Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

George Williams (b. 1783)
MSA SC 3520-16398

Biography:

Born in approximately 1783 in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Son of Robert Williams and Susanna Williams (b. ca. 1753).  Five siblings: Dinah (b. ca. 1785); Rachel (b. ca. 1787); Susan (b. ca. 1789); Ceaser (b. ca. 1791); and William (b. ca. 1793). Slave of John Galloway until 1806.

George Williams was probably born in Anne Arundel County, Maryland in 1783.1 George's father, Robert Williams, was a free black man. However, George, his siblings, and his mother, Susanna Williams were all slaves under the ownership of Anne Arundel County land owner John Galloway until 1793, when George's father purchased the family from Galloway in 1793.2 George legally remained a slave until he was freed by the Maryland State Legislature at the age of 23, after several years of being legally owned by his own father.

By 1803, George's father began showing signs of severe mental illness. According to his neighbors, he had a propensity to lose control of his physical actions, and would often become a nuisance to the community. In April of 1805, George's community issued a petition to the Chancery Court of Maryland to have Robert declared legally insane, and the petition was granted on May 7.3 By request of his community, one of Robert's white neighbors, Jerome Plummer, was appointed as Robert's trustee.4 Plummer lived on property that bordered the Patuxent River, just west of the property that George's father and his family were living on at the time of the court case. Plummer built a small home on his property for Robert, Susanna, and two of George's youngest siblings.5 

By this time George was no longer living with the rest of his family, but rather, he had "turned out for [himself]."6 In reality, George had fled from Plummer's property in West River on June 11, 1805. In response, Plummer placed a runaway slave advertisement in the Maryland Gazette, since George was still a slave in the eyes of the law. In the ad, Plummer stated that he was aware that George's uncle, Ceaser Williams, was harboring George in nearby Montgomery County, but that he would probably not stay there long, and would instead be "strolling around the country, as he is a lazy drunken fellow." Plummer offered a ten dollar reward for George's capture and return.7 However, it appears that George was neither captured nor returned to Plummer's estate as a result of the ad.

Meanwhile, during the court proceedings for George's father's case, several members of Robert's community attested that Plummer adequately cared for Robert and his family, providing them with shelter, clothing, and food. In order to supplement the costs of caring for Robert and his family, Plummer requested that the court allow him to sell some of Robert's property. At the time, George and his family were still considered Robert's slaves, and Plummer stood to gain a large profit by selling George, his mother, and his siblings back into legitimate slavery. In order to prevent this, Susanna submitted a petition to the Maryland House of Delegates to legally manumit herself and her family in the fall of 1805.8 The Maryland General Assembly directed the Chancery Court to free Susanna and the children. George, his siblings, and his mother were all officially granted their freedom on March 5th, 1806.9 As such, Plummer would no longer be able to sell George or his family, although Plummer was still able to sell off some of Robert's personal possessions, such as livestock and farm equipment, under the condition that he would report all the earnings to the court, and that he would not use the earnings for his own personal gain, but rather only for the welfare of George's father and his family.10

Although Plummer had become firmly established as Robert's trustee by the summer of 1805, George's uncle, Ceaser Williams, grew extremely dissatisfied with Plummer's methods of caring for Robert. As such, by the summer of 1806, Ceaser illegally entered Plummer's property in Anne Arundel County and absconded with Robert to the town of Brookeville in Montgomery County, where Ceaser had been renting a farm from prominent Brookeville resident Caleb Bentley for ten years.11 It is likely that George was living with Ceaser on Bentley's property at the time of the case. Along with Susanna, Ceaser claimed that Plummer had been abusing Robert and his children by frequently confining Robert in chains as a result of his lunacy, and by making Susanna and the children work as slaves on the Plummer property, although Plummer did not actually own any member of the Williams family.

Ceaser and Susanna submitted a petition to the Chancery Court to remove Plummer as Robert's trustee, and for Ceaser to become the new trustee.12 Initially, the Chancellor of the court declared that he did not find sufficient evidence in the petition to grant trusteeship to Ceaser, but he did declare that he would allow depositions for both Plummer's and Ceaser's sides of the case in the following months.13 Several of Plummer's neighbors attested that Plummer sufficiently fed, clothed, and sheltered Robert and his family, although they did confirm that Plummer would often confine Robert in chains. Along with Plummer himself, several of the witnesses also attested that Ceaser was a man of bad character, and that he should not be allowed to take of Robert's trusteeship.14 To counter these statements, several prominent Brookeville residents, including Caleb Bentley, Richard Thomas Jr., Samuel Brooke, and John Thomas all attested that Ceaser was a man of good character, that he was quick to resolve his debts, and that he was a "sober, honest, [and] industrious man."15 On September 23rd, 1806, after several months of testimony from both sides of the case, Chancellor William Kilty removed Plummer as Robert's trustee, and appointed Ceaser in his place.16 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, George and Ceaser purchased a 33 acre piece of land from Brookeville resident Gerard Brooke, where George lived until at least 1821. The previous year, George purchased a small amount of furniture and livestock from fellow Montgomery County resident William Butler.17 While in the Brookeville area, George would exchange his services as a farm hand and laborer for food and household items from Gerard Brooke and his son, Richard Brooke.18 During this time, 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."

Little is known about George Williams following his work for Richard Brooke in the early 1820s. George remained in Montgomery County, most likely in the Brookeville area, until at least 1850, where he lived with several Williams family members and worked as a laborer.19 By 1860, George may have moved to the Eastern portion of Baltimore City.20 George most likely died in Baltimore after 1860.

Kyle Bacon, DAR Research Fellow, 2012.

Notes:

  1. 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, including their names and ages.
  2. 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) [MSA CE 76-34, NH 6, p. 537].
  3. CHANCERY COURT (Chancery Papers). Anthony Smith, W. Murray, Isaac Owens, Philip J. Thomas, and O.S.S. Hawood vs. Robert Williams alias Negro Bob. 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]; 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).
  4. Ibid., May 7, 1805. Chancellor Alexander Hanson declares Robert Williams insane, appoints Jerome Plummer as his trustee.
  5. According to court filings, the Williams family lived on land rented from Joseph Pemberton near West River, in southern Anne Arundel County. Pemberton, a Quaker from Philadelphia who owned farm land in Maryland, owned about 1400 acres of land, all part of “Westbury,” a patent that encompassed present-day Galesville and the surrounding area; see a modern map here. Jerome Plummer owned land nearby, to the west of Pemberton’s holdings; Ibid., October 22, 1807, Plummer's brother Gerrard attesting that Plummer built Robert a house on his property; CHANCERY COURT (Chancery Papers). Anthony Smith, W. Murray, Isaac Owens, Philip J. Thomas, and O.S.S. Hawood vs. Robert Williams alias Negro Bob. June 14, 1805, Account Record of Robert Williams, submitted by Jerome Plummer; ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY COURT (Land Records) May 12, 1784, John Plummer to Ann Pemberton, several tracts of land in the West River Area of Anne Arundel County. Liber NH 2, p. 16 [MSA CE 76-30] ; ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY COURT (Land Records) October 18, 1783, Ann Pemberton to John Pemberton, several tracts of land in the West River area of Anne Arundel County. Liber NH 1, p. 414 [MSA CE 76-29]; LAND OFFICE (Certificates, Patented, Anne Arundel County) Patented Certificate 1672, Plat, and information regarding the Pemberton property known as "Westbury" in the West River area of Anne Arundel County. [MSA S 1189-1751, 1/26/3/16]; ANNE 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].
  6. Ibid., June 11, 1806, A petition in the case in which it is stated that Robert's oldest children  had "turned out for themselves."
  7. Journal of the House of Delegates. Votes and Proceedings, November Session, 1805. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 553, p. 61.
  8. CHANCERY COURT (Chancery Papers). Anthony Smith, W. Murray, Isaac Owens, Philip J. Thomas, and O.S.S. Hawood vs. Robert Williams alias Negro Bob. June 11, 1806. Petition of Ceaser Williams to replace Jerome Plummer as the trustee of Robert Williams. This particular petition states that Roberts older children have "turned out for themselves." MdHR 17,898-4015-1 [MSA S512-4133, 1/36/4/9]
  9. "Twenty Dollars Reward," Maryland Gazette, June 25, 1805. This article is a runaway slave ad 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."; Session Laws, 1805, Chapter 56. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 607, p. 32.
  10. CHANCERY COURT (Chancery Papers). Anthony Smith, et.al. vs. Robert Williams. 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].
  11. Ibid., August 6, 1806. Deposition by Caleb Bentley in which he states that Ceaser had been renting a farm from him for ten years, as well as a testament to Ceaser's good character.
  12. Ibid., 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.
  13. Ibid., Chancellor Alexander Hanson's declaration that he will allow character witnesses for both Jerome Plummer and Ceaser Williams.
  14. Ibid., July 20, 1806. Deposition of Jerome Plummer and others that attest to Ceaser's bad character.; Ibid., November 14-17, 1807. Various neighbors attest to Plummer's treatment of Robert Williams.
  15. Ibid., August 6, 1806.Deposition of Caleb Bentley, Richard Thomas, Samuel Brooke, John Thomas attesting to Ceaser's good character.
  16. Ibid., September 23, 1806. Final ruling by Chancellor William Kilty, Ceaser Williams is awarded trusteeship of Robert Williams.
  17. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) July 27, 1811. Bill of Sale between George Williams and William Butler for various household items and livestock. Liber P, p. 273 [MSA CE148-16].
  18. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Mary Farquhar Green Collection) Account book of Richard Brooke, 1815-1822 [MSA SC 566-1-100, 00/09/06/05]; 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.
  19. 1840 United States Federal Census, Cracklin district, Montgomery County, Maryland; 1850 United States Federal Census, Cracklin District, Montgomery county, Maryland.
  20. 1860 United States Federal Census, 3rd District, Baltimore City, Maryland. This census records indicates that a man named George Williams, born in Maryland in 1783 and aged 77 years, was living on the east side of Baltimore City, although his race is not clearly marked.

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