Life After Slavery

The Civil War brought disruption, challenges, and opportunities to enslaved and free black people in Kent County. Slavery had been declining on the Eastern Shore since the American Revolution, and by the eve of the Civil War, free blacks outnumbered enslaved people. Most slaveholders in the region owned only a few slaves, and whites–whether they claimed slaves or not–were dependent on free black labor. During the war, the state voted narrowly to end slavery. The referendum took effect on November 1, 1864. But former slaveholders—including those connected to Washington College–were unwilling to relinquish control and see their former chattel acquire civil rights.

Maryland 4th Regiment of the U.S.C.T.

Soldiers in the United States Colored Troops

Beginning in November of 1863, the federal government began allowing the large-scale enlistment of African-American men in the military. Free black men, men enslaved by those disloyal to the United States, and those enslaved by loyal owners granting their consent were accepted. They served in segregated all-black units, headed by white officers. The enslaved men got their freedom, and loyal owners could receive compensation (between one and three hundred dollars from the federal government; Maryland later offered an additional one-hundred-dollar bounty.)

Eventually nineteen recruiting stations were established in Maryland, including one in Chestertown. By early December, over three thousand black volunteers had joined, about two thousand of them from the Eastern Shore. Men from Kent County were part of the 7th, 9th, 19th, and 30th Regiments, as well as the U.S. Navy. We have found evidence of thirty-six enslaved men, claimed as property by seven different Board members, serving in the United States Colored Troops.

Serving in the military was a life-changing experience for African-American men. Leaving servitude behind, putting on a uniform and defending one’s country–especially in a war to end slavery–provided a mark of manhood and citizenship. Many jumped at the chance, regardless of the danger, terrible conditions, unequal pay, and racist treatment they often faced from white fellow soldiers and officers. Men who had been enslaved at the time of enlistment got fifty dollars when they mustered in, fifty when they mustered out; free men got regular wages, but less than their white counterparts.

A total of 36 U.S.C.T. soldiers have been identified as being previously enslaved by members of the Board of Visitors and Governors of Washington College. The men who served ranged in age from 14 to 31. They were in 7th, 9th, 19th, and the 30th Regiments, with one (Alexander Blake) serving in the Union Navy. The names in bold have their stories featured here.

Henry Anthony, William F. Anthony, George Beck, James Benjamin, James Berryman, Robert Blake, Edward Blake and George Foreman were all held in slavery by Board President Ezekiel Chambers. Alexander Blake, George Frisby, Richard Johnson, George Jones, Richard Jones, Jefferson Ward, Richard Ward, John Ward, Charles J. Ward, Alexander Lambden, T. Henry Lambden were held in slavery by Board member James B. Ricaud. Alonzo Brown was enslaved by Board member Dr. Benjamin F. Houston. James Johnson was held by Board member David Blackiston. Charles Sattor was enslaved by Board member James E. Barrol. Peter Cooper, Philip Cooper, Isaac Cooper, William H. Corse and William Hales were enslaved by Board member George Vickers. John Wright and Thomas Wright were enslaved by Board member George W. T. Perkins. Six other men, also enslaved by Perkins, known only by their first names and ages also enlisted: John, 22, Tom, 19, Alexander, 17, Sam, 22, Levi, 14, and Tom, 31.

Pension records:

James Berryman, Charles J. Ward, Isaac Cooper,

and William Hales

Soldiers who survived the war but were wounded or suffered from a later health problem related to their service could file for a pension from the United States government. Their widows and orphans could also file for support. Pension records exist for the some of the men mentioned here and provide information about their lives after the war, and sometimes about their lives in slavery.

James F. Berryman enlisted as a Private in Company F, 7th Regiment, in September, 1863. At the time, he was about 27, married and the father of three children. Berryman spent part of his time in the service working as a recruiter; he also worked as a blacksmith. Berryman was held in slavery by Board President Ezekiel Chambers (See Board; Freedom Seekers), while another Board member, Dr. Benjamin F. Houston (See Board; Freedom Seekers), claimed Berryman’s wife Emily and the couple’s children, Fannie (born 1857), Charles (born 1859), and Mary Anna (born 1861), in bondage. (The two slaveholders were related by marriage, with Houston’s uncle James married to Chambers’ sister Augusta. Houston and Chambers both owned farms outside Chestertown near Rock Hall.)

Emily Berryman began filing for a widow’s pension the year her husband died, 1871, but the application was denied. In 1908, the eldest Berryman child, Fannie made a pension application, which was also likely denied. (See Apprenticeships.)

Ezekiel Chambers applied to the state for compensation for James Berryman and four other soldiers he had formerly enslaved but was denied after being judged by the Claims Commission as “Disloyal”.

Ezekiel Chambers applied to the state for compensation for five soldiers he had formerly enslaved but was denied after being judged by the Claims Commission as “Disloyal”. Collection of the Maryland State Archives

Charles Jefferson Ward, enslaved by Board member James B. Ricaud, (See Board) enlisted in Company E of the 30th Regiment as a Private in February, 1863, and served for nearly two years. At the time of his pension claim, Ward had been suffering from heart disease for several years, which led to his death by 1878. Ward left behind a wife, Eliza Ann Ward, whom he had married in Rock Hall after the war. She requested a widow’s pension but was denied. Eliza Ward lived in Chestertown until her death in 1903.

James B. Ricaud applied to the state for compensation for Ward and eight other former enslaved men who served in the U.S.C.T., and was successful, receiving nine hundred dollars.

Five men claimed as the property of Board member George Vickers (See Board) joined up, including Isaac Cooper and William Hales. 

George Vickers’s 1864 Record of Slaves lists five people with the name Cooper: Isaac, age 18, Philip, age 20, Peter, age 16 (all three joined the U.S.C.T.), as well as William, age 10, and Hannah, age 52. It is very likely that they were a family.

George Vickers received compensation from the state for all five of his enslaved men who fought in the war (the three Coopers, Hales, and William H. Corse), for a total of five hundred dollars.

Isaac Cooper joined the 7th Regiment, Company E, in September, 1863, near Baltimore. He was honorably discharged in October, 1866, in Texas, and returned to Kent County. He married Mary Elizabeth Houston in 1869; they eventually had four children. Cooper was granted a pension for rheumatism (arthritis) and hydrocele (swelling caused by fluid build-up around the scrotum). His pension amount was increased twice over the years. According to his application, he had contracted rheumatism from lying on damp ground. Yet after returning home Cooper managed to support his family working as a farm laborer for many years. He was also a member of the Charles Sumner G.A.R. Post. Isaac Cooper died in 1912 at the age of sixty-eight.

The 1880 census for Kent County shows Isaac Cooper (and his family) working as a farm laborer. 

William Hales joined the 7th Regiment, Company F, in fall of 1863, when he was seventeen. Hales was shot in the leg during action at Deep Bottom, Virginia, and spent eight months recovering. He received a pension, despite being able to work as a teacher of vocal music in Baltimore for most of his life. In an affidavit, Alice Evans of Chestertown recalled attending school with Hales; that, and the fact that he became a teacher indicate he acquired an education, possibly after the war ended. He returned to Kent County after the war and remained there until 1870, when he moved to Baltimore. 

William Hales was married twice. His first wife, Annie Marie Blake, died shortly after they married in 1868. Hales was married again in 1876, to Annie Howard. He apparently had no children. In his pension documents, Hales described a personal connection to the Vickers family who had enslaved him, noting that he and George and Mary Vickers’s daughter Annette were born on the same day–May 10, 1846. Hales recalled, “As up to the time I left their family to enter the U.S. Army, we would often speak of the fact and my mother nursed her and myself from the same breast.”

With research contributed by Maria Betancur, Class of 2020, Alexis Young, Class of 2020, and Caroline Draper, Class of 2021




Affidavit from William Hales’s pension file, in which he described his time enslaved by the Vickers family of Chestertown. Collection of the Maryland State Archives.

Postwar Apprenticing

Slavery was ended in Maryland by an 1864 referendum. People who had been enslaved in Maryland became free as of November 1 of that year. On November 2, former slaveholders rushed to county courthouses to apprentice children and teenagers they had previously owned, often without parental permission. These contracts generally kept the children–some as young as four years old–working for former masters until the age of eighteen for girls, twenty-one for boys. This not only allowed masters to keep young people virtually enslaved, it provided a measure of control over their parents as well. Particularly vulnerable were mothers whose husbands were away fighting in the Union Army. 

In Kent County alone, 165 apprenticeship arrangements were made in November of 1864. Nearly twenty of them involved members of the College’s Board of Visitors and Governors. Kent County Quaker R.T. Turner described what was happening in a letter to his mother:

The slaveholders with Judge Chambers [Ezekiel Chambers, President of the Board of Visitors and Governors] at their head are dragging the little children of Emancipated Parents before proslavery magistrates and a proslavery Orphans Court, and are having them bound to their former masters without even a regard to the forms of Law. The Orphans Court announces publicly that it will give the preference to former owners and the poor blacks have not the choice of a master, which is allowed them by this iniquitous law, nor do they stop to ascertain if the parent can support the children which is the very foundation and excuse for the Law.

Another Quaker, Bartus Trew, the Deputy Provost Marshal in Chestertown, reported a few days later: “The Orphans Court of this County have bound over one Hundred freed children without the consent of their parents. I do not think a greater injustice was ever committed. There is not a day but what there are from three to six poor women making complaints to me.” Trew compiled a list of children bound out by the Kent County Orphans Court and Justices of the Peace as of November 28, 1864. His list contained over one hundred names, including thirteen children indentured by Board members George Westcott, David Blackiston, Ezekiel Chambers, Benjamin Houston and James B. Ricaud. Trew described the majority of cases as: “Mother present and objected.”

The Kent News repeatedly advanced the view that apprenticing was in the best interests of black children, even suggesting that several had died because their parents could not provide for them. One writer noted that, “There is evidently a disposition among negro parents to hold onto their children,” affirming the claim of racist whites that black parents did not have same feeling for their children that whites did. Therefore, white leaders could justify separating black families in the interest of white labor demands.

While African-American parents and government officials tried to halt illegal apprenticing, the practice continued in Kent County and elsewhere in Maryland. And Board members continued to be part of it. Lawrence M. Ricaud apprenticed three children, each described as “orphan and pauper” in March of 1865. The same month George Vickers apprenticed three children described as orphans. But two–George Washington Salter, age 5, and Wesley Salter, age 5–were listed with their mother’s name, Julia. All three had been previously enslaved by Vickers. Ezekiel Chambers (See Board; Freedom Seekers) significantly reduced the ages of the three former slaves he indentured: Charles H. Lindsay is listed in the 1864 Record of Slaves (created at the time of emancipation) as 12; on his indenture, his age is given as 3. Caroline Lindsay, age 14 in the Record, is listed as 8 on her indenture document. Lewis H. Hodge is 14 in the Record; on his indenture, he is 5. One case could be an error, but all children’s ages being so significantly reduced suggests a deliberate effort by Chambers to get more years of work from the children he forcibly apprenticed.

Parents took their cases to Union Army officials or the Freedman’s Bureau, created to help the transition of the former slaves to freedom. By November, 1865, the Freedman’s Bureau ordered County Orphan’s Courts to stop apprenticing children and allowed the Provost Marshal to hear parents’ concerns. Many children were returned to their parents, and apprenticing slowed, but did not stop altogether, as African Americans remained vulnerable in late 19th century America. Poverty drove many parents into indenture contracts for their older children to help make ends meet. The last indenture in Kent County was recorded in 1928.

Report to the Maryland General Assembly showing partial list of black children indentured to former slaveholders in Kent County, including College Board members George Westcott and Ezekiel Chambers. Collection of the Maryland State Archives.

Illegal apprenticeships of African-American children in Kent County by members of the College Board of Visitors and Governors 


George B. Westcott – November 2, 1864

William Marcellis Wilson, age 10

Ezekiel F. Chambers – November 2, 1864

Caroline Lindsey, age 8 (14)
Charles Henry Lindsey, age 3 (12)
Lewis Henry Hodges, age 5 (14)

David F. Blackiston – November 5, 1864

Dinah Brown, age 4
Nelson Harris, age 6
Robert Hackett, age 13
Victoria Hackett, age 10

Benjamin F. Houston – November 5, 1864

Fannie Berryman, age 7                                                               Charles Berryman, age 5

James Barroll Ricaud – November 9, 1864

William Alexander, age 13
John [no last name given], age 18
Levi [no last name given], age 14

Laurence M. Ricaud – March 4, 1865

Henrietta Meeks, age 8
Henry Hobbs, age 17
Samuel Johnson, age 15

George Vickers – March 9 1865

Wesley Salter, age 5
George Washington Salter, age 7
William T. Hackett, age 9

*Board member George S. Hollyday was one of the 3 members of the Orphans Court, which had authority over apprenticeship agreements

Fannie Berryman’s indenture to Board member Benjamin F. Houston. 

The Berryman children, indentured by Dr. Benjamin F. Houston

Emily Berryman and her three children were enslaved by Board of Visitors and Governors member Dr. Benjamin F. Houston (See Board; Freedom Seekers). Her husband (the children’s father) was enslaved by Board President Ezekiel Chambers. Four days after slavery was ended in the state, Houston went to the Kent County Courthouse and indentured the two older Berryman children, Fannie, age seven, and Charles, age five, without their mother’s consent. Under the terms of the contract Houston entitled himself to Fannie’s labor for the next eleven years, Charles’s for the next sixteen. Their father, James Berryman, was out of the state, having joined the United States Colored Troops in September, 1863.

Benjamin Franklin Houston was a medical doctor who lived in Chestertown with his wife and four children. In the 1864 Record of Slaves, he listed seven people in his household: Emily, Fannie, Charles Berryman, a three-year-old girl listed only as “female Berryman”, and three young men, aged eighteen to twenty-one.

Mrs. Emily Berryman was in a precarious situation–just freed from slavery, dependent on a white employer, her husband away in the army, with three small children to care for; she was also pregnant with the couple’s fourth child. It is hard to imagine someone more vulnerable. Yet Emily Berryman was determined to get her children back.

Several weeks after Houston took the Berryman children, he wrote a letter to army officials, complaining that “the negro man James Berryman came to my house and carried off two children who were bound to me”, failing to mention that Berryman was in fact Fannie’s and Charles’s father. (Berryman’s service records indicate that he was granted a furlough during this time.) In statements taken in response, Emily Berryman states clearly that she told Houston she did not want her children bound to him and that she was able to support them herself. 

It took two years for the Freedman’s Bureau to act in the Berryman case, but by November of 1866, Houston was ordered to release Fannie and Charles to their father. His military service had concluded in October, so perhaps his return home had something to do with the children’s release. Several months later, Houston cancelled the indenture contracts.