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, which spanned more than a century, encompassed the American Revolution and the Civil War, only ending when Maryland State law ended the institution in 1864. Farming and ironworking bound together slaveowners, 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.
From the colonial period through 1864, the Ridgelys enslaved over 500 people. African American 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 forms of control from slaveholders 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 punishing conditions, establishing new lives as free persons, or returning to family at other Maryland plantations.
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 owned nearly 350 enslaved individuals 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, which meant that enslaved families faced a difficult choice: was freedom worth the cost of separation? Children aged 3 to young adults of 27 were not old enough to be freed, nor were those over 45.
Last updated: June 25, 2020