Clara L. Small
Salisbury State University

"The peculiar institution" known as slavery varied according to time and place, and its intensity was dependent upon regionalism, political, and religious factors. Social factors such as the temperament of overseers, slaves, and owners--those "gentlemen of property and standing"--were also important. Slavery was not consistent nationally, regionally, or even on a statewide basis. Maryland, a border state, known as "the middle temperament" and "the middle ground," was no exception. The Eastern Shore in the 1840s and 1850s, just prior to the Civil War, is the classic example of inconsistencies in policies regarding slaves and the institution of slavery.

Maryland's Eastern Shore has been at odds with the remainder of the state since its inception. Historically, there have been numerous proposals for it to secede. But, it was not until the 1850s that it became apparent that "there were, in effect, two Marylands: one founded upon slavery and the other upon free labor." Most of the counties on the Eastern Shore occupied an intermediate position, of slave and free, much like that of Maryland within the Union. The Eastern Shore was "neither as slave and black as southern Maryland nor as free and white as northern Maryland." Just over 20 percent of its people were slaves and just under 40 percent were black.

In this paper, I examine representatives from three groups of people who lived on the Eastern Shore and fought against slavery: Quakers or members of the Society of Friends, a religious group, free blacks and fugitive slaves. Each in different ways struggled to dismantle the peculiar institution in an area where there were as many anti-slavery residents as there were pro-slavery supporters.

The influence of Quakers was quite evident in the area. Visibly active the anti- slavery movement, they abhorred the institution, openly professed their belief in its abolition, and actively worked to achieve that end despite danger to themselves and their families. Evidence indicates that some Quakers were active in the Underground Railroad movement.

There are, for example, hundreds of substantiated instances in which Quakers assisted in slave escapes. One particular instance involved Arthur Leverton, the son of the late Jacob Leverton, and a suspected abolitionist from Dorchester County, who had attempted to help a husband, wife, and their four children escape. The fugitives were betrayed, the children returned to the owner, and the parents sold. Leverton, who had been implicated in the escape attempts was given "a warning to leave the state, or lynching would be his portion." He took the hint, and when the mob assembled, he was out of their reach. His property was sold, and his wife and 8 or 10 children made to follow him.

The presence of a large anti-slavery constituency should have hastened the institution's demise, but the influence of Quakers rapidly waned from 1840 to the 1860s. This loss of influence was due to: (1) the emigration of members to the city and the west; (2) prohibition of slave owning by members; (3) the rigid code of behavior demanded of Friends; and (4) the widespread appeal of Methodism to the people of the Eastern Shore. On the surface, these factors appear isolated, but the reality is that they are interrelated.

When Maryland Quakers emigrated to the city or moved west, they abandoned many of their former beliefs and ideas, the prohibition against slaveholding and their abhorrence of the institution. Records also show that even some people who were brought up within the Society of Friends slipped into the practice of holding slaves in bondage. A disproportionate number, it is revealed, had their membership taken away for slaveholding. For others, the existence of slavery around them was the impetus to move out of their communities and into non-slaveholding areas like Ohio, Indiana, and further westward. Unrelated to the slavery question, others were disowned for various practices, such as for marrying non-Quakers, for swearing, disorderly company, gambling, neglect of meeting, drinking, and for selling whiskey. These membership losses further lessened the group's influence. Finally, many other Friends voluntarily asked to have their membership dropped as they accepted "Methodism when it swept through the Delmarva Peninsula."

Free Blacks

There was a sizeable free black population which resided on the Eastern Shore, a population that included both ex-slaves and free born. Their situation was precarious by the presence of slave catchers like Patty Cannon. Free blacks lived with constant fear of being re-enslaved. The horrors of separation were always present because as many as 80 (slave) traders, full or part-time, operated on the Eastern Shore during the last years of the (slave) market. Local "newspaper editors (even) assured their readers editorially that no stigma would be attached to out of state sales." Free blacks also lived in fear of being suspected of having rendered assistance to fugitives.

The classic example of this kind of treatment is that of Daniel Hubbard, who was a victim of mob violence following the Leverton incident. A free black, Hubbard was described as

. . . an industrious and peaceable resident of (Dorchester) the county, who for thirty-two years, has paid annually for his wife, and also for his children as they grew old enough to work, they being slaves for life. He (Hubbard) received a message that they (the members of the city and also the mob) had authority from the Governor, to do what they pleased with any concerned in the escape or harboring of runaways, and there was a party of fifty, which could be increased to five hundred, who were ready to carry him to Cambridge, and hang him merely on suspicion.

Daniel Hubbard was forced to escape to Philadelphia to save his life, but he always stated he knew nothing of the fugitives

. . . and never desired to, as it has been his aim, through life, to avoid interfering in such cases, which may be inferred from his never having tried to effect the escape of any of his own family. . . . He was nicely fixed on a farm in Dorchester County and had a family, besides being a carpenter and millwright.
He valued his property at about $1,300, but it would all be insufficient to pay for his poor wife, three grown children, and one grandson, seven years of age; if their owner will be willing to sell them.

This was a clear instance of a man trying to keep his family intact who was forced to flee the county to save himself. There may have been other forces operating in his case that encouraged the mob to attack him, despite the fact he had been a peaceful resident of Dorchester County all his life. Some of those factors may have included the jealousy and envy of a successful black man operating profitable businesses in the county, or the desire to take his valuable land or assume control of the businesses.

The trial and imprisonment of the Reverend Samuel Green is another example of injustice suffered by free blacks. The circumstances surrounding Green's life give indication of the manner in which Maryland slaveholders dealt with anyone who threatened the future of slavery.

Samuel Green lived in Dorchester County, and was enslaved for 30 years. A religious man, he was manumitted five years after his master's death in 1831. Similar to Frederick Douglass, Green, while enslaved, learned to read and write. A blacksmith by trade and also a Methodist preacher, Green purchased his wife Kitty and freed her immediately. Even though he could not free his children, "He passed on to them his love of freedom." Reverend Green's son, Samuel Jr., also a blacksmith, was influenced by Harriet Tubman to escape to Canada in 1854. Married and the mother of two children, Reverend Green's daughter was sold to a slaveholder in Missouri and was never heard of again.

Reverend Green visited his son in Canada in 1856 and was suspected of having helped his son and other slaves to escape. Upon his return in April 1857, Reverend Green "was arrested and taken from his home." He was charged with

. . . possessing a volume of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a map of Canada, several schedules of routes to the North, a railroad schedule, and a letter from his son in Canada, detailing the pleasant trip he had, the number of friends he met with on the way, . . . and concludes with a request to his father, that he shall tell certain other slaves, naming them, to come on, which slaves, it is well known, did leave shortly afterwards, and have reached Canada.

The mere possession of these items put him in violation of the Act of 1841, Chapter 272 of the laws of Maryland, which stated that

. . . if any free Negroes or mulatto knowingly have in his or her possession any abolition handbill, pamphlet, newspaper, pictorial representation or other paper of an inflammatory character, having a tendency to create discontent amongst or stir up to insurrection the people of color in this state, he or she shall be deemed guilty of felony, and upon conviction shall be sentenced to undergo a confinement in the Penitentiary of this State for a period of not less than ten nor more than twenty years.

After two weeks, Reverend Green was found guilty of the charges against him and was confined to 10 years in the Maryland State Penitentiary (located in Baltimore). Due to the character of Reverend Green, some whites wrote to the Governor of Maryland requesting a pardon. However, many slaveholders residing in Green's community wrote to the Governor stating that slaves were leaving in numbers prior to Green's arrest, and that blacks were scarce. Before that letter was delivered, a large number of slaves escaped from Cambridge. Apparently, fear of reprisals against them did not deter many slaves from escaping.

Local slaveholders suspected Samuel Green, even while imprisoned, to have taken part in the escapes, especially because they believed all fugitives had passed immediately by Green's home, which stood near the road leading from Cambridge to Delaware. Planters of Dorchester County, fearful of this intelligent, articulate, and free black, sought his removal from the community. The slaveholders needed a scapegoat because they viewed themselves as benevolent owners whose slaves would be foolish to flee. They could not accept the idea that slaves disliked their situation and sought freedom without some push from an outside agency. In the final analysis, they had no case against Green. In effect, "They imprisoned a man for a decade for having in his possession a book that most people in the nation had read with sympathy_something no one (really) considered an offense."

Having served five years of his sentence, Green was "released from prison in April 1862, and was pardoned on condition that he leave the State within sixty days."


If the plight of free blacks was tenuous, the fate of slaves was unimaginable. The presence of Quakers and abolitionists led to the perception that slavery was very mild in Maryland. As Frederick Douglass stated in his autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, "It is generally supposed that slavery, in the State of Maryland, exists in its mildest form, and that it is totally divested of those harsh and terrible peculiarities, which mark and characterize the slave system, in the southern and south-western states." Yet Douglass points out, even here

there are certain secluded and out-of-the-way places . . . seldom visited by a single ray of healthy public sentiment,--where slavery, wrapt in its own congenial, midnight darkness, can, and does develop all its malign and shocking characteristics, where it can be indecent without shame, cruel without shuddering, and murderous without apprehension or fear of exposure.

We are left to ask if slavery was mild in Maryland--especially on the Eastern Shore--why was this area the location of some of the most famous slave escapes and rescues? In this section, I will explore the lives of three who stole their way to freedom. Two of the most famous who stole themselves were Harriet Ross Tubman and Frederick Douglass, from Dorchester and Talbot Counties, respectively. Harriet Ross Tubman was born in 1821 in the area of Bucktown and at an early age experienced the forced separation of family members and the brutality of slavery. She was not a particularly capable house slave, and as a child, she was injured while trying to prevent the capture of another slave, which caused her to suffer from narcoplexy for the remainder of her life.

At the age of 28, Tubman learned that she and other members of her family were to be sold and transported to the Deep South. At this time, Harriet had been married for five years to John Tubman, who was a "free black." Harriet had a tender heart and loved John Tubman, but the thought of being sold led her to thoughts of escape.

She was not the typical slave, as she had been fortunate enough to have known both her parents, Ben Ross and Henrietta Green, and to have been in their presence throughout most of her life. It was that time with her parents that gave her knowledge of the swamps and the wisdom of various treatments and cures for certain diseases. Therefore, when she heard of her impending sale to the Deep South, she decided to leave.

She wanted her brothers to accompany her, but they were so frightened of the consequences of being caught they turned back. Harriet returned with them. However, the return was only temporary until another opportunity to escape presented itself. In attempting to escape, she was fully aware of the possibility of not seeing her parents, siblings, friends, and even her husband.

Tubman had worked in the fields and even in the lumber mill with her father. Though she was small in stature, she was stronger than any man. Upon escaping, she utilized the knowledge and skills she had acquired while working outside in the lumber mill, planting and plowing the fields, working in the woods, swamps and marshlands, and in the trapping of small animals for food and sustenance. She also had the benefit of the medicinal cures that had become second nature to her.

Even though she had been successful in escaping to the North, she was still not completely free as long as her relatives were still in bondage. She was also insecure because of the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which gave all fugitives and free blacks a great degree of apprehension. With this new law, slave catchers operated openly, not just in the South, but in the North where fugitive slaves, and free blacks, considered to be suspect or who fit a certain description, were retrieved. The Fugitive Slave Law strengthened a previous law by adding provisions that placed cases under Federal supervision, gave $10 for each arrest that sent a slave back to his or her owner and imposed fines on those who aided fugitives.

Even more importantly under this law, "Blacks were no longer safe anywhere in the United States, not even in the North, because they could be arrested as suspected runaways by the accusation of any white person." Therefore, the recapture of fugitives and the selling of family members in the South were important concerns for Harriet. She was also concerned because a Maryland state wide convention in the mid-summer of 1850 called for, among other things, the re-enslavement of free Negroes. These practices were a clear indication that slavery was not declining in the area.

Repeatedly risking capture, Tubman returned to the South to liberate over 300 slaves. She worked to relieve the suffering of others and spoke out against injustices. After 1857, she began addressing anti-slavery conventions and developed her association with John Brown. She was privy to Brown's plans for Harpers Ferry, as Brown hoped Harriet would be chief guide to the North for the slaves he freed. A bright spot for her, in June of 1857, was that she was finally able to free her parents.

Tubman risked her life to carry out her goals, determined to help others to "Live free or die." Throughout the course of the Civil War, she served as a Union spy, nurse, cook, and the liberator of over 756 slaves on a military campaign in Cumbohee, South Carolina, without losing a person. Even after the conclusion of the war, she continued her crusade to improve the lives of others and to fight against injustice. She understood that the real battle for freedom had not yet been won.

A second Eastern Shore slave of significance was Frederick Augustus Bailey Douglass. Born in Tuckahoe, Maryland, in Dorchester County, he experienced forced separation from family members and the horrors of slavery at an early age. One of his first recollections was witnessing "Old Master" whipping Aunt Hester. Despite these cruelties, Frederick Douglass was, "not mistreated by Aaron Anthony," his first master. But, he experienced the harshness of slavery from the hands of overseers and others who worked for Anthony and Frederick's other masters, or slave breakers, such as Edward Covey.

The Lloyd Plantation, the "home plantation" of Colonel Edward Lloyd, on the Eastern Shore was one of those "secluded, dark, out-of-the-way places" Douglass mentioned in his autobiography. It was the site where Douglass witnessed, "The cruelty and barbarity of master, overseers, and slave drivers," despite the claims of slaveholders in the local newspaper that

. . . there was no portion of the entire South where slaves met with more humane treatment than upon the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and there existed between master and slave that feeling of mutual confidence which is always to be found in those communities where the evil influence of abolition or its emissaries does not make itself felt.

Unlike Harriet Tubman, Douglass was without the benefit of a family structure to encourage him and sustain his spirit. He experienced the hardships of being appraised upon the death of his master, in the same manner, but with lesser value and even lesser regard than the livestock and cattle. Douglass was, however, fortunate by having been selected to accompany his second master's child to Baltimore as a playmate and servant. This move opened up an entirely different world to him. It was the first time Frederick slept in a bed and ate a proper supper at a table. Frederick also had the opportunity to achieve the unthinkable for a slave--to learn to read and write, which was prohibited by law. The mere rudiments were all that Douglass needed, and he took those opportunities to learn. He understood that knowledge was power, and he used that knowledge to help himself and others. Unlike Harriet Tubman, Douglass had the benefit of being literate, so he could much more easily survive in unfamiliar surroundings.

Douglass was also fortunate to have the benefit of a trade, as a caulker, giving him a source of income in the Baltimore. As a caulker, he could hire himself out, although the proceeds went to his owner. Therefore, it was not surprising that his owner, Thomas Auld, wished him to learn a trade and emphasized that if Frederick behaved himself, "He would be emancipated at the age of 25." Learning a trade provided an opportunity for him to meet free blacks and other slaves in similar circumstances, which convinced him he should free himself. It was that strong resolve that helped to sustain him, when he chose to escape from his owners. The desire for freedom was not new to Douglass. He was acutely aware of other slaves who had stolen themselves from the plantation--such as "His Aunt Jenny and Uncle Noah, his mother's sister and Aunt Katy's brother, who had run away and reached freedom in the North."

Once Douglass gained his freedom, he could not remain free and not think of the plight of others. Fortunately, his gift of oration was recognized, and he became a lecturer for an abolitionist society and worked diligently to make the world aware of the conditions of slavery. Many audiences did not believe him, so he was forced to reveal his true identity and the location of his enslavement. This revelation was a potential danger to his continued freedom. Thomas Auld made no effort to recapture him, but the threat was always there. While touring Europe on the anti-slavery circuit in 1846, friends and admirers collected the sum of $711.66, made the necessary arrangements, and Frederick Douglass officially became a free human being in the eyes of the law.

Upon his return to the United States, he again wrote about his life and the horrors of slavery. He became an advisor to Presidents; was a friend to Harriet Tubman, John Brown, and many prominent others; the major recruiter for the famed 54th Massachusetts; a newspaper publisher; the Register of Deeds for the District of Columbia; President of the Freedmen's Bank; and minister to Haiti. But, of all of his triumphs, the memories of his enslavement on the Eastern Shore made an indelible impression on his life. Douglass was so influenced by slavery that he spent the remainder of his life trying to eradicate it and any other form of injustice.

The third Eastern Shore slave was the Reverend Henry Highland Garnet, an American Presbyterian minister and abolitionist who proved to be much more radical than Tubman and Douglass. Garnet was "Born a slave at (East) New Market, Maryland (in Dorchester County) and escaped to the North in 1824." Very little is known about his early years,except that he was the grandson of a Mandingo chieftain. When he was 10, Garnet was reportedly taken to freedom by his father under the pretense of "driving his covered wagon to a funeral and succeeded in carrying his family and a few friends to Wilmington, Delaware, and freedom." The family eventually settled in New York.

Garnet entered a New York African Schoo--one of the first public schools for blacks in the United States. He received the early sting of racism at the age of 19 (when), he journeyed to Canaan, New Hampshire, to study at a summer session of the Canaan Academy. He had been invited by the principal to attend the school, but his studies were cut short by the violent reaction of the Canaan townspeople, who destroyed the school. Garnet was also educated at Oneida Institute where he established a reputation as a good debater and was known as an eloquent, but fiery orator. This transplant from the Eastern Shore became a school teacher who taught at the first public school for blacks in Troy, New York. He simultaneously served as "the minister of a white Presbyterian congregation in Troy."

As a minister of the gospel and as a private citizen, Garnet openly protested the institution of slavery and the injustices associated with it. In 1837, Garnet, other abolitionists, and a massive meeting of young Negro men met in New York and protested against a stipulation passed by a state constitutional convention decreeing that before a Negro could vote he had to own $250.00 worth of landed property. In 1840, he "Attended a statewide convention in Albany, where he served as one of the secretaries of the Convention (which) drew up an address to the colored people at the commonwealth calling upon them to press for the ballot." By 1840, he had become a militant and wore a pistol. At the same time, he had become one of the foremost ministers in New York City. In 1840, at the age of 25, this young "fire brand," along with William G. Allen, edited the National Watchman, an abolitionist newspaper. He also gained prominence for a hard-hitting anti-slavery address delivered before the American Anti-Slavery Convention.

His speech attacked slavery to such an extent that he attracted the attention of all other abolitionist societies. He became one of the prominent Negroes in the movement and a speaker for several of the societies. By 1840, Garnet was one of eight Negro clergymen numbered among the founders of the American and Foreign Anti- Slavery Society. Occasionally, Garnet, Frederick Douglass, James W. C. Pennington, Martin R. Delaney, and other "black abolitionists, all fugitive slaves from Maryland, journeyed to England, Scotland, France and Germany . . . where they were instrumental in linking up the humanitarian movement in Europe with movements in America."

Garnet also delved into politics, with the hope of improving the lot of the slave and free black, but by 1843 Garnet denounced anyone, black or white, who did not share his antislavery sentiments. In August 1843, "at a national convention for black men in Buffalo, Garnet delivered the most forthright call for a slave uprising ever heard in antebellum America." In his speech, "An Address to the Slaves of the United States," he stated

. . . that there was little hope of obtaining freedom without some shedding of blood. . . . Brethren, arise, arise. Strike for your lives and liberties. Now is the day and hour. Let every slave throughout the land do this and the days of slavery are numbers. Rather die free men than live to be slaves. Remember that you are four million. Let "our" motto be: Resistance! Resistance! RESISTANCE!

After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, Garnet, and many other fugitive blacks and abolitionists, felt it was unsafe to remain in America, so in 1850 he, along with many of his compatriots in similar circumstances, returned to England.

In 1858, with the demise of the National Emigration Convention, Garnet became the founder and president of the African Colonization Society. In that year, he embraced emigration as a possible solution to the problem of race in America. His rationale was that he saw no future for blacks in the United States. He believed that he, "would rather see a man free in Liberia than a slave in the United States, . . . and favored colonization to any country that promised freedom and enfranchisement to the Negro."

Despite the ardent efforts of abolitionists (black and white), within and without the state, the increasing number of free blacks who worked to abolish the system, and the large number of slaves "who stole themselves," slavery in Maryland just prior to the Civil War, showed little or no signs of decline. Slaveholders and their supporters continued to exert a great deal of money and effort to punish those who interfered with their property, no matter how slight the purported infraction may have been. Even into the year 1865, many Eastern Shore slaveholders still retained their slaves and took extra precautions to prevent their escape. Maryland was not covered by the Emancipation Proclamation, since it was not a state in rebellion, and slaveholders were not required to free their slaves. It was not until passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 that slavery would end. This substantiates the fact that slaveowners in Worcester, the easternmost county in the State, were still adamant about the retention of their slaves and the preservation of the institution. If the descriptions presented above are characteristics of slavery that is temperate, or mild, then just how cruel and inhumane was slavery in the other states?

Table of Contents

* University of Delaware Home Page

Copyright University of Delaware 1997
Last Updated: August 4, 1997