The College drew financial support from several means–tuition payments, grants from the state (drastically reduced after 1805), rental of College lots (beginning in 1784), and sale of those lots (from 1819 onward). By the 1820’s the College was loaning money to local people, in amounts of between $1000 and $3000 with interest, using their property as collateral. Usually that property was in the form of land, but sometimes it also included enslaved persons. Most of the the loans were repaid on time, but when the buyer defaulted, the collateral became College property. This was the case with at least one loan, resulting in the Board of Visitors and Governors’ advertising the sale of four enslaved people.
Renters/Owners of Washington College L0ts
In 1728, local planter Simon Wilmer sold one hundred acres of land to the Kent Free School, which then passed to the College. To raise funds for a building, part of the land was divided into sixty-three lots which were rented out, starting in 1783. In 1819, the Board authorized the selling of these lots. Of a list compiled of forty-five renters and owners, we were able to determine the slaveholding status of thirty-nine. Of those, thirty-four were found to be slaveholders. Four were identified as not owning slaves. The status of the remaining seven could not be determined. Slaveholding size ranged from one to ninety-two enslaved persons. Of the thirty-four slaveholders, at least twelve eventually manumitted one or more of the people they enslaved. Several of the renters/owners were free African Americans.
With research by Julia Fuchs, Caroline Draper, Class of 2021, Daniel Brown, Class of 2021, Salamata Jalloh, Class of 2022
The College advertised for sale the four enslaved children it acquired when Peacock defaulted on his payments. Collection of the Maryland State Archives
Advertised Sale of Slaves
In his contract to purchase College land, William Peacock offered four enslaved people as collateral.
William Peacock was a farmer in northern Kent County who purchased forty acres of wooded land located along Fairlee Creek from the College in 1841. The cost was slightly over one thousand dollars and Peacock entered into an agreement to pay the amount in installments with interest, by August, 1844.
As collateral, Peacock offered four enslaved people. The contract lists “one Negro man named Henry about 36 years old, one Negro woman named Minte about 34 years old, one Negro Girl named Harriett about 11 years old, and one Negro boy named Jim about 7 years old.”
Peacock made some of his payments on schedule, but by January, 1844, he was in arrears and wrote to Board Treasurer Joseph Wickes to ask for more time. Peacock explained that he had creditors who owned him money, causing him to fall behind on his payments to the College. By September, the Board had run out of patience and the College sued Peacock to recover the debt of about $350 still owed. The Kent County Court ordered him to render up his goods and chattels to the Board.
To recover the debt, the Board decided to sell the enslaved people Peacock had offered as collateral in the original contract. In the advertisement shown, which appeared in the Kent News in July, 1845, the Kent County sheriff announced the sale of four of William Peacock’s slaves. Jim, now age 9, and Harriett, now age 14, were part of the original contract; however, the two adults, Henry and Minte, had been replaced by two more children, Emory, age 6, and Juliana, age 4.
No record of the sale of the enslaved children has been found. It is possible that they were not sold. A scrap of paper in the financial records of the College dated 1846 records 28 bushels of wheat “made on College Lots bought of Peacock”, suggesting that the Board repossessed his land to recover the money Peacock owed. But 1850 census records show that William Peacock held three people in slavery, none of whose ages match those in the advertisement or original contract, raising the possibility of sale. Slave sales were not always recorded, and not all records have been preserved. The fate of Harriett, Jim, Emory, Juliana, Henry and Minte remains unknown.