark Thorne answered:

One of the things that my perspective has really changed on [since learning more about the Underground Railroad] are the waterways – not just the ports in Baltimore – but if you look at all of the smaller waterways too. For instance, the Anacostia Watershed, that water flows to the South, and that was used as a way for people to travel and navigate… The small tributaries lead into big rivers. People could use them as a great way to walk and not be noticed, to avoid leaving your scent for animals to follow.”


Herschel Johnson answered:

I believe if Harriet Tubman could come back today, that landscape around the Little Black Water River would be almost the same that she would have seen as a child. If you go toward the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, then the Little Black Water is on your way to the Bucktown Village Store. When Harriet was a child – and she would have been called Araminta Ross then – she had to go to the muskrat traps there around the Little Blackwater River. If a muskrat was caught in the trap, she had to run back home to tell her family. If she didn’t get back in time and the muskrat got away, she would be punished, and a muskrat would gnaw its foot off in order to get out of the trap to get away. So she had to be fast.”

A paddler enjoys the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Diane Miller answered:

One of the things that comes to mind when I ponder this question is the geography of Maryland: the vast differences between the Eastern Shore and the western part of the state. One facet of Underground Railroad history that has not received enough attention generally is the maritime connection… A lot of the work that had to be done on the docks, working with cargo, and even serving as sailors on the ships – a lot of that was done by African Americans, some enslaved and some free. So, the maritime industries were a way of connecting people across the geography, sharing information, and also assisting people in escaping. The importance of the waterways and how many escapes happened by boat really struck me since I’ve been living here [Maryland].”  


Julie Gilberto-Brady answered:

“I grew up in Virginia and felt like I had learned the history of the East Coast well in school, but there is so much more to know that I didn’t realize I didn’t know until I moved here [Dorchester County] and was immersed in it. Every time I visit a new place, I can’t help but stop and reflect on how I am literally walking in the footsteps of people who did so many heroic things generations before me. It makes their lives – their trials, tribulations, and achievements – more real.” 


Bruce Russell answered:

“It has never made sense to me that no one ever connected the many ‘dots’ in this area [the Upper Chesapeake Bay]. The Havre de Grace Maritime Museum’s new exhibit will highlight the roles that the Susquehanna River and the Bay played for enslaved people who escaped and the roles these waterways played in the forced transport of enslaved people by those who trafficked them. Our local stories extend to Baltimore and north and east to Philadelphia, New York and Canada. This area was a crossroads.” 


Anthony Cohen answered:

“Some background about me to help answer this question: In about 1994, I was doing my senior thesis at American University, and I traced a documented Underground Railroad route in Montgomery County, in Sandy Spring. At the time, not much was written about Underground Railroad routes. There was interpretation about some individuals with Underground Railroad ties – Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman – but not much on the organized system of escape. So the paper I wrote became a booklet, and I started interpreting that history, doing talks at public schools for example. In 1996, I decided to actually take a journey to recreate a route of escape. I started in Sandy Spring. Maryland and went all the way to Buffalo, New York, where I crossed the river into Canada. I mostly walked but also used other transportation that would have been available at the time: trains, even a horse-drawn buggy in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, driven by a Mennonite man whose great grandfather had shown him the route that he used to use to transport freedom seekers to safe houses. Parts of my trip, I spent feeling like I was ‘floating,’ because I kept having experiences like that one.” 

“The roads we use today, if they date back to the 19th century, in my research I keep finding that they were mentioned in the narratives of people escaping slavery. For example, Route 355, Rockville Pike, that was called ‘The Montgomery Road’ in the narratives. The C&O Canal, the Potomac River, B&O Railroad, and the North Central Rail line out of Baltimore, they also kept coming up in the narratives of freedom seekers.”

“The Underground Railroad followed both natural and man-made transportation routes, many of which are still around us today. I see the Underground Railroad everywhere in Maryland, but in its modern form. We think of the safe houses and documenting those, but the process, the journey, that is where Maryland can excel in providing unique tourism experiences, where people can actually walk, bicycle, and drive on those very same routes, in those same landscapes.” 

Woodlawn Manor’s Underground Railroad Experience Trail highlights the types of landscape features, such as water crossings, that freedom seekers would have encountered and used in their journeys. Photo by MHAA staff

3. What books or other resources do you recommend on the topic of Underground Railroad history in Maryland? 

Mark Thorne recommends both Josiah Henson’s autobiographical work and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He said that both works are incredible, but cautioned readers to be prepared that both can make for difficult reading.

“The truth is not easy to digest. That’s the reason why Harriet Beecher Stowe had to write her second book [The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin] because slaveholders continued to blast her book as fiction, and her reason for writing the original book was to inform people about the conditions [of slavery in the United States]… The second book was in defense of the first.” 


Herschel Johnson recommended a book called Bound for the Promised Land:  Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero by Kate Clifford Larson, a children’s book called DK Biography: Harriet Tubman by Kem Knapp Sawyer, and a collection of works by William Still documenting the first person narratives of those escaping to Freedom on the Underground Railroad.  

“As you ran away, you would go from one safe house to the other until you reached Philadelphia. You would meet William Still in Philadelphia, and he kept records: your name, where you came from, how you got there. He tried to record everything he was told by the people who escaped.” 


Diane Miller urges everyone to visit the Network to Freedom’s website for a curated listing of resources, sites, and events – both virtual and socially distanced. She shared that virtual visitors can even get downloadable passport stamps for their National Park Passports by taking part in virtual tours of a number of sites in Maryland that are part of the Network to Freedom, including the C&O Canal in Williamsport, Catoctin Furnace Historic Site, Ferry Hill Plantation, and more.  


Julie Gilberto-Brady, in addition to the Harriet Tubman Byway’s audio guide, recommended the audio tours available from Visit Dorchester:

“We’ve gotten so many calls from people who are seeing the civil unrest in our nation and seeking to understand the history of what came before, of the struggles for freedom, starting with Underground Railroad history and up through civil rights. Many of the buildings on the tours may be closed, but the narration is engaging. There are reenactments by talented actors and firsthand oral accounts from people who lived the history, who can say in first person, ‘I was there.’  The tours include the Pine Street Tour, all about African American heritage, and the Chesapeake Mural Trail, which includes the ‘Take My Hand’ mural, featuring Harriet Tubman.” 


Bruce Russell recommended the Dorchester County Historical Society’s and Maryland State Archive’s articles  about Patty Cannon, who kidnapped enslaved people and free Black people around the area of the Delaware-Maryland border and sold them to plantations farther south. Among other sources, he recommended Stealing Freedom Across the Mason-Dixon Line by Milt Diggins. An overview of Diggin’s book is provided here   


Anthony Cohen recommended that people read A Shadow on the Household: One Enslaved Family’s Incredible Struggle for Freedom, a book by Bryan Prince, about a family in Montgomery County and their efforts over a decade to get their family members out of slavery. The Menare Foundation will also have a new resource coming out in 2021, a book entitled Great Escapes: Journeys on Maryland’s Underground Railroad. It has been funded in part by Heritage Montgomery and will include historical accounts plus recommendations for driving, bicycling, and walking routes across Maryland. 

Note: the views expressed in this blog belong to those who kindly agreed to be interviewed. As a state agency, the Maryland Historical Trust does not endorse any specific businesses or publications. 

International Underground Railroad Month in Maryland, Part I: “I See the Underground Railroad Everywhere”

International Underground Railroad Month in Maryland, Part I: “I See the Underground Railroad Everywhere”

Q&A Compiled By Ennis Barbery Smith, MHAA Assistant Administrator  

The Underground Railroad followed both natural and man-made transportation routes, many of which are still around us today. I see the Underground Railroad everywhere in Maryland, but in its modern form. We think of the safe houses and documenting those, but the process, the journey, that is where Maryland can excel in providing unique tourism experiences, where people can actually walk, bicycle, and drive on those very same routes, in those same landscapes.”

 – Anthony Cohen, Menare Foundation

September 2020 marks the second annual International Underground Railroad Heritage Month, recognizing the places and people that played important roles in Underground Railroad history. For this two-part blog post, Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) staff spoke with six of the many people across the state who steward and champion this history, not just in September but year-round. We asked them to share insights and to recommend a few places and resources that Marylanders and visitors should take note of as this month’s observance comes to a close. (Please note: as a state agency, the Maryland Historical Trust does not endorse any specific businesses mentioned here. For a more comprehensive list of Maryland’s Underground Railroad resources, please visit the Maryland Office of Tourism.)

The Harriet Tubman Mural “Take My Hand” by Michael Rosato is located on the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cambridge, Maryland. Photo courtesy of Maryland Office of Tourism

For this first blog post, we asked one question:

Where should we go to learn about the Underground Railroad in Maryland? 


Mark Thorne, Historic Site Manager at Josiah Henson Museum and Park, recommended two Montgomery Parks sites, each exploring distinct facets of the Underground Railroad story.  The Josiah Henson Museum and Park, when it opens later this year, will share the story of Reverend Josiah Henson, who escaped to freedom in Canada, established a settlement there, and lead over 100 others to freedom. Located within the boundaries of Heritage Montgomery, the museum and park occupy the site of the farm where Henson was enslaved by Isaac Riley before he fled on the Underground Railroad. This newly established site is expected to open by 2021 and has received grant funds for exhibits from MHAA.

Henson’s story as a conductor on the Underground Railroad is well documented largely because he authored an autobiographical work about his life, and Harriet Beecher Stowe used this work as source material for her widely circulated work, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  

He [Henson] came back into the United States to rescue enslaved people many times, meaning risking himself, risking his livelihood and his own life to free those 118 people over multiple trips… Dresden [also called the Dawn Settlement, which Henson established in Canada] could almost be considered an ‘Eden’ for those [formerly enslaved people] that made it there because – not only did he take them in – but he also taught them trades… He gave them a start in life. Part of his entrepreneurial story is about the walnut furniture that he was making at his township from his mill. He purchased this property, he started up a saw mill, started making furniture, and then the furniture was so incredible that he was invited to exhibit at the first World’s Fair, and that’s how he met the Queen of England, Queen Victoria.” 

Mr. Thorne also recommended visiting Woodlawn Manor and Cultural Park. The museum is currently closed due to COVID-19 concerns, but the grounds, including the Underground Railroad Experience Trail, are open to the public, free of charge. On Saturdays this fall, guided hikes of the trail are offered for $6 per person. The capacity of the hikes is limited, and hikers must follow social distancing guidelines. Interested visitors should sign up in advance online. If families want to walk the trail on their own, they can download the trail map.  

 The trail leads visitors through the types of landscapes that freedom seekers in Maryland would have navigated on their journeys, highlighting natural features, such as a hollow tree [pictured here], that were often used by those escaping slavery in Maryland.  

Stop number five on Woodlawn’s Underground Railroad Experience Trail is the “Hollow Tree and Boundary Stone.” The self-guided tour notes that “large hollow trees such as this one were often used by fugitives as hiding places” and that “boundary stones were often used as
markers for people trying to follow the trail north.” Photo by MHAA staff

Herschel Johnson was born and raised in Dorchester County, a region now known as the birthplace of Harriet Tubman, who escaped to freedom and eventually rescued about 70 others from slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Mr. Johnson serves as curator for the Stanley Institute, a one-room African American school that was founded just after the Civil War, and volunteers with the Harriet Tubman Museum. Mr. Johnson also offers personalized, social-distanced tours of both the Stanley Institute and other Underground Railroad sites in the area. The Stanley Institute has received a number of African American Heritage Preservation Program grants over the years.  

Mr. Johnson recommended that, when they re-open for visits, both the Maryland State Park Service’s Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in Church Creek and the Harriet Tubman Museum located on Race Street in Cambridge are must-visit sites to learn about Tubman’s story.  The visitor center received an MHAA grant for their grand opening event in 2017.

“The Harriet Tubman Museum on Race Street was originally established because some of the relatives of Harriet Tubman wanted to share the history as early as the 1990s – that’s when they got the building – and there you can get a more personal history of Harriet Tubman because the docents there, when they’re open again… when they talk about Harriet Tubman, they make it personal.” 

Mr. Johnson also recommended the Stanley Institute, which is currently open by appointment only, the Bucktown Village Store, and the Little Black Water River for its evocative landscape that would have been similar to how Harriet Tubman experienced it. 


Diane Miller, Program Manager for the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, was part of the team that developed interpretive exhibits for the Harriet Tubman Visitor Center in Church Creek. Ms. Miller recommended that people drive the Harriet Tubman Byway in Dorchester and Caroline Counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. 

“There is a really excellent audio guide that gives interpretation as you’re driving through the landscape. You can download and listen to it on your phone. It’s excellent storytelling, very compelling, and I think it’s a great driving tour you can do, especially in this era of COVID. You don’t have to get out and go into buildings, many of which are closed right now. But you can still get almost as much out of it just driving the landscape and listening to the stories.” 

One site in particular along the Byway that Ms. Miller highlighted was Adkins Aboretum and their self-guided tour entitled A Journey Begins: Nature’s Role in the Flight to Freedom

This video, produced by Adkins Aboretum, highlights features in the landscape that serve as stops on their self-guided tour focused on freedom seekers’ experiences.

“They [Adkins Aboretum] have done an excellent job of talking about how Freedom seekers moved through the landscape and types of plants they might have used or how they might have used the terrain to hide, and they did most all of it with quotes from formerly enslaved people’s narratives and first person accounts.”

The arboretum tour was funded in part by the Maryland Heritage Areas Program. The site’s grounds are currently open from dawn to dusk. 


Julie Gilberto-Brady, Heritage Area Manager for the Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area, works closely with a number of sites in Dorchester County that highlight the region’s Underground Railroad history. One of the heritage area’s nine themes focuses on Harriet Tubman and Eastern Shore African- American History.

“The Underground Railroad history is without a doubt something that sets us [Dorchester County] apart from other places in Maryland because of the unique stories of escape and heroism that happened in this region, but – at the same time – this is shared history because it connects us to other Underground Railroad sites in Maryland and across the country, all part of a vast network of sites.”

Ms. Gilberto-Brady recommended that visitors seek out a new temporary sculpture installation, a 9-foot, 2,400-pound bronze sculpture entitled “Harriet Tubman: Journey to Freedom,” which was unveiled on Saturday, September 12, in front of the Dorchester County Courthouse and will remain on display until October 9, 2020. The sculpture is pictured below.

“This amazing sculpture, by internationally recognized artist Wesley Wofford, is traveling through the United States this year, and we really are thrilled to be able to support this project with a Heritage Area mini-grant to the Alpha Genesis Community Development Corporation, the organization which coordinated the arrangements for the sculpture’s stop in Cambridge.” 

Photo courtesy of Wesley Wofford and Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area

Ms. Gilberto-Brady also recommended that visitors plan to see the new Black Lives Matter Mural on Race Street in Cambridge, near the Harriet Tubman Museum. She explained: The mural is not something that will always be here. The paint is expected to fade, but it reflects our times and how our community responds to our times, and it highlights Underground Railroad history because of the people depicted. The local artist, Miriam Moran, created the images inside each of the letters representing Underground Railroad and civil rights icons with a connection to Cambridge or the Eastern Shore. The images include Harriet Tubman, Gloria Richardson, Frederick Douglass and Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley. Another letter reflects the design of the Maryland flag, and another was signed by all the volunteers who came together to work on the mural. After the mural was completed, someone vandalized it with their truck, burning rubber on the mural. The driver later turned himself in and then joined the volunteers back at the mural where he helped to repaint and repair the damage.” 


Bruce Russell, Board President for the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum, has been leading the organization’s project to create and install a new exhibit that will focus on Underground Railroad history on the Upper Chesapeake Bay and in the broader watershed. The museum is located in the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway, and has benefited from MHAA grant funding for the exhibit.

Mr. Russell explained that the museum had been planning a full weekend of grand opening activities for the new exhibit, but this will now be delayed until people can gather safely. The grand opening will be promoted widely once a date is set. People may still visit the museum now on a limited schedule. Social distancing and masks are required. Stay tuned for details on the upcoming exhibit.  

This sculpture by Anyta Thomas is one of the pieces of art commissioned for the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum’s new exhibit. It depicts Daniel Hughes, who — according to his family’s oral history accounts — served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, transporting logs down the Susquehanna River and leading formerly enslaved people to freedom. Photo courtesy of the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum

Anthony Cohen runs the Menare Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve the legacy of the Underground Railroad. The Foundation has received funding from MHAA for emergency operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Cohen recommended visiting Button Farm Living History Center, a hands-on history center located on Maryland State Park land in Germantown and one of the Foundation’s active projects. Mr. Cohen added that the farm raises heritage breed animals and historically accurate 19th Century crops. 

“It’s [Button Farm] all based on a sensory experience we first created for Oprah Winfrey when she prepared for her role in the film Beloved. We also interpret the journeys of the Underground Railroad at the site and beyond.”  

Button Farm has been closed to the public during the pandemic but has just re-opened to limited capacity using a reservation system.  

Mr. Cohen also highlighted another project of the Menare Foundation, Chesapeake Tours, which offers interpretation at a variety of historic sites throughout Maryland. He recommended that the James Webb Cabin in Caroline County and the Bucktown Village Store in Dorchester County are a couple examples of sites that visitors may want to experience, either as part of a guided – outdoor, social-distanced – experience or using the Harriet Tubman Byway’s audio guide

More Sites to Visit

In the Southern Maryland Heritage Area, sites interpreting Underground Railroad history include Historic Sotterley, recognized as a UNESCO Slave Route Site of Remembrance, and Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, among others.  

The Four Rivers Heritage Area has also compiled a curated list of sites in Anne Arundel County where visitors can go to learn more about Underground Railroad history in September 2020 and beyond.  

Even more links to Maryland’s Underground Railroad sites and resources are compiled on the Maryland Office of Tourism‘s website.

In part two of this blog, we will share the same experts’ responses on the following topics: things that have surprised them about Underground Railroad history in Maryland, how this history informs how they see Maryland’s landscapes, and books – and other resources – they recommend for those seeking to learn more.

Women’s Suffrage in Maryland (Guest Blog)

By Nicole Diehlmann

The quest for women’s suffrage represents over 70 years of activism that ultimately resulted in the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, on August 18, 1920. The movement relied on a complicated grassroots network of affiliated national, state, and local organizations that were often fraught with divisions over race, strategy, and tactics. These organizations were predominantly comprised of white upper- and middle-class women, although some efforts were made to engage poorer women. White suffragists nearly always excluded black women, who formed their own segregated organizations such as the Progressive Women’s Suffrage Club established in Baltimore by Estelle Young. Black suffragists advocated not only for women’s suffrage but also for a host of other civil rights legislation. Overall, the movement was decidedly nonviolent and relied on the power of persuasion and education to attract people to the cause.

The Just Government League headquarters at 817 N. Charles Street in Baltimore.
The Just Government League headquarters at 817 N. Charles Street in Baltimore. Photo: Nicole Diehlmann

The national movement began in 1848 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convened the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, but organized suffrage activity in Maryland did not gain much momentum until the end of the nineteenth century. In 1889 Caroline Hallowell Miller of Sandy Spring in Montgomery County established the Maryland Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA). Despite the name, the organization consisted only of a small group of Quaker women in the county. When the Baltimore City Suffrage Club was established in 1894, the Sandy Spring group was renamed the Montgomery County Suffrage Association and both clubs allied under the umbrella of the MWSA. Meetings were originally held in member’s homes, but as the groups grew larger, they began using more public spaces, such as the Friends’ Meeting House on Park Avenue in Baltimore.

From the Maryland Suffrage News
From the Maryland Suffrage News

At the turn of the twentieth century, MWSA began hosting more and larger mass meetings to gain recruits. These meetings often featured nationally known suffragist leaders like Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt and were held in large private halls or theaters like Heptasoph’s Hall and MedChi’s Osler Hall in Baltimore. Under the leadership of Emma Maddox Funck, who was elected MWSA president in 1904, the organization became more closely connected to the national movement, and the number of locally affiliated clubs grew. The growth of these local clubs led to a diversity of opinions regarding strategy and tactics and, ultimately, a fracturing of the movement. By 1910, there were three separate statewide suffrage organizations for white women competing for membership and control of statewide suffrage strategy. MWSA remained as the most conservative organization. Most of its members tended to be women who did not work outside the home, and these women generally acted within socially accepted norms for upper and middle-class women of the time. Edith Haughton Hooker’s Just Government League, which was comprised of many professional women, such as nurses, teachers, and businesswomen, was the most militant. Just Government League members brought their members and their message outside of traditional female-occupied spaces to more public forums like open air mass meetings. Elizabeth King Ellicott’s State Franchise League was somewhere between the two. Both the Just Government League and the State Franchise League developed broad grassroots campaigns, creating affiliated organizations in towns and counties throughout Maryland.

From the Maryland Suffrage News
The Just Government League marching on Cathedral Street in Baltimore. From the Maryland Suffrage News

The Just Government League was the most successful of the three organizations, growing its membership through persuasive marketing tactics, including its widely publicized suffrage hikes, where women would march from town to town carrying banners, distributing literature, and giving speeches in support of women’s suffrage. The first was held in January 1914, where the “Army of the Severn” marched from Baltimore to Annapolis to deliver a suffrage petition to the Maryland General Assembly. Hikes continued into 1915, visiting all corners of the state, including a Western Maryland hike in Allegany and Garrett Counties, a “pilgrimage” from Baltimore to St. Mary’s County to visit the homesite of Margaret Brent, considered Maryland’s first suffragist, and shorter hikes in Harford, Howard, and Montgomery Counties. Not only did these hikes garner much publicity through widespread newspaper coverage, they also boosted membership in local and statewide suffrage organizations, which was key to growing a broad base of support for women’s suffrage.

From the Maryland Suffrage News
From the Maryland Suffrage News

Despite their organization and tactics, Maryland suffragists were unsuccessful in convincing the Maryland General Assembly to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. Both chambers decisively rejected ratification when it came up for a vote on February 17, 1920—the House by a vote of 64 to 36 and the Senate by 18 to 9. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment. Several days later, on August 26, 1920, US Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the vote and proclaimed the Nineteenth Amendment to be part of the US Constitution. The decades-long struggle was finally over, and both white and black suffragists in Maryland quickly shifted to the task of preparing women to vote in the 1920 election; however, black women were still subject to Jim Crow-era rules and practices that sought to restrict  black citizens’ access to the vote. Equal suffrage for black women was not fully secured until the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Maryland General Assembly finally ratified the Nineteenth Amendment in a token vote on March 29, 1941, but the vote was not certified until March 25, 1958. Despite Maryland’s lack of decisive action on the amendment, Maryland suffragists, both black and white, made major contributions to the overall effort and their grassroots advocacy created a network of skilled female activists who continued to press for political and civic reforms in the state.

From the Maryland Suffrage News
From the Maryland Suffrage News

References

National Park Service. Maryland and the 19th Amendment. Last Updated May 12, 2020. https://www.nps.gov/articles/maryland-and-the-19th-amendment.htm.

Rohn, Kacy. 2017. The Maryland Women’s Suffrage Movement. Draft report available at the Maryland Historical Trust, Crownsville.

Williams, Lea M. 2020. Ellen N. La Motte: Nurse, Writer, Activist (England: Manchester University Press, 2020). https://www.google.com/books/edition/Ellen_N_La_Motte/0vi7DwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=%22Just+Government+League%22+maryland&pg=PT69&printsec=frontcover