Slavery at Hampton

Painting depicting what the Northampton ironworks would have looked like
Depictions of the Hampton ironworks.

NPS/Harpers Ferry Center

Hampton NHS sits on rich soil that was once at the core of Maryland’s second-largest plantation and an ironworks complex. The period of slavery at Hampton spanned more than a century and only ended when Maryland State law ended the institution in 1864. Farming and ironworking bound together enslavers, enslaved persons, indentured servants, convict laborers, immigrant laborers, paid artisans, and black free laborers. Together, these people shared a common history, connected through moments of collaboration and conflict.

The six largest enslavers in Baltimore County throughout the eighteenth century were the owners of ironworks. Those owners who had been British sympathizers lost their lands and laborers after the Revolutionary War. The Ridgelys grew their businesses by buying land and people who were already skilled as forge men, colliers, carpenters, and other related trades to work alongside already enslaved individuals and indentured servants at the Northampton Ironworks. As the Ridgelys’ farming interests increased, more enslaved people moved back and forth from farm to furnace.

Painting depicting enslaved workers on the plantation farm.
Enslaved workers working on the plantation farm by the overseer's house and slave quarters.

NPS/Harpers Ferry Center

From the colonial period through 1864, the Ridgelys enslaved over 500 people. Enslaved persons, from young children to the elderly, labored at Hampton and Northampton, as ironworkers, founders, limestone and marble quarriers, millers, blacksmiths, gardeners, dairymaids, jockeys, cobblers, seamstresses, woodcutters, field hands, carriage drivers, cooks, childcare providers, cleaners, builders and even overseers in the early days of the ironworks. All these positions combined to create a community within the plantation in which enslaved people held meetings, lived together, and practiced their religion while simultaneously being subject to cruel forms of control from enslavers and overseers.


Refuge for freedom seekers was much closer for enslaved persons at Hampton than for enslaved persons in the Deep South. Hampton was close to both the “free state” of Pennsylvania and the city of Baltimore, which had the largest free black population in the country in the years leading up to the Civil War. More than 80 people sought their freedom from Hampton, with different goals: escaping torturous conditions, establishing new lives as free persons, or reuniting with family.

An artist's depiction of a young African American boy and older African American man
Artist's depiction of a young African American boy and older African American man.

NPS/Harpers Ferry Center

Hampton is also the site of one of the largest manumissions in Maryland’s history. At the time of his death in 1829, Governor Charles Ridgely enslaved approximately 350 people scattered across several farms, the ironworks, mansion, and his Baltimore townhouse. In his will, Ridgely granted freedom to female enslaved persons between the ages of 25 and 45 and male enslaved persons between the ages of 28 and 45. Court cases amongst the Governor’s heirs, delayed manumissions, and the reality that freedom came for some family members but not others, particularly children, meant that enslaved families faced a difficult choice: was freedom worth the cost of separation? Those from 3 years of age to 27 were not old enough to be freed, nor were those over 45.

Those children, young adults, and older adults were willed to the governor’s eight heirs. However, Governor Ridgely’s eldest surviving son, John Ridgely, then inherited a plantation without laborers. The new head of the Hampton plantation chose to continue the family’s cruel tradition of enslavement by purchasing and enslaving an additional sixty. Until Maryland's general emancipation on November 1, 1864, John Ridgely would continue enslaving all but one of these individuals, his son Charles Hale Brown.

Researchers have a difficult task when it comes to the lives of enslaved people due to the lack of first-person accounts, although documentation recorded by the Ridgelys is extensive. The 2014 Historic Resource Study, based on both important documentary research in the 1990s and new investigations, expanded the National Park Service’s understanding of the lived experiences of indentured servants and enslaved persons. Most recently, a three-year Ethnographic Overview and Assessment for Hampton NHS from 2017-20 focused on establishing the connections of enslaved families in Hampton’s enslaved community: finding where the formerly enslaved lived in freedom and if they had living descendants. Primary sources, public records, research documents, oral histories and site visits have provided important discoveries in this ongoing work.


Learn more

  • African American man holding a wheelbarrow outside of the mansion
    Enslaved People

    Hampton was the second largest plantation in Maryland. Learn about the struggle, hardships, and lives of the enslaved.

  • A drawing of people at nighttime on a dirt road
    Freedom Seekers

    Learn all about people that would seek their freedom from Hampton.

  • Living Historian demonstrates the 19th century technique for harvesting corn.
    Free Black Laborers

    Free Black Laborers worked at Hampton for various reasons. A good amount did to eventually purchase their family members.

  • Hampton Carriage House (built c. 1850, image c. 1897), location of religious services led by Eliza R
    Religion and the Enslaved

    African Americans hosted their own religious services in the woods at Hampton and attending religious meetings with neighboring groups of fr

  • An artist's depiction of an overseer in the fields watching the enslaved. With a whip behind back.
    Forms of Control

    From physical to mental abuse for the youngest ages to the oldest. Learn about the harsh truths and forms of control.

  • Artist depiction of the iron making process.
    Working Conditions

    Accounts of the working conditions of the forced labor iron works.

  • Painting of Night scene of a battlefield with soldiers standing by cannons. Background are camps.
    Hampton During the Civil War

    The Ridgely's passed their lives without worry until it became apparent that a civil war was about to impact their lives.

  • c. 1897 image of a tenant farmer woman outside the Enslavement Quarters. NPS
    Study about the lives of the Enslaved

    Until now, the enslaved and their descendants remained under-researched. Read about our Ethnographic Overview and Assessment.

  • African American Woman, Nancy Davis, and little white girl Eliza Ridgely
    Learn about more
    People of Hampton

    Hundreds of people lived, worked, and were enslaved at Hampton coinciding America's development as a nation. Explore more of their stories.

Last updated: March 27, 2024

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

535 Hampton Lane
Towson, MD 21286


410-962-4290 (option 2)

Contact Us