Local Slave Life
When St. Mark’s Episcopal Church-Lappans, about six miles south of Hagerstown, Maryland, was founded in 1849, all eight of the church’s charter members owned slaves, and the original plans for the building were altered to include a gallery for slaves, which still exists today.
In 1850, the eight founding members of St. Mark’s held a total of 53 slaves. John Booth had six slaves, John Breathed had six, Hezekiah Claggett had eleven, M. C. Clarkson had one, Daniel Donnelly Sr. had eight, George Kennedy had 15, Dr. Thomas Maddox had four, and Dr. Frisby Tilghman had at least two. Other members of the church in these early years also held similar numbers of slaves. Small groups of slaves were typical of Maryland estates, especially in northern and western Maryland, where slave families were often split between multiple owners, or even between slavery and freedom. Almost half of the African-Americans living in mid-nineteenth-century Washington County were free, so slaves in this county would have known many free blacks. The first rector of St. Mark’s, the Rev. Joseph C. Passmore, employed two young servant women, Sophia Jones and Ellen Dorsey, who were described in the 1850 census as “mulatto”–that is, of mixed race.
One of the best-known abolitionists in nineteenth-century America, J.W.C. Pennington, grew up at the estate called Rockland, in what would soon be St. Mark’s parish, and escaped from slavery there in 1827, two decades before St. Mark’s was founded. His account of his early life in slavery at Rockland reveals something of how slaves lived on an estate in our parish. According to Pennington, local slaves subsisted on salt pork, dried herrings, and corn meal (made into loaves, flatbread, or mush) for most of the year. Each person was supplied with two sets of clothes a year and a rough blanket every few years. Pennington, who would later become a Presbyterian minister, described cruel overseers and random acts of verbal and physical abuse by his master, yet he said his master was “kind” overall. His “master was an Episcopalian,” Pennington wrote, and sometimes drove into Hagerstown to go to church, but “never made any provisions for the religious instruction of his slaves… I never knew him to say a word to one of us about going to church, or about our obligations to God, or a future state.” This master’s son, Dr. Frisby Tilghman, was one of the founders of St. Mark’s, and some of Pennington’s fellow slaves probably attended our church.
Slaves at St. Mark’s
At present we know little about how slaves worshiped at St. Mark’s or how they interacted with the rest of the congregation. From the gallery at the back of the church they could see and hear the service clearly, but they were separated from the other worshipers. We also know very little about most of the individuals who sat in the slave balcony at St. Mark’s, but we have at least the names of thirty-one enslaved men, women, and children who certainly, probably, or possibly were among them. They were:
- Jeremiah and Malinda James, and their daughter Hannah
- Jerry, d. 1850
- Jane, d. 1853
- Mary Coon (freed 1855), and her children Nelson (b. 1846, freed 1855), Mary (b. 1848), Chester (b. 1848, freed 1855), and Caroline (b. 1850)
- Elizabeth Howard, b. 1817, freed 1858, and her children Martha Elizabeth (b. 1848) and Charity Virginia (b. around 1846)
- Isaac and Letty Ann Warfield, and their daughters Sarah, Letitia, and Ellen Belle
- Matilda Pearce, 1836-1856
- Frances Palmer Howard, b. around 1835
- Ellen Thompson, b. around 1834
- William Thompson, b. around 1839
- Ralph, b. 1778
- Thornton, b. 1825
- Warner, b. 1827
- Mary, b. 1829
- Eliza, b. about 1812
Other African Americans appear in the pre-Civil War church records, but it is not known at this time whether they were enslaved or free.
Mary E. Coon
As a young child, Mary Cammelville or Campbell was brought from the Eastern Shore to our neighborhood by her owner, Henrietta Tilghman. She lived and worked on the Rockland estate, where she met and married a free black man, Daniel Coon. The couple had at least two sons, Nelson and Chester, before Mary was freed by Henrietta Tilghman in 1855. Nelson grew up to serve in in the Civil War.
Read Mary’s own account of her life.
The James Family
The very first wedding recorded at St. Mark’s was the wedding of two slaves. This was the marriage of “Jeremiah and Melinda, slaves of Mr. Booth” (one of the founders of St. Mark’s), on Christmas Day, 1849. Since Jerry and Malinda James—as they were most often known—were both held by the Booth family, they may at least have been able to live together as a married couple, though the evidence suggests that they were owned by different branches of the family. In 1853, John Booth’s father died and left “Malinda and her children” to his widow in his will. Malinda and the children together were valued at $550. Jerry was not listed with the slaves named in the will.
Like most slaves, Jerry and Malinda never learned to read and write, and they did not know their exact birthdates either. Later records indicated that they were probably in their mid-twenties when they married, that they may have had a daughter born in April of 1850 (four months after their church wedding), and that there may even have been other older daughters before this. A daughter named Hannah certainly arrived in 1856.
Then, in October, 1858, something extraordinary and wonderful happened. Malinda James was granted her freedom. In the manumission papers, Margaret Booth described “my negro woman slave Malinda James, wife of Jerry James; said slave is about thirty five years of age, about five feet six inches high, of a dark color, and has the mark of a burn across her forehead…” Whether the scar was from a branding or an accidental injury, we don’t know. Branding runaways slaves was not unknown, and Matilda’s previous owner William Booth had reported three runaways in 1850.
By 1860, Malinda James, now a free woman, was living in Hagerstown with four-year-old Hannah, a new baby named Ellenora (born in 1859), and another African-American woman named Sarah Turner. Jerry’s whereabouts at this point are unknown; he was not listed among the Booth slaves. Any children who may have been born before Hannah had also disappeared from the family. They were no longer with Malinda or in John Booth’s possession. They may have died, or they may have been permanently separated from Jerry and Malinda by the cruel realities of slavery.
The Civil War started the following year, and we do not know what happened to Jerry and Malinda during it. Jerry apparently did not join the military. He eventually gained his freedom—either through manumission, through emancipation, or by running away. Because Maryland was part of the Union, slaves here were not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but had to wait to be freed by a new state constitution in November, 1864.
Whatever obstacles they had faced in the meantime, Jerry and Malinda were living together again in 1870, this time near the small community of Beaver Creek, a few miles east of Hagerstown. Jerry was working as a “laborer,” and Malinda was “keeping house.” Hannah, now 13 years old, was living as a domestic servant with a white family in Chewsville, about four miles from the James home; eleven-year-old Ellenora’s whereabouts are unknown. The Jameses now had four more children under the age of ten: Margaret (age 9), William (age 3), Susan (age 2), and a baby, Alice. It looks as if, unable to support so many young children, they’d had to send the older ones out to work or live elsewhere.
Sometime in the next seven years, Jerry died. By 1877, Malinda was a widow, still living at Beaver Creek. Her house was next door to the “colored school” that her children would have attended, and her neighbors were a mixture of black and white working-class families. In 1880 Malinda was still living here, now alone with her twelve-year-old daughter Susan. The following year Malinda, now in her mid-fifties, married Thomas Wilson, an elderly blacksmith from Chewsville.
The Warfield Family
Lettia Ann Hopewell, known as Letty, was born at Eakles Mills, the oldest of twelve or thirteen children born to Henry Hopewell and his wife Arez. They were owned by a family supposedly named Clayton (possibly Claggett). Small but proud, Letty served as a slave companion to a younger white girl named Hannah. Early on, the slave and the child were on first-name terms, but when Hannah grew older, she expected Letty to call her “Miss Hannah.” Letty was having none of that. As Letty’s family told the story in later years, Letty “turn[ed] her up and spanked her [and] no one said anything to her about it.” Letty’s descendants also told other stories of her standing up to white folks, and of her physical courage, such as the time she crossed a river on planks when a bridge had washed out.
Isaac Warfield was partly of Indian descent and, according to his grandchildren, “always wore his hair in a long bob.” Like many slaves in central Maryland, he was trained in a craft; Isaac had learned stone masonry. He also made brooms, and despite being enslaved he was able to earn money for himself by selling some of his brooms on the side.
Isaac and Letty were married at St. Mark’s (according to family lore), probably in the mid-1850s. At the time of the wedding, someone present remarked, “I wonder why in the world Warfield would want to marry that half dead woman,” and the remark got back to Letty, who always remembered it. But the marriage was a solid one. Isaac and Letty had three daughters, Sarah, Letitia, and Ellen Belle, all of them were born into slavery. One day, Isaac overheard that their owner (whose identity is unknown at present) was planning to sell one of the Warfield daughters away. (Sometimes this meant that the girl was bound for prostitution in the deep South.) Isaac and Letty made a momentous decision: to take their children and their savings and make a run for freedom, north of the Mason-Dixon line. It was an enormous risk, but they succeeded, reaching Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in the northern part of the state, along with one of Isaac’s brothers and his family. The Warfields lived in Pennsylvania for the rest of the slave era and into the 1870s.
But unlike most African-Americans who migrated northward, Isaac and Letty and their daughters returned after the Civil War to the place where they had been enslaved. Letty’s large extended family may have been part of what drew them back to Maryland, and to the neighborhood of St. Mark’s, sometime after 1870. In 1876 they purchased a small farm in Breathedsville, where Isaac built a two-story log house that is still standing today (on the north side of Breathedsville Road)They became truck farmers, raising peas, beans, beets, rutabagas, and other produce, washing and tying the vegetables in bunches on Fridays, and rising at 4 a.m. on Saturdays to travel to the market in Hagerstown. Isaac also continued to make brooms, selling them to customers that included the Washington County government.
A photograph survives showing Letty posed in a studio and wearing a fur. She took care with her clothes, reportedly preferring “fine muslin,” tiny stitches and delicate tucks, and fitted bodices with full skirts. Her daughters also appear elegantly dressed in photographs. Letty was a seamstress who made quilts, a meticulous housekeeper, and strict with her grandchildren in later years. Fewer memories of Isaac were passed down in the family, but he kept a watchdog and liked cats. Letty, however, couldn’t abide cats and wouldn’t allow them in the house.
Perhaps most striking of all are the traces of a strong bond that continued and even strengthened between the Warfields and the extended community of St. Mark’s Church. The Warfield family Bible was inscribed, “An Easter gift to Isaac Warfield from his friend Elizabeth Rench, Hagerstown, Md., March 25, 1883”; some of the Renches seem to have attended St. Mark’s. Isaac and Letty’s daughter Ellen Belle married a man named Frank Allen and lived near the College of St. James; the four Allen children were baptized at the College by the rector of St. Mark’s in 1893. Frank Allen died five years later and was buried in St. Mark’s churchyard (though his grave is not marked). Finally, at the age of seventy-five, Isaac was baptized and confirmed at St. Mark’s, on November 8, 1908; his sponsors were Miss Anne Maddox and Natalie Williams. Around the same time, other African Americans were being baptized and sometimes described as communicants at St. Mark’s. So the Warfield family were not the only former slaves who gravitated to this church during these decades.
We know less about Letty’s beliefs, but one typically feisty anecdote is preserved in her family’s recollections. Once a stranger asked her whether “she was any relation of Tom Warfield. Her reply [was,] ‘Yes, the same relation I am to you. We are all of Adam’s race.’”
One spring day in 1912, Isaac died while doing chores around the house. He was buried in St. Mark’s churchyard, with a headstone and footstone. Letty stayed on in the Breathedsville house with one of their daughters; grandchildren came to visit on horseback from St. James and later by train from Hagerstown. Letty died in January 1930 and was buried next to Isaac at St. Mark’s.
Letty and Isaac had risked everything for their daughters. Then they had the courage to return to the place where they’d lived in slavery and danger, and through hard work they built a new life here in freedom. They must have been pleased to see younger generations doing things that would have been impossible before the Civil War: their daughter Sarah married a minister; their grandchildren included a schoolteacher, a storekeeper, and a railroad porter. And their family has also played a key role in preserving the story of African Americans in Washington County: one of Isaac and Letty’s great-grandchildren was Charles Doleman, who with his wife Marguerite (Peggy) Doleman founded the Doleman Black Heritage Museum in Hagerstown. The Warfield family heritage is a proud and important one, which we preserve in part at St. Mark’s.
More about slavery and local Episcopal Churches
“Down From the Balcony: African Americans and Episcopal Congregations in Washington County, Maryland, 1800-1864,” by Emilie Amt, published in Anglican and Episcopal History, vol. 86, no. 1, March 2017.
St. Mark’s Parish Register, Maryland State Archives, Annapolis.
United States Census and Slave Schedules, 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880.
Land records, Washington County Courthouse.
Doleman family records, Doleman Black Heritage Museum, Hagerstown, Maryland Archives website.
USCT pension records, Maryland State Archives website.
The Illustrated Atlas of Washington County, Maryland (Philadelphia, 1877).
William Taggert, A Map of Washington County, Maryland (Hagerstown, 1859).
James W. C. Pennington, The Fugitive Blacksmith; or, Events in the History of James W. C. Pennington, Pastor of a Presbyterian Church, New York, Formerly a Slave in the State of Maryland, United States (1850)
Charles R. McGinley, They Continued Steadfastly in the Apostles’ Teaching and Fellowship: A History of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, Washington County, Maryland (Boonsboro, MD, 1986). 49).
Barbara Jeanne Fields, Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground: Maryland during the Nineteenth Century (New Haven, 1985).
Additional research by Vicki DeVore. Thanks also to Bob Spence for finding a key piece of evidence, and to the Rev. Anne Weatherholt for starting us on this journey of discovery.