Key Items Tell Maryland Emancipation Story

Share Article

Maryland Historical Society documents from Frederick Douglass, Slaveowners describe divisive nature of slavery. A Maryland Emancipation-related lecture will take place on Thursday, October 30, 2014.

“Arrival of Freedmen and Their Families at Baltimore, Maryland-An Every Day Scene,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 30 September 1865. Wood Engraving, Print. Maryland Historical Society

On November 1, 2014 the state of Maryland will commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Maryland Emancipation. This date seems incongruous, as President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had freed all slaves in rebel states as of January 1, 1863. Why did it take nearly two years for slaves in Maryland to receive emancipation? Two key documents in the Maryland Historical Society’s collection, from Frederick Douglass and a noted slaveowner of the time, legislator Samuel Berry, shed light on this divisive era. A special lecture highlighting Maryland's long road to Civil Rights will take place on Thursday, October 30, 2014 at the Maryland Historical Society.

Maryland the ‘Free’?

Maryland was loyal to the Union during the Civil War. It had a large population of free African Americans, but Maryland also had slaves and slaveowners. These ‘border state’ slaveowners were incentivized to support the Union cause by freeing their slaves to enlist in the Union Army. The slaveholders (not the slaves) would receive between $100 and $300 per slave freed.

“Even though the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t apply to Maryland, the debate was going on already,” says David Armenti, Student Research Coordinator at the Maryland Historical Society, "Frederick Douglass, in particular, led efforts to get African American soldiers enlisted in the Union Army, which was still very controversial at the time.”

‘The More Men You Make Free, The More Freedom Is Strengthened’  
Noted orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave a speech at Bethel Church in Baltimore on November 17, 1864 just 16 days after emancipation was finalized.

A few key points from his speech include:

  • “Then freedom was the dream, the hope and the prayer of the colored people – now it is a glorious fact accomplished.”
  • “The more men you make free, the more freedom is strengthened, and the more men you give an interest in the welfare and safety of the State, the greater is the security of the State.”

Biblical Justifications For Slavery

Another document in the Maryland Historical Society’s collection gives an opposing, pro-slavery viewpoint. Slaveholding legislator Samuel H. Berry, who debated the new constitution in the Maryland General Assembly, (Rare PAM 1188. Speech of Samuel H. Berry, esquire, of Prince George's County: delivered in the constitutional convention of Maryland, June 23, 1864, in opposition to the emancipation of slaves). He says:

  • “We look upon this effort to abolish slavery as an outrage upon our rights.”  
  • [referring to freed African Americans] “Will they not rather become paupers and outcasts from society and an incubus upon the state that years will not enable us to rid ourselves of?”

Berry also quotes the Bible’s justifications for slavery at length during the published debate. There are several, similar published speeches and debates from people on both sides in the Maryland Historical Society’s collection, including the diary of slaveowner, Dr. Samuel Harrison of the Eastern Shore, (Dr. Samuel A. Harrison Collection, MS 432). Harrison detailed the announcement of emancipation to his slaves, their reactions, and the choices they faced: 1) Enlist in the Union Army, 2) Relocate to a city for employment opportunities, 3) Stay at the plantation and possibly receive wages for their work.  

A noteworthy drawing "Freedmen Arriving in Baltimore", which was published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper during the time of emancipation illustrates the migration of free African Americans to cities such as Baltimore.

How Maryland Dealt With Emancipation

“For African Americans, cities like Baltimore became places of opportunity. Freed African American men sought employment as general laborers or stablemen for wealthy families. Women secured domestic work. But it was difficult to integrate a large population during the war,” Armenti continues.

Within the Maryland Historical Society’s collection are editorials articles in the Baltimore American written by the Society of Friends (Quakers), who helped with job placement and housing. There are also written accounts from penitentiary officials conveying their frustration at the uptick in crime and influx population. 

Pension records illustrate the plight of African Americans who were granted freedom in return for enlisting in the Union Army. Some became disabled during the Civil War and then moved to Baltimore, where they pled their case for compensation.

The documents are available to the public and can be accessed during museum hours Wednesday-Saturday 10 am-5 pm and Sunday noon-5pm. 

Other Maryland Emancipation-Related Programming

The Long Road to Civil Rights, 1864-1964
Maryland The 'Free' State: November 1, 1864,
Why Then?, and Why is it Worth Remembering?
Thursday, October 30, 2014 6 PM 

Larry Gibson, Professor at University of Maryland Carey School of Law, will focus on the ongoing struggle for civil rights and freedom after the constitutional change in November 1864.
Ed Papenfuse, Former Maryland State Archivist and Commissioner of Land Patents, will also discuss the uncertainty of the new provision in the Constitution and explain why the act of writing as a constitutional provision is as important to remember today as it is to revive the Nation's interest in attending to the constitutional guarantees of citizenship to all who seek asylum with us, that are so central to our democracy today.

To register, click here.
About The Maryland Historical Society

Founded in 1844, The Maryland Historical Society Museum and Library occupies an entire city block in the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore. The society's mission is to "collect, preserve, and interpret the objects and materials that reflect Maryland's diverse cultural heritage." The Society is home to the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner and publishes a quarterly titled "Maryland Historical Magazine” and a semi-annual MdHS Newsletter. Visit

For more details, contact Marketing Director Laura Rodini at lrodini(at)mdhs(dot)org or by phone: 410-685-3750 ext. 322.

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Laura Rodini
Maryland Historical Society
+1 (410) 685-3750 Ext: 322
Email >