On September 8, 1830, an enslaved teenager named Sarah disappeared from Charles County, Maryland. According to the census of 1830, she was the only slave owned by Richard Smallwood. She was twelve years old.
Slavery was legal in Maryland, but the number of slave holders was declining in many counties by 1830. African Americans –both slave and free– created opportunities to escape, disappearing into the free state of Pennsylvania, running north to Canada, or hiding with free people of color in Maryland. Indeed, Smallwood suspected that Sarah was hiding in the Prince George’s County home of Theophelus McDaniel, a free black man.
Slave. Free Person. Slave-catching. Kidnapping. These ideas meant different things for different people in different places at different times. Controversy over their meaning –always simmering in the decades before the Civil War– tended to explode when people crossed borders, challenging their status and asserting their rights.
This website will follow their journey and explore the importance of their acts.
It will illuminate the lives of people like Sarah, Theophelus McDaniel, and Richard Smallwood, and it will help us think about borders, freedoms, and the way they come to have meaning.
This is a collaborative project that will grow over time. The original team includes the Maryland State Archives, particularly the project team responsible for the Legacy of Slavery Project, and the University of Maryland Baltimore County Department of History, particularly students and instructors from the Public History track.