Archaeologists Hope to Uncover Earliest Settlement of Free African-Americans

Hundreds of Blacks lived in Maryland's "The Hill" in 1790.

Posted: 07/30/2013 09:33 AM EDT

A group of archaeological students and researchers from Morgan State University and University of Maryland, College Park, have uncovered what is believed to be the oldest settlement of free African-Americans in Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Hundreds of free Blacks lived in the area called “The Hill” as far back as 1790, not far away from plantations that enslaved African-Americans. This summer students have been digging behind a building that was home to three free “non-whites,” according to the 1800 Census. Their goal during this excavation is to better understand the community and what their lives were like.

Their research will also help prove whether the settlement is older than Treme in New Orleans, which is currently recognized as the nation’s oldest free Black settlement, dating back to 1812.

Baltimore Sun reports:

"It's not just a Black story. It's an American story," said Dale Green, a Morgan State University professor of architecture and historic preservation.

Former slaves founded such settlements, where they enjoyed early emancipation and the chance at property ownership and commerce. Slaves who had bought their freedom and others freed by Methodists and Quakers on the Eastern Shore likely formed The Hill, which historians say could have been the largest community of free Blacks in the Chesapeake region.

During the first census in 1790, some 410 free African-Americans were recorded living on The Hill — more than Baltimore's 250 free African-Americans and even more than the 346 slaves who lived at nearby Wye House Plantation, where abolitionist Frederick Douglass was enslaved as a child.

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(Photo: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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