Maryland State Archives

Legacy of Slavery Research Program



The aim of this presentation is to help the audience understand the resistance of African American women on and off the Plantation during slavery in 19th Century Maryland. The audience will be introduced to different Women and situations.



African American women played a major role in the abolition of slavery in the state of Maryland. Prior to the ending of slavery black women were very resistant to the institution of slavery. Many people rebelled against slavery in the state both on and off of the plantation. Black women were treated as the lowest class during slavery whether they were free or enslaved. Since black women were treated with disrespect, they were underestimated in their opposition to slavery. Right under the nose of the dominant white male society black women were crafty in their rebellion. They used their situation to their advantage. Black women were resisting for numerous reasons, but mostly for the injustice that their people suffered under the influence of slavery.


Topics and People:

(Notable African American women will be introduced as they apply to the subject matter.) This presentation will be discussed in three parts, resistance on the plantation, running away, and assistance to those in flight.


I.                    Resistance on the plantation took form in a number of ways

a.                   Harm to the master’s family- Slave women in Maryland could easily cause harm to the family of their owner because of the task they were given. Some women were trusted as caretakers as well as cooks. There were slave women who were nurses on the Poplar Hill a plantation belonging to the Darnall family. We know this because of property inventories.

1.                  On November 6, 1834, Judith, who belonged to Dr. John Bayne, kills his two sons John and George aged 7 and 5 years old. John Bayne lived at Salubria Plantation in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Judith admits to having previously poisoned Dr. Bayne’s infant daughter Mary Catherine two years prior. Judith, who is only 14 at the time, is eventually tried and hanged for the crime. By 1864, John Bayne who was an advocate for slavery and strict punishment of runaways eventually spoke out in favor of emancipation once he saw the inevitable ending of slavery. We can find this information in Newspapers. The children of John and Mary Bayne that were killed by Judith are buried at Apple Grove Cemetery in Fort Washington. Newspaper states that they don’t know why she did this because she came from a nice family. (PG County Pictorial History and Stones and Bones) Don’t know why she killed his children.

2.                  Louisa Harris, a mulatto slave belonging to Charles Cockey is mentioned in a petition dated June 1853 as “notoriously vicious & turbulent and dangerous to the safety of himself and family”. Louisa is to be sold “beyond the limits of the State of Maryland”. She has instilled fear in her master and his family. Cockey also states that Louisa is in the habit of running away. (Baltimore County Register of Wills Petitions and Orders)

b.                  Destroying Property- Women on the plantation would burn the homes or crops of their masters in resistance to their situation. (Judith, mentioned prior to, also attempted to burn the dwelling house down. She admits this crime at her interrogation.)

c.                   Enticing Slaves to runaway- Common amongst the free African American population in Maryland. Women in Maryland used various methods to entice slaves including word of mouth and literature. In various Maryland newspapers you can find notices of caution from trespassing onto the owners property and attempting to entice slaves.

Mary Toogood

On October 31, 1844, Mary Toogood, a freeborn African-American, was convicted by the Anne Arundel County Court for enticing a slave to run away. Mary was born in Baltimore City but resided in Anne Arundel County, and was living there at the time of her arrest. Her father Benjamin Toogood was a slave, but was eventually manumitted.


II.                 Runaway’s- (Law passed in 1850 to render the northern states unsafe for escaped slaves. If an escaped slave made his way to a northern state and found himself encountered there by hunters or catchers, he could legally be taken back to slavery in spite of his residence in a free state because of this overriding federal law. Free citizens of free states could also be legally conscripted to aid in a slave's return to slavery. This law galvanized the abolitionist movement in the north.) Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Running away was a risk for the slave and the owner. In the act of 1715 no slave could travel by land or water 10 miles from his or her masters house without a note from his or her owner.  In the act of 1806 it says that if there is a runaway slave from the state of Maryland their master or owner will pay a fine of  $6.00.

a.                   Why were women running away- Freedom and relief from abusive treatment, closer to relatives?

1.                  Legally Free-

·                                            Refusal by the owners to free their slaves led to slaves fleeing the plantation. Other slaves wanted to purchase their freedom, or a relative’s freedom, only to be refused by their masters. In the case of Caroline Hammond, a fugitive from Davidsonville, MD her father (a free man) tried to purchase his family’s freedom and the Mistress refused to accept the money.  “When father wanted to pay off the balance due, $40.00, Mrs. Davidson refused to accept it, thus mother and I were to remain in slavery. Hammond and her mother eventually escaped to Pennsylvania. (Rawick)

2.                  Physical and Sexual Abuse

·                                            Slave women suffered at the hands of their masters physically and sexually. Women like men on the plantation received punishment in the form of beatings if they upset their master.

·                                            Hannah a slave from Cambridge, MD said that because they used her so bad, beat and knocked her about she ran away.

3.                  Fear of being sold

·                                            Many women were separated from their families during slavery. Children in Maryland were often hired out to another family, which would separate them from their nuclear family. Women also feared being sold into a family who would treat them harsher than their current situation. Sometimes slaves were overworked at their current house, its possible that at the next house you could be overworked and abused.

b.                  Women running in groups- (Friendship Network)- In some cases women ran away with other women, also living in the same households when they escaped.

1.                  Charlotte Giles and Harriet Eglin- ran away from their masters, Captain William Applegarth and John Delahay, together on a train. When approached by their master they used the alias Mary and Lizzie.

2.                  Susan, Jenny, and Mary Anne

There was a Six Hundred Dollar Reward for these women.


In Maryland you found that women often time ran away with men usually a spouse or another male. There were 60 passengers that came in a single month from Cambridge, MD as mentioned in William Stills Underground Railroad pg. 97-99. Whole families, which included a man and women and between 2-4 children, would take, flight together. There were cases of women that ran away with their children in Maryland. (Daily National Intelligencer: Juliet and her 3 children runaway, $25 reward, Nelly West and her children.) The above-mentioned belonged to Mrs. M.L. Contee.


III.               Assistance to those in flight- Aiding slaves in Flight was a huge risk. Jail terms were issued out for those assisting runaways.

a.                   Abolitionist- there were female abolitionists from the state of Maryland whose abolitionist activities took place within and out of the state. Assistance came at a great price considering offenders were prosecuted once they were caught. (i.e. Eliza Young was arrested for assisting her 3 daughters escape from Samuel Cooper). Two famous abolitionists are Harriet Tubman and Francis Ellen Watkins Harper.  I chose these two women to give examples of an abolitionist who was enslaved and an abolitionist born free.

1.                  Harriet Tubman

Fled from slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland, on October 3, 1849 with two of her brothers Ben and Henry. Biography

2.                  Francis Ellen Watkins Harper

Born free in 1824 in Baltimore, Maryland, Biography

Francis Harper was a poet, novelist, and lecturer who spoke out for abolition and women’s rights. Most of Harper’s poems and novels reflected the life of black women on the plantation. Harpers poems were published in Abolitionist periodicals. Two of her most famous works were Iola Leroy and Almost Forgotten. Harper used proceeds from her poems for the Underground Railroad. Frances Harper died on February 11, 1911.

b.                  Food & Shelter- Shelter was provided in different locations including homes, barns, and churches. Women prepared meals and welcomed people into their homes. There were women in Maryland who ran to the Union Troops and enlisted as cooks. (i.e. Matilda Sanders). Julia Hill a free black woman in Baltimore City harbored a slave girl in her house. After a search of her home the girl was found between two beds.

c.                   Financial- Women did finance people running away. 

1.                  Anna Murray Douglass- Anna Murray Douglass was born free in Denton, MD. She financially funded the escape of Frederick Augusta Bailey from Baltimore to New York. Frederick who changed his last name from Bailey to Douglass eventually became her husband. Anna Douglass who was a laundress took care of the finances in the home while Douglass was away lecturing on slavery.


Maya Davis

Research Archivist, Legacy of Slavery in Maryland


Brown, Hallie Q. Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction. (Ohio: Aldine Publishing Company, 1926).

Baltimore County Register of Wills (Petitions and Orders) Charles T. Cockey vs. Louisa Harris: 29 April 1856. MSA T1206-449, 02/58/08/14.

Guy Leonard, "Observation Group Clears Oxon Hill historical site for demolition", MarylandGazette, 30 October 2003.

Rawick, George P. The American Slave, Vol. 16. (Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Company, 1972).

Sargent, Jean A. Stones and Bones. (Bowie, MD: PG County Genealogical Society, Inc., 1984).

Sprague, Rosetta Douglass. My mother as I Recall Her. (Washington, DC: NACW Publishing, 1923).

Still, William. Underground Railroad: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, etc. Philadelphia, PA: Porter & Coales, Publishers, 1872, 780 pp.

Virta, Alan. Prince George's County: A Pictorial History. (Virginia Beach, VA: Donning Company Publishers, 1984).

A.W.P., "Unparalleled Depravity", Daily National Intelligencer, November, 1834.

Special Collections (Biographical Series). Mary Toogood. 1844, MSA SC 5496-3361.

Special Collections (Biographical Series). Harriet Ross Tubman. 1849, MSA SC 3520-13562.

Special Collections (Biographical Series). Susan. 1851, MSA SC 5496-1306.

Special Collections (Biographical Series). Jenny. 1851, MSA SC 5496-1317.

Special Collections (Biographical Series). Mary Anne. 1851, MSA SC 5496-1327.

Maryland Commision for Women. Francis Ellen Watkins Harper. Maryland State Archives, 2001.

Harper, Frances Watkins. Almost Forgotten.

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