“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
St. Mary's City in St. Mary's County, Maryland — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)

From Slavery to Freedom


From Slavery to Freedom Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones (CC0), August 30, 2019
1. From Slavery to Freedom Marker
Inscription.  From 1840 to 1864, more than 50 enslaved African American men, women, and children raised tobacco and wheat for Dr. John Mackall Brome an his 1,800 acre plantation. You are standing where these people lived. Life without freedom was difficult. Families were divided when spouses and children were sold, and the possibility of severe punishment awaited those who ran away or disobeyed orders. The African Americans dwelling here relied on their community to survive and resist their bondage.

During the Civil War, a few enslaved men escaped and enlisted in the Union Army, while others fled with Union troops; but for most this place is where they first experienced freedom. After the war, many left the Brome plantation, but some remained, continuing to live in the former slave quarters and working as sharecroppers or hired labor.

Gradually, the plantation shrank in size and there was less work for black laborers. By the 1890s, of the seven houses that originally stood here, only a duplex and a neighboring single quarter remained. From the 1920s, the duplex served as the home of Solomon Milburn, who worked as the caretaker of the
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Brome property. The single house was gone by 1930 but the duplex survived, due in large part to the Milburn family living there until the 1960s. Today, that building is one of the few, former slave quarters to be preserved in Maryland.

This picture shows the two surviving quarters around 1890. Archaeology demonstrates that after freedom, both houses were made more comfortable by adding glass windows and wooden floors. In the duplex, an interior wall was cut through to make it a home for a single family and in the 1940s, the Milburns added an extra room in the back. The single quarter was abandoned by 1900 and used for storage.

This Spanish real dates to the 1850s and was discovered at the single quarter site. Pierced coins, common on enslaved sites, were believed to offer spiritual protection and were often presented to new-born babies. Perhaps this coin defended a young child from harm.

After slavery ended, families had the freedom to decide what they wanted to buy. One thing was toys for their children, such as this porcelain doll. Children are often hard to see archaeologically, but artifacts like this testify to their presence.

This view of the duplex quarter and the partially collapsed single quarter in the background probably dates to the first decade of the 20th century.

During slavery,
From Slavery to Freedom Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones (CC0), August 30, 2019
2. From Slavery to Freedom Marker
this landscape included at least seven slave quarters. Archaeologists discovered that these structures stood in a row along Key Swamp, extending along the high ground to your left. Such an arrangement allowed Dr. Brome to maintain regular surveillance over his enslaved laborers from his house, but it also meant that the black community could interact and work together to resist and survive their bondage.

In 1994, the duplex quarter was relocated to another part of Historic St. Mary's City's property, along with the Brome mansion and outbuildings. They now make up the Inn at Brome-Howard, located off Rosecroft Road. The duplex quarter is now an exhibit you are welcome to visit.

Archaeologists did extensive excavations in this area. They found that seemingly by chance, Dr. Brome instructed his slaves to build their quarter directly on top of a long-vanished, 17th-century structure. Recovered printing type indicates it was once used by Maryland's first printer, William Nuthead. Unraveling these two buildings was difficult but revealed two very different wooden structures from different centuries. An 1870 census suggests that the quarter was the home of Ralph and Eliza Butler and their children—a family that was once enslaved by Dr. Brome. By 1930, the house was gone. Because of the significance of these buildigns, the museum has preserved their remains under
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the reconstructed Print House.

Erected by Historic St. Mary's City.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Abolition & Underground RRAfrican AmericansAgricultureWar, US Civil. A significant historical year for this entry is 1840.
Location. 38° 11.008′ N, 76° 25.978′ W. Marker is in St. Mary's City, Maryland, in St. Mary's County. Marker can be reached from the intersection of Aldermanbury Street Footpath and Middle Street Path, on the right when traveling east. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Saint Marys City MD 20686, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Framing the Past (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Witness to History (about 300 feet away); "Dwell here, live plentifully, and be rich" (about 300 feet away); Horse High, Pig Tight, and Bull Strong (about 300 feet away); Reclaiming the Lost City (about 300 feet away); A Time of Troubles (about 400 feet away); Early Signs of Industry (about 400 feet away); "…once the Metropolis" (about 400 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in St. Mary's City.
Credits. This page was last revised on June 8, 2022. It was originally submitted on September 3, 2019, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 140 times since then and 24 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on September 3, 2019, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.

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Sep. 29, 2023