Category: History

Seeking Proposals for Contract Researcher

Baltimore Heritage is seeking proposals to undertake a survey of African American heritage sites within the Old West Baltimore National Register Historic District. The work will include documenting historic sites in a spreadsheet format and preparing Maryland Inventory of Historic Places forms for five places.

Update: With regard to COVID-19, this position does not require in-person contact or in-person meetings. It does require research that could include accessing physical collections and archives at places like the Pratt Library, the Afro-American archives, and other repositories. Currently, these are closed to visitors and re-opening schedules have not been announced. If it is determined that accessing physical collections is a necessary part of this research, and these places remain closed for an extended period of time, we will work with the contractor to adjust schedules and expectations.

The deadline to apply in August 21, 2020.

To apply, please follow the instructions in our Request for Proposals. 

For questions, please contact Baltimore Heritage director Johns Hopkins at 410-332-9992 or hopkins@baltimoreheritage.org.

 

Mapping Sites of Baltimore’s Slave Trade on This Juneteenth

Baltimore Heritage is thrilled that Juneteenth is receiving more attention this year. This day commemorates when the last enslaved people received news of emancipation. In recognition of this profound holiday, we would like to share some information on Baltimore’s role in the slave-trade in the 19th century. One of our dedicated volunteers, Richard Messick, has spearheaded this research and in his guest blog below, he gives us some insight into what he has found. Thank you Richard!

I once took a tour at Hampton National Historic Site by Park Ranger Anokwale Anansesemfo called “Forced Servitude at Hampton.” The tour described the variety of labor used by the Ridgely family to operate their estate: indentured servants, prisoners of war, and the enslaved community. It was a profound and moving experience that sent me off on a research project to learn more about slavery in Baltimore.

After its incorporation in the late 18th century, the population of Baltimore grew very quickly. One of the many “trades” that grew along with the city was the sale of enslaved people. Two things contributed to this phenomenon. First, local farmers had shifted from a labor-intensive tobacco crop to the growing of cereal grains, which required less work. This caused a surplus of slave labor. Secondly, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793. This new machine could quickly and easily separate cotton fibers from their seeds. From this, the cotton industry became incredibly profitable, which caused an increase in the need for cheap and enslaved labor in the South.

The market for the sale of people that grew up in and around Maryland was extensive. From here, I began locating and mapping the places in early 19th century Baltimore where enslaved people were sold. One resource in particular, Ralph Clayton’s book, Cash for Blood: The Baltimore to New Orleans Domestic Slave Trade, was very helpful. Although many of the associated buildings no longer exist, the overall map shows the deeply interwoven relationship between the trade of human beings and our streets of Baltimore.

— Richard Messick

How Canton Got Its Name (Probably)

We recently shared one of our Five Minute Histories videos on Captain John O’Donnell and the early origins of the Canton neighborhood. We asked the question of whether Canton really got its name from O’Donnell, a ship captain who traded in Canton, the anglicized name of Guangzhou, China. And we got the help we needed! 

Minutes after we published our video, Baltimore historian Wayne Schaumburg replied with some insight. Apparently we are not the first folks to wonder about this, and a book called Historic Canton by Norman Rukert may shed some light. Here’s the gist of the story. 

In 1935, two members of the Maryland Historical Society looked into whether Captain O’Donnell was the source of the name Canton. Based on meticulous research, Dr. Henry Berkley mapped out the area into original land grants, quit rents, and Calvert Family papers. His colleague James Hancock looked at the map and noticed that in 1652 (yes, 1652!) there were two parcels near today’s Baltimore that he read as “North Canton” and “South Canton.” This would have been over 100 years before John O’Donnell sailed into Baltimore in 1785 as one of the first American captains to trade with China. 

From the book, “Historic Canton,” by Norman Ruckert

However, the author of Historic Canton, Norman Rukert, didn’t fully believe Hancock’s reading of the word Canton and so he went back to the original Calvert papers himself. He found the parcels were not called Canton, but Conton with an “o” not an “a.” Humm.

To make matters more confusing, a reporter from the “East Baltimore Guide” then took a stab at the original research. He found the 1652 reference to the Conton parcels, and another reference dating to 1682, 30 years later but still way before Captain O’Donnell’s time. In this reference, one Robert Clarkson transferred a 245-acre parcel called Conton and later in the same document transferred the same 245-acre parcel but this time called it Canton. Didn’t anybody teach spelling back then?

Despite the flip-flops in spelling, the final chapter of the saga sheds some light. Upon investigation with the State Archives, the East Baltimore Guide reporter found that the locations of the parcels in question named either Conton or Canton (or both!) are described as on the west side of the Chesapeake and on the south side of the Patapsco near a place called Rumly Marsh. That’s all it took for the intrepid reporter to know for certain that these early parcels had nothing to do with Captain O’Donnell’s land. He knew that although today’s Canton could be described as being on the west side of the Chesapeake, it is certainly not on the south side of the Patapsco and is nowhere near Rumly Marsh.

So, whatever parcels may have been called Conton or Canton in the 1600s, they were not the nearly 2000-acre parcel that Captain O’Donnell amassed in the late 1700s and is today’s Canton neighborhood. We know that the good captain called his estate Canton, and the dogged search through historical records shows he was almost certainly the first one to do so. Case closed, we say! 

The Northampton Furnace Archaeology Project: An Update from One of Our Micro-Grant Recipients

At our annual preservation micro-grant event in October, Baltimore Heritage gave archaeologist Adam Fracchia $250 to help with his archaeological exploration of the lives of enslaved people and convict labor at the ruins of the former Northampton furnace iron foundry (near Hampton Mansion). The project has already yielded many fascinating results! Please enjoy our guest blog post by Dr. Fracchia (fracchia@umd.edu) below. 

Students began excavating in the early fall of 2019.

In December of 2019, the first season of the Northampton Furnace Archaeology Project came to a successful conclusion. The Project’s goals were to better understand and document the lives of the convicts, indentured servants, and the enslaved peoples forced to work at the iron furnace operated by the Ridgley family from 1762 to the late 1820s. The iron furnace, which produced pig iron and cast iron including cannons and shot used in the Revolutionary War, generated the Ridgley’s great wealth and supported their lavish lifestyle.

The archaeological field school operated through the University of Delaware, Newark, sought to find material evidence of their lives that would add these workers to the history and narrative of the Hampton plantation. Starting in August, the students and I began a field survey of the furnace landscape. They documented and mapped different features on this industrial landscape such as the earthen dam, quarries, the furnace, outbuildings, and structures.

The remains of the earthen dam used to channel water to the water driven furnace bellows.

Through the excavation of shovel test pits, the students surveyed a large area where workers were believed to have lived. Five test units were also excavated around the remains of a structure that may have dated to the period of the furnace. The students were able to document these structures below the surface and map and describe the different soil strata that detail the history of the site. Some artifacts were found dating to the furnace period. Evidence was also found of the farm that post-dated the furnace and was in operation until the flooding and creation of the Loch Raven Reservoir in the early twentieth century.

The students presented their preliminary findings to the public at Hampton NHS in December and the analysis of the archaeological data is currently ongoing. Much of the landscape of the furnace is buried or hidden under the later farm or is more ephemeral. The Project seeks an external contractor to conduct a higher resolution LIDAR scan of the core furnace area. This detailed scan of the elevation would allow us to better locate structures, such as the log houses, where the workers may have been living. This project is just the beginning of an effort to detail the lives of the workers at the furnace. We sincerely thank Baltimore Heritage for their support and encouragement with this project.

A mix of iron handwrought and cut nails.
A mix of fragments of 18th and 19th-century ceramics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information, check out the project’s blog