Friday, February 21, 2014

African Americans in the State House

Frustratingly for everyone, the eighteenth-century lives of freed and enslaved African Americans are largely undocumented. However, occasionally, clues to these experiences appear in unexpected places. A search through eighteenth-century payment records for the Old Senate Chamber, for instance, can reveal some unexpected details about Maryland’s early workforce.

On March 15, 1784, the State of Maryland documented a payment for 9 shillings and 6 pence to a “Negro Cardy” for sweeping the chimney in the Court House.[1] To date, this is the earliest record of a free or enslaved African American working in the State House or on its grounds. Between 1784 and 1785, Cardy received at least three more documented payments from the state for chimney sweeping in the Court House and State House.

The earliest known payment record to a free or enslaved African American for work on State House grounds. Cardy's name appears on the fifth line from the top. Maryland State Archives, MSA S1005-97, p.37.

But how can we learn more about Cardy? Unfortunately, eighteenth-century records rarely provide details on Maryland’s free or enslaved workforce. An extensive search through census, court, manumission, land records, and even poll books provided no further detail on Cardy’s life in Annapolis. What we do know from these three state payment records, however, is that Cardy was paid for his labor. The payment made out to him suggests that Cardy was either a freed man, born free, or allowed to work for his profit.

Cardy was not the only African American to have worked in the State House. In 1804 and 1805, the Treasury made several payments to a “Negro Moses” for cleaning the public temple, or bathroom, on State House grounds.

An image of the public temple, on the far right in an engraving of the State House, attributed to Charles Willson Peale, 1789. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 194-3.

Moses was likely a former slave of Rezin Hammond’s, a local property owner in Anne Arundel County. A member of the Maryland legislature, Hammond owned seventy slaves, seven of whom, on April 10, 1804, he granted deeds of manumission - including one to a man named Moses.[3] As the only known Moses in Anne Arundel County at the time, he is very likely the same “Negro Moses” who was paid for cleaning the public temple in 1804 and 1805. It is possible Hammond used his influence at the State House to assist Moses in finding employment. Upon his death in 1809, Hammond freed all of his slaves, and provided many of them with tenant houses.

These records, as little light as they might shed on the lives of Moses and Cardy, are still highly significant pieces of information. Thanks to these records, another clue has been added to help puzzle together the lives of African Americans in eighteenth-century Maryland.

To learn more about slavery in Maryland, we encourage you to take a look at the Maryland State Archives’ Legacy of Slavery project and database.

[1] Maryland State Papers (Scharf Collection), 1784, MSA S 1005-97, MdHR 19,999-86-144, page 37.
[2] Governor and Council (Proceedings) 1799-1807 MSA S 1071-30.
[3] Hynson, Jerry M. Maryland Freedom Papers, Volume 1: Anne Arundel County. Westminster: Family Line Press, 1996, p.4.

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