Black Marylanders worked in the lofts supporting the fleets of sail-powered vessels that dominated Bay commerce until well into the early 20th century. But one of the only full-time, independent Black sailmakers in the state through the 1900s, and certainly the most enduring, was Downes Curtis of Oxford, Maryland.
The black owned Colbourne and Jewitt Seafood Packing Company was one of the most important businesses and largest employer in the town of St. Michaels in the early 20th century. Frederick Jewitt was the guiding force of the company and in 1910, to market the taste of crabmeat, he developed a system of grading the meat according to backfire, special, regular, claw and lump, that is still used today.
Unionville, Maryland is an African-American community settled in 1867 by ex-slaves and free blacks who had fought in the Union Army (1863-1867) during the Civil War. Located 4.5 miles northwest of Easton on Maryland Route 370, the community of Unionville grew after the war to nearly 40 buildings.
In 1740, Grace Brooks was born a slave in Trappe, Maryland. By 1788 she had plied her trade as a midwife for blacks and whites and saved enough money to buy her own freedom and that of a daughter and granddaughter. In 1792 she bought a half acre plot containing a one-story home. The house was less than 300 square feet with a large fireplace and a walnut table with six chairs. Just outside the back door was a chicken coop, well, and trough. The dwelling had three windows and was assessed in 1798 as being worth $50. The home no longer stands on the lot.
Founded in 1788, The Hill is one of the oldest free African American neighborhoods in the United States still in existence today. Many African Americans in Easton and Talbot County were free from slavery long before the Civil War ended. Free people of color lived alongside white neighbors working as merchants, sailors, carpenters, midwives, and farm laborers. They worked to buy freedom for their relatives while pursuing full equality and liberty for themselves.
Rebecca Primus (1836-1932), a trained teacher from a well established family in Hartford Connecticut, was sent to Royal Oak, Maryland to establish a school for freed African Americans. The purpose was to bring literacy to formerly enslaved people. She had an above-average education, was northern born, middle class, and single, making her a perfect candidate to move south and teach the freed people. Those that headed south had a dual purpose; education was the reason they were sent, but uplifting the community was their mission.
Thelma Anna Cooper Alford, born and raised in Oxford, Maryland, was one of 13 children. In her late teen years, she attended Bowie State Normal School where she pursued a teaching degree. After returning to Oxford she became civically active. In addition to her work as an educator, Thelma Alford is best known for her work in establishing the Talbot Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The local chapter began in 1949.
Frederick Douglass was an African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. He was born a slave in February 1818 in Talbot County, MD on Tuckahoe Creek near what is now called Cordova. After escaping from slavery, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, becoming famous for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings.
Nathaniel Hopkins, affectionately called “Uncle Nace” in Talbot County, was born a slave circa 1830 in Trappe, Maryland. In 1863, while still a slave, Hopkins enlisted in the Army. He served in the United States Colored Troops of the Union Army during the Civil War. However, in January 1864 his army career ended when he was sent home on sick furlough. Hopkins returned to Trappe to assist newly freed blacks in southern Talbot County, including the 1878 establishment of Trappe’s first black school and later the incorporation of their former “African Church,” which eventually became the Scotts United Methodist Church.
Talbot County Historical Society
Dr. Willie Woods
Ronald & Tonya Hayman
Moton High School Alumni