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"I Was Slave Born"
January 30, 2013
The forgotten lives of Maryland's African-American Civil War veterans are being brought to light by the Maryland State Archives "Legacy of Slavery" project. This Google Earth file plots the homes in Baltimore City where many veterans settled after the war. The map links to biographies, pension files, and other documents that reveal the lives of Maryland's first black veterans in stunning detail.
The picture above is from an 1898 pension file for Civil War veteran Vincent Demby, who settled on Sarah Ann Street near the corner of Poppleton and Saratoga streets in West Baltimore. It reads in part:
I am about 55 years of age, reside 633 Sarah Ann St., occupation laborer. I was born in Queen Ann's Co., Md., near Queenstown. I was slave born. I lived there to the time I went into the Army.
Two things grabbed me about that very short narrative. One: his approximation of his age. A slave's date of birth was apparently of little consequence to anyone who had the means to record it. Two: the prosaic way he writes "I was slave born," as if it were just one in a long chain of sentences one dispenses to get through bureaucratic paperwork. (You can see the rest of his three-page application here.)
There are more case studies of Maryland's U.S. Colored Troops veterans at the Maryland State Archives site.
On Tuesday, February 5, Maryland Morning will air a special 20-minute package devoted to Maryland's African-American Civil War veterans. First, Sheilah Kast will talk to 1861 author Adam Goodheart and Hari Jones, assistant director and curator of the African-American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation and Museum.
Then David Armenti of the Maryland State Archives will talk about the 7th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops, who trained in Druid Hill Park, mustered out at Federal Hill, and stuck around to settle Baltimore neighborhoods like Seton Hill.
Last, we'll visit a community meeting to hear Seton Hill residents' reactions to this addition to their already rich history.