The wind tore across Monocacy National Battlefield on Sunday morning, tugging at the hair and clothes of the roughly 50 people who stood quietly atop a small, dirt-covered hill.
Just a foot or so below the soil were the remains of six separate foundations. Together, the structures once comprised what historians call a “slave village.” At the turn of the 19th century, it was home to 90 enslaved people.
“Please take your time,” Park Ranger Matt Borders called to the crowd of visitors. “Take a few minutes to appreciate the amount of humanity that was being held here.”
For Juneteenth, Borders led a walking tour of the battlefield, highlighting what researchers know about the enslaved people who lived there and the Black men who would later enlist to aid the Union cause at Monocacy Junction.
Though it wasn’t Borders’ first time leading a program on Juneteenth — a federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. — it was the “most involved” one he’d ever done, he said.
First, visitors heard about the 748-acre L'Hermitage plantation that once stood on the battlefield grounds and had a reputation for “cruelty beyond the usual indignities of slavery,” Borders said.
In fact, the plantation owners were sued multiple times for severe mistreatment of the people they owned, something Borders said was “extremely rare” for the time. They were found guilty at least once, he said, but never punished.
L'Hermitage was run by the Vincendière family, a group of French and Haitian planters who bought land in Frederick County in 1794. Historians aren’t sure why the family acquired 90 enslaved laborers — an amount that was unusually high for Maryland — but they guess the Vincendières may have been trying to recreate the large-scale system of slavery they had witnessed in Haiti.
Slavery in Maryland is often thought of as “benign” when compared to the well-documented brutality of tobacco and cotton plantations in the deep south, Borders said. But though enslaved people’s experiences varied widely depending on where in the U.S. they were forced to work, it’s a mistake to soften the image of any one region, he added.
“There are all these attempts to downplay slavery, particularly in the border states,” Borders said. “The fact of the matter is, slavery is still slavery. They still own people, and can do pretty much whatever they want with them.”
The Vincendière’s plantation shrank over the years, and many enslaved people were sold to Louisiana planters. By the time the Civil War broke out, the buildings that made up the slave village had all been torn down or repurposed.
Historians don’t know much about those buildings, which were unearthed in 2010. They also don’t know much about the people who lived inside them, Borders said.
On Sunday, he passed around a laminated list with what little information researchers can be sure of.
In some cases, there’s a first name and an age: Louisa, 14 years old. Manuel, 50 years old. Marceline, 1 year old. All were sold on June 13, 1825, along with 14 other people.
Other record-keepers didn’t bother to list a name. The 1860 Census revealed that a 6-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl were among those enslaved on the plantation that year.
Kit Goldman, who traveled from Potomac to attend the tour with her husband, said looking at names and ages makes the history feel closer.
“It’s different when you’re talking big numbers, but individuals — it makes a difference in people’s understanding,” Goldman said.
Thanks to the completion of a new battlefield trail, Borders could walk his tour group through the cornfields from the old farmhouse all the way to Monocacy Junction, about a half-mile away.
At the junction, a stop on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, there once stood a recruiting station for the United States Bureau of Colored Troops, formally established in May 1863. About 8,700 Black men from Maryland enlisted, and about 540 of them were from Frederick County.
The tour group looked out at a triangular section of train tracks, which Borders said was a "hub" of activity in the years leading up to the 1864 Battle of the Monocacy. He held up a photo of one free Black man, Isaiah Spriggs, who enlisted at the Monocacy Junction recruiting station and joined the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.
Elayne Garrad traveled from Baltimore to take part in the tour. She said she particularly enjoyed learning about the recruits who enlisted in Frederick County.
“This is what they saw,” she said, gesturing around to the fields and mountains. “It’s alive.”
Borders said leading the tour on Juneteenth, the longest continually celebrated African American holiday, was a way to remind visitors of slavery's human toll and its footprint on Frederick County.
"Slavery was such a dehumanizing event and such a dehumanizing institution," he said. "We’re trying to give some of their humanity back by telling these stories.”
“There are all these attempts to downplay slavery, particularly in the border states,” Borders said. “The fact of the matter is, slavery is still slavery.
I couldn't agree more:
Originally, the British colonies in North America only recognized indentured servants, but not slaves. The first slave owner was a Black, Anthony Johnson from Angola. In 1651, he held 250 acres and five Black indentured servants. In 1654, it was time for Anthony to release John Casor, a Black indentured servant, but he fought in court to change Casor from indentured servant to slave. He convinced the court to allow Blacks to use their own race as slaves. Whites still could not own Blacks as slaves until several decades later. In 1699, due to an effort to repatriate free Blacks back to Africa, many Blacks sold themselves as slaves to avoid being sent back. In 1830, there were 3,775 Black families living in the South who owned Black slaves. In 1860, in New Orleans alone, there were about 3,000 slaves owned by Black households.
In the 1700s, free Blacks could own White indentured servants as slaves. They also owned slaves in the Northern states. Free Blacks owned slaves in Boston by 1724 and in Connecticut by 1783. In 1790, 48 Blacks in Maryland owned 143 slaves. One famous black Maryland farmer, Nat Butler, regularly purchased and sold Blacks for the Southern trade. In 1830, about 13.7 percent (319,599) of the Black population was free. In some cases, Blacks purchased Black slaves for reasons such as protecting family members, but in other cases they were purchased in order to gain a profit from their labor. Black slave-holders fought to keep their slaves in the American Civil War.
"There were several routes to freedom for black slaves, and the 1860 census counted 224,963 free blacks living in the South (6 percent of all Southern blacks). [xi] Why didn’t they move to the North, where there were also communities of free blacks? Presumably, because free blacks could live comfortably in the Antebellum South."
Free Blacks could also have migrated to Haiti or Liberia, independent countries ruled by Blacks, but most did not, and many of those who did migrated back, as discussed in the articles on these countries.
Black professor Tony Martin & Black American Dontell Jackson have written & spoken extensively about the the Trans Atlantic slave trade.
Thanks for the research, art. I'm still waiting for my reparations, even though I was never a slave and never owned any slaves. What happens to a mixed race person who has slaves on one branch of the family tree and poor white crackers on the other? Does my reparation check get cut?
Spare us, Walter. That’s not the focus of the article, your racist feelings. White Male, Rightwing Victimhood is currently the greatest threat to the USA. Whinging LDE.
Shhhh a&a, there are some things certain people don't like to discuss, and blacks owning other blacks is one of them. The fact that blacks sold their fellow blacks into slavery in the first place is another taboo topic.
In looking at the Battlefield's web page, this was probably one of the first woman-owned businesses in Frederick County. Victoire Vincendière purchased the land, and at 22/23 years of age, ran the plantation with an iron fist. After about 20 years she sold it off & made a nice profit. There's no record of what became of her after that point.
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