Sunday, May 19, 2019

Slavery, Racism, and Charles Willson Peale

Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) was one of the pioneering artists of the early days of the United States. His portraits of George Washington are familiar to fans of American history. His museum, the first in the United States, combined his love of history, science, and fine art.

Charles Willson Peale, The Artist in His Museum, 1822
Collection of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts


Looking beyond the surface of his illustrious career, Peale's story reveals the complexity of race relations during the late 1700s and early 1800s. A slaveowner for decades, Peale has been praised for voting in favor of abolition, with one brief biography from 1955 going so far as to claim that Peale "hated slavery and freed those few he had inherited as soon as they could support themselves" (Oliver Jensen, "The Peales," American Heritage, April 1955). In truth, Peale never inherited slaves, he purchased them or accepted them as payment for his paintings. While he did eventually free his slaves, his writings suggest he was not concerned about the harm that slavery did to the enslaved; instead, he was concerned that slavery harmed the slave owners.


Saturday, April 27, 2019

Nathan Waters, Annapolis Saddler

For the past couple of years, I've been working on a historical novel set in colonial Maryland. As part of my effort to better understand what life was like in that time and place, I've been researching the lives of specific people to see what I can learn about the world in which they lived.

Although my research is focused primarily on Frederick County, the Maryland frontier of the 1700s, a deed from Frederick County led me to research Nathan Waters, a saddler in Annapolis.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Hidden History - Manumissions in Land Records

Maryland's Frederick County Land Records were used during the county's early years to document more than just the sale of land. During the 1750s, at least three instances of slaves being freed were recorded in the land deeds.


Manumission of Dick and Sue

Two people, Dick and Sue, who had been held as slaves by James and Elizabeth (Eltinge) Holmeard, had manumissions recorded in the land records in 1754 after James Holmeard died. Other people held as slaves by the Holmeards were not freed.


Monday, November 12, 2018

Hidden History - Elizabeth Lamy

Historians have, and still do today, overlook the stories and accomplishments of women. While doing research into my family history, I have come across documents relating to numerous colonial-era women whose stories have not been told, but should be.

Elizabeth Lamy appears in only a handful of records, but when you piece them together, she begins to emerge as a fascinating figure, an unconventional woman for her time. Digging into her story gives more dimension to the stories of better-known people she interacted with, and challenges some of our notions about the time period.


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Hidden History - Convicts Deported to Maryland

Convicts Deported to Maryland from England in the Colonial Maryland Land Records

In this post, I'll be looking at convicted felons deported from England to Maryland. During the 1700s, along with the illustrious figures of history, England also sent some of their worst individuals to America. Depending on the crime, men and women were convicted to either seven or fourteen years of hard labor in the colonies.

Land records, especially from the colonial era, are an overlooked treasure trove for genealogists and historians. Sifting through the records is time-consuming and tedious, but well worth the effort.

While researching my own family history in Maryland's land records, skimming through the thousands of pages available online, I've come across quite a few items of interest which can be found only by viewing each page.

Every book of land records includes an index, but the index refers only to actual land deeds and includes only the names of the primary buyer and seller. During the colonial era, the Maryland land record books included a wide variety of other types of records: the sale of slaves, the marks of stray animals, supersedeas and judgment cases, even the occasional bill of lading. None of those records were included in the index.

Since I was taking the time to skim every page, I decided to keep track of these hidden treasures. I'll be posting them here to aid other researchers in their work.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Hidden History - Bills of Lading and Bottomree

Bills of Lading and Bottomree in the Colonial Maryland Land Records

Land records, especially from the colonial era, are an overlooked treasure trove for genealogists and historians. Sifting through the records is time-consuming and tedious, but well worth the effort.

While researching my own family history in Maryland's land records, skimming through the thousands of pages available online, I've come across quite a few items of interest which can be found only by viewing each page.

Every book of land records includes an index, but the index refers only to actual land deeds and includes only the names of the primary buyer and seller. During the colonial era, the Maryland land record books included a wide variety of other types of records: the sale of slaves, the marks of stray animals, supersedeas and judgment cases, even the occasional bill of lading. None of those records were included in the index.

Since I was taking the time to skim every page, I decided to keep track of these hidden treasures. I'll be posting them here to aid other researchers in their work.



Sunday, June 10, 2018

Arriving in America

One of the great things about studying history is that there is always something new to discover, simply by asking a different question. As I work on a fictionalized account of historical events, I find myself asking very specific questions that I would not have asked otherwise. For example, it's generally known that German immigrants in the 1740s would most likely arrive at Philadelphia, but what was that experience really like? If you put yourself in their position, what were the logistical details of arrival?

I had casually assumed that everyone disembarked as soon as the ship docked, and that the ship would dock as soon as it arrived. The truth is far more complex.

"Philadephia in the Olden Time," print by F. J. Wade, circa 1875
Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division