Francesca: Today’s episode is the second of a special three-part segment that we recorded with Baltimore National Heritage Area on the topic of immigration history into Baltimore city. This episode will specifically cover the history of Irish immigrants coming into the city of Baltimore, as well as the role of both enslaved African Americans and freed African Americans moving into the city of Baltimore in the 19th century.
– Intro Music –
Peter: Welcome back Francesca.
Francesca: Hi Peter, it’s good to be back.
Peter: Yeah, and I’m ah, really excited to hear this next episode, where you were once again recording in Baltimore.
Francesca: Yeah, this is the next two panelists who spoke at this immigration history of Baltimore series that we recorded at the Baltimore Immigration Museum. In this episode, we’re going to hear from Conor Donnan, and he’s going to talk about Irish immigration, and Irish Americans early experiences in the 19th century in Baltimore. And then we’re also gonna hear from Prof. Brewer from Morgan State University, he studies the African diaspora within the United States of America and he is going to be talking about free African Americans who are moving into Baltimore at around the same time as the Germans and the Irish are. So—
Peter: So remind me, what is the timeframe?
Francesca: We’re mainly focusing on the 19th century, the 1800s.
Peter: An, and-and if you could, just give me a couple of brief highlights before you get into the conversations you have with them.
Francesca: Sure, sure. Some of the things that I found interesting that Conor spoke about were, similar to how Nick Fessenden mentioned in the last episode was the presence of the Know-Nothing Party and these anti-immigration sentiments and how that impacted Irish immigrants coming in who were seeking better opportunities, just like the German immigrants were. So that was something that was really interesting to me. Another point that I really, really need to clarify is, um, also when we talk about free African Americans coming into the city of Baltimore in the 19th century, and the role that they play in shaping the city of Baltimore just like all the other immigrant groups coming from other countries—
Francesca: —In that conversation with Prof. Brewer he also talks about enslaved African Americans, and enslaved African Americans are not immigrants.
Peter: Right, right.
Francesca: And we don’t want to mischaracterize that group in that way, cause we are framing this within, you know, a greater—
Peter: They didn’t voluntarily come here.
Francesca: No, they did not voluntarily come here! But, as Prof. Brewer is going to kind of dive into is how it’s-it’s impossible to talk about freed blacks without talking about enslaved African Americans. That they faced many of the same issues, and both of these groups played a role in shaping the character of Baltimore.
Francesca: Just as these other immigrant groups coming in from overseas, played a role in shaping the city and Baltimore’s character, Baltimore’s landscape, Baltimore’s makeup.
Peter: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to hearing your conversations with these folks, so, if you’re ready, let’s proceed.
Francesca: Yeah, yeah, uh—
Francesca: We can play them now. [laughter]
– Intro Music –
Francesca: Hello, and we are back. Ah, this is Francesca speaking, and I am here at the Baltimore Immigration Museum. We have Conor Donnan, a Board Member from the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore, and he is also a Doctoral student in History at the University of Pennsylvania. So, ah, Conor thank you for coming, welcome.
Conor: Thank you for having me, it’s great to be here.
Francesca: So today, Conor will be speaking about Irish immigration history, as well as Irish American history in the city of Baltimore, so um, could you give me a little background about those things, those topics.
Conor: The name Baltimore itself is an Irish name, it’s an English ver—, it’s an Anglicized version of an Irish name, which just means “the town of the big house.” And so when Baltimore is established in 1729, it’s attracting mostly English settlers, Irish Protestants who are now normally termed the Scott’s Irish but then who would have just considered themselves to be Irish people. And some Germans, and then a few African Americans who would have been slaves, and then that would only be like five percent of the population. So originally, Baltimore had a big Irish population from the start. It’s mostly Protestant immigrants and wealthier Irish Catholics until about 1830. And then 1840, the famine really changes the diaspora and you get a lot more working-class, rural Catholics who really start to outnumber people. The interesting thing about that period as well, is that originally it’s mostly men and families who come over immigrating to the, to Baltimore. But by the ah, 1840s, it’s usually single people, and the Irish diaspora is unique in that it’s the only diaspora I believe, ah, from Europe, in which women outnumber men. More women emigrate from Ireland than men do from the 1840s to the 1880s basically.
Francesca: You mentioned the potato famine—
Francesca: —In the 1840s as one reason why immigrants in that time period were coming over here. Were there other push-pull factors, reasons throughout the timeframe that you describe, why someone living in Ireland would chose to leave, but then also reasons why they would come to Baltimore, of all, of all destinations.
Conor: So, in the early 1800s with sort of the-the more skilled laborers, and wealthier Protestant merchants, Baltimore is a big merchant city, and it has a lot of connections to places like Liverpool, places like Derry in Ireland. So, a lot of Irish, wealthier Irish immigrants would come over to work as merchants. So that’s a big economic factor. Post-famine the major economic factors are, for women, land is being consolidated in Ireland after the famine. People are marrying at later rates, and the land which would normally have been divided up amongst the family is, is consolidated amongst the oldest son. So there’s less opportunities for marriage for women, and less opportunities for jobs. And there’s also for the-the like secondary sons, like the second, third, or fourth sons, there’s also less of a chance for them to become a landed small farmer. And that would push, that’s an economic factor that would push them out of Ireland. The big pull factor for Irish immigrants in the 1840s would have been the canals and the railroads. Railroad salaries were considered really good. You, an Irish immigrant coming in who was unskilled would, most typical Irish laborers would be unskilled in the 1840s, would make 15 dollars a month, which is more than they would make in a canal which is around 10 dollars a month, and more than they would make in Ireland. Some people estimated that in Ireland they would make about 10 dollars a year, a lot less. And so Irish immigrants are being pulled into Baltimore because of this sort of huge growing railroad industry that is rapidly expanding after the 1840s to the point that it needs massive amounts of cheap labor, and the Irish are able to provide that. German immigrants and other immigrants tend to be a little more skilled than the Irish so that they don’t take jobs in the railroad as much. And then the Irish people end up developing an expertise in working for the railroad which allows them to advance into more skilled positions of engineers and boiler makers and other jobs that only they really have the skills for because they were previously working on the railroad. The other factors would be sort of social factors that pushed, ah, Irish people out, especially Catholics. They’d, um, they’d lived under the penal laws in Ireland, which had restricted their ability to vote, their ability to make money, their land, until the 1820s. But by the 1840s, even with the Catholic emancipation it is, it is known as in Ireland, even with Catholic emancipation, most Irish, rural Irish laborers were poor and were subsisting on about 70 percent of what they needed, they would have needed another 30 percent, so that would push them into that. Also, Presbyterians and Methodists who were considered decenters, who were not apart of the Anglican Church, were also discriminated against, and that pushed them out of Ireland as well. And then another reason is politics. Baltimore attracts a lot of former Irish rebels. Ah, so people who participated in the Irish, the United Irishmen rebellion in 1798, a lot of them come to Baltimore in the 1800s. Some of them help found major industries, or major infrastructural developments in Baltimore such as the Maryland Medical School. When it’s originally founded it’s a lot of the Irish Presbyterians who had been a part of the United Irishmen Rebellion, and then the Young Irelanders of 1848, also a lot of them also settled in Baltimore too. So like, political reasons which is basically exile, the famine obviously being the biggest one which pushes Catholics out. Before the famine, I think it was around 300,000 people had left Ireland in the previous two or three decades to go to the United States. And after the famine, in that sort of 20 year period, it’s about 1.5 million, so it’s a huge jump. And it’s basically after, after the famine it’s such a huge mass exodus. Like, the Irish population is around 8 million people pre-famine, and then post-famine it’s about six million people, and it’s never recovered from that, it’s still 6 million people today. And so that mass exodus, people moved to America mostly, but then to also places like Australia and New Zealand as well. And then the American diaspora just sort of booms. Baltimore in particular, was ah, considered a good site for Irish Catholics because of the fact that it was seen as a safe haven. It was supposed to be a Catholic friendly, Maryland had a reputation for being friendly to Catholics. It had well known Irish Catholics who had had prominent positions like Charles Caroll of Carrollton who was of Irish decent, was the only Catholic signature of the Declaration of Independence. He was the person who laid the first stone on the B&L Railroad, and so people ha-had heard these stories about Maryland and Baltimore being a safe haven.
Francesca: Yeah, so in that process there are clearly many challenges that are pushing people to leave Ireland, as there were for many immigrant groups that we’ve been talking about today. What were some challenges that Irish immigrants faced when coming to Baltimore?
Conor: There were a variety of challenges that Irish immigrants faced, ah, arriving in Baltimore in the 19th century. Like I said, Baltimore had had a reputation for being more friendly towards Irish Catholics, but that, the reality is not necessarily the same as the reputation. The city’s Irish Catholics would have been in, like men particularly would be working on the railroad, maybe going out to the canal work. Women worked as domestic servants, and there was this lingering suspicion of Catholics that a predominantly Protestant nation, Protestant community had. There was a strong Catholic presence particularly in Maryland but there’s still major suspicion of Catholics, in particularl Irish Catholics because they were the poorest of the Catholic groups that came in. And so they faced economic discrimination. Employers in Maryland viewed Irish women as lazy and brutish, and the big worry was that Irish Catholic women would come into your home and taint the views of good, white, Protestant children. And so they didn’t want their-their children being under the influence of Catholicism. And, so if you look at political cartoons from the time period, Irish women often appear almost ape-like and subhuman, and this is like an argument made by many employers that they were lesser than Protestant workers—
Francesca: It sounds like lesser than human.
Conor: Yeah, yeah, even lesser than human. It’s very interesting, there’s ah, Thomas Nast, who, he’s a major political cartoonist at the time. All of his cartoons will portray Irish immigrants and Chinese immigrants as ape-like, but comparing them to other immigrant groups, like the other immigrant groups always come across as Anglicized, very well put together, their clothes were always very nice. Where Irish women or Chinese women, their clothes are always very shoddy and tattered, and obviously like I said the-the ape-like faces, this sort of sub-human category that you see immigrant groups being put in. There’s also examples of, the vast majority of examples of discrimination that you usually find are against women. There’s ah, I found when I was doing some research in Baltimore a few years back, over 20 ads, original ads, so some of these were repeated, but the 20 original advertisements in Baltimore’s newspapers between 1840 and 1860 that included the phrase “No Irish Need Apply,” and most of them were for the domestic service. So one advertisement appeared stated, “A girl wanted, 12 to 14 years old to attend to children and make herself useful, no Irish need apply.” And so that ran for like four or five days. And then employers would use other phrases that excluded immigrant groups as well, but mostly were aimed towards the Irish. So stuff like “American preferred” or “Protestant preferred,” would also appear. And sometimes it might say “American” or “German” or the-the language of the time would be “Colored person preferred.” So all of those groups would be included, and then the only other group that would be excluded then if you look at those three groups is usually the Irish. The employers also, like, they very, like they used tactics to make the Irish and other groups that would be in sort of more working class conditions, rivals, and put them in competition with each other. So like, one of the big examples is hiring Irish people for traditionally black jobs. That happened a lot. Ah, Frederick Douglass actually mentioned this in one of his books where he says every day we lose one of our jobs to a person from the Emerald Isle. That usually, like jobs like a barber or a waiter, like those types of jobs that had traditionally been black, can either go to the Irish at the expense of black people, free black people or slaves. And then they also go to black people at the expense of the Irish, and employers conscientiously pit them against each other, you know because they are worried of cross-workers solidarity. Outside of economic discrimination, like I mentioned before this, anti-Irish economic discrimination coincides with just a growing anti-Irish feeling within Baltimore’s population. And, this sort of rise of nativism that’s going on throughout all of America. And the American Party, or the Know-Nothing Party as its commonly referred to, has a very strong presence in Maryland. It had won the Governor’s chair in 1857, which is not unusual, but it’s still, it’s one of the only states where they won the Governor’s chair. And so Baltimore’s streets was, were known for having a lot of Know-Nothing gangs and nativist gangs. Like the Blood Tubs and the Black Snakes, and these gangs were particularly vicious during the election season. They would engage in battles with the Irish community over Irish people who tended to vote Democrat, and Know-Nothing gangs who were pro-Republican or the American Party at the time would battle in the streets. And like, Irish churches would be burnt down by some of these gangs. There’s like a local legend that the reason there are rails on Saint Patrick’s Church is because the local priest installed them in order to avoid attacks. And then the newspapers weren’t particularly friendly to the Irish whenever these battles did occur, this, basically turf wars over political parties. They would often insinuate that the Irish started it and referred to them as beastly aliens who stood against American values.
Francesca: Similar to those artistic depictions you mentioned earlier.
Conor: Yeah, yeah. So similar that, to the, to the depictions of Thomas Nast and others. It, so like in 1856 the newspapers talked about beastly aliens attacking peaceful American fishing parties, even though like it was entirely a turf war over who was like, trying to control votes for either Democrats or Republicans. So you see this rise in anti-Irish feeling both economically and politically, and just socially in terms of like the depictions in the newspaper, the way things were worded, that it seems to most Anglo-Americans in-in their mind that the Irish are incompatible with like American democracy. They have an inability to understand Republican values, and they are basically unable to play into the politics of respectability, which is just like the good behavior that you have in public. And so this is their way of pushing for Irish immigrants to assimilate into American society.
Francesca: Ah, so we’ve talked a great deal about challenges faced by Irish immigrants and then Irish Americans in Baltimore. What are some success stories?
Conor: One of the ones that I think of, ah, pre-famine there’s an immigrant John Crawford who moves from Ireland to Baltimore, ah, because he’s encouraged to by his brother-in-law who’s already at Baltimore and is a merchant. And so John Crawford is a qualified doctor, and he basically helps establish the medical infrastructure in Baltimore. He creates connections with a lot of the most prominent doctors in England and is given the small pox vaccination. And he uses the small pox vaccination in Baltimore, around the same time that it’s being used in Boston, and so he is most likely one of the first people to use a vaccination in the United States of America. He also helps found the Maryland Medical School, it’s called the Medical College of Maryland, and donates his library to the college after he dies. And so that becomes the first actual library in the University of Maryland system. And so the entire library is built from the Irish immigrant who also introduced the small pox vaccine to the United States. Post-famine, ah, our museum tends to—
Francesca: By that you mean the Irish Railroad Workers Museum?
Conor: —Yeah, tends to focus more on the working-class Irish who came into the country. So our success stories always focus on people who worked on the railroad, and moved their way up. One of the examples of that is this immigrant called James Feeley who moves the United States, into Baltimore in 1847 which is the height of the famine. He gets on a ship, which at that time they’re known as coffin ships, because many of the immigrants who make the journey die. In fact, in that year alone, in 1847, you have 17,000 people die on coffin ships. And so, he moves to Baltimore, settles in the southwest side of the city and marries Sarah Liberty in 1854, works on the railroad and by 1880 he’s went from unskilled laborer on the railroad to skilled worker in the boiler shop. He came with basically no money and was illiterate, and by the end of the 1880s he owns two houses, one for his family and then one that he rents to make additional income. And so this is a working class person from rural Ireland who was illiterate, and didn’t have any money coming over, most likely had his fare paid for by one of the landlords who wanted him off of his property so he didn’t have to pay poor law taxes. And he makes his way to homeownership, all of his kids receive an education at St. Peter of the Apostol or one of the local schools, they all get skilled positions or become teachers. He is able to provide a house for them, a family, as a working-class story goes it doesn’t get much more successful than coming from literally nothing to being able to own your own house, and you’re having a very skilled job that people respect you for, and your children being able to then even surpass your own wealth.
Francesca: That sounds like the definition of success to me. Ah, thank you for sharing these stories. How do you feel these stories of Irish immigrants and Irish Americans in Baltimore, how do they resonate today?
Conor: Today we see a lot of similarities between what’s going with Irish immigrants and other immigrant groups or refugee groups coming into the United States in that, their circumstances are different of course, but you find a lot hostile reactions in some part of the media and in lots of the country who would portray the-their culture as different and alien and in some ways maybe even primitive and backwards, which is exactly what Irish immigrants faced in their own arrival to the United States. People who didn’t understand their culture and didn’t understand their religious background, and so like, you often see these hostile reactions, but what you really find with immigrant groups in-in general, like with the Irish as an example, but I think even throughout time, is that they’re usually just positive-minded people who are moving to a different country. Not necessarily because it’s what they want, but it’s because they see a better life there. Ah, a better potential life that they can make for their family or their future family. Jobs, ah, that they can work in and, ah, maybe a community that they can build. And so they often are looking forward in time and building this positive community, which I think immigrant groups have done throughout time and continue to do even despite hostile reactions. And so if the Irish are anything as a group, I think it’s a good example of what a group who have been despised or disliked can do when they move, when they are given the ability to move freely and work and just live their lives.
Francesca: That sounds like hope.
Conor: Yeah, and-and so, yeah, I think that what museums, ah, like the immigration museum and the Irish Railroad Workers Museum do is provide a great example of what immigrants have done to build this country and continue to do and will continue to do.
Francesca: Thank you, thank you so much Conor.
– Music Reprise –
Francesca: Hello, this is Francesca, back again. I am now going to be speaking with Prof. Brewer at Morgan State University. He teaches history, specifically African American history and African diaspora within the United States, so Prof. Brewer, thank you for coming here to speak today.
Prof. Brewer: Thank you, you’re welcome, and thank you. And so I’m a-a professor of history at Morgan State University, my area of specialization is African American history and the history of the African diaspora. Ah, I work mostly in the late 18th and 19th century, and so I will talk about the African Americans who, ah, for the most part and specifically the free African Americans who make a life for themselves, ah, in Baltimore. If we look at the history of African Americans in Baltimore city, Baltimore emerged, ah, as a trading point nexus after the American Revolution, this means at the end of the 18th century. This is around 1800, for-for a rough date. And it was a terminus point, not just for goods that were being produced on farms, but more and more wheat, a being brought from the west with the establishment of the canals and railroads. They were bringing wheat from Ohio and-and further out west into the port of Baltimore, and then exporting it, shipping it into the Atlantic world. Um, so Baltimore grew after the American Revolution. But several things happened simultaneously. Tobacco, which declined in influence, ah, after the American Revolution, well that meant that the sort of structures of the economy that supported tobacco also were now in crisis. And tobacco was a crop that was grown as ah, and produced by slave labor, and that slave labor was African American labor. So that meant that the people who owned the land, ah, and who controlled those tobacco plantations, you know had to figure out what are they now gonna do? You now have like a surplus of labor; several things happen. One of the solutions I guess you could say, that took place, again after the American Revolution and with the rise of wheat and this transition from a tobacco economy, is that cotton production emerged, but not here in Maryland, deeper, further down w-what we refer to as the deep south in the lower Mississippi Valley, where large acres of land, thousands and tens of thousands acres of land now went under cotton cultivation. But for that cotton crop to be grown, you needed labor. And so the-the new, expanding plantation owners of that part of the country turned to Maryland, what we now, what we would call the upper south, that’s Maryland and Virginia and parts of Carolina and Kentucky, for labor. And so a slave trade developed after the Louisiana Purchase, this is after 1803. Alright, a slave trade developed where Marylanders, because we’re talking about Baltimore, Marylanders are sold to south, black Marylanders are sold south. So part of that surplus labor that was now because of the decline in-in tobacco has shifted south now, for cotton production. And so a large part of that black labor force of Maryland goes south. That’s one. Another thing is happening after the American Revolution besides the decline of tobacco, is that the American Revolution produces a new sort of a idea about freedom. It-it really is an important thing. Sometimes it’s overlooked. And so the Maryland state assembly liberalized the manumission laws, they made it easier for plantation owners to free, agree to have their slaves free. It made it easier for slaves to negotiate or buy their freedom. Alright, even though it was a long process, but nonetheless, ah, they made those things available and made it more possible. And so we would saw those large numbers, again following the liberalization of the manumission laws in the 1790’s and 1780’s, right after independence. You-you saw hundreds, may-perhaps thousands of-of blacks who were formerly enslaved, gaining their freedom that way. Another way that blacks began to gain their freedom was ah, because of the war itself, the-the very war. And in the Revolutionary War, you know wars create crises, wars are a product of crises, but they also create crisis. And one crisis of war is ah, for labor, you need bodies to fight the war, to supply, to help, etcetera. And there’s a shortage, and so they make it easy, or try to make it easier given the incentive, you know, to get people. And so ah, th-those who are fighting on the side of the-the Patriots started to supply blacks. Now it was, it wasn’t so simple. Many, ah, slave owners, ah, they had mixed feelings about it, were against the idea you know of allowing blacks to have guns. Huh, they’re-they’re slaves after all. So they debated it over a while, but it became obvious that this was ah, to their advantage. And so, again they created a whole variety of opportunities, and one such, one such was they would grant people freedom on condition that, you know you fight in the war, you come back. So through war, African Americans fought in the war, alright, on the side of the Patriots. They gain their freedom, and there are specific people who we-we kind of know some—a bit about their histories. You know, ah, were veterans of this particular war. So we get hundreds of people gaining their freedom that way. And when that war settles, you know, things settle down, but people now move. They’re now in towns, they’re in new places, they’re-they reconstruct their identities. They take on these new identities. And-and so again, a-another means through which African Americans who were formerly enslaved becomes, ah, free. At the end of the war, at the end of this period by the-the first decade of the, of the, of the 19the century, are, there’s just this large body now, of-of-of-of blacks who are now free, who are now no longer living on farms in the rural areas on the eastern shore in southern Maryland, are now living in the towns, are now living in Alexandria, Virginia, are now living in Washington, the new town that’s being built, are now living in Baltimore, right. Ah, have moved up to Philadelphia, many of them ran up into the north because Pennsylvania had abolished slavery. But this general area itself, you have this large black population that’s been put into the urban areas. And-and so you have to put that story side-by-side with the development of Baltimore itself—
Prof. Brewer: —As this emerging trading town. And what does a trading town need? A trading town needs folks on the docks, people who ah, you know longshore, ah stevedores, you know, loading and unloading stuff. People who are making wire and making thread, and-and making hull cane, their doing a whole bunch of things that are connected to the shipping business, to trading, and to-to those sorts of things that are emerging. And so, many of these, ah, African Americans who would have come to the city are attracted by that, that is the, that is the industry if you like that they gather around, alright, the port. And they’re doing sundry other types of labor in construction, you know. Just, and so it’s a booming place actually, and the folks who are the business people, who are speculators, and the folks who want to make money in this new environment, you know, they’re not really too interested in what their particular status is, and so these individuals, they-they will hire you. You know, you’re available, ah, you, I can pay you a kind of wage that allows you to work, but I can make my profits from paying you that wage, etcetera. So, so Baltimore itself from its very origin consists of a, of a bustling, growing little port town, that will become the city that has this large layer of free blacks around. Now, that’s-that’s the first wave if you like of-of free blacks, ah, in-in Baltimore at its very settlements. Veterans, people who have ah been manumitted, you know, who’ve won their freedom, who’ve bought their freedom. Ah, people who’ve run away. They’re all, they’re all there. At the same time that they’re there, they do live in Maryland. You know, Baltimore is part of Maryland. And-and Maryland is a state that has the second largest black population in the United States at this point, right? So in, if you look at the 1800’s census, the 1810’s census, for Virginia and Maryland, the two, those two states are comprised of most of black people in the United States, live in those states. Most of them are enslaved, but also which is a kind of, it looks strange in contrast, it also has the largest free black population. So it has both the largest slave population, but also the largest free black population. The result of those changes that had taken place. So, Baltimore has a base, it’s got this population. And as the city grows into the twen—into the 19th century, as the economy grows, ah, that black population reproduces itself, meaning that free black population reproduces itself. Meanwhile, the enslaved population of Maryland is declining, this large population is declining because of that boom in cotton that I spoke of. So enslaved blacks are being sold south, you know, when that free black population is growing. If we had a graph and you put the two things side by side you would see the decline in the slave population and the growth in the free black population, that’s what’s happening. And in Balti, in the whole state, and in Baltimore it is even more pronounced, that the free black population is growing at an even larger rate, and that the slave population keeps declining. By the 1860’s, by the time slavery is abolished by the Maryland state assembly in 1864, there area actually more free blacks in the city of Baltimore than there are enslaved blacks in the city of Baltimore. So throughout the 19th century the free black population of Baltimore surpassed the enslaved black population of Baltimore. This gave Baltimore a peculiar character actually, this-this, that little statistic there. Because it means that if you were a cop walking the beat, in Baltimore, you know by the, by the harbor there, or where-where immigrants from Germany had sort of crowded and come around, and those sorts of things in different parts of the town, and you came across a black person, odds are that that black person was free. Now that’s quite different than if you were in another kind of city, right, further into the interior, further south, where you saw a black person and you were going to assume that that black person was an, was an enslaved person. And this, this of course meant that for enslaved people who wanted to escape, leave the particular areas, especially the farms around Baltimore, the city is a good place to get to. You know, that people, you could lose yourself in the free black population of Baltimore. Alright. And that became more and more the case. It is very instructive to look at the runaway ads, the runaway slave ads, which had always, and my students have always enjoy. We do these analyses of these runaway slave ads in the Baltimore papers, in the Washington papers, every week virtually somebody is advertising, and paying to advertise that their slave has runaway, and they believe that that slave is in Baltimore. So again, that, it’s giving us a sense, you know, why would you go here. Why wouldn’t they run, you know, or try to get to an-another place? And oftentimes as well, you’ll see little pieces of, little comments in those slave ads, that they, it is believed they have family there, right ah, or that they might have a wife there, you know? So they’re telling us these details to which, are also interesting too, because A) those people think, well, but were they allowed to get married? Well, maybe the law may have said one thing, but in terms of their own lives and those communities that they lived in and they were. But-but then again, a larger point here is that they are families, you know, these are communities. And these are families that exist inter-regionally, and they exist beyond the farm. The most famous case of course is of Frederick Douglass, and everybody kind of, many people know that story, you know, him coming from the eastern shore, and coming from Talbot county, and the fact that, ah, the family he left behind knew he was in Baltimore. They know where family members are and these people reach out. But not only do the families have these connections, the plantation owners have these connections, that’s important to know, plantation owners might own property in Baltimore city, you know with the, with the plantation, you know, on the eastern shore, with the plantation in Southern Maryland or some other place. And therefore have family members at the different property locations. There’s a case of Charles Benedict Calvert, famous Calvert family, who owned several properties, several plantations, something like six or seven, throughout the state of Maryland. But family members lived in different plantations, some in Prince George’s county, some you know on the eastern shore, some in Howard county. Different, different places. And-and members of families moved around in these different areas. So the freed black population then that comes to Baltimore, it is part of Baltimore, it grows with Baltimore, indeed it stamps Baltimore with a particular character. One of the things that free blacks do, once they become free, is to attempt to consolidate their freedom, right. And how do you consolidate your freedom? You create institutions, alright, and-and so freed blacks create institutions in Baltimore. The basic institution is the church, alright, so the first African American institutions that you’ll see in Baltimore are churches. Alright, Sharp Street, Bethel, you know, the A&E church itself has its roots, not just in Philadelphia, but in Baltimore. Ah, Daniel Coker, one of the founders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, I said the A&E African Methodist Episcopal Church, you know was a Baltimorean. They’re, you know, that’s what they create, they create an institution. Ah, they buy property when they can, and if they can. They create a school here, you know, the African Institution, the institute they call it, they, with their own money. There’s not a lot of money, but they create that. Francis Ellen Watkins Harper is like the most famous example from Baltimore. You know, from that free black community, of that institution building, you know of school. As an educator that she was, a woman who wrote that novel, “Iola Leroy,” one of the first novels written by an African American. Ah, it’s, she’s a product of that free black community, you know. So, property ownership, school, churches, you know, those are all the different ways people can consolidate their power. So, the free population is growing, Baltimore is growing with that free population, and those things reinforce each other. They shape the city, the nature and characters of the city, and the city itself of course shapes them. It starts off with those large, if we might kind of look at that arc, it starts off with the dislocation of war, ah, people using that opportunity of war, to-to run to, and get to their freedom, into to a new, a-a new place, a place of opportunity, this new city and town that’s growing. You know where, where it doesn’t really have old habits, you know, it’s new. You know, it’s kind of like any new neighborhood. You know, people, people can really think about themselves today when they move into a new neighborhood. When I say new neighborhood, I mean like the neighborhood itself is new, these new sub developments, everybody is coming from somewhere else.
Francesca: An-and that’s what Baltimore was in the 19th century?
Prof. Brewer: Baltimore was that type of place, everybody’s coming from somewhere else. So, so you don’t kind of fault, to a default you know to where this is your place and that’s your place, and know your place and stay in your place, no. Everybody now, is kind of like figuring out, hey, how do we relate to each other? That’s the kind of place Baltimore is. So therefore, it’s an opportunity for-for African Americans, in that sort of scenario. You know, even though they are from Maryland, they are from the countryside. You know, so this new town is a new completely sort of game that is going on there. And so they take advantage where they can take advantage, you know, they try to use it to their advantage. And do these things you know, building institutions and-and what have you. So that’s, that’s what’s happening in, you know, in that period.
Francesca: Thank you for all of that overview, it’s a lot of history to cover. I guess, my question now is given the very specific challenges to African Americans whether they were enslaved or free, coming into Baltimore, do you feel in anyway that those challenges that people were facing in the 19th century, are there any, are there any ripples that we see resonating today?
Prof. Brewer: The legacy of slavery is what—so slavery is everybody’s heritage. You know, that’s, that’s basically what I say. That it’s part of our heritage, and as Americans it’s apart of our heritage. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, slavery is part of your heritage. It’s kind of like the flag, or it’s kind of like the Constitution, you know, the Constitution is our heritage. Alright, it’s what the people who were before left for us. So they left some good stuff, they left some bad stuff, you know, but they left it to us, we inherited that. Ah, and there are people, you know, who say this all the time, “Well my parents came here before, you know, after slavery was over so that’s got nothing to do with me.” Well the Constitution was written before your parents came here too, you wouldn’t say that it has nothing to do with you, right? It’s all got, everything’s got everything to do with you. So it’s like, we-we should all claim it, you know, and kind of try to understand it. But we cannot go back into the past and change it, sorry, it’s gone. You know, but we can hope to understand it, and that’s really the best we can do. And of course slavery’s shadow was cast over the period after slavery. Ah, we had to deal also, I think one of the difficult things for people is like the divide of Jim Crow, segregation, and slavery. They’re really not the same thing. And you know that’s a whole other kind of history, which is tied to slavery, but Jim Crow is something else, and in many ways we-we live under the shadow of Jim Crow. You know, it-it, it officially ended in ’68, you know, in ’66, and that whole period, ’64, the Civil Rights Act and all of those things like that. But then, we’re living you know in the shadow, this is the period after that. You don’t really, you know historians is like 50 years from now will give this a name, the period we’re in, we’re-we’re probably in, we’re mostly, we’re in a new period, and we can see certain, ah, aspects of it are coming to the forward. You know it’s not exactly clear, but you-you know, I think, an-and I’m generally a kind of optimist in a certain kind of way, even though you’re, you kind of know what the past is, so you’re not surprised at things when they happen. And you just see parallels all the time, so you hope that well, you know they’re good things that happens sometimes as well, so you kind of hope. But we’re, we’re free beings, right, we’re free, we’re free individuals, and we can make, we make decisions. Sometimes we make bad decisions and try to come and correct it, and it’s like ah, so bad. And in correcting the problems of the past we create new problems, you know, unintentionally, you know that happens as well. So I’m just saying that this is a kind of a complicated picture, it’s not always, it’s not so easy to say, okay you know, what are we gonna learn, and we can see parallels, but at the same time this is the elements, you know, in terms of what we do.
Francesca: Thank you so much for speaking today, we really appreciate having you on, thank you so much.
Prof. Brewer: Thank you.
– Outro Music –
Francesca: For today’s episode we owe a special thank you to Baltimore National Heritage Area’s Director of Programs and Partnerships, Shauntee Daniels, who organized this panel of speakers.
– Outro Music –
Francesca: This podcast series is produced by the National Park Service Northeast Regional Office. Today’s episode was edited by myself and Volunteer Audio Engineer, Suzie Calarco. The episode’s music was performed by Suzie and Sam Wolf. Thanks for tuning in and have an amazing day.
– Outro Music –
In this episode, Francesca speaks with two more guest panelists at the Baltimore Immigration Museum. Conor Donnan, Board Member of the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, talks about Irish immigration history in Baltimore. Prof. Herbert Brewer from Morgan State University talks about how enslaved and freed African Americans, while not "immigrants," also shaped the city of Baltimore in the 1800s.