Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Ceaser Williams (b. ca. 1775)
MSA SC 3520-16395

Biography:

Probably born in 1775 in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. One known sibling: Robert Williams (b. before 1783). At least one probable daughter, Elizabeth (b. ca. 1815). Likely died during the 1850s in Calvert County, Maryland.

Ceaser Williams was a free black man who was born in 1775 in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.1 In the late 1790s, Ceaser moved just outside the town of Brookeville, located in Montgomery County, Maryland. There, he rented a farm from Caleb Bentley, who was a prominent merchant and landowner in the town.2 While in Brookeville, Ceaser would find himself fighting for guardianship of his brother, Robert Williams, who had been declared insane in the Spring of 1805 and entrusted to the care of  white Anne Arundel County resident Jerome Plummer. Several years later, Ceaser wound up in criminal court, facing minor theft-related charges. By 1820, Ceaser made a short move from Brookeville back to Anne Arundel County, where he would remain for at least ten more years. By 1850, Ceaser moved southeast to Calvert County, where he most likely spent the remainder of his life.3

Ceaser and his brother Robert were apparently free for their entire lives. However, Robert's wife, Susanna Williams, as well as their six children, were enslaved by John Galloway of southern Anne Arundel County. In 1793, Robert purchased his wife and three children from Galloway, but the purchase did not signal the manumission of Robert's family. Instead, in the eyes of the Maryland legislature, Robert had purchased his wife and children as his slaves.4 While this did increase Robert's enumerable wealth significantly, it placed Susanna and her children at a distinct risk of once again becoming slaves if Robert were to die, or if another unfortunate circumstance were to arise, which would present itself over a decade after the purchase.

By 1803, Robert began showing signs of severe mental illness. As a result, his neighbors filed a petition to have Robert declared legally insane, which was granted in May of 1805 by the Chancery Court of Maryland. As such, Robert's community members appointed his neighbor, Jerome Plummer, as Robert's trustee.5 Robert was sent to live on Plummer's land, which was to the west of the property that Robert had previously rented, and bordered the Patuxent River. He was cared for on a daily basis by Susanna and their two youngest children, Susan and William. By the time that the case had begun, Plummer indicated that Ceaser was living near Rockville, Maryland.6 By the fall of 1805, Susanna began to fear that Plummer, who had requested to sell some of Robert's property in order to supplement Robert's living expenses, would sell her and her children back into legitimate slavery.5 In reaction to her fears, Susanna filed a petition with the Maryland House of Delegates to have her family officially emancipated and out of danger of once again becoming slaves. Meanwhile, the Chancellor in charge of Robert's insanity case declared that while Plummer could in fact sell some of Robert's property, he would not be allowed to sell Susanna or her children.6 The Maryland General Assembly directed the Chancery Court to free Susanna and the children. The court did in fact approve Susanna's petition for her family's freedom, and she and her family were officially emancipated in March of 1806.7

During his family's attempt to gain their freedom, Ceaser became extremely dissatisfied with Plummer's performance as Robert's trustee. Along with Susanna, Ceaser took his complaint to the Chancery Court in June of 1805. By the summer of 1806, Ceaser illegally entered Plummer's property in Anne Arundel County and absconded with Robert to Brookeville. Ceaser claimed that Plummer had taken all of Robert's property as his own, and even claimed that Plummer made Robert's children perform labor "as slaves."8 Plummer himself even stated that he would often have to keep Robert confined in chains due to his propensity to become "raven distracted."9 As such, Ceaser petitioned to have Plummer removed as Robert's trustee. In turn, Ceaser hoped to become Robert's caretaker and trustee. To do so, Ceaser had many Montgomery and Anne Arundel County residents testify on his behalf, including prominent Brookeville residents Caleb Bentley, Richard Thomas Jr., Samuel Brooke, and John Thomas, who attested that Ceaser was a "man of good character [who] has been punctual in the discharge of his debts [and that] sobriety, honesty, and industry particularly marked [Ceaser's character]."10 In addition, Bentley stated that he had personally witnessed Plummer "say that he was glad [to be relieved of the trusteeship of Robert] and said he was willing to give the property up."11 On September 23, 1806, the Chancery Court awarded Robert's trusteeship to Ceaser.12 Although Ceaser was living in nearby Montgomery County at the time, Robert remained in Anne Arundel County after Ceaser gained his trusteeship.13 Overall, this case was very unusual for the time period, as it was rare that free blacks were able to obtain the amount of personal property and money that Robert Williams possessed. In addition, it was extremely difficult for both slaves and free blacks to obtain representation in court, and successfully gain guardianship as Ceaser did.

In 1812, Ceaser and his nephew, George Williams, purchased a 33 acre parcel of land from Brookeville resident Gerard Brooke.14 Shortly thereafter, Brookeville would become famous for a series of events that occurred during the War of 1812. In August of 1814, British soldiers had advanced into the downtown areas of Washington, D.C. Once they arrived, they proceeded to burn several important government structures, including the Capitol Building and the White House. During the attack, President James Madison fled the city and retreated to Brookeville, which lies eighteen miles outside of Washington. Once in the town, Madison and his entourage were taken in at Caleb Bentley's home, where they remained for the night and were given food and shelter by Bentley and his wife, Henrietta. As a result of Madison's overnight stay, Brookeville has since become known as the "United States Capital for a day."

By the fall of 1819, Ceaser began taking actions that indicated his imminent departure from Brookeville. In November of that year, he sold a large portion of his personal property, including two horses, a cow, a wagon, tobacco, and several household items to David Newlin, who owned several mills throughout Brookeville.15 Around the same time that Ceaser was leaving Brookeville, he was accused of buying stolen wheat from a local slaved named Negro Jack. Jack, who was under the servitude of Brookeville resident John H. Riggs, was accused of stealing the wheat from Riggs' property and selling it to Ceaser, who Riggs claimed was aware of the wheat being stolen. Riggs brought both Jack and Ceaser to trial in the Montgomery County Court in December of 1819. By March of 1820, testimony had been given for both Riggs and Williams, with Williams calling several witnesses on his behalf, including David Newlin and James Parsley. Although Ceaser was held accountable for court fees related to the trial, the court did not present a verdict and the case became inactive, possibly due to the fact that Ceaser was able to have several prominent individuals testify on his behalf.16

By the end of the trial in 1820, Ceaser had returned to Anne Arundel County, where he most likely moved in with Susanna and her children.17 During this time, he continued to work for Brookeville residents such as Gerard and Richard Brooke, exchanging manual labor for cash and household items.18 By 1830, Ceaser had moved a short distance within Anne Arundel County, where he lived with a young free black man at least 22 years his junior.19 By 1850, Ceaser had relocated to Calvert County, Maryland, where he lived with his two younger relatives Elizabeth Williams, age 35, and Maria Williams, age 2.20 It is likely that Ceaser Williams died in Calvert County after 1850.

Kyle Bacon, DAR Research Fellow, 2012.

Notes:

  1. 1850 United States Federal Census, District 3, Calvert, Maryland. 
  2. 1810 United States Federal Census, Anne Arundel, Maryland; CHANCERY COURT (Chancery Papers). Anthony Smith, W. Murray, Isaac Owens, Philip J. Thomas, and O.S.S. Hawood vs. Robert Williams alias Negro Bob,1805. Deposition of Caleb Bentley. MdHR 17,898-4015-1 [MSA S512-4133, 1/36/4/9].
  3. 1850 United States Federal Census, District 3, Calvert, Maryland. 
  4. ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY COURT (Land Records) March 30, 1793, John Galloway to Robert Williams Bill of Sale for slaves Sue, Dinah, Rachel, and Ceaser (Robert's wife and children), NH 6, p. 537 [MSA CE 76-34]; CHANCERY COURT (Chancery Papers) April 15th, 1805. Anthony Smith, et. al. vs. Robert Williams. May 7, 1805, Writ of lunatico inquirendo issued for Robert Williams by Chancellor Alexander C. Hanson [MSA S512-4133, MdHR 17,898-4015-1, 1/36/4/9]; Session Laws, 1805, Chapter 56. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 607, p. 32.
  5. CHANCERY COURT (Chancery Papers). Anthony Smith, et. al. vs. Robert Williams. April 15, 1805, Request for a Writ of lunatico inquirendo for Robert Williams. MdHR 17,898-4015-1 [MSA S512-4133, 1/36/4/9]; Ibid., May 7, 1805. Chancellor Alexander Hanson declares Robert Williams insane, appoints Jerome Plummer as his trustee; For a discussion of this case as an example of treatment of mental illness, see: Robert Schoeberlein, "Mental Illness in Maryland: Public Perception, Discourse, and Treatment, from the Colonial Period to 1964" (PhD diss., University of Maryland, College Park, 2006).
  6. Ibid., August 26, 1805. Petition by Jerome Plummer requesting permission to sell a portion of Negro Bob's property in order to pay for trusteeship expenses. MdHR 17,898-4015-1 [MSA S512-4133, 1/36/4/9]. Ibid., Declaration by Chancellor Alexander Hanson that Plummer be allowed to sell some of Robert's property, not including his slaves; Journal of the House of Delegates. Votes and Proceedings, November Session, 1805. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 553, p. 61ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY COURT (Land Records) March 28, 1804. Benjamin Lane to Jerome Plummer, tract of land known as Browsly Hall, adjacent or close to the Pemberton land that Robert and his family were living on prior to the Chancery Case. Liber NH 12, p. 316 [MSA CE 76-40]; ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY COURT (Land Records) April 29, 1799. Richard Hopkins to Jerome Plummer and others, tracts of land in the West River area of Anne Arundel County. Liber NH 9, p. 534 [MSA CE 76-37]; "Twenty Dollars Reward," Maryland Gazette, June 25, 1805. This article is a runaway slave advertisement submitted by Plummer in which he is offering a reward for George Williams's return. In the article, Plummer mentions that he suspects that George is staying at "Ceaser Williams's (a negro) living in Montgomery county, near the court-house."
  7. Anne Arundel County Court, Manumission Record, 1797-1807. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 825, p. 259. The manumission record of Robert Williams and his children; Session Laws, 1805, Chapter 56. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 607, p. 32.
  8. CHANCERY COURT (Chancery Papers). Anthony Smith, et. al. vs. Robert Williams, June 21 1805. Petition of Susanna and Ceaser Williams to revoke Jerome Plummer's trusteeship of Robert Williams, and for Ceaser to become the new trustee.
  9. In this case, "Raven distracted" can be equated to "Raving and distracted."
  10. CHANCERY COURT (Chancery Papers). Anthony Smith, et. al. vs. Robert Williams. August 6, 1806. Deposition of Caleb Bentley, Richard Thomas, Samuel Brooke, John Thomas attesting to Ceaser's good character.
  11. Ibid., September 2, 1806. Deposition of Caleb Bentley in which he states that he overheard Plummer saying that he would be glad to surrender trusteeship of Robert Williams.
  12. Ibid., September 23, 1806. Final ruling by Chancellor William Kilty, Ceaser Williams is awarded trusteeship of Robert Williams.
  13. 1810 United States Federal Census, Anne Arundel, Maryland. In this record, a Robt. Williams is listed as a free person living in a household with a total of 5 free persons.
  14. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Mary Farquhar Green Collection) Account book of Gerard Brooke, 1812 land transaction with Ceaser and George Williams [MSA SC 566-1-98, 00/09/06/06]. It should be noted that this land transaction does not appear in the Montgomery County land records.
  15. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) November 15, 1819. Bill of Sale between David Newlin and Ceaser Williams. Liber V, p. 20. [MSA CE148-23].
  16. MONTGOMERY COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Court Papers) State of Maryland vs. Ceaser Williams. March 1820, Criminal Appearances, no. 61 [MSA T414-31, 3/55/6/17].
  17. 1820 United States Federal Census, District 5, Anne Arundel, Maryland. It should be noted that Ceaser was still paying rent to Gerard Brooke for his 33 acre tract of land near Brookeville until 1821: SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Mary Farquhar Green Collection) Account book of Gerard Brooke, 1812 land transaction with Ceaser and George Williams [MSA SC 566-1-98, 00/09/06/06].
  18. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Mary Farquhar Green Collection) Account book of Gerard Brooke, 1802-1821 [MSA SC 566-1-98, 00/09/06/06]; SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Mary Farquhar Green Collection) Account book of Richard Brooke, 1812-1822 [MSA SC 566-1-100, 00/09/06/05].
  19. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Mary Farquhar Green Collection) Account book of Gerard Brooke, 1802-1821 [MSA SC 566-1-98, 00/09/06/06]. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Mary Farquhar Green Collection) Account book of Richard Brooke, 1815-1822 [MSA SC 566-1-100, 00/09/06/05]. 1830 United States Federal Census, District 6, Anne Arundel, Maryland; Session Laws, 1838, Chapter 22. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 598, p. 19.
  20. 1850 United States Federal Census, District 3, Calvert, Maryland.

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