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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Juneteenth and the Underground Railroad in Howard County

       Today is Juneteenth which is a celebration of freedom from slavery celebrated every June 19th. It officially recognizes the freeing of slaves in Texas in 1865.  According to Wikapedia:

"   On June 19, 1865, legend has it while standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, Union General Gordon Granger read the contents of “General Order No. 3”: The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

       From a close friendship with lifelong Howard County resident Leola Dorsey a few years ago I learned a great deal about the history of African Americans in Howard County and its segregated past.  Today being Junetenth, the celebration of the end of slavery, I thought I would relate some of the stories I learned.

    In the 1950's and 1960's Howard County reflected its southern heritage and remained segregated in many ways.  Leola related how she and Bob Kittleman (father of present day Howard County Senator Allan Kittleman) traveled along Route 40 in the 1960's to test out the new Public Accommodation laws that were being passed.  Leola was the first woman president of the Howard County chapter of the NAACP and Bob was the first white to serve as president of the Howard County NAACP. Some of the merchants still refused service to minorities.  I always found it unusual that Leola, a civil rights champion in the County, was a lifelong Republican when it seemed as if the party had long since become a party of the conservative South.  She often reminded me that she thought of the party as the party of Lincoln.

    One of the stories that Leola told was about how Harriet Tubman was thought to have led runaway slaves through Simpsonville following the Patapsco and Patuxent rivers.  The rivers were used because of their access to Baltimore and Ellicott City and the B&O railroad.
The Orchard Street Church in Baltimore above was a stop on the Underground Railroad in Baltimore that was used to hide slaves to be transported by boat to Philadelphia or train to points north.  The tunnel in the basement of the Church shown below was used to hide runaway slaves.
Another supposed route for runaway slaves was alone Route 144 called the Baltimore-Frederick Pike and its many ways to get to Pennsylvania.  Many of the runaway slaves were trying to get to Philadelphia.
 There is even one story that Tubman spent a night in the cemetery of  the Locust United Methodist Church shown above.
 A cave in the bank of the Middle Patuxent Creek is said to be a hiding place for runaway slaves.

    Simpsonville was a logical community for runaway slaves because the slaveholder Nicholas Worthington freed his 17 slaves and gave them each land in this community.  It was called Freetown because of this act.  Freetown Road in this community still exists.  Another factor in the County being used by runaway slaves was the population of Quakers that lived in the County.
     The Quakers were actively involved in the Underground Railroad and there still exists a Quaker safe house pictured above in the Simpsonville area. There are still many descendents of these freed slaves living in the County and the names of these descendents are familiar to many of us---Dorsey, Gaither, Brooks, Holland, Henson and Warfield.
     Like most of Maryland in the 19th century Howard County was a community of both slaveholders and abolitionists. In the 1860 Census 21% of the population of Howard County was listed as slave and another 10% as free blacks.  That is double the percentage of the rest of Maryland. Originally brought to Maryland to work in the tobacco fields the discovery of iron ore in the County caused Caleb Dorsey to use slaves in his ironworks in the quarry off of Route 32. Below is a poster for the capture of a runaway slave in Elkridge.
          Caught between the South and the North there were many politicians in the Maryland Legislature that wanted Maryland to join with the Confederacy and secede from the Union. Lincoln stationed many Union troops in Maryland and held Maryland under military rule during the Civil War to insure that Maryland didn't join the Confederacy and force the move of the Capitol from Washington.  There was a major upheaval in Baltimore in April 1861 between Union forces and pro Confederate sympathizers. It wasn't until 1864 that Maryland outlawed slavery.


Anonymous said...

Suggestion: Do some research on the history of the Democratic Party's role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This may have contributed to Leola's continued Republican Party affiliation. By the way, to what party did Kittleman belong?

Anonymous said...

You should check out the Civil War reenactor they have at the Ellicott City Train station. He was fascinating, and I never realized how active this area was during the Civil War. I think he's there on Saturdays and he does a demonstration of musket firing that my kids thought was awesome.
Did you know that even though Ellicott City was always held by the Union, and there are supposedly Union Soldiers buried near Columbia Pike, there is no Union monument in Howard County, only a Confederate one near the Courthouse.

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful. We have to connect. I have a handwritten, unpublished memoire left to my family by my 2nd great grandfather who had been a slave in Howard County (Clarksvile - for the Warfield and Watkins families). His father lived in Simpsonville - last naem Kelly. His mother was a slave in Howard County, as was her mother and her mother's mother - they were Snowdens. When Joseph Kelly, my 3rd great grandfather, died, my great great grandmother married John Brooks, a former slave of Nicholas Worthington. There is some detail about Worthington's son-in-law cheating some of the freed slaves out of their freedom, which caused a spur in running away. My great great grandfather successfully ran away and told us how and who helped him. I will be in Howard County for the slave quarter opening on 9/15/12. Perhaps we can connect then? I live in Philadelphia.

Duane StClair said...

Would be glad to talk with you about your family's history. Email me with your contact information. My email is in the heading of the blog.

Unknown said...

I an currently working on an article about slavery in Howard County. Living conditions in slave quarters, where these slave quarters may still be found, and the specific routes runaways may have taken. In your blog, you mention Route 144 being a heavily-travelled route. Do you know of more particular details? Like where they might have found shelter besides Simpsonville? And where they might have left 144 to escape detection? BTW, great blog! Mark G.