Black History Month 2023 “A Family’s Escape from Slavery in a Covered Wagon”

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Caroline Hammond, born in slavery in 1844, gave the following account of her childhood escape in an interview with a writer identified as “Rogers” in 1938. She was then 94 years old. This was part of a Works Progress Administration program conducted during the Depression. Transcripts of “Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves” can be found on the website of the — National Archives.

I was born in Anne Arundel County near Davidsonville about 3 miles from South River in the year 1844. The daughter of a free man and a slave woman, who was owned by Thomas Davidson, a slaveowner and farmer of Anne Arundel. He had a large farm and about 25 slaves on his farm all of whom lived in small huts with the exception of several of the household help who ate and slept in the manor house. My mother being one of the household slaves, enjoyed certain privileges that the farm slaves did not. She was the head cook of Mr. Davidson’s household.

…Mr. Davidson entertained on a large scale, especially many of the officers of the Naval Academy at Annapolis and his friends from Baltimore. Mrs. Davidson’s dishes were considered the finest, and to receive an invitation from the Davidsons meant that you would enjoy Maryland’s finest terrapin and chicken besides the best wine and champagne on the market.
All of the cooking was supervised by mother, and the table was waited on by Uncle Billie, dressed in a uniform, decorated with brass buttons, braid and a fancy vest, his hands incased in white gloves…
Mr. Davidson was very good to his slaves, treating them with every consideration that he could, with the exception of freeing them; but Mrs. Davidson was hard on all the slaves, whenever she had the opportunity, driving them at full speed when working, giving different food of a coarser grade and not much of it…
Mother with the consent of Mr. Davidson, married George Berry, a free [Black] man of Annapolis with the proviso that he was to purchase mother within three years after marriage for $750 and if any children were born they were to go with her. My father was a carpenter by trade, his services were much in demand…Father paid Mr. Davidson for mother on the partial payment plan. He had paid up all but $40 on mother’s account, when by accident Mr. Davidson was shot while ducking on the South River by one of the duck hunters, dying instantly.

Mrs. Davidson assumed full control of the farm and the slaves. When father wanted to pay off the balance due, $40, Mrs. Davidson refused to accept it, thus mother and I were to remain in slavery. Being a free man father had the privilege to go where he wanted to, provided he was endorsed by a white man who was known to the people and sheriffs, constables and officials of public conveyances. By bribery of the sheriff of Anne Arundel County father as given a passage to Baltimore for mother and me. On arriving in Baltimore, mother, father and I went to a white family on Ross Street –now Druid Hill Ave., where we were sheltered by the occupants, who were ardent supporters of the Underground Railroad.
A reward of $50 each was offered for my father, mother and me, one by Mrs. Davidson and the other by the Sheriff of Anne Arundel county. At this time the Hookstown Road was one of the main turnpikes into Baltimore. A Mr. Coleman whose brother-in-law lived in Pennsylvania, used a large covered wagon to transport merchandise from Baltimore to different villages along the turnpike to Hanover, Pa.   Mother and father and I were concealed in a large wagon drawn by six horses. On our way to Pennsylvania, we never alighted on the ground in any community or close to any settlement, fearful of being apprehended by people who were always looking for rewards.
After arriving at Hanover,…it was easy for us to get transportation farther north…We made our way to Scranton, Pennsylvania, in which place they both secured positions in the same family. Father and mother’s salary combined was $27.50 per month. They stayed there until 1869. In the meantime I was being taught at a Quaker mission in Scranton.

The family returned to Baltimore in 1869; Caroline finished grammar school, then “followed cooking” all her life, before and after marriage to James Barry, who was a waiter at the Howard House. She told the interviewer that on the previous Christmas, her 49 children and grandchildren gathered for a holiday dinner.

By Barbara Goyette,
Hammond-Harwood House Executive Director

The Davidson House where Caroline Hammond was enslaved.

Posted on Feb 17, 2023 in , , , by Hammond-Harwood House



Hammond-Harwood House

The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve and to interpret the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House Museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts, and to explore the diverse social history associated with its occupants, both free and enslaved, for the purposes of education and appreciation.
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