Historian explores legacy of slavery in Baltimore

By RACHEL JUIENG | February 7, 2019

Anne Rubin, a history professor at the University of Baltimore, gave a lecture on early Baltimore at an event titled “Free Streets/Slave Streets: Visualizing the Landscape in Early Baltimore” on Feb. 6 at the Homewood Museum. During her presentation, Rubin used interactive maps to juxtapose the lives of enslaved and free blacks in the city. Rubin studies Civil War history and has earned acclaim for her work with digital archives.

Deyane Moses, a student at MICA who wants to become an archivist, also attended the event. She noted the attention to detail in Rubin’s presentation.

“I was really intrigued by their mapping and their concern for African Americans -- free blacks and not-so-free blacks,” she said. “They’ve done an impressive amount of work.”

The event is meant to complement a revamped version of the traditional Homewood Museum tour that is titled “Families at Homewood.” The revamped tour follows the lives of the Carrolls, the Rosses and the Conners, the three families who lived on the land that would eventually become the Homewood campus: 

A white, slave-holding family, the Carrolls lived in their house from its construction in 1801 until Charles Carroll’s death in 1825. The Rosses were a family of house servants enslaved by the Carrolls until they were freed in the early 1800s when the Carrolls took them to Pennsylvania, a free state. The Conner family, also enslaved by the Carrolls, can be traced from Baltimore to Louisiana through multiple generations. They were not freed until after the Civil War.

Julie Rose, the director-curator of the Homewood Museum, explained that the museum tour has recently shifted its focus from the Carroll family to include the Rosses and the Conners. 

“Across the nation, there’s an important trend happening where historians are really thinking hard about bringing marginalized voices into focus,” she said. “Here at Homewood, we’ve been working hard to expand and elevate the historical presence of long-silenced voices. So we’re looking at the enslaved population.” 

In honor of Black History Month, the Homewood Museum will offer the revamped tour for free to the public; typically, it is only free for Homewood students and staff.

The event started with a reception of food and drinks in the lower level of the Museum. Later, visitors moved to Gilman Hall for Rubin’s accompanying lecture.

In her research, Rubin hoped to learn more about the daily lives of free blacks and enslaved people in Baltimore.

“What I’m most interested in re-discovering are the ordinary people of early Republic Baltimore,” she said. “We know a lot about the wealthy, the elite, but we don’t know that much about free blacks, and particularly enslaved people that made up about a quarter of Baltimore’s population at the time.”

Rubin described the process of using technology to map out where in Baltimore people lived, worked, and in the case of enslaved people, were bought and sold.

“What we discovered, which is what we suspected, is that the slave trade is actually happening all over the city of Baltimore. It doesn’t have one central slave market and it’s not happening in a couple taverns, but it’s happening in people’s homes and in newspaper offices,” she said.

According to Rubin, her research also helped illustrate some of the ways Baltimore has changed since the time of the Carrolls, Rosses and Connors. She noted that today, Baltimore is more segregated than it was in the 1800s. 

“We think of Baltimore as this incredibly segregated city — which it is, in the twentieth and twenty-first century. In the nineteenth century, it’s not at all segregated. Blacks and whites lived intertwined lives,” she said. “We’re showing, in fact, how integrated slavery is into the life of Baltimore and how free blacks were integrated into Baltimore, even though they didn’t have political power, economic power or social power.”

To learn more about enslaved people in Baltimore, Rubin studied documents such as tax records and runaway ads in newspapers. She explained that these records showed how prevalent slavery was in the city. She described her research process in her lecture. 

“Government records, things like tax records and census records — though those aren’t as good because they don’t include addresses and in 1820, they only include the name of the head of the household and they don’t include anyone else who lives in the household,” she said. “It’s there, you just have to sift through a lot to find people.”

Christine Langer, who lives in Baltimore and works to restore historical sites around the city, attended the event. She said that she was interested in the history presented at the lecture.

“I’m working with a group that’s working to restore two houses on South Worth Street -- [built in] 1612 and 1614 -- where free blacks lived,” she said. “It was interesting to see how many free blacks lived in the Fells Point area.”

Haneefa Saleem, class of 2004, still lives in the Baltimore area after graduating from Hopkins. She was particularly impressed by the use of technology to recreate the narrative surrounding the lives of three families.

“The power of technology — the power of using existing records to map out the lives of people from over a century ago — is impressive,” she said. “It was my first time hearing about this guided tour, and I went to school here.”

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.