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Enslaved and Free African Americans in Western Maryland

Collage of articles from Enslaved and Free Blacks collection


Enslaved and Free African Americans in Washington and Allegany Counties, Maryland,    
Reports and opinions from the newspapers of Hagerstown, Washington County, and Cumberland, Allegany County, Maryland, 1790 to 1864    

The Hagerstown newspapers from 1790 to 1864 included many stories of African Americans in Washington County, Maryland. Primary source material that has survived from this time period is usually restricted to court documents like wills, jail records and manumissions and the small collection of church records that included African American births, deaths and marriages. Therefore the newspapers, which admittedly provide often a limited view of African Americans since no people of color wrote for these papers, at least provide an insight into the lives of this population over the years.    

This collection primarily makes use of the work carried out by the Historic Newspaper Indexing Project of the Washington County Free Library. The vast majority of these entries come from the Hagerstown newspapers, though some items have been included from the Cumberland newspapers, taken from Al Feldstein’s Allegany County African American History and the Allegany College of Maryland.    

African Americans were part of the population of Washington and Allegany Counties. In Washington County in 1790 there were 1286 slaves, and 64 free people of color. The slave population peaked in 1820 at 3,201 at which time there were 627 "free blacks". In 1853 the Herald of Freedom and Torch Light reported that the number of slaves in the county at 1,788 with a total value of $317,000. By 1860 the slave population had dwindled to 1,435 and the "free black" population was 1,677. Allegany had a smaller slave population - 258 in 1790, 818 in 1830 and 666 in 1860. The free population of color in Allegany numbered 193 in 1820, 215 in 1840 and 467 in 1860. The third Maryland state constitution, which abolished slavery in Maryland, received approval of the voters on September 18, 1864, and took effect November 1, 1864.    

Article text of Slave for Sale
Torch Light, 1831

Thus Washington County had a significant slave population. The 1804 tax records for the county list the number and value of each person owing taxes. Washington County Taxes, 1803-1804. Several residents owed considerable sums because of the number, age and gender of their slaves. For example Alexander Clagett of Elizabeth Town (now Hagerstown) owned 8 slaves, Henry Schnebly of Elizabeth Hundred owned 50, all considered property like land, hogs and carriages, and therefore to be taxed.    

In addition to the resident slaves, Washington County’s geographical location played a significant part in the slave trade in the region. The county was situated between slave-free Pennsylvania to the north and slave state Virginia (West Virginia in 1863) to the south. The narrow boundaries of western Washington County at Hancock and Williamsport provided a convenient route for runaway slaves from Virginia and Maryland to Pennsylvania. This was further enhanced by the east–west corridor of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the major north–south and east–west roadways, and by 1841, the Franklin Railroad (and subsequent railroads) providing a link to Chambersburg, PA and beyond. As a result, there were several slave markets in the county and a considerable presence of slave catchers inserting Washington County residents directly into the slavery/state’s rights battle playing out on the national scene.    

This selection of articles from the Hagerstown and Cumberland newspapers from 1790 to 1864 records some of the issues confronting the people in two western counties in Maryland.    

See also the    
Slave documents from Western Maryland    
Sheriff Nathaniel Rochester's Records, Washington County, 1804-1806 and the    
Hagerstown Historic Newspaper Indexing Project, Washington County Free Library.    
Slavery in Washington County, Maryland Mid- 19th Century (1845–54), part of the Hagerstown Historic Newspaper Indexing Project.    

For other news of enslaved in the area at the time of the Civil War see Crossroads of War, Maryland and the Border in the Civil War, Catoctin Center for Regional Studies. The Maryland State Archives has a collection entitled the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland

Western Maryland Regional Library is most grateful to Carol Appenzellar who indexed and then selected the articles included and Joseph Berger who scanned the images from the collection at Washington County Free Library. We are also grateful to Albert Feldstein for his collection of newspaper articles from Cumberland and to Allegany College of Maryland for use of The Alleganian.