Johnson Roots on Comegys Reserve

Written Apart

Where did Asbury Johnson, my 3rd great grandfather, a free black on Maryland’s Eastern shore and a well-documented scion of the Johnson family come from? An examination of the book, Free African Americans of Maryland 1832 by Jerry Hynson, a census of free blacks taken to inform the Maryland Colonization effort to ship free men to Liberia, shows several “Johnson” family groups listed in Queen Anne’s County living between Sudlersville and Crumpton. Among Asbury’s family group was the following information:

Group 1: Johnson, page 115

Males (as listed in order)

  • Aaron Johnson, 30
  • Philip Johnson, 45
  • Asbury Johnson, 9
  • Alfred Johnson, 5
  • James Johnson, 23
  • Nat Johnson, 49

Unfortunately, this part of the census is separated into male and female groups (other counties are not). It is possible however to identify families by matching listed associates with each male and female family group to build a preponderance of evidence to recombine the family units.

I found separated several male and female Johnson groups and then matched most of them by examining the surnames before and after each group, and the order of listing. So for example, if one male group had Gould, Comegys and Little surnames surrounding it, and one female group had the surnames, and they were in the same order of appearance in the list Johnson male group 5, Johnson female group 5, I could reconnect families. In my case, matching surnames included Massey, Anderson, Warwick, Faulkner, and Blake. In this way, I identified the correct Johnson female group linked to Asbury’s family. The female group is as follows:

Group 2: Johnson, page 126

Females (as listed in order)

  • Jenny Johnson, 52
  • Hester Johnson, 20
  • Sarah Johnson, 2
  • Charlotte Johnson, 26
  • Netta Willamson, 90 (possible mother/grandmother to Charlotte or Hester)
  • Adeline Johnson, 2 Ana Maria Johnson, 2 (twins)

It’s incredibly exciting to have reunited the family and it will give me countless new leads to follow. Furthermore, revisiting the census leads me to new conclusions about Asbury’s lineage. I’ve deduced that Aaron is probably Asbury Johnson and Alfred Johnson’s father based on their proximity in the census. A second clue lay in the fact that Asbury is a wealthy landowner in 1860 as documented on that census. Where did he get the money to buy a farm? How did he build his wealth? Did he have a headstart?

Land in the Family

A thorough review of Queen Anne’s County land records from 1707 – 1851 (MSA CE 144 – 145) reveals no sales of lands to Asbury Johnson, my 3rd great grandfather. Ditto in the second set of records 1851 – 1965 (MSA CE 146 – 147). I did, however, discover a sale of land from James Wilson Browne and wife Hannah Spry-Browne to Aaron Johnson (free negro) in 1829. I’ve often wondered how Asbury could come to own land by the 1850 census without a deed. I can only conclude that he inherited it from his father, Aaron.

Excerpt from deed between James W. Browne and Aaron Johnson, December 1829.

Transcription:

“Queen Anne’s County, to wit. Be it remembered that on the Sixth day of anno Eighteen hundred and Twenty-nine, the following Deed was brought to be recorded to wit,This indenture made and registered this 29th day of December Eighteen hundred and twenty eight between James Brown and Hannah his wife formerly the widow Samuel Spry of the one part and Aaron Johnson free negro of the other part, all of Queen Anne’s County and the state of Maryland, Whosotheth, that the said James Brown and Hannan Brown his wife for and in consideration of the sum of fifty four dollars current money of Maryland to them in hand paid for the said Brown Johns the receipt whereof whereby acknowledged hath granted bargained and sold, a xxx and xxxx conveyed and conferred and by these present doth give grand bargain and sell  xxxx release xxx off convey and confer unto the said Aaron Johnson and his heirs forever all that messages? or tenament? of land being part of two tracts of land called and known as Guyders range and Comegys Reserve or by whatever name or names the same may be called lying and being on the upper kent of Queen Anne’s County and situated on the North side of the public road leading from J. B. to the heart/head of Chester and on the west side of the Red Lyon Branch near where the Camp meetings have been held annual thing….now laid down for six acres of land more or less, together with all and singular the houses buildings gardens fences has woods underwoods ways water profits commodity hereditaments and advantages to the said part of tracts or parcel of lands called + known by the name of Gyders range + Comegys Reserve .”

I’ve thoroughly researched every transaction (deed, bill of sale, manumission) made by James Browne and found only one sale of land to a free negro, Aaron Johnson. Browne was a wealthy planter. The 1810 census shows he owned 5 slaves, and the 1820 census shows Browne owned 4 slaves at that time. Browne has several transactions in the QAC Land Records which I’ll detail later. He was also living on a tract on Comegys Reserve. He sold part of that tract to Aaron.

Comegys Reserve first appears named in the will of Andrew Cornelius who died in 1796. He left the land to his son Andrew Cornelius Jr. It’s unclear when Andrew Cornelius gained his tract on Comegys Reserve, however, sources suggest that  William Comegys III (of Kent Island) gave his brother Isaac Comegys land in Queen Anne’s County called “Comegys Reserve” containing 103 acres. The Comegys were Swedes from the Swedish colony in Delaware who became planters in Kent County and Queen Anne’s County in the mid-1700s. On 16 Jan 1765, Isaac Comegys sold the reserve to Joseph Ireland. Its likely Ireland (a Calvert County native) sold the land to James Brown so the chain of ownership would look like the following:

William Comegys III (103 acres) > Isaac Comegys (103 acres) > 1765 Joseph Ireland > James Brown OR Hannah Spry (wife) > 1829 Aaron Johnson ( 6 Acres)

To my son Daniel Cornelius, all those parts of two tracts of land in Queen Anne’s County upon which I now live the one called Comegy’s Reserve, the other Gunthers Lot; except the part of Comegys Reserve which is hereafter devised by me to my son Andrew Cornelius. In case my son Daniel shall die without lawful issue of his body, then the sd. to my son Nicholas Cornelius.

To my son Andrew Cornelius all that tract of land called The Pearl lying in Queen Ann’s Co. containing one hundred a. of land, also sixty a. of my xxx. part of the tract of land called Comegys Reserve (being the part excepted in the above devise
to my son Daniel), to be laid off for my son Andrew so as to include the north end of the part of the sd. tract now held by me and adjoining the one hundred a. of land called the Pearl. In case my son Andrew shall die without lawful issue of his body, then I give the sd. part of the tract of land called The Pearl and also that part of Comegys Reserve to my son Joseph Cornelius.

To my son Andrew Cornelius two Negro men: Cesar (and) Robert.
To my son Daniel Cornelius one Negro boy James, Negro girl Margaret.
To my son Joseph Cornelius Negro girl Rachael and two Negro children Temperance (and) William.
To my dau. Mary Cornelius Negro boy Richard.
To my dau. Rebecca Cornelius Negro boy Jacob.
To my dau. Elizabeth Cornelius Negro girl Esther. 

The residue of my personal estate to my sons: John, Daniel, Nicholas, Andrew & Joseph & to my daus. Mary, Rebecca & Elizabeth – equally divided between them. I appoint my son Daniel Cornelius sole executor.

Will of Andrew Cornelius 1796

Logically, I wondered if Aaron Johnson or his parents were formerly enslaved by either the Cornelius, or Brown, or Spry family. An examination of land records, bills of sale, and manumissions reveal some incredible and sometimes heart-wrenching facts about these family’s business transactions.

First, Andrew Cornelius’ son, Daniel Cornelius – sole executor of his estate, lead his siblings, Mary, Elizabeth, and Andrew Jr. to the courthouse in 1796 right after their father’s death. There they freed the Cornelius enslaved willed to them by their father. The remarkable manumission lists the following enslaved and the date they were to be freed; Robert 1803, Richard 1805, Jacob 1808, Esther 1805, Margaret 1808, James 1808. Witnesses inclu Thomas Roberts and Samuel Cook. 

Joseph Cornelius, another son of Andrew and who received 3 enslaved in the will, did not participate in the mass manumission of the “sundry negros.” There was no clear record connecting Aaron or his presumed father Phillip to the Cornelius family.

Records show James Browne, who sold the land to Aaron, made 3 sales of his enslaved in 1816. His first sale was South to feed the beast that was King Cotton. Browne sold Sophia, age 15, to a slave trader in South Carolina. He then sold 9 of his enslaved to Edward Brown (presumably his brother) Hannah -34, Ned -21, Nance -7, Margaret -4, Bill -9 mos (son of Hannah), Noah -19, Doll -21, Beck -17 with male child 8 yrs. The last sale was of a girl -11, Ellen, to Stephen Wycoff of the county. Clearly, Browne was fully utilizing of enslaved labor, and willing to participate fully as a trader and purchaser of enslaved labor to his benefit.

Given that Browne was embroiled in the business of enslaved labor, perhaps it was his wife Hannah Spry that instigated and approved of the eventual sale of Browne’s portion of Comegys Preserve to a free negro Aaron Johnson? After all, records show that while she was married to her first husband Samuel Spry, the family sold a portion of their land on Guyders Range to another free negro by the name of James Price. Or perhaps for Browne, it was just business.

Maryland was a tobacco-growing state throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Cultivating tobacco was labor-intensive and depleted the land fast. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Maryland planters shifted to wheat and other crops. They needed less labor for these less-intensive crops and started selling their enslaved south or freeing them to save money. This could have been a factor in the Cornelius family’s mass manumission as well.

Clearly, the source of Asbury’s ability to build a prosperous free family and farm thirty years before emancipation came from his father’s ability to purchase those first 6 acres of land. Make no mistake, this was a mighty act of self-sufficiency in 1829 for a free black. I can only imagine how Aaron, his wife, and their children must have felt at the end of the exchange of those $54 hard-earned dollars.

So while there are no other clues about Aaron’s lineage in the Brown and Spry records, one tantalizing clue appears in the 1850 census. Living immediately next door to Asbury Johnson and his family are William Cornelius and family, descendants of Andrew Cornelius. Furthermore, I’ve now identified the Cooper brothers family. Recall the Cooper brothers also received a Certificate of Freedom witnessed by Col. Lemuel Roberts in 1857 on the same day as Alfred and Asbury Johnson. One Michael Cooper was listed as living on land in the will and probate of Christopher Goodhand. Michael and his family including sons James and John Cooper are found in the 1850 census. Perhaps the Coopers and Johnson family were related? And in Andrew Cornelius will, I find one Cesar (negro man) left to Andrew Jr. A free black man Cesar Faulker also appears in the 1832 census. Could the Faulkners be related to the Johnson clan? Separately, a Cesar Johnson (free negro) appears to have purchased on Kent Island in QAC from one Thomas Lynch in 1822 (QAC Land deeds TM No. 3 page 331). Could Cesar Johnson be the same Cesar enslaved by Andrew Cornelius and willed to Andrew Jr?

Together Again

The search continues to identify who freed the Johnson family among the dusty digitized records of Queen Anne’s County. My reconstituted and combined Johnson family group of the 1832 census is now as follows:

Philip Johnson, 45 married Jenny Johnson, 52

  • Aaron Johnson, 30
  • James Johnson, 23

Aaron Johnson, 30 married Charlotte Johnson, 26

  • Asbury Johnson, 9
  • Alfred Johnson, 5
  • Adeline Johnson, 2 (twin)
  • Anna Maria Johnson, 2 (twin)

James Johnson 23 married Hester Johnson 20?

  • Sarah Johnson, 2

With this construction, I reclaim the women ancestors whom I thought lost to time, including my 4th great-grandmother Charlotte, and 5th great-grandmother Jenny. I say your names.

By the 1840 census, the Browne and the Johnson family are still neighbors. Phill Johnson is listed as the head of household. There 6 in the household, 1 male under 10 (born btw 1830-1840), 2 males between 10 – 23, 1 female 36-54, and 1 female 10-23, 1 male over 36 – 54 (Phill). By this time James Browne wife’ Hannah is dead and his son and daughter live in his home with 2 children under 6 years old.

Field Hands in Maryland. Source unknown.

I can see these early Johnsons in my mind’s eye walking their fields at dusk on a cold crisp January evening, the winter sun setting behind the trees and over the fallow fields. I envisage Aaron holding Charlotte’s hand as six-year old Asbury ran amok chasing the wild geese holding over in the field. He’d squeal and laugh as loud as he liked – for there was no White man to offend, no overseer to anger with his exuberance and joy. His father Aaron’s mind would turn to distant memories of people he had known and loved who were sold on from this county, neighbors, friends, perhaps even family. He would shed a few tears, and then would be thinking hard about what to plant as soon as the freeze was over and wondering how much firewood he could chop from his new land to last the rest of winter. Charlotte would be wondering about her one-year old son Alfred back home in the old cabin and under the care of her mother-in-law, Mama Jenny. Maybe now they’d get a cow for fresh milk so the children could grow tall and strong. Charlotte could find a good place for the animals behind the new cabin they’d start to build that very winter. As the geese scattered, Asbury would stop at the edge of the woods and turn around to look back at their parents, and be still, for just a moment, to take it all in.

In a world that guaranteed their people absolutely nothing, not even the dignity of familial bonds, they’d survived, they’d lived and thrived. And now this land, impossibly, incredibly, was theirs. They would choose when to rise and till the land. They would choose where to build the homestead. They would choose what crops to plant, which animals to raise. They would choose were to plant the well. They would choose which parcel of their six acres to set aside for the family cemetery. They would choose whom to hire, if need be, to help them work their own corner of Comegys Reserve.

Sources.

  • US Census, Maryland, Queen Anne’s County, 1810, 1820, 1850, and 1860
  • Jerry M. Hynson, Free African Americans of Maryland 1832, Heritage Books, 2007
  • Will of Asbury Johnson, 1866. Maryland State Archives
  • Deed of Aaron Johnson, QAC Deed Books, T.M. No. 5 page 222
  • Will of Andrew Cornelius, Queen Anne’s Co., MD, W.H.N. No. 3 page
  • Bill of Sale, James Browne to George Lake, QAC Deed Books, T. M. No. 1 page 228
  • Bill of Sale, James Browne to Edward Browne, QAC Deed Books, T. M. No. 1 page 233
  • Bill of Sale, James Browne to Stephen W. Wickoff, QAC Deed Books, T. M. No. 1 page 236
  • Deed, Samuel Spry to James Price, QAC Deed Books, T. M. No. 3 page 415
  • Brown, June D. Cecil County, Maryland Land Records, Abstracts. (Willow Bend Books, Westminster MD, 1999), Liber RT G, folio 134
  • Queen Anne’s County MD Land Records, Liber RT G folio 194
    Moss, Ernestine Parke. Cornelius Comegys of Kent County, Maryland. (Published by the Author, 658 Stonewall Memphis, TN 38107, 1982)
  • Skinner, Vernon L Jr. Abstracts of the Prerogative Court of Maryland 1674-1774. Family Archive CD number 206. (Broderbund, 1998), Inventories 1763-1766 page 35

The Johnsons: A Free Black Family of the Eastern Shore

In 1832, a very remarkable event took place in Maryland. No, it wasn’t the escape of Frederick Douglas, that would come five years later. No, it wasn’t the escape of Harriet Tubman, that would come 17 years later. No, this event would not impact the enslaved Marylander, initially. In fact, thousands of free black men, women, and children, had their names and ages written down. Furthermore, they were enumerated in their county. This was the first official and comprehensive state census of free black people in the United States I believe. It came 42 years after the first federal census of white Americans (men and their households) across the United States. This census took place a full 31 years before the Emancipation Proclamation, and 32 years before Maryland would take up a new state constitution after being left out of the Emancipation because it was a border state with secessionist sympathies at the time.

Bridge crossing Chester River, near Crumpton, circa 1912.

Among the enumerated, were the free blacks living on the Eastern Shore, along the banks of the Chester River in Queen Anne’s County. They were farmers, blacksmiths, bootblacks, servants, sailors, dressmakers, and washers. Across the Chesapeake Bay were the two great cities of Annapolis and Baltimore, but in Queen Anne’s County, the census takers wandered from port to port, farm to farm. Perhaps they knocked on the cabins and homesteads of free black people or took up the questions at the local colored churches. Surely they stopped too at the smarter looking homes and big houses of farmers and wealthy planters, the merchants shops and offices in town, asking, perhaps even demanding that free blacks come forward and be named, by law.

The census taker eventually arrived on a farm in Double Creek, in the Church Hill neighborhood. Double Creek was first mentioned in a 1709 deed, “part of a track known as Tilghman’s Discovery, lying on the south side of the Chester River and on the east side of Double Creek, adjoining George Powell’s land.” The people here, free and enslaved, were Methodists, according to Frederic Emory’s History of Queen Anne’s County. Among Double Creek’s farmers was a free black family group first enumerated in the 1832 Census of Free Blacks of Maryland.

  • Philip Johnson, 45
  • Aaron Johnson, 30
  • Asbury Johnson, 9
  • Alfred Johnson, 5

Unlike other county censuses, the Queen Anne’s county census taker would split men from women, making it damn near impossible to put together an intact family group. Nonetheless, there was a group, according to my own research, the scions of the Johnson family in America, and they were free. Not too far away on the census, other Johnsons are listed, James Johnson 23, Philemon, 45, and Nat, 49. While my research has not turned up an enslaver, its very likely the Johnson’s worked the farms in District 1 of Queen Anne’s County, an area between Church Hill to the South, Chesterton to the West, and Crumpton to the East.

At 9 years old, young Asbury Johnson probably stood by his father, presumably, Philip or Aaron, as he watched the important white man ask questions about his family, mentioning a place with a name he’d heard elders discuss, but perhaps only in hushed tones, out of the earshot of whites, a place called, Liberia. My 3rd great-grandfather could not have understood fully the meaning of the words Liberia or Africa, but he knew what free meant. Because he lived and worked alongside people who looked just like him, friends, even family, who were not free as he was. He knew he and his brother Alfred, and his family could, if they wanted too, simply move, pick up their belongings and walk up the dirt road and away. He knew others in his village, could not. His father and the vast majority of free blacks did, however, understand precisely what the state of Maryland wanted to do to free blacks, and they wanted no part of it. The 1832 Maryland census was executed to take the pulse of free blacks on a controversial topic, not just to capture their names.

Among the legislative actions of the Maryland General Assembly of 1831 was the passage of “an act relating to the People of Color in this state…The primary intent of the act was to achieve the removal of free African Americans from the state of Maryland in their entirety, sending free blacks to the colony of Liberia.” 

The state undertook the census to enumerate the free black population. In some counties, free men were asked directly if they would remove themselves to Liberia. The Maryland Colonization Society, founded in 1827 by wealthy planter Charles Caroll of Carrollton, he himself a large slaveholder who feared to emancipate his own slaves, lead the effort. The Society saw colonization as a remedy for slavery and its implicit violence. Terrified by Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia, Maryland’s lawmakers and elite planters, and other states passed laws against the freedoms of free blacks. Freed blacks had to reported to the county clerks, and were given a deadline to leave the state after manumission or petition the state to remain. These restrictions on free blacks were also set out to encourage emigration to Liberia.

“They were not permitted to vote, serve on juries, or hold public office. Unemployed free people of color without visible means of support could be re-enslaved at the discretion of local sheriffs. By this means the supporters of colonization hoped to encourage free blacks to leave the state.[41]”

Fortunately, my family did not pack it in and leave for the American colony of Liberia or the Republic of Maryland in West Africa, an experiment in West Africa that ultimately was annexed to Liberia in 1857. Free passage, free rent and loans were a slap in the face to blacks who fought and bled in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and the thousands of enslaved that would be left behind. In fact, very few free blacks left at all.

1850 Census, Queen Anne’s County, District 2, Asbury Johnson household.

In the next 18 years, Philip and Aaron fall off the record. By 1850, Asbury Johnson is farming in District 2 of the county, in Double Creek, south of Deep Landing. I triangulated the Double Creek location on a 1860s Queen Anne’s County map by following corresponding family names on the 1850 and 1860 census to the surnames positions on the map.

  • Asbury Johnson, 27
  • Henrietta, 20
  • Julia, 5
  • Lucy, 3
  • Sarah, under 1 year

Asbury was twenty-seven years old, married to Henrietta, 20, with three girls. The youngest, Sarah, was just a few months old. The family also had a boarder, James West (an 18-year-old laborer), presumably a brother of Henrietta though I have not found a corroborating record. The census shows he was perhaps the only free black farmer in the immediate vicinity with other free blacks listed only as laborers and sailors (most likely on white-owned farms or in nearby Deep Landing. I can not, however, find a land deed to show Asbury owned his farm at this time.

Map of District 2, Queen Anne’s County, 1866.

On the 1860 Census, Asbury Johnson’s household has changed. Asbury is now about 41 years old, and it is clear he owns his farm. He has either raised the money to buy the land or it was inherited. It’s appraised value is no less than $1500, his personal estate is $400.

  • Asbury Johnson, 41
  • Henrietta “Heney”, 35
  • Sally, 10
  • Julia, 8

His family has really grown, as we’ll see. His third daughter Julia is 8. Lucy, 18 is out of the household, and married to an Isaac Johnson from Kent County, a free black formerly enslaved by one Jack Dorsey. Isaac was freed at age 25 according to the wishes of his enslaver.

Isaac Johnson, Manumission by Jack Dorsey, April 18, 1855

It is at this point, the Doman family and the Asbury family connect as neighbors. The Doman family record shows it was lead by three generations of patriarchs under the namesake Joseph Doman, and that they were free black farmers who also appear in the 1832 Maryland Census of Free Blacks. By 1850, the current patriarch is Joseph Doman II and he too owns his own farm with a value of $1000 and $400 in the estate. His son, Joseph Doman III, a sailor, would later marry Asbury’s daughter Juliette A. Johnson, and as an accountant, write, and administer the will of his father-in-law in 1866.

1860 Census, Queen Anne’s County, District 2, Asbury Johnson and Joseph Doman households.

Around 1855, Asbury and Henrietta had another daughter, Emily, and sometime between 1857 and 1860, a son, Walter “Wallis” Jason Johnson, my 2nd great-grandfather. Although neither Emily or Walter Johnson are on the census, other records including later census records, Asbury’s will, and death certificates show they are the children of Asbury and Henrietta. Additionally, there are two more girls, GeorgeAnna and Eleanora, born between 1861 and 1866 (Asbury’s death) for a total of 7 children born over twenty years between 1845 and 1866 in Double Creek area, south of Deep Landing.

Heirs of Asbury Johnson, Queen Anne’s County, Probate, 1867.

Perhaps the birth of several children in a short span of time worried Asbury. Could his children be taken back into slavery, stolen? Could an unscrupulous planter try to claim them? What if he were to fall ill and die? Could his wife’s freedom be challenged, thereby making all seven of his children legally, slaves? For whatever reason, whether as a concerned parent, or ever-watchful free man, he went to one of the most influential planters in the county, Colonel Lemuel Roberts, and asked him to go to the County courthouse with him and there to attest to his freedom. This would, legally, create a Certificate of Freedom to protect his free identity. Asbury wasn’t alone, his brother Albert joined him and two other brothers.

Certificate of Freedom granted simultaneously to Asbury and Albert Johnson, 1857 by Col. Lemuel Roberts.

As I’ve written previously, I was able to confirm the Johnson family group relationship in the 1832 Maryland Census of Free Blacks when I uncovered both Asbury and Albert both had Certificates of Freedom signed by Col. Lemuel Roberts in 1857. Roberts attests to the fact that they were “born free.” I speculated that it is plausible Asbury’s father or mother was enslaved by Col. Roberts. Roberts was a wealthy planter and owned farms, and a mill along the Red Lion Branch of the Chester River in nearby Sudlersville, as well as property in town. He was an enslaver according to census records. Roberts was also a delegate to the Maryland State Senate and served in several official roles in the county. Roberts and the Johnson family clearly had a prior relationship, one that went back far enough that he could attest to the freedom of the brothers, one the brothers could rely upon. Col. Roberts was also a Register of Wills so perhaps he also knew the Johnson brothers freedom stemmed from a manumission given in a will. He was a witness to only 2 more free blacks, James and John Cooper (probably also family). Since freedom falls from the line of the mother, perhaps Roberts manumitted the mothers of the Johnson and Cooper brothers? The Coopers and Johnsons went together, I believe, with Col. Roberts on the same day – Feb 25th as their certificates follow one after another. A thorough investigation of the Roberts family papers is warranted.

In 1862, Asbury Johnson was taxed $10.00 by the government for “retail lumber” indicating that despite farming, he was diversified as well and a woodsman. Perhaps the lumber was used for ship building or repairs in nearby Deep Landing.

US IRS Tax Assessment, Queen Anne’s County, District 2, Asbury Johnson, 1862.

By 1860, the free black population of Maryland was approximately 50% of the State’s black population and had the largest free black population of any state. In 1861, word no doubt reached Asbury Johnson and his family of the first skirmishes of the Civil War in their state. Maryland Confederates, some 60,000, in the Tidewater wanted to secede. Sympathizers shot on Union troops in Baltimore. The Mayor of Baltimore and Governor, in coordination with the federal government, put down the dissent. President Lincoln then attempted to broach emancipation of slaves in the state but was rebuffed. In 1862, Congress passed a Second Confiscation Act “which permitted the Union army to enlist African-American soldiers and barred the army from recapturing runaway slaves.[49] In the same month, Lincoln offered to buy out Maryland slaveholders, offering $300 for each emancipated slave.”

By the end of 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing enslaved people in southern states. Because border states had stayed loyal throughout the war, they were exempted, but clearly, the tide was turning. In 1862, the Fourth United States Colored Troops regiment marched in full dress parade in the city of Baltimore. The United States was recruiting heavily from Baltimore, the Tidewater, and inroads into the Eastern Shore across the Chesapeake were causing consternation among white planters. Emory reported that “recruitment of colored troops began in Queen Anne’s County in the summer of 1863 at Queenstown and Kent Island.” Slaves left in droves. On September 13 he continues, “the steamer Cecil arrived in Queenstown Creek and remained until Tuesday, taking in slaves, when she left for Baltimore. There were several white officers on board said to belong to Col. Birney’s Regiment of colored troops.” So much so that they directly petition President Lincoln to suspend enlistment of slaves without permission of the slaveholder. However, President Lincoln shrewdly waited them out for the November 1863 State house election. Though Queen Anne’s County voted with the “Conditional” party that desired to keep slavery for gradual emancipation, the election replaced secessionist sympathizing delegates with a new house that would go on to fully emancipate the enslaved of Maryland in 1864 in a new state constitution.

“In the run-up to the election, “Unconditional Unionists,” led by the flamboyant former congressman Henry Winter Davis, launched the most withering political campaign against slavery ever to take place in a slave state. They blamed slaveholding rebels for having made the reckless and suicidal decision to go to war. And they urged Maryland’s nonslaveholders to embrace “the policy of lightening the burden of the white man by allowing the negro to fight for his own Emancipation.” 

Holding the Line in Maryland, Daniel Crofts, NY Times, 2013.

Recruiters were stalking the rivers and tributaries of the Eastern shore looking for recruits. The 1863 Civil War Draft registrations spread far and wide. In the records for the county are several ancestors, including Asbury Johnson, members of other related families, Doman and Jeffers. Asbury is listed as “colored” and age 34 on one registration, and 41 on another.

Asbury Johnson, 1863 Civil War Draft registration, Queen Anne’s County, District 1.

While there is no definitive record of Asbury Johnson actually joining the Union Army, there is a single muster roll for an Asbury Johnson of Maryland in a regiment that is known to have soldiers from the Eastern Shore, the 38th Regiment, Company J, USCT. The record states Private Asbury Johnson was “absent, sick” in March, 1865. I’ll continue to research this line but it does not appear the National Archives has additional muster cards for this soldier.

By 1866, Asbury Johnson has worked the land for over forty years, bore witness to the surrender of General Lee and his treasonous Confederacy, and the terrible assassination of President Lincoln. Asbury’s body is spent, and he dies. While there isn’t a death certificate or written will, it’s remarkable that Asbury had an inheritance to pass on and that Joseph Doman II, his son-in-law became his executor and accountant. The 35-page probate document reveals more about Asbury Johnson than any other record, in life and death. It was a critical instrument in my genealogical research in revealing the relationships between the Johnson family and his surrounding community, both enslaved and free prior to the Civil War. The document helped me track down and illuminate his daughter’s lives. It is notoriously difficult to track women whose last names change through marriage but the will created a roadmap. In addition, his life as a farmer is revealed in the inventory of the items in his household and from his farm. Asbury left an inheritance for each of his seven children and wife, including Walter Johnson, my great-great-grandfather. I truly believe the inheritance is one reason why Walter had such a great start when he, and his sisters’ Julia and Georgeanna’s families migrated from the Eastern Shore to Chester, Pennsylvania in the 1880s. Walter Johnson will face new trials in Chester and ultimately successfully lead his family into a dawn of new found freedom. For can we really say the earliest Johnson’s were “free” when their people, the friends, their family, their countrymen, were enslaved too?

In a future post, I will detail Asbury’s probate in-depth and begin to explore the lives of his children from the Civil War through the turn of the century.

Sources.

  • US Census, Maryland, Queen Anne’s County, 1850, and 1860
  • U.S., Civil War Draft Registrations Records, 1863-1865, Ancestry.com
  • J. G. Stong, Map of Queen Anne’s County, 1866
  • Jerry M. Hynson, Free African Americans of Maryland 1832, Heritage Books, 2007
  • Frederic Emory, History of Queen Anne’s County, Queen Anne’s Historical Society, 1950
  • Will of Asbury Johnson, 1866. Maryland State Archives
  • Certificate of Freedom, Asbury Johnson, Albert Johnson, 1857. Maryland State Archives
  • Maryland State Colonization Society, Wikipedia
  • Holding the Line in Maryland, Daniel Crofts, NY Times, 2013.
    Peter Kolchin, American Slavery: 1619–1877, New York: Hill and Wang, 1993
  • Compiled Military Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served with the United States Colored Troops: Infantry Organizations, 36th through 40th, Asbury Johnson, National Archives

The Chase Family: Documenting the free and enslaved and Goodhand Family Relationship

The Christopher Goodhand family of Kent and Queen Anne’s County, Maryland were wealthy landowners, farmers, and enslavers originating in England. Christopher Goodhand born 1650, in Lincolnshire, England, arrived on Kent Island in the late 1660s as an indentured servant. He served his contract and received a land grant.  His family and descendants are well-documented on Kent Island in the Chesapeake Bay. Goodhands later settled in the Sudlersville area between Dudley Corners and Crumpton on the Chester River.

Speedwell-type ship, Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, Netherlands.

Christopher Goodhand’s brother Capt. Marmaduke Goodhand commanded the Speedwell of Dartmouth, owned by the Royal African Company, and made voyages Senegambia, to purchase African slaves and take them to the colonies, the first in 1868. The Speedwell also took 170 slaves to Barbados from Mozambique in 1682. The Speedwell was the second ship in the pilgrim contingent that included the infamous Mayflower, but was abandoned for its lack of seaworthiness. Were it not overmasted and leaky, it may have had a much better and positive provenance than as a slave ship.

Only in 1685 did a serious slave trade to Maryland tentatively begin: in that year, instructions from the RAC’s Committee on Shipping (the ever-active Lord Berkeley was on it) asked a sea captain, Marmaduke Goodhand, to deliver two hundred slaves to be shared among Edward Porteus (a merchant of Gloucester County, Virginia), Richard Gardiner, and Christopher Robinson (a future secretary of the colony), on the Potomac River. Next year, there was a reference to a consignment of “slaves and sugar” in Maryland from Barbados. The intention had been to load tobacco, as if the transaction were normal; and there are some other isolated references to slaves arriving at Annapolis or smaller ports on Chesapeake Bay.

Erenow.com, Lawful to Set to Sea, Chapter 11

EMORY CHASE – FREE

The Emory Chase family of Queen Anne County begins as a family of free blacks and enslaved in Kent County in the 1830s. Some of my eldest ancestors on the Upper Shore, the Chases were both free and enslaved by the Goodhand family up to and through the Civil War. While there is no documentation to indicate the Chases descended from Capt. Goodhand’s cargo of slaves, DNA research does indicate my own family has roots in the Senegambia region.

Emory Chase Sr. first appears on the written record in the 1832 Free African-American Census of Maryland in Kent County.

“Emory Chase, 28”

The census was taken in response to the growing population free blacks living in Maryland. There are no other Chases in the immediate vicinity of Emory’s name on the list.

Among the legislative actions of the Maryland General Assembly of 1831 was the passage of “an act relating to the People of Color in this state…The primary intent of the act was to achieve the removal of free African Americans from the state of Maryland in their entirety, sending free blacks to the colony of Liberia.” The state undertook the census to enumerate the free black population. In some counties, free men were asked directly if they would remove themselves to Liberia. The Maryland Colonization Society which lead the local effort was founded in part as a response to the threat of slave rebellion (Nat Turner’s uprising in Virginia was in 1831). The Society saw colonization as a remedy for slavery.

“In 1832 the legislature placed new restrictions on the liberty of free blacks, in order to encourage emigration. They were not permitted to vote, serve on juries, or hold public office. Unemployed ex-slaves without visible means of support could be re-enslaved at the discretion of local sheriffs. By this means the supporters of colonization hoped to encourage free blacks to leave the state.”

Goodhand Plantation, Queen Anne’s County, 1866.

Four generations later, the great-great-grandson of the original scion of the family, Christopher Goodhand b.1787, was dying around 1857 on his plantation southeast of Crumpton and near Sudlersville, Maryland. He had served as a Private in the 38th Regiment, Wright’s Militia during the War of 1812, a state delegate, a farmer and hotel owner. By 1850 he had at least five children (Hiram, Josephine, Eugenia, Martha, and Samuel), was married to Susan Pope Sturgess of Baltimore County, and had an estate worth $16,000 according to the Census. According to the US Federal Slave Schedule he owned 10 slaves of various ages by 1850.

  • 25, female
  • 22, male
  • 18, male
  • 17, male
  • 14, male
  • 13, male
  • 21, female
  • 6, female
  • 4, male
  • 8 months, male

Several enslaved individuals appear in the inventory of the will of Christopher Goodhand. Remarkably, his will provided for gradual freedom to all of his enslaved, which numbered 11 by then.

1857, Christopher Goodhand will lists 11 enslaved, several confirmed Chase family members.

This is my last will and testament, that the following named negroes shall be outfitted to their freedom at the time as specified –


Negro woman Maria to be free 1st January 1859
Negro woman Harriet to be free 1st January 1864
Negro girl Amanda to be free 1st January 1873
Negro woman Mary to be free 1st January 1879
Negro woman Mary Ann to be free 1st January 1882
Negro man Richard to be free 1st January 1862
Negro man Emory to be free 1st January 1868
Negro boy Henry to be free 1st January 1870
Negro boy Levi to be free 1st January 1872
Negro boy James to be free 1st January 1882
Negro boy William Emory to be free 1st January 1890


Will of Christopher Goodhand, 1857, Maryland State Archives.

The manumission dates appear to point to the age of the enslaved. The later the date, the younger the enslaved. Goodhand indicated his wife should take a third of the enslaved and the rest be divided by his heirs.

The Emory Chase Sr. family appear in the 1850 and 1860 census reserved for freemen. However, some of his presumed children or nieces/nephews also appear in Christopher Goodhand’s will probated in 1857. The Chase Sr. family group in the 1850 census includes:

  • Emory Chase, 40
  • Charlotte, 40
  • Mary Jane, 8
  • Addison, 6

By 1850, Emory Chase Sr. is a blacksmith. The Chase Sr. family group in the 1860 census includes:

  • Emory Chase, 60
  • Charlotte, 55
  • John, 21
  • Mary Jane, 18
  • Addison, 16

By 1860, Emory Chase Sr. is a farmer with a personal estate worth $400. The Chase Sr. family group in the 1870 census includes:

  • Emory Chase, 65
  • Charlotte, 64
  • Levi, 29
  • Emory Jr., 32 (Jr. my addition)
  • Addison, 24

A FAMILY FREE AND ENSLAVED

By 1870, Emory is still farming with $1100 in real estate and $300 in his personal estate. Among the listed enslaved in Christopher Goodhand’s will, my own confirmed ancestors from this group include Emory Chase Jr., Harriet Ann Chase, and Levi Chase. It is also plausible Mary is also my ancestor Mary Jane Chase, another daughter or niece of Emory Chase Sr. Perhaps Maria, to be manumitted the earliest via the Goodhand will, was a sister of Emory Chase Senior? After emancipation, Richard Chase appears in Sudlersville on the draft registration record for 1863, less than a year after his manumission. Richard and other members of the family group appear in the county, but it’s not possible to determine their exact relationship.

At first, I was really confused as to how several chase family members could appear in the 1850 and then it occurred to me that you simply can not assume that just because a black family appears in a pre-1870 census that the ENTIRE family is free. Slavery fell from the mother and clearly some of Charlotte’s children were enslaved before she gained her freedom.

Levi and Emory Jr. join the household of Emory Chase Sr. by 1870 according to the census. While Harriet never appears in the Chase Sr. household (she is married to neighbor James Milbourne by 1850), her younger brother John who is living with her in 1850 according to the census appears in the Chase Sr. household in 1860 (she is likely still enslaved but married). Later death records of Milbourne children identify Harriet as “Harriet Ann Chase.”

Sadly, the executor of the Goodhand will, Lemuel Roberts notes during the probate, “Boy, William Emory, mentioned in the will has died since the will was made.” William Emory was likely a Chase relation, perhaps Harriet or Maria’s son. By the time of the probate of Christopher Goodhand’s will, a young girl “Sarah” is also appaised in the inventory. After 1870 census, Emory Chase Jr. disappears from the record. Others, Maria, Amanda, Henry, Maria, James, and Mary Ann never appear in the record after emancipation.

It isn’t clear why Christopher Goodhand, who died by 1857, set out to emancipate his slaves gradually according to his will. They were a considerable part of the wealth of his estate. The probate inventory appraised the enslaved at over $6000. Perhaps the Goodhand family were Methodists. There were Methodist Episcopal churches in Dudley Corners, Crumpton, and Sudlersville about this time. Since its founding by John Wesley in the 1700s, Methodism wrestled with slavery. Generally, northern Methodists were opposed to slavery and southern Methodists saw slavery as essential to their way of life and legal. Maryland was very much on the border, sending its youth into both the Union and Confederate armies at the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1844, a Georgian Bishop and slave owner, James O. Andrew, was asked to resign his title after a 12-day conference, but was convinced by South Carolinian Methodists not to resign. Thus Northern and Southern Episcopalians split over slavery began only a little more than a decade before Goodhand wrote his will. This may have influenced the treatment of his enslaved – and why the Chase family appeared as free blacks on the census as early as 1850. I can only speculate how some of the Chase family lived were free while others were enslaved. Perhaps, since Emory Chase Sr. had a personal estate, he was purchasing the freedom of family members gradually, when and as he could. Perhaps the Goodhand Chase enslaved were children of an enslaved sibling.

Christopher Goodhand’s executors – wife Susan Pope Goodhand b.1812 nee Sturgis, son Hiram Goodhand, and Col. Lemuel Roberts (a neighbor, farmer, friend, slaveholder, and co-delegate to several State and Congressional conventions) followed the will’s instruction, as they did split up the enslaved. Levi was given to Samuel Goodhand (son of Christopher Goodhand) to “serve 15 years.” Emory Jr. was to serve Susan for 11 years before being emancipated.

FREE TO FIGHT

Susan Goodhand, widowed, eventually emancipated Levi Chase, my 3rd great-uncle during the Civil War –but for a fee.

“Whereas my slave Levi Chase has enlisted in the service of the United States now in consideration thereof I, Susan P. Goodhand, guar Samuell S. Goodhand of Queen Anne’s County, State of Maryland do hereby in consideration of said enlistment, manumit, set free, and release the above named Levi Chase from all service due me; his freedom to commence from he date of his enlistment as aforesaid in the Regiment of Colored Troops in the service of the United States.”

Manumission of Levi Chase, Queen Anne’s County Land Records, Maryland State Archives.
Levi Chase Manumission 1864

Goodhand took advantage of an offer from the War Department and offered Levi Chase to the US Army for a bounty and filed manumission for Levi in September 1864.

“To facilitate recruiting in the states of Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee, and eventually Kentucky, the War Department issued General Order No. 329 on October 3, 1863. Section 6 of the order stated that if any citizen should offer his or her slave for enlistment into the military service, that person would, “if such slave be accepted, receive from the recruiting officer a certificate thereof, and become entitled to compensation for the service or labor of said slave, not exceeding the sum of three hundred dollars, upon filing a valid deed of manumission and of release, and making satisfactory proof of title.”

Civil War Soldiers, Union, Colored Troops 56th – 138th Infantry Fold3.

Records indicate she was paid $100 bounty after the war. The remaining enslaved Chases were freed when slavery officially ended in Maryland on November 1, 1864 after the Maryland General Assembly wrote a new constitution for the state that made slavery illegal upon that date. Thankfully, the Chases did not have to wait for freedom long.

Bounty Record, Maryland State Senate showing payment to Susan Goodhand after the Civil War.

Private Levi Chase served in the United States Colored Troops in Company I of the 39th Regiment until the end of the war. According to muster molls he mustered in March 31st, 1864 in Baltimore. The 39th U.S. Colored Infantry was organized in Baltimore, Maryland beginning March 22, 1864 for three-year service under the command of Colonel Ozora P. Stearns. The 39th participated in several battles including the Siege of Petersburg and Richmond, and the infamous Battle of the Crater in Richmond, VA.

The Battle of the Crater, part of the Siege of Petersburg, took place on July 30, 1864, between the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert E. Lee, and the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade (under the direct supervision of the general-in-chief, Lt. Gen.Ulysses S. Grant).

On July 30, Union forces exploded a 8,000 lb mine in blowing a gap in the Confederate defenses. The attack was a failure resulting in thousands of Union and Confederate casualties. The Confederates launched several counterattacks. The breach was sealed off, and Union forces were repulsed with severe casualties. The siege lasted another eight months.

Muster Record for Levi Chase, USCT 39th Regiment.

Levi’s regiment also participated in the bombardment of Fort Fisher in North Carolina, and its capture, the capture of Wilmington, and the surrender of Confederate General Johnston and his army. The 39th U.S. Colored Infantry mustered out of service December 4, 1865 in North Carolina. Levi returned home to Queen Anne’s county by 1870 according to census records.

MOSS TRACT

In 1869, Susan Goodhand, daughter Martha Sudler nee Goodhand, and Susan’s son-in-law J. Morling Sudler, later sold land known as “Moss Tract” to Emory Chase Sr., Emory Chase Jr., and Levi Chase, and to son-in-law John Jeffers (husband of Mary Jane Chase). MossTract directly adjoined the lands of Lemuel Roberts and James Dudley according to the deed. Emory Chase Sr. acquired two fifths and other purchasers –the remaining three fifths. The father and son relationship between Emory Chase senior and junior is confirmed in this deed.

Deed between Goodhands and Emory Chase Sr., Levi Chase, Emory Chase Jr.

In freedom, the Chase family along with the other formerly free black families they married in to (Doman, Jeffers, Johnson, and Milbourne families) were active members of their community, farming and educating their children, building schools and churches. In 1872, Emory Chase Sr., my 4th great-grandfather, and several other “trustees” including my 3rd great-grandfather James Milbourne, purchased land to found an African Methodist Church, later known as Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church in Pondtown, just northwest of Sudlersville. The trustees purchased land from the Gafford and Holliday families (African Americans), “being on the main road leading from Crumpton to Pondtown, adjoining lands…and the Pondtown Public School House.” The deed was testified to by William Tarbutton, on whose land both Christopher Goodhand and Lemuel Roberts are buried. Sadly, none of the Chases have headstones at Mt. Pleasant UM Church. The search goes on for their burial place.

Deed for land in Pondtown for African Methodist Episcopal Church, later, Mt. Pleasant UMC with family member trustees, Emory Chase Sr, Joseph Doman, James Milbourn, George Brown.

Levi Chase was my 3rd great-uncle by marriage and blood, as he married my 3rd great-aunt, Sarah “Sally” Johnson born 1850 to Asbury Johnson, my 3rd great-grandfather. The marriage took place in Pondtown between 1870 and 1880.

I am the great-great-grandson of Sally’s brother Walter “Wallis” Johnson. Furthermore, Walter Johnson married Sara Catherine Milbourn between 1870 and 1880 in Pondtown. Sarah “Katie” Milbourn was the daughter of Harriet Ann Chase and James Milbourn, my 3rd great-grandparents, and granddaughter of Emory Chase Snr.

Walter Johnson’s father and uncle, Asbury and Alfred, were born free to Phillip Johnson in the early 1820s. Philip, Alfred, and Asbury Johnson appear as a family group in the same 1832 Free African-American Census of Maryland that Emory Chase is recorded in.

Asbury Johnson’s 1866 will, just one year after the Civil War ends, shows he was an industrious farmer with dozens of farming tools, cows and horses. But he also owned items that suggested his eyes were on the horizon. He owned a looking glass, 3 pictures, and a clock. He wasn’t rich, but he was free and able to leave an inheritance that included money to each of his seven children and wife.

Certificate of Freedom granted simultaneously to Asbury and Albert Johnson, 1857 by Col. Lemuel Roberts.

Asbury and Albert both had Certificates of Freedom signed by Col. Lemuel Roberts in 1857, Christopher Goodhand’s estate executor. Roberts attests to the fact that they were “born free.” In 1805 the Maryland 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“. 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. It is plausible Asbury’s father or mother was enslaved by Col. Roberts though I have no documentation yet. The Roberts connection to the Johnson and Chase family is palpable and leaves much to be explored.

Susan Goodhand passed away in 1877, about 10 years after her last documented contact with the Chase family. Presumably she is buried on the Tarbutton farm with her late husband Christopher Goodhand in an unmarked grave. I have yet to find the Johnson family in QAC cemeteries.

*Update – for more on the Johnson family, see Johnson Roots on Comegys Reserve.

Sources.