Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hello everyone,

My name is David Armenti and I am a researcher at the Maryland State Archives, Legacy of Slavery project. Our department has been tasked with documenting the 19th century experience of slavery in five Eastern Shore counties (Queen Anne's, Talbot, Dorchester, Caroline, Kent), which conveniently overlaps with the extensive papers attached to the Poplar Grove estate. As the bulk of the Poplar Grove Collection has been scanned and made available online, we have begun to look into the range of activities and individuals that affected African-American lives during that time.

The diverse sampling of documents found in Series 13, has been a valuable starting point for this investigation. One of the more fascinating topics is John Tilghman's ambitious experiment with renting slaves to the growing cotton plantations in Mississippi and Louisiana. As many Eastern Shore slave holders were deciding to sell their chattel outright, Tilghman instead employed a different strategy which seemed to result in more frustration than economic success. There are numerous correspondences(pp. 170 - 190) with his southern agent Samuel Grayson, regarding costs, disputes with planters, and the health/condition of the slaves themselves. This series also provides insight into the flight of slaves from Poplar Grove and other surrounding plantations (pp. 128, 194). The Emorys/Tilghmans maintained a close network of family and business associates throughout the mid-Atlantic region that kept them abreast of potential fugitives, particularly in the black communities of southern New Jersey.

Thomas Emory's papers, Series 4, are similarly significant to our study. Emory was one of the patriarchal figures at Poplar Grove from the 1820's to 1840's, a period that saw great upheaval in the status of slaves and free African-Americans on the Eastern Shore. As a large slave holder and a state senator, he had a huge role in the debates of that time. Free blacks, whose numbers were rapidly increasing, came to be seen as an evil force that was categorically incompatible with the existence of slavery. They were blamed for the discontentment of formerly happy slaves, who were "enticed" to escape their benevolent masters. The free black Nat Turner's rebellion in Virginia fueled much of the fear that was already prevalent among Maryland whites.

During the late 1820's to early 1830's, many solutions were proposed by whites for this "problem", including laws to limit manumissions, expel all free blacks from the state and send them to Liberia. As a state legislator, Thomas Emory was one of many recipients of a petition by Queen Anne's residents, requesting that the Liberia Colonization plan be expanded along with the "binding out" of poor free children, rather than forcing blacks out and restricting manumissions. The state did in fact promote colonization and adopted variations of these ideas into law over the next few years, though Emory's exact role in process is undiscovered as of yet.

Needless to say, there are quite a few fascinating topics to explore within these personal letters, petitions, and business correspondence that can illuminate our current study on Eastern Shore racial matters. While we do have staff dedicating attention to this research, I would like to welcome the contribution from individuals interested in continued investigation of Poplar Grove. If you would like to assist in document transcription, or research of issues/individuals mentioned here, please contact me at davida@mdsa.net.

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