Mark Caesar (b. circa 1810 - d. 11 Nov. 1850)
MSA SC 5496-003364
Accomplice to slave flight, Charles County, Maryland, 1845
On either July 7 or 8, 1845, Mark Caesar, a Charles County slave, and Bill Wheeler, the slave of Benjamin Contee, also of Charles County, were the "prime movers and instigators in the late Negro insurrection"1 of an estimated seventy-five enslaved men who set out walking towards their freedom in Pennsylvania. The two were joined by slaves from neighboring St. Mary's County and they made their way up through Prince George's County, continually amassing a larger crowd as they were joined by Prince George's County slaves as well. The Maryland Journal reported that they "were seen within two miles of the place on the Frederick road, making their way northward in great haste."2; The slaves were armed with weapons to protect themselves, among which reportedly included pistols, loaded bludgeons, scythe blades, swords, clubs, butcher knives etc. The group was said to have been "Headed by a powerful Negro fellow, sword in hand."3
The "Montgomery Volunteers", a group called out to stop the slaves, along with many others in pursuit, eventually surrounded and attacked the group of slaves. It was reported that the leader of the group demanded that the Blacks fight back. The Volunteers and their supporters captured captured thiry-one of the Blacks, but many of them took flight. The thirly-one captured were apprehended near Rockville, Montgomery County, within two miles of Gaithersburg. Some of them, upon defending themselves, had been shot and wounded. One witness claim was that the slaves were maliciously shot with powder and ball, and the survivors chained and driven off like beasts to this county, while The Port Tobacco Times responded, "They had to be fired upon before they would surrender."4 All of those seized, including five who were badly injured, were taken to the jail at Rockville under the assumption that they had run away from their masters, who were mostly from Charles County. Those who escaped were pursued further still, even after another large portion of the group was captured, some as far as Westminster, Carrol County, Maryland. All of the weapons found with the slaves were confiscated for inspection, and most of the slaves caught were sold out of state by their masters.
Mark Caesar, thirty-five years old, was detained, and he faced trial on Thursday, September 4, 1845, three days after Wheeler. Caesar, who could read and write, had a scar on the back of his neck from a pistol ball.5 It is unknown whether or not this scar came from the insurrection. There were separate indictments filed by the grand jury against Caesar and Wheeler. The Port Tobacco Times reported that the two, "If proved to be guilty, will, in accordance to the law in relation to this crime, suffer the penalty of death."6 The prosecuting attorney for the state in both Caesar and Wheeler's cases was Geo. Brent, Esq. Caesar's trial lasted two days, and the jury remained out for twenty-four hours without coming to an agreement. Of the jury of twelve, eight people were for convicting him and four against convicting him. Arriving at an impasse, the court discharged the jury in order to assemble a different jury to hear Caesar's case. A week later, on September 11, 1845, there was a new jury empannelled to hear the case. The Port Tobacco Times reported, "There were some three or four cases of minor importance disposed of by the court during the time occupied in procuring a jury to try Mark Caesar, who was acquitted during the last session of the court of the charge of insurrection. He was tried this time as a free negro aiding and abetting slaves in making their escape from their masters."7 Although the grand jury found thrity-six indictments against him, he was only tried for ten of them. Convicted on each of the ten indictments, Caesar was sentenced on November 1, 1845 to forty years in the Penitentiary, four years per indictment. Caesar ended up dying in jail of consumption on November 11, 1850.
Though it was reported on July 16, 1845 that Bill Wheeler had not yet been arrested, and the newspaper urged readers to "Keep a look out for him, as lots of money will be forked over to any one who may nab him,"8 Wheeler was ultimately apprehend and brought to face trial in Charles County Court on September 1, 1845. The Hon. Judge Clement Dorsey and Alexander C. Magruder presided in the court on that Monday when Bill Wheeler's trial commenced. The jury took a short abscence on the evening of Tuesday, September 2nd to deliver the guilty verdict when they returned to the Court. The following day, Wheeler's counsel, Jno. M.S. Causin, Esq., made a motion for a new trial as well as a motion for arrest of judgement, but both of these were overruled by the court. "The case was submitted to the jury upon the mere matters of fact elicited during the trial from the witnesses, together with the law bearing upon the case."9 On November 1st, 1845, Bill Wheeler was sentenced to death by hanging. There was a law passed on March 10, 1846 entitled "An Act to authorise and require the Warden and Keepers of the Penitentiary of Maryland, to receive and keep negro William Wheeler, now under sentence of death into Penitentiary, in the event of the commutation of his sentence by the Governor."10 This law was created to assure that Wheeler be imprisoned in the Penitentiary for life if it was decided that he should not receive the death penalty.
Word of the uprising sent fear throughout Charles, St. Mary's and Prince George's Counties. The Maryland Journal wrote, "This is the most daring movement which has ever come under our observation. We have heard of gangs of negroes travelling through parts of the country sparsely inhabited, but never before have we heard of their taking to the public road in open day, within 2 miles of a County town, and in a thickly settled neighborhood."11 In response to the rebellion, on the 12th of July in St. Mary's County and on the 15th of July in Charles County, a public meeting of citizens took place "to deliberate on matters vitally affecting their interests."12 Discussed in Charles County were efforts to "confine the slaves within proper limits, and to keep them free from those influences which poison their minds and tend to render them dissatisfied with their condition."13 There was also concern expressed by citizens writing in to their local newspapers about defending against such uprisings. Some desired to have a special militia created for this purpose, urging the people to lobby their delegates to help secure this militia, who would also be responsible for catching all runaway slaves, and would be rewarded for doing so. In St. Mary's County, it was decided that a "Committee of Vigilance" would be formed, with ten people in each election district to watch over the movements of Blacks of the county. The "Montgomery Volunteers" were praised as well, and many new people signed up for the Volunteers also.
1. "Charles County Court", Port Tobacco Times,
28 August 1845.
2. "Yesterday Morning Early", Maryland Journal, 9 July 1845.
3. Aptheker, Herbert, American Negro Slave Revolts, New York: International Publishers, 1974.
4. "Great panic of the Planters of Charles County", Port Tobacco Times, 31 July 1845.
5. MARYLAND PENITENTIARY (Prisoners Record) MSA S275, Mark Caesar, #3921
6. "Charles County Court", Port Tobacco Times, 4 September 1845.
7. "Charles County Court", Port Tobacco Times, 6 November 1845.
8. "Bill Wheeler", Maryland Journal, 16 July 1845.
9. "Charles County Court", Port Tobacco Times, 4 September 1845.
10. GENERAL ASSEMBLY (Laws, Original) MSA S966, Chapter 368, "An Act to authorise and require the Warden and Keepers of the Penitentiary of Maryland, to receive and keep negro William Wheeler, now under sentence of death into Penitentiary, in the event of the commutation of his sentence by the Governor", Dates: 1845, MSA S 966-307, MdHR 6-306.
11. "Yesterday Morning Early", Maryland Journal, 9 July 1845.
12. Letter to the Editors, Port Tobacco Times, 7 August 1845.
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