Category: History

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

Celebrations in the City: A Baltimore Christmas Talk with Historian Wayne Schaumburg, a Holiday Tour of Evergreen, and Author Elaine Weiss on Winning the Women’s Vote

As we head into the holiday season, we have much to remember and celebrate here in Baltimore. We hope you can spend a slice of it with us at some of final talks and tours of the year.

On November 17, Baltimore historian Wayne Schaumburg will illuminate some of the city’s winter traditions going back to the 1940s with a talk on Christmas in Old Baltimore. If have you ever wondered which Baltimore holiday traditions have changed over the years and which have stayed the same, join us to find out.

Stay in the holiday spirit on December 11 as we tour Evergreen Museum & Library, a Gilded Age mansion that will be adorned for the holidays. Baltimore Heritage volunteer and Evergreen docent Richard Messick will help us take in this tremendous estate’s seasonal decorations while learning about its rich history.

Want more to celebrate? On December 15, come rejoice in the history of the women who fought for the right to vote with a talk by author Elaine Weiss on her book, The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote. Join us to travel back in time to an extraordinary period in American history when suffragists had to push against countless barriers in their quest for the vote. We think that is something worth celebrating.

Bring a loved one. Bring a friend. And join us to learn a little and celebrate a lot of Baltimore’s heritage.

This Sunday! Baltimore in the Golden Age of Radio (Plus, Pre-Talk Tour of the Garrett Jacobs Mansion)

From Guglielmo Marconi’s experiments in sending audio signals via radio waves in the 1890s to the strains of Rock and Roll coursing through teenage ears in the 1960s, and everything in between, Baltimore historian Jack Burkert explores the Golden Age of Radio in the lives of Americans, with a special focus on Baltimore. In today’s world of internet and visual media, we forget how radio transformed America with national networks, new snazzy commercial jingles, and the story of how one company came to dominate the new radio market only to suddenly exit altogether. Of course, Mr. Burkert will take a look at Baltimore’s own radio stations, some of the broadcasts they transmitted, and a few of the charming personalities involved in the radio business along the way.

This program and our speaker series have been funded by Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.

*NEW* Come early for an inside look at the historic Garrett-Jacobs Mansion during a rare Sunday afternoon pre-talk tour, led by one of our docents. The tours start at 1 p.m. Learn more about the Garrett family’s far-reaching influence, the building’s architecture (designed by two prominent architects, Stanford White and John Russell Pope), and “Baltimore’s Mrs. Astor,” Mary Frick Garrett Jacobs. Tickets are an additional $10.