Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ongoing Research & Transcription

My name is Allison and I am an intern with the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland research department! I have been working with David, who previously posted, specifically about our efforts to transcribe and contextualize some of the massive Poplar Grove Collection in order to make suggestions about slavery on the Eastern Shore, particularly in the 19th century.

I am also a graduate student at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, finishing up my Master's thesis and graduating in May. I have tried to utilize the Poplar Grove collection throughout my thesis, specifically looking at records from John Tilghman and Thomas Emory. It has been a rewarding experience...although the sheer size of the Poplar Grove Collection has kept my research limited.

Ultimately my research and thesis illuminate how Queen Anne's County residents understood the institution of slavery and how they felt about the growing free black population in the wake of Nat Turner's Rebellion. Most whites in Maryland were in shock at the possibility of slave uprising and in 1832 the Maryland Legislature took measures to restrict free blacks' rights. They also supported funding for the Maryland State Colonization Society, which embraced the cause of removing free blacks from the state.

Through analysis of one document in particular--the petition of Queen Anne's County Residents to the MD General Assembly--from February 1832, my study reveals that slaveowners fought for the right to manumit their slaves. But, I also explore how the rhetoric they used mirrors rhetoric used in proslavery arguments from states further South. It seems counter-intuitive that slaveowners would want to manumit their slaves--right? They are in support of slavery...they want to keep slave labor relevant and thriving! But once you read the petition found in the Poplar Grove collection, you see their reasoning more clearly.

Most of the men who signed the petition were slaveowners and they did not like the idea of government intervention in the decisions they made as slaveowners. In the petition they maintain that manumissions will keep labor cheap or free. They occasionally throw in some religious reasoning and they also purport that the "hope of emancipation" keeps slaves from rebelling. Thus, they clearly defend their right to manumit; they consciously used manumission as an effort to control their slaves.

All in all, the document is a marvelous find and I am thankful to the archivists who salvaged it! I defend my thesis this month and will be publishing it through ProQuest Dissertations & Theses. Hopefully I will be able to post a link to the pdf of it at a later date, I'd love for all of you to check it out!