African American Heritage & Ethnography African Nation Founders: Africans in Southern Colonies—Chesapeake: Time, Space & People

The Peopling of Maryland Colony

Within twenty years following the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, the Calvert family obtained a charter from King Charles I for land along the Chesapeake north of the Potomac River. The colony was named in honor of the king’s consort, Henrietta Maria. King Charles I was deeply concerned about the presence of the Dutch in North America and decided to establish Maryland as a buffer between Virginia and the New Netherlands.

Maryland Colony.

In the 1660s, less than 25% of Maryland’s bound laborers were enslaved Africans. By 1680 the number had increased to 33% and by the early 1700s, three quarters of laborers were enslaved Africans. About 300 arrived each year between 1695–1708. During this time, at least half of Maryland’s enslaved population lived in Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s, and St. Mary’s counties. The others lived in Annapolis and Baltimore.

From the beginning, the Maryland population was religiously, socially and racially diverse. Unlike the Virginians, the Maryland colonists brought Africans with them. At least two men of African descent were aboard the Ark and the Dove, ships that brought Leonard Calvert, son of George Calvert, first Lord of Baltimore, up the Chesapeake Bay in 1634. One of these first African Marylanders was Mathias de Sousa. A passenger on the Ark, De Sousa was of African and Portuguese descent and, like the Calvert family, he was a Catholic.

As the colony’s charter did not expressly prohibit the establishment of non-Protestant churches, the Calverts encouraged fellow Catholics to settle there. Maryland’s first town, St. Mary’s, was established in 1634 near where the Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake Bay.

Maryland never experienced protracted Indian warfare or a “starving time” like its neighbor Virginia. Maryland was able to trade with Virginia for needed items and the Calvert family personally supported the settlers’ early financial needs. However, like Virginia, Maryland suffered from a labor shortage. In order to stimulate immigration, in 1640 Maryland adopted the head-right system that Virginia had instituted earlier.

While interested in establishing a refuge for Catholics, who were facing increasing persecution in Anglican England, the Calverts were also interested in creating profitable estates. To this end, they encouraged the importation of Africans and to avoid trouble with the British government, they encouraged Protestant immigration.

Indentured laborers, mostly white, dominated the Maryland workforce throughout the 17th century. As the laws infringing upon the rights and status of servitude for Africans grew more stringent in Virginia in the late 17th century, free Africans from Virginia, like Anthony and Mary Johnson and their family, migrated to Maryland. Enslavement was not absent in 17th century Maryland but it was not the principal form of servitude until the early 18th century (Yentsch 1994).

As the 17th century closed there were far fewer enslaved Africans in Maryland than in Virginia. In the four counties along the lower Western shore of Maryland, there were only 100 enslaved Africans in 1658, about 3% of the population. By 1710, their numbers had increased to 3500 making up about 24% of the population, most were still “country-born,” that is born in Africa, and most were men. Between 1700 and 1780, new generations of African people born in the colony expanded the enslaved population (Menard 1975).

Tightening the Bonds of Slavery

Tobacco Label depicts the labor expected of enslaved Africans in 17th and 18th century Virginia and Maryland.

Because of legislation in both Maryland and Virginia, life for thosed enslaved changed drastically in the 1660’s. As European servants became scarce and expensive, African labor came to dominate the labor force. Legislation slowly sealed the fate of African immigrants and their descendants removing opportunities for freedom and advancement. Hereditary slavery defined by law came to Virginia in 1662. Maryland followed in 1663. By law, Africans, with the exception of those entering the Eastern Shore, entered the colonies as slaves for life. Even if they were freed, their freedoms were inhibited by laws that left them few liberties (Menard 1975). Many of these laws were modelled after Barbados laws.

Adult slaves arriving Maryland in the 1670’s would live their entire lives as slaves. They would face a harsh environment in which they were subject to hard labor, new diseases, and a shortage of women that would result in a low rate of reproduction. They would face abusive masters, isolation from other Africans, and restriction of mobility.

The transformation of the “Negro” servant into the “Negro” slave was completed with the Virginia General Assembly passage of the Slave Codes of 1705. Thus, as the 18th century opened, most Africans and their American-born descendants lived and worked as slaves growing tobacco on “quarters” or “plantations” in rural, lower Chesapeake. They eventually improved their lives and by the 1720’s, there were enough American-born Africans in Maryland to create their own African American culture.

Inventories taken in Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s counties Maryland between 1658–1710 found the slave population grew at an extraordinary rate increasing from about 100 enslaved people or 3% of the total counties’ population in 1658 to over 3500 people, composing 24% of the region’s population in 1710. Almost all of these enslaved adults were African immigrants (Menard 1975:30–31). Within sixty-five years, almost all enslaved adults would be American-born, or as referred to here, African Americans.

Comparison of Maryland Population by Descent and Servitude Status, 1755.

By 1750, Africans and their descendants on Maryland’s Western Shore alone are estimated to have been 40% of the population, however not all of these persons were enslaved. This chart compares the status of servitude among people characterized as English, African, or mulatto in a 1755 Census of the Maryland population. The English made up the majority of the adult population. In this census, mulatto slave referred to people of any combination of mixed ethnic origins, that is, English and African, English and American Indian, or American Indian and African. American Indians were counted as free mulattos. In the Low Country and New York, Mustees was another term used to describe people who were of African and American Indian descent (Forbes 1993).

In the last decades of the 18th century, 44% of the 46,547 enslaved people lived in groups of more than 20 people in the Tidewater counties: Anne Arundel, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s in Maryland and Essex, Gloucester, Lancaster, Middlesex, James City, Warick, Charles City and York in Virginia. Another 34, 000 enslaved people lived in similar sized groups on quarters or plantations in the Piedmont area of Virginia. Even in the “frontier” counties formed in Virginia after 1760, 1 in 3 enslaved people lived in groups of more than 20 people (Kulikoff 1986:338).

A Closer Look at Plantations

The first Africans in Carter’s Grove were nine unnamed “Negroes” imported in 1666 by Nathaniel Bacon, earning him head-rights to 450 acres of land. Thirty years later four other people listed in Bacon’s estate, Mulatto Kate, Jack Parratt, Tom and Will Colly were probably African Americans born in Virginia. The other people at Carter’s Grove were likely Africans who had come directly from West Africa to Virginia. The names and age of men like Yaddo, Cuffey, Colley, and Debo suggest their African origins. Ninety enslaved people lived and worked in Carter’s Grove circa 1684–1710. There were more men (n=24) than women (n=17). In nearby Southern Maryland County, there were almost identical sex ratios among enslaved people. This surplus of men over women reflected the planters’ preferences for male over female workers. In older tidewater counties of Virginia, the sex ratio was more evenly balanced. There were two children for every adult woman, a level of childbearing twice as high as in Maryland and 25% higher than in older Virginia settlements. At least 14 children of the African American families in Carter’s Grove, 1692–1710 were children of mixed race born in Virginia, and were free or enslaved according to the condition of their mother (Walsh 1997).

Old Slave Quarters, Bethesda, Maryland.

Prince George County, Maryland attracted colonial men and women who recognized its agricultural potential. Estates raised tobacco, cattle, wheat, corn, and fruit as cash crops for nearby developing urban areas (NPS 2004).

Oxon Hill Plantation was settled by John Addison in the late 17th century with help of imported Africans. He left 31 enslaved Africans to his son Thomas. When Thomas died in 1727, he owed seventy-one enslaved people, many adult Africans among them. By 1775, (4) or 2% of the 109 enslaved people at Oxon Hill were men, ages 88, 78, 68, and 66 years old, respectively. Given their ages, it is likely that they were among the first Africans imported to work at Oxon Hill. By this time, most of the enslaved people living at Oxon Hill the plantation were American-born, 63% of them were under age 16 and the majority of these individuals were infants and small children. The demographics of enslaved people at Oxon Hill mirrored those throughout Maryland and Virginia.

The Calverts maintained three “quarters” in Prince George’s County, Maryland as well as a residence in Annapolis. Thirty of Calverts’ 55 slaves lived in Annapolis. Twelve of the remainder of these enslaved people lived on the main Calvert plantation in rural Prince George County, and the other 13 lived and worked on the other two of the plantation quarters.

Who were the 18th Century Africans?

Between 1717 and 1720, one major importer of Africans into Virginia recorded fourteen separate shipments of people into Virginia, over 2100 Africans. Seventy-five percent of those people came from the Calabar coast in the Bight of Biafra (Walsh 1997). As late as 1752, the Virginia Gazette ran an advertisement for an “Eboe” with “country marks” on his face.

18th century Upper Chesapeake Africans mostly came from the region of present day Sierra Leone and along the coast southward ending on the Gold Coast (shaded areas).

Throughout the 18th century, most Africans came to the Upper Chesapeake from two West African coast regions. One extended from the Cassamance River to Cape Mount, present-day Sierra Leone is in the center of this region. The second region encompassed the Windward Coast (present-day Ivory Coast and Liberia) and ended on the Gold Coast, the location of present-day Ghana (Walsh 1997:6). The continued importation of Africans from the same region throughout the 18th century probably accounts for the fact that along with people born in African, many Maryland-born people of African descent continued to use African naming patterns. For example, the Calvert’s 1734 property inventory lists a six-month-old child named Cusey, an African name. Cubit, Nom, Mingo or Tydoe are other African names found in the Calvert property inventory. In other cases, Africans in the Calvert inventory had English names that sounded like African names, for example: Jenny for Heminah, Patty for Pattoe or Sam for Samba. The Dulaney family inventories, 1720–1740, also included enslaved people with the African names: Toader, Abuer, Jam, Ockery, Hann, Southey, Cuffey, Sango and Pender (Yentsch 1994).

Most 18th century Chesapeake Africans and their native-born descendants lived and worked as slaves growing tobacco on “quarters” or “plantations” in the eastern part of Virginia. Their presence, origins, and the cultural aspects of Chesapeake Africans and their native-born descendants have been reconstructed in histories and from archeological studies. Plantation account books note runaways by date while newspaper advertisements reveal the relationships of people running away together or allude to family and kin networks in terms of where an individual might seek refuge. Where plantation inventories list only a few enslaved people, one may deduce the outlines of families by their groupings in the records. Added to these ephemera is the occasional first person narrative, filtered through a transcriber. Using these kinds of sources, the next section examines the cultural patterns of free Africans on Virginia’s eastern shore.