The eight hundred and twenty-first volume of the Archives of Maryland Online
was originally created between 1805-1864. The Archives of Maryland edition was published in
2010 by the Maryland State Archives.
In 1805 the General Assembly passed a law to identify free African Americans and to control the
availability of freedom papers. As the lawmakers explained: "great mischiefs have arisen from
slaves coming into possession of certificates of free Negroes, by running away and passing as free
under the faith of such certificates"
(1805 Laws of Maryland
Chapter 66). The law required African
Americans who were born free to record proof of their freedom in the county court. The court
would then issue them a certificate of freedom. If the black person had been manumitted, the court
clerk or register of wills would look up the manumitting document before issuing a certificate of
A typical certificate not only indicates how the individual became free, but also lists physical
characteristics that could be used to establish identity. These include height, eye color,
complexion, and hair color and texture.
ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Certificates of Freedom)