Maryland has always been a border state in the sense that it lies geographically between what is considered north (Pennsylvania) and south (Virginia) with very different economies and culture. Maryland represented the dichotomy United States in microcosm, holding African Americans in bondage until November 1, 1864, while also having a significant free-black population.
Maryland was founded as a British colony in 1634. By 1640, there were 600 European colonists and 20 Africans for a ratio of 30:1. Within 20 years that figure jumped to 11:1 and laws were deemed “necessary” to control the enslaved and indentured servant populations. Laws codified “white privilege” to separate indentured European servants from the enslaved Africans in order prevent them from conspiring to cause insurrection. The institutionalization of African chattel slavery in Maryland and other English colonies was propelled by the passage of laws created to control the laboring population.
In the 1720s and ‘30s Frederick County in Mid-Maryland was predominately populated by English/Scottish settlers arriving from eastern Maryland and Germans from Pennsylvania with an agricultural economy based largely on grain production and processing. While the type of agriculture in this part of the state was seasonal, and not as labor intensive as tobacco and cotton, there was a steady increase in enslaved labor in the county. Renting out slaves was not uncommon, and many also worked in the Catoctin mines, or were skilled craftsmen. In 1850, 11 years prior to the Civil War, there were 33,314 whites, 3,760 free blacks, and 3,913 enslaved persons in Frederick County. To give that some perspective, that is an increase of 23.7% of white people, 1,665% increase of free blacks, and 7.5% increase of enslaved persons from the 1790 census; the second highest increase of enslaved people during that time in the state.
Who were these individuals and what was their story? As they were considered “property,” their history was not recorded except for tax lists, sale of property, wills and such. As historians we struggle to put together the puzzle of their lives and hope for some record, letter, diary, or family history to surface. We scour through newspapers and courthouse records for some trace of lives lived that worked the land on this battlefield, used their skills as carpenters, musicians, and blacksmiths to better the lives of those who held them in bondage. Slowly we are beginning to learn more about the people whose history has till now been elusive, ignored, and even actively erased. We will continue to edit this page and add information as we discover and reclaim the stories of the people who helped shape this landscape.
Documented Enslaved Individuals Associated with Monocacy Junction
L’Hermitage / Best Farm
1793 slave registration:
Seized in August 1781:
1860 Frederick County Slave Schedule:
Further research needed.
Further research needed, but initial reviews do not reveal that the Gambrills directly owned any slaves. However, regardless of whether the Gambrills owned slaves, they would have benefitted from the work of enslaved laborers. Most grains processed in their mill would have been grown and harvested with the use of enslaved laborers.
Last updated: September 23, 2020