Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Susanna Williams (b. 1753)
MSA SC 3520-16405

Biography:

Probably born in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, in 1753. Enslaved by John Galloway of Anne Arundel County until 1793. Married to Robert Williams by 1783. Six children: George (b. ca. 1783), Dinah (b. ca. 1785), Rachel (b. ca. 1787), Susan (b. ca. 1789), Ceaser (b. ca. 1791), William (b. ca. 1793). Manumitted in 1806. Date of death unknown.

Susanna Williams was born in Anne Arundel County, Maryland in 1753.1 During her adult life, she was enslaved by John Galloway, a white landowner in the West River area of Anne Arundel County. She married Robert Williams some time before 1783. She and Robert had three sons and three daughters.2 In 1793, Robert purchased Susanna and their children from Galloway. Robert did not manumit them, but rather purchased them as his own property. Robert was declared insane by the State of Maryland in 1805. During the lengthy court battle surrounding Robert's insanity case, Susanna successfully petitioned the Maryland Legislature and the Chancery Court of Maryland to grant her and her children their freedom, which was approved in March of 1806.

In March of 1793, Susanna's husband Robert had acquired enough money to purchase his family from Galloway. In an ideal situation, this would have meant that Susanna and her children would have been freed from slavery for life. However, he did not purchase his family's freedom, but had rather acquired them as his own slaves, which greatly increased his enumerable wealth, although it is unclear whether this was what Robert intended. This purchase 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. Such a circumstance would present itself over a decade after the purchase. When he purchased his family, Robert, Susanna, and their children were living on land that Robert rented from Joseph and Ann Pemberton just outside of modern-day Galesville, Maryland. Joseph was a Philadelphia merchant and Quaker who owned large tracts of land in Maryland. Robert farmed tobacco on the land, which he used to pay Pemberton for rent.3

By 1803, Robert began showing signs of severe mental illness. According to his neighbors, he had a propensity towards losing control of his physical actions, and would often be a nuisance to the community. In April of 1805, his community issued a petition to the Chancery Court of Maryland to have Robert declared legally insane, and the petition was granted on May 7.4 By request of the community, one of Robert's white neighbors, Jerome Plummer, was appointed as Robert's trustee.5 Plummer, who lived on property that was to the west of the Pemberton property and bordered the Patuxent River, built a small home on his property for Robert, Susanna, and two of their younger children.6 Plummer's neighbors attested that he adequately cared for Robert and his family, providing them with shelter, clothing, and food.7 In order to supplement the costs of caring for Susanna, Robert, and their family, Plummer requested that the court allow him to sell some of Robert's property.8 At the time, Susanna and her children were still considered Robert's slaves, and Plummer may have stood to gain a large profit by selling them back into legitimate slavery. In order to prevent this, Susanna submitted a petition to the Maryland House of Delegates in the fall of 1805 to legally manumit herself and her family.9 The Maryland General Assembly directed the Chancery Court to free Susanna and the children. She and her children were officially granted their freedom on March 5th, 1806.10 As such, Plummer would no longer be able to sell Susanna and her children, although he 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 Robert and his family.11

Although Plummer had become firmly established as Robert's trustee by the summer of 1805, Susanna's brother-in-law, 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 nearby Montgomery County, Maryland, where Ceaser had been renting a farm from prominent Brookeville resident Caleb Bentley for ten years.12 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. 

Susanna and Ceaser submitted a petition to the Chancery Court to remove Plummer as Robert's trustee, and for Ceaser to become the new trustee.13 Initially, the Chancellor declared that he did not find sufficient evidence to grant trusteeship to Ceaser, but he did allow depositions for both Plummer's and Ceaser's sides of the case in the following months.14 Several of Plummer's neighbors attested that Plummer sufficiently fed, clothed, and sheltered Robert, Susanna, and their children, 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 over Robert's trusteeship.15 On the contrary, 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."16 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.17 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.

After her husband's insanity case was resolved, it is likely that Susanna remained in Anne Arundel County with Robert and her two youngest children. After earning her family's freedom, Susanna's oldest son, George, spent several years living in Montgomery County with Ceaser Williams.18 The date and location of her death are unknown.

Kyle Bacon, DAR Research Fellow, 2012.

Notes:

  1. Journal of the House of Delegates. Votes and Proceedings, November Session, 1805. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 553, p. 61.
  2. Anne Arundel County Court, Manumission Record, 1797-1807. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 825, p. 259; As was typical for African Americans during this time period, Robert and Susanna's marriage was not recognized by the Maryland state government.
  3. 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; 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]; 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]
  4. 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).
  5. CHANCERY COURT (Chancery Papers). Anthony Smith, W. Murray, Isaac Owens, Philip J. Thomas, and O.S.S. Hawood vs. Robert Williams, May 7, 1805. Chancellor Alexander Hanson declares Robert Williams insane, appoints Jerome Plummer as his trustee.
  6. Ibid., October 22, 1807, Plummer's brother attesting that Plummer built Robert a house on his property.; 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].
  7. CHANCERY COURT (Chancery Papers). Anthony Smith, W. Murray, Isaac Owens, Philip J. Thomas, and O.S.S. Hawood vs. Robert Williams, November 14-17, 1807. Various neighbors of Plummer's attesting to his good treatment of Robert and his family.
  8. 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.
  9. Journal of the House of Delegates. Votes and Proceedings, November Session, 1805. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 553, p. 61.
  10. Anne Arundel County Court, Manumission Record, 1797-1807. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 825, p. 259Session Laws, 1805, Chapter 56. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 607, p. 32.
  11. CHANCERY COURT (Chancery Papers). Anthony Smith, et. al. vs. Robert Williams. August 26, 1805. Declaration by Chancellor Alexander Hanson that Plummer be allowed to sell some of Robert's property, not including his slaves.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Ibid., June 21, 1805. Chancellor Alexander Hanson's declaration that he will allow character witnesses for both Jerome Plummer and Ceaser Williams.
  15. Ibid., July 20, 1806. Deposition of Jerome Plummer and others that attest to Ceaser's bad character.
  16. Ibid., August 6, 1806.Deposition of Caleb Bentley, Richard Thomas, Samuel Brooke, John Thomas attesting to Ceaser's good character.
  17. Ibid., September 23, 1806. Final ruling by Chancellor William Kilty, Ceaser Williams is awarded trusteeship of Robert Williams.
  18. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Mary Farquhar Green Collection) Account book of Gerard Brooke, 1802-1821 [MSA SC 566-1-98, 00/09/06/06].

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