The KENT COUNTY COURT (Chattel Records) 1750-1851 [MSA C1035] and 1750-1809 [MSA CM1256] contain materials relating to personal property and served as vehicle for recording documents that could not be placed in other record books in the clerk's office. The entries are arranged chronologically by recording date. Only the volumes between 1764 and 1828 contain indexes. The following analysis concentrates on records relating to slaves and free blacks. Other documents will be discussed in the next article.
Bills of sale, mortgages, and deeds of trust comprise the largest category of documents in chattel records. Some properties appear repeatedly throughout the records and others show up only periodically. Chattels sold and mortgaged throughout the time period of 1750 to 1851 include slaves. Some documents stand out from the others, especially the many sales to southern buyers in the 1820s, sales of "vicious and turbulent" slaves to out-of-state buyers per an act passed in 1833, and sales of wives and children to free black men.
Manumissions, 1764-1851, are documents giving slaves their freedom contemporaneously or at a later date. The records show names, ages, and freedom dates and include many granted by free blacks, especially for family members. In 1808, William Smith, a free black man, "...in consideration of the abhorrence in which I view all kinds of bondage and especially that which dooms a fellow creature to vassalage for life..." manumitted a negro woman Mary Smith, perhaps his wife [TW 2, p. 253].
The chattel records include powers of attorney whereby one person authorizes another to act on his/her behalf. Some granted the power to convey slaves, 1820-1837.
Some people filed depositions and agreements with the clerk of the court so that the information could be a matter of public record. Some depositions concerned the African-American population of Kent County, such as a jail escape in 1800, the free status of several blacks in 1822, and the ownership of slaves, 1823-1828. In the agreements individuals were contracting to abide by arbitration concerning the ownership or use of slaves, 1775-1837. In 1823, a free black agreed to let his son serve a farmer for 5 1/2 years and the farmer agreed to manumit the daughter of the free black. The document did not specify the reason for this agreement.
State law required anyone bringing slaves from out of state into Maryland to file a certificate with the clerk of the county court. The certificates of removal in Kent County, 1799-1851, list slaves coming mostly from Delaware. Other states were Louisiana, Missouri, and Virginia.
Some certificates of freedom are recorded in the chattel records - three pages in the back of WS 2 and one entry in JNG 2, covering the years 1781-1833. A discharge from a former slave owner, Isabella Pearce, was enrolled in 1809. "Samuel Chase and Hannah his wife both free Negroes of Kent County Maryland, have two children, the eldest of the two called Sam or properly Samuel born August the twenty fifth one thousand eight hundred and three, the other called Hannah between two and three years younger. The Mother of these children was formerly a slave of mine but has been manumitted by me soon after the birth of each of these children. I gave them to their mother to be her own property. But the parents still anxious and doubtful of the future freedom of their children has beged me to write something to confirm the gift, which I do here confirm by relinquishing all wright or claim to them and do hereby certify that I have never given to any person except their parents a right to claim any authority over them... [TW 2, p. 413].
Free blacks leaving Maryland but intending to return after thirty days were required to file certificates of intention to return to the state. The chattel records contain certificates for 1835 to 1845 and include a Methodist minister visiting his children and preaching, a wife accompanying her sailor husband to Nantucket, and others looking for work.
In 1828, a petition and court order to export a slave out of state were recorded. Among the 1843 chattel documents is a court order adjudging a free black the property of two men under Acts of 1826, ch. 229, sec. 9. Under that section free blacks after serving time in the Maryland Penitentiary were banished from the state. If found in Maryland sixty or more days after discharge, a free black could be sold into slavery for the time served in the penitentiary.
Based on past experience with chattel records I expected to find bills of sale, mortgages, deeds of trust, and manumissions. The other documents were less common, but in many ways more interesting because of their uniqueness.
On Sunday, November 5, Ed gave the Tenth Annual Archer Memorial Lecture, co-sponsored by the Historical Society of Harford County and Harford Community College. The series is named after Dr. George W. Archer, a physician who returned wounded from the Civil War and spent the rest of his life gathering information on the history of northeast Maryland, a collection which now forms the nucleus of the archives of the Historical Society of Harford County. Ed's talk was enthusiastically received by the large audience, which was, according to the organizers, the best turnout in memory.
STATE AND LOCAL RECORDS REPORT
On another front, the Allegany County plat project neared completion in September. Still remaining is the filming of the largest of the oversized materials and preservation treatment of the most distressed portion of the collection. Marilyn Bentley of the Administrative Office of the Courts visited to see not only the extent of the damage to these remaining fifty plats, but to review the excellent work completed by the Conservation Lab on the records. The Baltimore County plat project continued as well, with work being completed on the first portion of the collection requiring conservation treatment.
The circuit courts of Calvert and Dorchester counties continued the conversion to 16mm microfilm for their land record operations. Along with the usual contacts, Archives staff visited register of wills offices in several counties to discuss possible conversion to microfilm, either 35mm or 16mm, for their wills and administration proceedings.
The September total of 947 reference requests represents a 14.1% increase over last years total of 830. Not surprisingly, this increase was accompanied by a 28.5% rise in the number of records circulated, from 1242 to 1596. There were 56 fewer vital records requests in September 1995 (349) than in 1994 (405), a 13.8% decrease. Circulation of district court records increased 5%, 317 compared to 302. Requests for records of the circuit courts and other agencies rose by an impressive 73.8%, 930 compared to 535.
Overall, the judiciary continues as the largest single user of SLR reference services. The number of reference requests received from the courts increased by 32.7%, 284 compared to 214, thus accounting for 30% of all requests received and 36.6% of total record circulation.
Requests received by phone again increased in September, although accounting for only 30.7% of total requests, compared to 31.4% in 1994. Encouragingly, the number of requests faxed to the Archives increased from 39 to 80.
Overall, fax requests made up 8.4% of the September 1995 total, while accounting for only 4.7% of the 1994 total. Fewer requests were generated from the search room (95) than had been the case in September 1994 (156). Search room requests accounted for 10% of September 1995 reference activity as compared to 18.8% last year, a decrease of 8.8%. We also received 29 requests handled in the lobby without requiring the patron to register for the search room.
The number of phone/fax requests (371) again fell short of the number of requests received through the mail (452), but far exceeded those received through in-person visits (124). Phone/fax requests accounted for 39.2% of total requests, with the mail accounting for 48%.
Revenue from reference activity was up 102.5%, $9502 compared to $4693, in part because SLR is copying many records formerly done in the photo lab.