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Black Slaves in Maryland

It is not definitely known when and by whom the first African Slaves were introduced into the Colony of Maryland. In 1642 records show that Governor Calvert was bargaining with a shipmaster for thirteen slaves at St. Mary's. At any rate, the increase of slaves, for a while, was not very rapidly.

But, just as they began to increase a most interesting "question came up with respect to the effect of Baptism administered to them, or to their offspring. It was held by some, that the effect of Baptism, in making them "Christians," freed them from physical bondage. That is, on being baptized they immediately became "freemen." This feeling, or conviction, greatly interfered with the increase of slavery as well as with the imparting of Christian instruction to those who had already been imported. The question occupied the minds of the local authorities, as well as the authorities in London. In 1671, an act was passed entitled "an act for the Encouraging the Importation of Negroes and Slaves,'' which declared that Baptism, or Conversion, should not be taken to give manumission in any way to their slaves or to their issue, who had become or should become Christians, or who had been or should be baptized, either before or after their importation to Maryland, any opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. In Virginia there was enacted, in 1667 that baptism did not give freedom, so that diverse masters, freed from doubt, might endeavor to spread Christianity among the blacks. By an act of 1681, children born of white women and black men, were free. After 1692, the issue of a union between any white woman with a slave or free black, became; servants for a long time. A law enacted in 1715, forbade, under penalties, the marriage of a white to any black or mulatto slave. But, by this law a white and a free mulatto, could marry. The law of 1717 made a free black or mulatto, except mulattoes born of white women, slaves for life. In the record office in London, in 1712, there was a list of "Christian" men and women and children, and also black slaves in Maryland. According to this list there were then, in Maryland, 38,000 whites and 8,000 blacks. In 1790, there were over 208,000 whites and nearly half as many slaves in Maryland. Of the 2,290 blacks imported into Maryland between 1699 and 1707, all but 126 were brought in London vessels.

It is interesting to note that from the very first there seemed to be a goodly number of whites who were opposed to Slavery. In various ways, this feeling and conviction was shown. Shortly after the Revolution, 1776, a concerted effort was made in the direction of the abolition of Slavery, members of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, were conspicuously in the lead. In 1785, the House of Delegates of Maryland received a petition along this line, and legislation was introduced to that end, but failed of adoption. Yet, it is significant that the members of that body voting upon the proposition were very nearly equally divided. Two years later, the Baltimore Yearly Meeting of Friends sent another petition to the legislature on the subject. In 1789 the Maryland Society for Promoting the Abolition of slaves, and the Relief of poor Negroes, was organized.

One of the 'effects of this continued agitation was indicated in the constant increase of manumissions. An increasing number of whites were moved to set free their slaves, not a few by means of their last will and testament: and, others, were induced to permit slaves to purchase their own freedom. In 1829 a memorial from citizens of Frederick County, requesting the adoption of such legislation whereby children born of slave parents might become free at a certain time, was considered, but not adopted. The trend of affairs generally were contributing to a steady increase in the number of "free Negroes," and this condition of affairs also conspired to render more severe and cruel the lot of slaves. The presence of "free Negroes," in itself, was a constant inspiration to the slave to become dissatisfied with servitude. Then, in 1831, came the news of Nat Turner's insurrection, in Virginia, and this contributed still more to the fears of the slave-holders, and rendered them more watchful, and at the same time more cruel towards the slave. Following close upon all this was the bold attitude of William Lloyd Garrison, demanding immediate abolition. Slave laws of the greatest stringency followed fast upon each other. At the same time, all of these various conditions hastened the adoption of the "Colonization" scheme as the State policy.

The establishment of Liberia, on the west coast of Africa, was the logical outcome of the systematic agitation, all along, of humane whites with respect to the abolition of slavery which commenced soon after the first introduction of slavery into the colony of Maryland. As judged from the exigencies of the situation, at the time, they esteemed it the very best that could be accomplished, under all the circumstances, in a merciful and humane way, for the welfare of the enslaved blacks. So they finally got the State pledged to Colonization as the State policy, and an appropriation of a certain sum of money to pay the expenses of such as volunteered to go to Africa. Many manumissions were given with the expressed condition that, in a reasonable time, the person set free should leave Maryland for Africa. In 1843, a clergyman of the Episcopal Church, of Charles county, brought a number of slaves owned by him to Baltimore, and, himself presenting them for Confirmation, in St. James' First African Church, to the late Bishop Whittingham, who administered the rite, immediately gave them their freedom on condition that they at once leave the country for Africa, which was done.

 Maryland BiographiesMaryland AHGP

Source: Gazetteer of Maryland, by Henry Gannett, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1904.

 

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