Hampton at Work

The overseer's house, left, is very close to the stone slave quarters visible on the right. The slave quarters are still standing today.

Hampton the showplace was very much the domain of the Ridgely family and their peers. But behind the scenes was a large community of people who labored at the ironworks, in the fields, on the docks and ships, in gardens and orchards, and inside the mansion. They lived and worked in obscurity in return for shelter, rations, of corn, pork, herring, flour, clothing, shoes, and perhaps, but not always income.

In colonial days, Hampton labor force included indentured servants, immigrants mainly form the British Isles who labored for a period of years until their passage fee to America was paid back. In addition there were free artisans and tradesmen, convict laborers, and during the Revolution, British prisoners of war. Families, including children, worked together. Most of these people eventually had some degree of social mobility--unlike enslaved people. Charles Ridgely Carnan freed most of his slaves upon his death, but the era of forced servitude at Hampton remained until Maryland state law ended the practice in 1864--in the midst of the Civil War.

Nancy Davis was born a slave in 1838. She chose to stay on as a servant after she received her freedom.
Slaves were present at Hampton from its beginnings and worked in every capacity. Hampton's enslaved population at its height numbered more than 300, making it one of the largest slave plantations in Maryland. Enslaved people worked in both skilled and unskilled capacities; they were field hands, cobblers, woodcutters, limestone and marble quarries, millers, ironworkers, blacksmiths, gardeners, and jockeys. Slaves also performed household chores including cleaning, cooking, serving food, and caring for children. The Ridgelys often paid many slaves for extra work in addition to their regular duties. Today, in order to compensate for the lack of slave generated documents, research continues into the lives of Hampton's slaves and servants.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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