David B. Simons

Seated portrait of David B. and Margaret Simons
David B. and Margaret Simons

Courtesy of the Sharpsburg Museum of History

Quick Facts

David B. Simons was a teacher and a leader in the African American community in Sharpsburg, Maryland during Reconstruction. He was born into slavery in 1832 in Maryland. At the age of 21, he became a free man. He settled in Sharpsburg, a rural town in Washington County, where roughly half of the African Americans were free. He and his wife, Margaret, were living in Sharpsburg in September 1862, when Union and Confederate troops fought at the Battle of Antietam in the countryside adjacent to the town. 

Simons learned how to read and write before 1860, even though African Americans in rural Maryland had virtually no opportunities to attend school. In part because of these skills, he took on a leading role in the local African American community after Maryland abolished slavery in 1864. He was among the founding members of Tolson’s Chapel, a Methodist church that organized in 1865. When the congregation purchased land in 1867 and 1883, Simons was one of the church trustees listed on the deed. His oldest son, James, later served as a preacher in the church. 

Simons passed along his commitment to education to his own children and to the African American community in Sharpsburg. A Northern teacher who arrived in Sharpsburg to open a school for African Americans in the spring of 1868 reported that eight of the students, some of them former slaves, already knew how to read. Simons’s eight-year-old son James was almost certainly among these eight students. As one of the few literate African Americans in Sharpsburg, David Simons may have taught other African American children and adults as well.

In the late 1860s, the African American community in Sharpsburg turned to the Freedmen’s Bureau for assistance in getting teachers from the North. David Simons likely participated in this effort. He undoubtedly knew Samuel F. Ferguson, the young man who sent letters to the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1868 and 1869 requesting a teacher for Sharpsburg. Ferguson was a fellow member of Tolson’s Chapel, and lived in the Simons household in 1870. As a trustee of Tolson’s Chapel, Simons was probably involved in the decision to allow the teachers from the Freedmen’s Bureau to use the church as a schoolhouse in 1868 and 1869.

A public school for African Americans opened in Sharpsburg in 1872. Simons actively supported the school, which was located in Tolson’s Chapel by the fall of 1873. He taught the school from 1874 until 1877, and his eighteen-year-old son James began teaching in 1878. David Simons also served as a school trustee from 1877 until his death in 1908 at the age of seventy-six. Simons is buried in the Tolson’s Chapel cemetery, along with his wife Margaret, three of their children, and one grandchild.