Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Agnes Kane Callum (1926-2015)
MSA SC 3520-13117


Agnes Kane Callum is a distinctive genealogist and front-runner on African American history in Maryland. Kane has worked relentlessly to chronicle her family lineage and the history behind slavery in St. Mary's County, inspiring others to do the same. A lifetime resident of Baltimore, Maryland, Kane's work in the fields of genealogy and history have resulted in the preservation of a crucial aspect of Maryland's history that remained unstudied. Kane's contributions to the history behind the State of Maryland is massive, and her developments in genealogy have affected those all over the nation.

Agnes Emma Kane was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on February 24, 1926. She was the fifth of twelve children born to Phillip Moten Kane and Mary Priscilla Gough Kane. She attended Dunbar High School, in Baltimore; however, Callum dropped out before her twelfth grade year. 1 She married her husband and from this union she became the mother of three daughters. Callum went to work for the U.S. Postal Service as a clerk in 1966. In addition to her duties as a mother and full time postal employee, Callum was actively involved in her community. In 1967, she organized the Cleanup Association for a Better Neighborhood to keep her neighborhood from becoming a slum.

Education was always important to Callum, who decided to take the high school equivalency test in 1962.2 Mrs. Callum enrolled at Morgan State University in 1968 at the age of 46. While at Morgan State University Mrs. Callum wrote a paper on the acquisition of land by free blacks in St. Mary's County, Maryland. She completed her bachelor's degree at Morgan State University in 1973, Mrs. Callum also earned a master's there in 1975 and was a Fulbright-Hayes Fellow at the University of Ghana.

Callum, whose family has centuries-long roots in St. Mary’s County, has pieced together her family tree from primary source documents. Callum, who traced her own ancestry back to Sotterley plantation, "eventually found some of her slave ancestors by reading St. Mary's County wills and finding that her enslaved ancestors had been left to a woman after her husband died."3 Callum indexed the entire volume of a St. Mary's County slave statistics book at the Maryland State Archives, making it more usable to others looking for their roots in Maryland. Through her research, Mrs. Callum's discovered that her great-grandfather, Hilliary Kane, was a slave on the Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood, Maryland.4 "Hilliary Kane, lived in the slave quarters from 1848 until Maryland's 1864 Unionist Constitution abolished slavery. Married twice, he and his wives raised 18 children in this sort of post-and-plank cabin, chinked against the wind by a mix of mud and hog bristles."5 After many years conducting research on the Kane family, Callum would  serve on the board of directors for the plantation.6

Callum's historical research of enslaved people at the Sotterley Plantation helped save the historic site from ruin. She helped to raise $30,000 in matching funds for a grant to save the slave cabin on the site. Today, Sotterley is a National Historic Landmark with visitors who learn a fuller story of life at the historic plantation. It contains one of the few remaining original 1830s slave cabins located in the state of Maryland.7 Sotterley's interpretive framework is "Slavery to Freedom," a hands-on program for 7th to 12th graders. It teaches about 19th century Tidewater Maryland slavery, basing the curriculum on the particular experiences of specific individuals enslaved at Sotterley. The program includes research done by Agnes Kane Callum, a former trustee of the historic site. The program revolves around the daily activities, material culture, and relationships of the Kane family and culminates in a site visit. The program was formed in conjunction with the St. Mary’s County Public Schools. A self-guided tour of the grounds leads visitors to the surviving slave cabin, while specialty tours on African Americans at Sotterley tie together the social, agricultural, and architectural landscapes.

Mrs. Callum has published more than 25 books on African American history and genealogy, some of which are in the reference collection of the Maryland State Archives’ library. Among her publications are numerous books and articles, including: Kane- Butler Genealogy; History of a Black Family; The Kane's Sojourn at Sotterley; Kane Family News Notes; 25 volumes of Flower of the Forest a black genealogical journal; Tomb Stone Inscriptions of Mount Calvary Cemetery. She named her journal Flower of the Forest after the plantation in St. Mary’s County, Maryland where her maternal ancestors lived after Emancipation. It was published annually for 25 years. She has also published works on the history of U.S. Colored Troops, including, Colored Volunteers of Maryland, 7th Regiment United States Colored Troops 1863 - 1866, Bounty Records of the 9th Regiment United States Colored Troops 1863 - 1866, and History of the 9th Regiment United States Colored Troops Volunteers of Maryland, Civil War 1863 – 1866.

In addition to publishing books on her family history and the history of St. Mary’s and Anne Arundel Counties in Maryland, Callum has written the history of St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church, the oldest African American Catholic parish in the United States. "A frequent columnist for The Catholic Review, Callum has written about Colonial Maryland and the role played by people of African descent, including Mathias de Sousa, one of nine indentured servants brought by Jesuit missionaries on the Ark when it arrived in St. Mary’s River in March, 1634."8

Callum lost all of her possessions on January 19, 1996, when a gas explosion and fire destroyed her Baltimore home. All of her reference materials, years of research and writings, collected documents, family papers and memorabilia were gone. The loss came as a shock and impacted Maryland's genealogical community. Within days a "Friends of Agnes Kane Callum" group was organized to collect donations to help her restore the materials and tools needed to reconstruct research efforts and to embark upon new projects.

One month later friends and colleagues gathered at a meeting of the Central Maryland Chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society in Columbia, where she had been scheduled to speak on U.S. Colored Troops in the Civil War. The event became a tribute to Agnes for her contributions to African-American genealogy and history and an effort to help rebuild her life as a researcher. Speakers of the day recounted research trips with Agnes, and others highlighted her accomplishments. Callum also shared stories, including tales of her family research which began with an Irish servant and a negro slave in the 17th century. Agnes was presented with a variety of research materials and tools, and certificates for many such items in the future. Included were the books she had written, a complete set of Flower of the Forest, many other African-American reference books, use of a laptop computer, folders, and notebooks.

The Maryland State Archives honored Agnes by giving her a microfilm copy of the St. Mary's County (Certificates of Freedom) 1806-1864 and a disk containing her finding aid for Comptroller of the Treasury (Bounty Papers) 1864-1868. This series contains correspondence and other documentation submitted by persons or their agents claiming Civil War bounties. Documents include affidavits of slave ownership, affidavits of freedom, bounty certificates and lists, death certificates, discharge papers, draft notices, manumissions, muster rolls, pension claims, powers of attorney, and substitutions. Callum headed a group of volunteers who processed this collection of about 10,000 items and indexed the names found in the records. The presentation included a printout of the portion of their work converted to a database. In addition, a letter from the state archivist, Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse, was read, in which he offered continued assistance to help Callum reconstitute her research work and designated her an Adjunct Research Scholar.9

Long considered an authority on Maryland's African American history, Callum was awarded an honorary doctorate by St. Mary’s College of Maryland at the school's 2008 commencement ceremony.10 Callum is considered a local treasure and is highly sought after to give lectures and oral histories. In honor of Black History Month, a program profiling the Kane Family was televised February 3, 2010. Historic Sotterley, Inc. granted permission for St. Mary’s County Government to air the program on County Government Channel 95.

Today, Callum continues to be a passionate historian of African American history and genealogy. She is a widowed mother and grandmother. She continues to share her passion for genealogy and history with future generations. Callum is a member of the Baltimore Chapter of the African American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS), which she helped to found. It was in her honor that the Baltimore Chapter was re-named the Agnes Kane Callum Baltimore Chapter in 2007.

Through sixteen volumes of her historical and genealogical journal Flower of the Forest, Agnes Kane Callum produced a scholarly work which is essential in understanding slavery in Maryland and other slaveholding states. Her work with Sotterley plantation has helped to foster relationships between descendants of slaves and slave owners and the larger community. Historic sites are more comfortable incorporating the story of slavery thanks to the partnership Callum created with Sotterley plantation.

Callum's career helped pave the way for future generations of genealogists and scholars interested in African American records. Callum has laid out a framework for how to successfully trace the life of individuals of African descent. As genealogy continues to flourish at an increasingly rapid pace, it is important that we recognize the research methodology that was put in place by Callum to help us better understand the historic record. Such an important woman to such an important field of study deserves endless recognition, and this recognition is forever preserved by Agnes Kane Callum's 2014 induction into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame.

Agnes Kane Callum passed away at her home on July 22, 2015.

1. Racine S. Winborne, "Flower of the Forest: A History of two Families," Baltimore Afro-American, August 27, 1983, 12. Return to text

2. ibid. Return to text

3. Liz Atwood, "All in the Family: Genealogy Research Unlocks the Past," Baltimore Sun, June 3, 2006, 1D. Return to text

4. Nancy Trejos, "Life's Work Rooted in Family Tree," The Washington Post, August 30, 1998, M01. Return to text

5. Carl Schoettler, "A Sense of Ownership Pain and Pride: History Weighs heavily on the Old Sotterley Plantation  in St. Mary's County, and on those who labor to save it, black and white," Baltimore Sun, January 22, 1996. Return to text

6. "Black Churches named to most-endangered List," Lodi News-Sentinel, June 22, 1996, 14. Return to text

7. The Maryland State Archives and the University of Maryland College Park, A Guide to the History of Slavery in Maryland, Annapolis: Maryland State Archives, 2007. Return to text

8. Martina P. Callum, "An Amazing Grace," Catholic Review, November 11, 2011. Return to text

9. "Tribute to Agnes Kane Callum," Archivist Bulldog, vol. 10 no. 4 (February 26, 1996). Quarterly newsletter published by the Maryland State Archives. Return to text

10. "SMCM Graduates 426," Southern Maryland News, May 12, 2008. Return to text

Return to Agnes Kane Callum's Introductory Page


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