Statearchivists uncover stories of slavery

Publicado el: 05/02/2011 / Leido: 6800 veces / Comentarios: 0 / Archivos Adjuntos: 0


Statearchivists uncover stories of slavery


Likesomeone mining for gold in a stream, Maya Davis slowly sifted through theyellowed pages of a 150-year-old newspaper at the Maryland State Archives.

She peeredat the type crammed into the 2½-foot-wide Baltimore American and CommercialAdvertiser, scanning line after line. "It was headache-inducing,"said Davis, a research archivist.

But it'spart of her job, and her persistence paid off.

Just abovean announcement of a divorce settlement, there was a short paragraph describing"Mrs. Harriet Tupman's" appearance at a women's right convention inBoston. It identified "Tupman" as a "female conductor of theunder-ground rail-road." Davis found the item in 2005, but because thenewspaper was too big to be scanned at the time, it was filed away untilrecently.

When theannouncement appeared June 5, 1860, Harriet Tubman could still have beenarrested under the Fugitive Slave Act, and the item's writer could have alsocome under fire, said Chris Haley, director of the Study of the Legacy ofSlavery in Maryland.

Over thepast decade, Haley and his staff have uncovered scores of other historicalnuggets in newspapers and other documents, allowing them to piece together someof the life stories of slaves.

"They'vedone extraordinary work, extraordinary work," said Ira Berlin, a historyprofessor at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Berlin, whoworks with the program, said what they've illustrated is the pervasive natureof slavery in the state - how it shaped economics, politics and even culturefrom Maryland's founding until 1864.

"Whatthey've done at the archives has been a kind of prototype of what's happeningelsewhere," the professor said. "The information is a greatgodsend."

The stateof slavery

Haley andhis staff have studied slavery in Anne Arundel, Prince George's Baltimore,Frederick, Washington and Somerset counties from 1830 to 1860. They've compiledrecords for the cities of Annapolis and Bowie, and researched slaves who ranaway and joined the British during the War of 1812.

"It'slike reclaiming lost history," said Rachel Frazier, another researcharchivist. "It's a story no one else knows."

Thanks to a$739,000 federal grant, they're beginning a three-year project to unearth morehistory: the legacy of the Underground Railroad in the Eastern Shore countiesof Caroline, Dorchester, Queen Anne's and Talbot. The project will cover a50-year period, from 1830 to 1880.

"It'svery self-affirming that what we are doing is worthwhile," said Haley, thenephew of "Roots" author Alex Haley.

Considerthe case of Abraham Brogden, a free black laborer, whose tale was one of thosepieced together through the program. Brogden helped his 24-year-old wife escapefrom her Anne Arundel County owner on Dec. 21, 1848, and ended up sentenced tofour years in prison.

His wifeCinderella, meanwhile, was caught a day later, sold out of state, and diedwhile Brodgen was still imprisoned. She was apprehended so quickly that the adfor offering a reward for her capture still hadn't run in the newspaper.

All thishappened despite great sympathy for Brogden's plight. There were numerouspetitions to the governor for Brogden's release, and he was eventually pardonedand freed from the Maryland penitentiary in May 1851.

Whathappened next is unclear, Haley said, but Brogden's story illustrates theattitudes of the period as well as the relationship between blacks and whites. Atthe same time people were arresting fugitive slaves, others were working tohelp them.

"Ifthis (kind of) history isn't worth it, than no history is worth it," hesaid.

Publicado el: 05/02/2011 / Leido: 6800 veces / Comentarios: 0 / Archivos Adjuntos: 0

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