Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Lewis Charlton (b. 1814 - d. 1888)
MSA SC 5496-008777
Released from Slavery, Frederick County, Maryland, 1842


Lewis Charlton’s life was a testament to surviving slavery in Maryland. Born in 1814 to his master, Mr. Ignatius Davis, Charlton claimed that the harshest treatment he received was not from Davis himself, but from the hands of his wife. Charlton described Mrs. Davis as a, “cruel, hardhearted, tyrannical woman.” 1 Charlton did not stay on Davis' farm for a long period of time; when Davis died, his property was dispersed and Charlton was sold at the age of seven. Davis’ inventories notes a boy by the name of Lewis of age nine assessed at one hundred and fifty dollars. It is plausible that this Lewis is indeed Lewis Charlton; both slaves and masters were many times unsure of exact ages or dates of birth. 2

Charlton later identifed other owners - Mr. Forinstock, Gettinger, Davis, and Richardson. His narrative leads the reader to believe that he spent most of his youth within the borders of Fredrick County, Maryland. As he recounted his time in slavery, Charlton told to Edward Everett Brown that he lost some of his toes due to severe frostbite while working during winter months. 3  His last owner, Mr. Richardson - who bought him around 1831 - manumitted Charlton after ten years of service, when he reached the age of twenty-eight. Although the reason for the manumission is unexplained in Charlton’s narrative, the inventory of original owner Ignatius Davis states that Lewis was supposed to serve until the age of twenty-eight. 4

For Charlton, life as a freeman proved just as interesting, record-wise as his enslaved life. In his narrative, Charlton says that he lived with a Mr. Isaac Rogers of Harford County between the ages of twenty-nine and forty-five. The 1850 Harford County census records show Lewis Charlton (spelled Charleston), living with his wife Mary 5; the ages correspond with his given date of birth. Charlton and his wife are again found in the 1860 Harford County census, along with a seven-year old daughter, Martha and a four-year old son, Edward. 6 In 1862, Charlton moved to Westminister in Carroll County. By the end of the Civil War, Charlton noted in his narrative that he wanted to contribute to the free black community of Westminister in some fashion, as they had no place of worship or schools that would admit them. Joining forces with some other blacks in the community, Charlton and his contemporaries sought to fill those two important voids. In 1867, the gentlemen were successful in gaining the deed to the lands where the Union Street AME Church in Westminister was founded; 7 Charlton claimed it was the first black church in town. Charlton described a school they also developed; it was likely housed in the church and lasted for four years. Charlton appears in the 1870 Carroll County Census as a laborer and  his wife and then fourteen-year old son, Edward are also listed in his household. 8 

In addition to Charlton's activism on behalf of newly freed slaves in the United States, Charlton spent time in Britain, speaking about the horrors of slavery to an international audience. As historian, Jeffrey Green explains, newspaper coverage in England indicates that Charlton spoke at different religious institutions as well as at a temperance meeting. Green also details issues some former slaves encountered when trying to publish and sell their narratives in England; a 28-page narrative of Lewis Charlton's life was printed by Pitts and Crockett in Fredericton, New Brunswick (Canada).10  A death record exists for Charlton in the English registrations; he died in March 1888 in Sheffield at 74 years of age and was listed as a "temperance lecturer."11

1.  Charlton, Lewis and  Edward  Everett  Brown, ed. Sketch of the Life of Mr. Lewis Charlton, and Reminiscenses of Slavery. (Portland, ME: Daily Press Print) p.3.
2. FREDRICK COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Inventories, Microfilm) Ignatius Davis, 1827, page 793,  MSA CM 479-22, CR 50,054-2.
3. Charlton, 3.
4. FREDRICK COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Inventories, Microfilm) Ignatius Davis, 1827, page 793, MSA CM 479, CR-22 50054-2.
5. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU (Census Record, MD) MSA SM61, Lewis Charlton, p.17, 1850, HA, MSA SM61-140, M1498-1.
6. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU (Census Record, MD) MSA SM61, Lewis Charlton, p.465, 1860, HA, MSA SM61-210, M7222-1.
7. CARROLL COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Land Records, MD) MSA CM291, Amos Bell, CE34, folio 445-446,  1867, MSA CM291-22.
8. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU (Census Record, MD) MSA SM61, Lewis Charlton, p.538, 1870, CR, MSA SM61-266.
9. Jeffrey Green, "Lewis Charlton and the Economics of Slave Narratives," 138, February, 2014.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.  Charlton's death was registered in Brightside, Sheffield in the County of York. Historian Jeffrey Green obtained a copy of the death certificate which can be accessed here - United Kingdom, Cerified Copy of Entry of Death for Lewis Charlton,  March 26, 1888.

Edited by Allison Seyler, July 2014.
Special thanks to historian, Jeffrey Green for suggestions and further details on Lewis Charlton.

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