Free People of Colour Before the End of Slavery
George Tucker, a Virginia lawyer who opposed slavery, in 1794 described three types of slavery: 1. Political slavery as
in the colonies versus England, 2. Civil slavery as in the freed black population, and 3. Domestic slavery as in chattel
slavery.

The freed black population of Maryland could only be viewed as enduring another more subtle form of slavery that
differed only in terms of degree from chattel slavery and in fact held certain dangers that in some cases would make it
far more dangerous than chattel slavery. The free person of colour endured in a society where he lived in constant
dependence on the white population. His greatest assets were his ability to make contracts and to live in some security
from the fear of being sold south.

The greatest danger of a freed person was the possibility of being sold back into slavery. Gangs of kidnappers operated
throughout the eastern seaboard states capturing unwary freedmen and sending them south. Not only was Maryland
concerned with this problem through the Maryland Act of 1796, but Congress also passed a law in the District of
Columbia to protect freed blacks and to slow the illegal trade along the east coast. Maryland's punishment was for the
sale of the person, the District punished the attempt.

The second great danger of the freed person was economic security. The freed person was restricted from occupations
by both law and custom. While uneducated, some learned to read and white (Henry Hatton) however, this was not done
through the public school system which, while they were taxed as any ordinary citizen, they were not allowed by law to
attend. They also suffered from the common problems of the day that would regard sickness of disability as a disaster
(this was magnified by the low economic status to which they were restricted).

The third danger was psychological. Freed people of colour were not welcome in Maryland. If they left the state, they
could not return. If they weren't employed, they could be deported. Their children, could be apprenticed by the Orphan's
Court. If their spouse was a slave, they could be sold away or any issue would be a slave. If they were convicted of a
crime, they could be sold back into slavery. If they incurred the wrath of the slave posse, they could be beaten. If they
joined a secret society, they could be returned to slavery. They walked a tight line between slavery and freedom,
existing in the twilight world of the half free.

African-Americans could obtain their freedom in several ways: 1. Be free born, 2. Be manumitted by will, 3. Be
manumitted by reward, 4. Be sold to their spouse or parents, and
5. Petition for Freedom. All of these happened in
Prince George's County. Using Henry Hatton as an example, he was freed by will and later bought two of his children out
of slavery.

The Maryland government first restricted the emigration of free negroes into the state. In 1803 a law was enacted
limiting a free black to remain only two weeks in the state. After that time a fine was imposed and if the respondent could
not pay the fine they were sentenced to jail and sold into slavery.

To restrict their ability to engage in commerce under the justification of free blacks selling stolen corn, wheat and
tobacco from slaves, the assembly passed a bill requiring free blacks to obtain a license from the Justice of the Peace.
The fine was five dollars for each occurrence of which two dollars went to the informer. The person who received the
goods sold without a license paid ten dollars of which five dollars went to the informer. This bill only applied to blacks, no
one else needed a license. The certificate recognized that person to be "a peaceable and orderly person, and of good
character." The certificate was good for one year. This bill was later strengthened and the fines were increased to one
hundred dollars for every offense. White citizens of the neighborhood had to be willing to testify that the tobacco raised
by the black farmer was indeed raised by him. By 1831 the list had grown to include bacon, pork, beef, mutton, rye and
oats.

In 1819 the Orphan's Courts were enabled to apprentice children of any free blacks who were "not at service or learning
a trade, or employed in the service of their parents." The judge could require that the child would be taught to read and
write. This law would cause considerable problems after emancipation and would be one of the principal reasons for the
involvement of the Freedmen's Bureau of the Federal Government in Maryland after the civil war.

In law, if a freed person of colour was sent to the penitentiary they would be banished from the state after serving their
time. If they refused to leave the state, they would be sold into slavery for the same amount of time that they served in
the penitentiary.

The 1831 Assembly rewrote a major portion of the slave law and black code. The Assembly restricted free blacks from
moving into the state. They were allowed only ten days in the state or they were subject to fines of fifty dollars a week.
Refusal to pay the fine meant that the sheriff had the authority to sell them to pay for the fine plus costs. There were
also fines for individuals who hired illegal free blacks.

If a freed black left the state and remained outside for longer than thirty days, he would no longer be a resident of
Maryland unless he had given the clerk of the county a written statement before leaving regarding his reason for leaving
and his intent to return. The exception to this law was a trip to Liberia. Slaves illegally brought into the state were to be
sold to the Maryland Colonization Society for five dollars and costs to be transported to Liberia.

Religious meetings were forbidden without white ministers. The exception to this act were religious services held on
plantations.

By 1832 the Assembly was struggling to remove freed blacks from the state. The Assembly passed a law which fined
any sheriff who refused to remove any freed black when the Board of Managers of the Maryland Colonization Society
offered the money for transport. The 1832 Assembly also dealt with problems in the manumission if the deed had not
been properly recorded or witnessed by two people.

The biggest scheme of the government was the Maryland State Colonization Society. Suffice to say, newly freed people
ran the immediate risk of being transported to Liberia or Haiti. The court could also use the society at its discretion for
the punishment of a crime.

For violating the tumultuous meetings provision of the code the freed person would receive the same punishment as
slaves. This usually meant a lashing. Tumultuous meetings became any meeting including camp meetings or
unauthorized (by whites) religious indoor meetings.

The assembly became concerned about the relationship between free persons of colour and slaves. A ten to twenty
year jail sentence was prescribed for any free black that asked for or received any "abolition handbill, pamphlet,
newspaper, pictorial representation or other paper of an inflammatory character."

By 1839 any free black that did not have a job ran the danger of being sold back into slavery. The term would be one
year at the end of which the person had ten days to find employment or be reduced to another year term in slavery.
Their children would be apprenticed out by the Orphan's Court if their parents were reintroduced into slavery.

There is also the relationship of freed blacks with slaves. There was intermingling of freed and slaves in work, marriage,
and social life (i.e. the Church). For the slaveholders these relationships constituted the real dangers of a free black
population.

The 1806 Assembly passed an act entitled: "An Act to restrain the evil practices arising from negroes keeping dogs, and
to prohibit them from carrying guns or offensive weapons: This act prohibited all negroes and mulattoes from having a
dog or a gun; except free blacks could keep one dog by obtaining a yearly licensee from the Justice of the Peace. The
punishment for non-compliance was thirty-nine stripes. (
Petition for the Gun)

1852 saw the arrest and conviction of a free black, Mary E. Brown, who was committed to jail for the crime of poisoning
her husband. The victim was a slave who belonged to William Bryan (of Richard) Esq., of the Piscataway District. This
intermingling of marriage relationships produced situations in which the husband or wife only saw the spouse
infrequently. Some spouses spent a life time attempting to free their family from slavery.
The Planter's Advocate saw
Mary E. Brown's arrest as "a great many circumstances of a suspicious character, connected with this affair, but as the
matter is shortly to be investigated by the grand jury we forbear giving any of them." She was found guilty of arsenic
poisoning after a six hour jury deliberation. Judge Crain pronounced a sentence of death.
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                                                       Freedom Oath

Basil Brooks is about 17 years old, has a yellow complexion, and is 5 feet 4 inches tall. He has
a scar on his right cheek near his ear and a scar on his right thingh near the knee. He was
freed by the will of Mary G. Hardey dated 28 July 1829. Identified by Robert W. Hunter of
Alexandria, D. C.
Freedom by Will

Maryland Prince Georges County
I Philemon chew Register of Wills for said county do hereby certify that the bearer hereof negro
boy Henry commonly called Henry Hatton aged about 28 yrs five feet eight inches height of light
complexion with a scar on the right side occasioned by a burn and a scar on the thumb of the left
hand occasioned by the cut of drawing knife, is a free boy and became entitled to his freedom by
virtue of the last will and testament of Mrs. Mary G. Hardey late of Prince George's County
deceased bearing date October 27th, 1830.
Free at Birth

Maryland Prince Georges County. On this 27th day of April 1844 Came Ruth Etcherson widow of
Ephvoim Etcherson before me the undersigned and made oath in the Holy Evangely of Almight
God that negro Basil who calls himself Basil Washington is the son of Negro Urman that is
mentioned in rachel O'Briants will late of said County deceased and that said Basil is now
twenty-seven years of age.
Sworn before Philemon Chew Regs.
Table of Contents
Maryland Law
Relations with Other
States
U. S. Fugitive Slave Law
1793
U. S. Fugitive Slave Law
1850
Federal Laws Regarding
Slavery
Slavery in Prince
George's County
Maryland
Maryland Abolition of
Slavery
Free People of Colour
Before the End of Slavery
Dred Scott Decision
Organizations against
Slavery
 
Dr. Bronson Main Page
Assorted Documents of
Prince Georges County
Prince Georges 1861
Map
Author's Introduction