African American Research in Maryland
[Info from the Maryland State Archives]
The following types of documents are available for African-American Research in
the Maryland State Archives:
A manumission is the legal document freeing a slave. The earliest manumissions were recorded by deed in the county
land records. Between 1752 and 1790, the deed was the only legal document that could free a slave. But before and
after those years, manumissions were also recorded in wills, chattel records, and, for Anne Arundel and Harford
counties, in a separate record series called (Manumissions).
The typical information found in a manumission is the name and residence of the slave holder, the name (often just
the first name) and age of the slave or slaves to be freed, and the date or age at which the freedom would be granted.
Sometimes the manumission even indicates familial relationships by listing the names of children, wives or husbands.
Sometimes, though, the manumission does not list the names of the slaves being freed. The document may simply refer
to "sundry slaves."
The Archives holds the land records, chattel records and wills for all the counties in Maryland prior to the Civil
War. The manumissions recorded in these records are indexed by the name of the slave holder, not by the name of
the slave. In the land record and chattel record indexes, the slave holder's name is listed in the grantor/seller
column, the slave's name in the grantee/buyer column, and the word "manumission" in the transaction column.
The indexes to wills list only the names of the decedents, and not other names appearing in the document. Only
by reading the wills can one find information about slaves being freed.
Two counties kept their manumissions in separate record series. The Archives holds a book of manumissions for Harford
County covering 1774 to 1784. There is an index in the front of the book arranged by the name of the slave holder.
For Anne Arundel County, the Archives has separate manumissions covering 1785 to 1866.
Certificates of Freedom
In 1805 the General Assembly passed a law to identify free African Americans and to control the availability of
freedom papers. As the lawmakers explained: "great mischiefs have arisen from slaves coming into possession
of certificates of free Negroes, by running away and passing as free under the faith of such certificates"
(Chapter 66, Laws of 1805). The law required African Americans who were born free to record proof of their freedom
in the county court. The court would then issue them a certificate of freedom. If the black person had been manumitted,
the court clerk or register of wills would look up the manumitting document before issuing a certificate of freedom.
A typical certificate not only indicates how the black became free, but also lists physical characteristics that
could be used to establish identity. These include height, eye color, complexion, and hair color and texture.
Often, blacks would bring to the courthouse witnesses or affidavits as proof of freedom. A sampling of such affidavits
remains only for Prince George's County and dates from 1810 to 1862. The affidavits are unindexed, but contain
a wealth of information including the names of the person's parents, the names of former owners, and how the person
became free. This record series is called (Freedom Affidavits).
The Archives has the certificates of freedom for Baltimore City and the following counties: Anne Arundel, Baltimore,
Caroline, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Kent, Prince George's, Queen Anne's, Somerset,
St. Mary's, Talbot and Washington. In general the certificates date from the early 1800s and continue until the
Civil War. A few of the volumes are self-indexed, but most are not.
Assessment Record, Slaves
Maryland residents paid personal property tax on slaves. In many of the counties, slaves were listed along with
silver plate and gold watches in the personal property schedules. Depending on the county and the time period,
the personal property schedules may simply list the total number and value of the slaves in each household. But
sometimes the schedules go into more detail, setting out several broad age groups and then giving the number and
value of the slaves in each age group.
Five counties - Frederick, Kent, Montgomery, Talbot, and St. Mary's - recorded their slave assessments separately
in a series called (Assessment Record, Slaves). A typical record lists the election district, the year the assessment
was taken, the slave owner's name, the first name of the slave, and the slave's age, sex, and value. The assessments
are arranged by election district and then by the name of the slave owner. The exception is St. Mary's County,
where the returns are loose and arranged by year and then alphabetically by owner's name. The dates covered vary
depending on the county.
Distribution of Slaves
A distribution documents how the assets of a deceased person's estate were divided among the heirs. Most distributions
record the percentage and dollar amount of the estate that each heir received. Only occasionally do distributions
Two counties, however, kept record series that specifically recorded distributions of slaves. The Archives holds
distributions of slaves for the Somerset County Register of Wills from 1827 to 1862 and for the Kent County Register
of Wills from 1860 to 1864.
A typical distribution of slaves gives the name of the deceased, the date of distribution, the name of the executor
or administrator, and the names (first name only), ages, and values of the slaves. Also listed are the names of
the heirs who inherited the slaves. Most of the volumes are self-indexed by the name of the deceased, but there
is no index for Somerset County for 1842-1850.
Although the Archives has distributions of slaves for only Kent and Somerset Counties, some of the other counties
kept separate series of regular distributions: Anne Arundel, Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Frederick, Harford, Prince
George's, St. Mary's, Talbot, Washington, and Worcester. One may find mixed in with these regular distributions
some that specify slaves.
Census of Negroes
In 1831 a census was authorized by the General Assembly to aid in the effort to resettle recently freed slaves
and other free African Americans in Africa (Chapter 281, Laws of 1831). Marylanders saw colonization as a means
of curtailing the growing free black population. During the antebellum period Maryland had the largest free black
population in the United States. Enough Maryland blacks sailed to Africa that a "Maryland District" was
created in Liberia. Original schedules for the Census of 1832 for Harford, Talbot, and Somerset counties are available
at the Maryland State Archives. Microfilm copies of all other counties except Baltimore City and Baltimore County
are available at the Maryland Historical Society. Abstracts of Allegany, Anne Arundel, Calvert, Caroline, Cecil,
Charles, Dorchester, Frederick, Kent, Montgomery, Queen Anne's, and St. Mary's Counties are available in the Maryland
State Archives's Library.
Each county arranged its census a different way. The Harford County census groups free blacks by household and
then lists the name and age of each family member. The Somerset County census is really two lists: one of the names
and ages of free males and one of the names and ages of free females. The Anne Arundel census lists the head of
household, the number of family members, the number of males and females, their ages, and the number willing to
go to Liberia. None of the records are indexed.
Court Papers, Blacks
The Prince George's County Court is the only court with a set of miscellaneous papers pertaining solely to African
Americans. The papers date from 1799 to 1865. The series is not indexed, but the quantity of material is relatively
small. The papers include pardons, indictments of free blacks who entered Maryland from out of state, bench warrants
for people harboring runaways, petitions for freedom, bills of sale, and registration of slaves imported from out
In Maryland, parents could voluntarily indenture or apprentice their children. Until 1794 the county courts could
apprentice orphans with insufficient income to support them. Boys were indentured to tradesmen to learn a craft,
and girls to housewives to learn household skills. The people purchasing the indentures were required to support
the children until they reached the age of majority, at which point the young adult was released from servitude.
The General Assembly passed a law in 1793 (Chapter 45, Laws of 1793) that transferred jurisdiction over apprenticeships
to the county orphans court. The orphans court or a justice of the peace could order involuntary indentures of
children falling within the following categories: orphans whose inheritance was insufficient to maintain them,
illegitimate children, and children whose parents were too poor to support them. Although this law did not mention
race, an 1808 supplement singled out free African American children. This law provided for the indenturing of "the
child or children of lazy, indolent, and worthless free negroes" (Chapter 54, Laws of 1808), who could not
financially support their children. Since most free blacks were denied the economic opportunities available to
white Marylanders, they were constantly at risk of having their children indentured.
The indentures handled by the county courts, if recorded, are found in land records or chattel records. Those handled
by the orphans courts are recorded in (Indentures). In addition, the Archives has (Indentures, Original) for Anne
Arundel, Caroline, Frederick, Queen Anne's, Talbot, and Washington counties and Baltimore City.
A typical indenture includes the names of the parties involved, the date recorded, sometimes the reason the child
was indentured, the child's birth date or age, and the length and conditions of servitude. Many of the indenture
books are self-indexed. Indentures may be indexed by the name of the parent, the name of the child, and the name
of the person purchasing the index.
This docket exists only for the Talbot County Register of Wills and covers 1855 to 1867. The docket entries frequently
cite an 1839 law. The law authorized the orphans court to sell into slavery for a year any free blacks found to
"have not the necessary means of support, and [be] not of good and industrious habits." Children of such
blacks were "bound out as apprentices to good masters, to serve until the age of twenty-one years if male;
or eighteen years if female" (Laws of 1839, Chapter 38).
The Negro Docket is a record of the court cases in which the above determinations were made. The docket records
the date the case was instituted, the first and last names of the free black and his or her children, the informer's
name, and the disposition of the case. If the case resulted in an indenture, the court recorded the child's birth
date and the length of the indenture.
(Chattel Records) contain bills of sale for personal property. Recorded sales include cattle, horses, tobacco,
wheat, farm implements, furniture, wagons, and ships. Prior to the Civil War, the sale of slaves was also recorded
in the chattel records.
The earliest chattel records were recorded in the county land records, but some counties later began recording
the bills of sale in separate books. The Archives holds land records for every county, and holds separate chattel
record books from the antebellum period for Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Harford, Howard,
Kent, and Talbot counties. For other counties the records either are not extant or and be found in Land Records.
A typical chattel record lists the names of the buyer and the seller, their places of residence, the items sold,
the amount sold for, and the date of the sale. When a slave is sold, the record usually gives the name of the slave,
sometimes both first and last names. Unfortunately, the records are indexed by the names of the buyer and the seller,
not by the name of the slave sold.
There are separate, comprehensive indexes for the chattel records of Anne Arundel, Howard, and Kent counties. Some
of the books for the Baltimore County and all of the books for Dorchester, Harford, Howard, and Kent counties are
self-indexed. Bills of sale in Dorchester county chattel records for 1827 to 1833 are also. Unfortunately, there
are no indexes for the records of Caroline, Cecil, and Talbot counties.
Runaway Docket, Baltimore City and County
In 1824 the General Assembly noted "that Baltimore county is subjected to great annual expense on account
of negroes being committed to the jail of that county, on suspicion of being runaway slaves" (Chapter 171,
Laws of 1824). The law goes on to outline procedures for detaining suspected runaway slaves. The (Runaway Docket)
of the Baltimore jail contains brief entries about African Americans apprehended in the Baltimore area, who were
suspected runaways. The dockets cover 1831 to 1864 and include blacks whose alleged owners resided in all parts
of Maryland. The entries list the runaway's name, the date committed to jail, the name of the justice of the peace
handling the case, the charge (running away), the name and residence of the presumed owner, and the name of the
witness claiming the person is a runaway. Also included are notes on the disposition of the case. Most typical
is a note stating that the warden released the slave to the owner or the owner's agent. Usually the owner signed
for the slave. If the suspected runaway could not prove he or she was free, the sheriff would hold the suspect
and advertise him or her as a runaway in the newspapers. If no owner appeared as the result of the ad, the suspect
was set free.
The General Assembly established the Maryland Penitentiary in 1804 and opened in 1811 (Resolution 51, Laws of 1804.
It was the first maximum security prison in Maryland, and only the second in the United States. The Archives holds
the records pertaining to the prisoners confined there from 1811 to 1893. The entries in (Prisoners Record) are
arranged chronologically by prisoner number, and the records after 1839 are indexed by a separate series called
(Prisoners Record, Index). The entries list the prisoner's name, birth place, age, complexion, hair type, stature,
eye color, usual place of residence, occupation, distinguishing marks, county where convicted, crime, date and
length of sentence, release date, occupation in prison, and when and how discharged. The records also provide information
about the convict's social characteristics: ability to read and write, age orphaned, whether indentured or a runaway,
marital status, and temperance. Many of the prisoners listed have physical characteristics indicating they were
Another prison, the Maryland House of Correction, was established in 1874 and opened in 1879 (Chapter 233, Laws
of 1874). This medium security facility was the second prison built by the State of Maryland. The Archives holds
the records of the prisoners incarcerated there from 1879 to 1912. The (Prisoners Record) books are similar to
the ones created by the Maryland Penitentiary. They are arranged in chronological order by prisoner number, and
the Archives holds an index covering 1879 to 1905. The entries list the prisoner's name and number, former occupation,
crime, sentence length, age, education, Sunday school attendance, at what age orphaned, whether bound to a trade,
temperance, religion, race, sex, marital status, number of convictions, place of birth, county where convicted,
date incarcerated, and expiration of sentence. The records covering 1900 to 1912 also include hair and eye color,
complexion, height, weight, and any identifying scars, tattoos, and marks.
Maryland remained in the Union during the Civil War, despite the divided loyalties of her people. Because Maryland
was a Union state, Lincoln's emancipation proclamation did not free Maryland slaves. Instead, they were freed by
a new state constitution which took effect on November 1, 1864. Many slaves, however, had taken advantage of the
war's confusion to leave their owners earlier, some by joining the Union Army.
In a law passed in 1867 the General Assembly complained that "under the Military of the United States, a large
number of slaves owing service to loyal citizens of Maryland, were induced to leave their owners and enlist in
the military service of the United States." The lawmakers pointed out that Marylanders had received "no
compensation for their inconveniences, public and private" (Chapter 189, Laws 1867). Hoping that the federal
government would repay the state's loyalty and compensate its citizens for the chattels lost, the General Assembly
ordered that a listing be made of all slave owners and their slaves as of November 1, 1864.
The federal government never compensated the owners, but these records, called (Slave Statistics), are the only
evidence available of slaves and owners at the time of state emancipation. Besides the names of owners and slaves,
the lists include the age, sex, physical condition and term of servitude for each slave. The schedules also indicate
those slaves who enlisted in the Union Army, and sometimes give the regiment in which the slave enlisted. Slave
statistics survive for Anne Arundel, Dorchester, Frederick, Howard, Kent, Montgomery, Prince George's and St. Mary's
counties. A few of the volumes are indexed.
African Americans served in Maryland units during the Revolutionary War, especially after 1780 when both free blacks
and slaves were eligible for enlistment. Unfortunately, documenting proof of service is difficult. Muster rolls
frequently fail to indicate race, although sometimes the word "Negro" or "mulatto" appears
after a soldier's name. Pension records for Maryland blacks, unlike those for white soldiers, are virtually non-existent.
In 1793, Maryland restricted militia enrollment to whites. Blacks worked as laborers and servants in the white
units, but they could not serve as soldiers.
Not until the Civil War was the role of black Marylanders officially recognized in Maryland's public records. During
the first years of the war, Maryland slaves who escaped from their owners to join the federal army were usually
returned to their owners or incarcerated as runaways. By July 1863, despite the protests of Maryland's governor
and slave owning Unionists, the federal government began actively recruiting slaves as well as freemen. The United
States recruited six regiments of African Americans from Maryland as part of the United States Colored Troops (USCT).
The USCT regiments mustered in Maryland were the 4th, the 7th, the 9th, the 19th, the 30th, and the 39th. In addition,
Maryland blacks joined the United States Marine Corps and the United States Navy.
In 1898 the General Assembly ordered the publication of Maryland's Civil War service records. A two volume publication
entitled History and Roster of the Maryland Volunteers, 1861- 1865 was the result. These volumes contain the histories
of each Maryland regiment and the names of the soldiers and officers who enlisted. For each solider, the volumes
list the date of enlistment, date of discharge, and remarks pertaining to his service. This is the best place to
start when searching for Civil War military records. Because Maryland was a Union state, the roster does not include
Marylanders who joined the Confederate military. The roster also excludes residents of other states who fought
in Maryland units.
Available military record series:
" Muster Rolls and Muster Roll Records
" Bounty Rolls and Bounty Papers
" U. S. Slave Claims Commission
Civil War Muster Rolls and Muster Roll Records
The muster rolls are the official rosters of the Maryland military units in Union service. Of special interest
to those researching African Americans are the muster rolls for units in the United States Colored Troops (USCT).
The Archives holds USCT muster rolls in two forms: loose sheets (Muster Rolls) and bound volumes (Muster Roll Record).
The loose muster rolls not only list Marylanders who served in Maryland units, but also list Marylanders who served
in units in other states. Maryland regiments kept these rolls during the war to insure that each county received
credit for providing its quota of troops to the military. Of the two record series, the loose muster rolls provide
the most information about each solider. The drawback, however, is that the loose muster rolls for some Maryland
units are missing.
The loose muster rolls consist of two types, muster-in rolls and muster-out rolls. Both types are arranged by unit.
Muster-out rolls list the soldier's name, rank, age, when and where enrolled, enrolling officer, when and where
mustered, mustering officer, period mustered for, name of paymaster, last date paid, the value of equipment, assigned
clothing and horses, and remarks. The remarks column is often the most informative with notes about deaths, transfers,
and desertions. Muster-in rolls contain less information: soldier's name, rank, age, when and where enrolled, and
for what period. The muster rolls are not indexed, and best searched when the unit is known.
Also available in the loose muster rolls, beginning with the fall of 1863, is the mustering in of slaves. Slave
muster rolls list the name of the slave, organization assigned, when and where mustered-in, mustering officer,
county accredited, and the slave owner's name.
Regiments missing from the loose rolls appear in the bound muster rolls. Although listed under the Adjutant General,
the Comptroller of the Treasury actually created this series of records. The Comptroller's office, faced with the
task of paying bounty to every man who served in Maryland military units, complied these volumes from the regimental
muster rolls, now held by the National Archives. The bound rolls served as a list for making bounty payments after
Unlike the History and Roster of Maryland Volunteers, the bound muster rolls include men from out-of-state who
served in Maryland units. However, they do not include Marylanders serving in the units of other states because
Maryland did not owe those soldiers bounty. The exception is the United States Colored Troops. The bound muster
rolls list all black Maryland soldiers, regardless of where they served.
Because the Comptroller compiled the bound muster rolls from the original regimental rolls, each entry documents
the original muster roll number, the date of the that roll, and the soldier's number on that roll. One can use
this information to find the original muster roll at the National Archives. In addition, entries list the soldier's
name, rank, company, regiment, date and place enrolled, date and place mustered, mustering officer, age, term of
enlistment, county where service was credited, date of re-enlistment, date of transfer, and remarks. Remarks usually
pertain to death, desertion, or discharge. The muster roll records are arranged alphabetically by the last name
of the soldier.
Civil War Bounty Rolls and Bounty Papers
Another group of records related to the Civil War is (Bounty Rolls). The Comptroller of the Treasury kept track
of the bounty payments made to soldiers in compensation for their service in the military. The records include
twenty-two rolls of slaves, one for each county. The rolls are roughly alphabetical by the last name of the slave,
but there is no index. The bounty rolls list the slave's name, regiment, the city or county accredited with the
slave's service, date of first payment, date of final payment, name of owner, and date of payment to the owner.
Also included in the bounty rolls is a list of the bounties paid to colored volunteers and draftees. This roll
is arranged by the name of the company and then by the last name of the soldier. The record lists the soldier's
full name, regiment, county of residence, date drafted, agent or attorney, date the bounty was paid, and the amount
A related series, (Bounty Papers), contains correspondence and other documentation submitted by claimants of Civil
War bounties or their agents. Documents associated with each claim may include some, but never all, of the following
materials - affidavits of slave ownership, affidavits of freedom, bounty certificates and lists, death certificates,
discharge papers, draft notices, manumissions, muster rolls, pension claims, powers of attorney, and substitutions.
A database providing subject and name access is being compiled.
U.S. War Department, Office of the Adjutant General, Slave Claims Commission
Federal bounty records are available on microfilm [M5775] at the State Archives. The U.S. War Department, Office
of the Adjutant General, Slave Claims Commission handled the federal bounties. The records consist of four volumes
relating to Marylanders whose slaves enlisted in the federal military. The records cover the years 1863 to 1867.
On October 1, 1863, the War Department issued General Order 329 which directed recruitment not only of free blacks,
but also of the slaves of loyal Marylanders. The slave owners would be paid $300 for each able bodied slave enlisted
in Union service. Also, black soldiers could be counted towards Maryland's quota of soldiers for the Union Army.
The first volume contains the early proceedings that established the Maryland Claims Commission. The second volume,
numbered volume 22, is titled "Register of Slaves." It lists the slaves alphabetically by last name and
gives the slave's regiment, company, and the name of the claimant.
The third and fourth volumes are numbered volume 23 and 25 respectively. They are titled "Register of Claims
of Maryland Commission." Both books are indexed by the name of the claimant, giving each claimant a number.
The claims are then listed numerically and include the date of the claim; name, residence and character (loyal
or disloyal) of the claimant; name of the slave; when, where, and by whom the slave was enlisted; his regiment
and company; action taken by board; and remarks.
Beginning in 1790, and continuing every ten years since, the federal government has taken a census of the population
of the United States. The count is used to determine the number of delegates that each state may elect to the House
of Representatives. The 1920 census is the most recent one available to the public. The federal government restricts
access to the schedules for 72 years to protect the privacy of its citizens. The State Archives holds microfilm
copies of the federal censuses for the State of Maryland from 1790 to 1920.
In the earliest years, from 1790 to 1810, the census schedules list the head of household (white or black), and
then the number of slaves in that household. Free blacks who were living in a white household were enumerated in
the category "all other free persons except Indians not taxed." Beginning in 1820 and continuing through
1840, the census lists the head of household and then divides the other household members (whites, free blacks,
and slaves) into broad categories according to sex and age.
Starting in 1850, the census takers began listing by name not only the head of household, but also every free person
living in the household. They enumerated slaves, however, a little differently. Both the 1850 and the 1860 censuses
have separate schedules for slaves. These schedules are arranged first by county, second by enumeration district,
and lastly by the name of the slave owner. The schedules do not list the names of the slaves, but for each slave
they give age, color, sex, whether deaf, blind, insane or idiotic, and whether a fugitive from the state.
The census of 1870 was the first census taken after the Civil War and was the first to list all African Americans.
At this point, and for all the censuses thereafter, people of all races were enumerated in the same way.
The indexing for the census schedules varies in quality and format depending on the year. The Archives has a handout
titled "Federal Census Schedule Information" that goes into further detail on each census year. In general,
the Archives has some type of indexing for all the schedules except for 1870 and 1910. There is no index at all
for the 1910 census and for 1870 we have an index for only Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.
Maryland State Archives
350 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, MD 21401
MD toll free (800) 235-4045
or (410) 260-6400
fax: (410) 974-2525
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