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Negro Slaves in Maryland

The first Negroes were brought to Maryland shortly after the settlement of the colony. Their number was small until the early years of the eighteenth century, when the importation of them increased rapidly, so that by 17 12, when the white population numbered about thirty-eight thousand, there were more than eight thousand Negroes. These slaves came for the most part from Africa, and at first were brought in British vessels. Later the trade was carried on largely by New England merchants. A vessel would bring molasses from Jamaica to one of the Northern towns; the molasses would there be made into rum, which in turn would go to Africa to buy slaves; and the slaves thus bought would be carried to Jamaica or to the ports of the Southern States. As early as the year 1695 the Assembly laid a tax of ten shillings on every negro brought into the colony; and this tax was afterwards increased until, in 17 1 6, it amounted to forty shillings a head. These taxes were laid for revenue rather than for the purpose of discouraging the importation of slaves. In 1780, however, the tax was raised to five hundred pounds, which was so high as virtually to prohibit the trade. This was done because the people had begun to think that there were already more than enough slaves in the State, and because the feeling that slavery was wrong was beginning to gain ground. The Importation of Slaves Forbidden, 1783. Three years later an Act was passed forbidding altogether the further introduction of slaves.

When the convention to form a new Constitution for the United States met in 1787, Luther Martin, a delegate from Maryland, proposed, but without success, that it be made a part of the Constitution that no more slaves should be brought into the country. It was finally agreed as a compromise that the importation of slaves should not be prohibited by the Federal Government until the year 1808, and that meanwhile each State should regulate slavery as it saw fit.

Slaves in Maryland were as a rule treated with kindness, and their ill-treatment was punished. It was not forbidden by law to teach them to read and write, as it was in some other States, but not very many of them were so taught.

Frederick Douglass when a boy was taught to read by his mistress, a Baltimore lady. As early as the year 1789 a society was formed in Maryland having for its object the abolition of slavery; and such men as Charles Carroll of Carrolton and Roger Brooke Taney, among others of prominence, agreed in their opinions as to the evils of slavery and the desire for its abolition. The Friends or Quakers were active in their efforts to have slavery abolished. The Southern Abolitionists thought that the slaves were not fit to be set free without preparation. The slaves had always depended upon their masters for support, were, for the most part, ignorant and helpless, and if they were suddenly freed 1859 as much as two thousand dollars was asked for a slave, had bought them in good faith expecting to keep them, and would be made bankrupt or reduced to poverty if the slaves were suddenly set free without recompense to their owners.

The Northern anti-slavery societies, on the other hand, wanted the slaves to be freed at once and in any way, without regard to the master's rights. Fugitive Slaves. It was the law that if a slave escaped into a "free State" he could be captured and returned to his master, but it very often happened that the people there helped him to get away instead of returning him to his owner. This was especially the case with slaves owned in Maryland, who had only to cross the line into Pennsylvania to find numbers of persons ready to help them to get away. In 1851, Edward Gorsuch, of Baltimore County, his son, and several friends, all armed and having a warrant got in Philadelphia, went to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in search of two slaves who had escaped three years before. The searchers broke into the house where the fugitives were hidden, but did not succeed in taking them, as a mob of about a hundred men, armed with guns, axes, and clubs, had been called together by the sounding of a horn as a signal. After some parley shots were fired, and would be unable to provide for themselves. Moreover, their masters had paid large sums for them, in the year in the fight which followed, Gorsuch was killed and his son wounded. By order of the President search was made for the fugitive slaves, but they had escaped. Several persons were arrested and tried for taking part in the riot, but all were acquitted. Public opinion in the Free States was so strong against the fugitive slave law that it could not be enforced, and such occurrences as this made very bitter feeling in the South.

Free Negroes

Many efforts were made to reduce the number of free Negroes in Maryland. Beginning with the year 1831, the State appropriated large sums to send them to the colony of Liberia. The movement met with little success, however, as the Negroes did not wish to go. In the twenty years to 1851, only one thousand and eleven were colonized in Africa, and this at a cost of two hundred and ninety-eight thousand dollars. Many slaves had been manumitted by their masters, so that the number of slaves in the State had greatly diminished, while the number of free Negroes had greatly increased. In 1860, there were almost as many free Negroes as there were slaves. This decrease in the number of slaves was partly due to the fact that many of them were sold into the more southern States. In 1810, when the number of slaves was greatest, there were about ten slaves to every twenty-four free persons; while in 1860 there were only ten slaves to about sixty-nine free persons. The Abolitionist Merged in the Republican Party. At first the Abolitionists did not form any political party, but in 1840 they organized as the Liberty party. From that time on their efforts were directed to uniting all the people of the North into a political party pledged to destroy slavery in all the States. Before long they were merged into the Republican Party which took up their watchword of "no slavery." The election of Lincoln to the presidency by the Republican Party in 1860, caused great excitement, and some of the Southern States at once began to prepare for secession. In Maryland Lincoln had received only 2,294 votes out of a total of 92,441, and the electoral vote of the State was cast against him. Nevertheless, although Maryland sympathized with the South, she was strongly opposed to all violence, had always been for moderation in the dissensions between the two sections, and believed that the Union should be preserved.

Maryland AHGP


Source: History of Maryland, by L. Magruder Passano, Wm. J.C. Dulany Company, 1901.


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