Enslaved Workers

Enslaved and free laborers and skilled craftsmen built and operated Hampton and Epsom living side by side at Epsom in the service of the Chew Family. The skilled labor at Epsom and some of the unskilled labor was composed of hired workers. When the Chews inherited Epsom farm from Governor Charles Carnan Ridgely of Hampton, they also inherited 20 of his 300 enslaved workers. Maryland, as a state south of the Mason-Dixon line, was a slave holding state until 1864.

Enslaved Workers
After Governor Charles Carnan Ridgely died in 1829, his daughter Harriet Ridgely Chew and her husband Henry Banning Chew inherited Epsom Farm and 20 of his 300 enslaved workers. Of these, most were children under the age of fifteen. A codicil in Governor Ridgely’s will specified a system of gradual manumission, whereby some of his slaves would be freed immediately and then still others freed at appointed times in their lives. Consequently, the number of slaves at Epsom gradually diminished as each slave came to an age when he or she was granted his or her freedom. However, these ages (25 years for women and 27 years for men) were set past a point when individuals were at their prime working years. Furthermore, children born to enslaved women remained slaves themselves. Thus, gradual manumission was not so altruistic since it alleviated the financial burden of caring for elderly slaves while still preventing escape attempts and securing further uninterrupted (if reduced) service. While many slaves gained their freedom before the Civil War, slavery at Epsom remained firmly in place until it was abolished in the new Maryland Constitution adopted in 1864.
List of slaves living at Epsom written by Henry Banning Chew in 1836. Some had already reached the age of manumission, while others are listed as either sold or dead. There is one slave, John, who appears to have successfully escaped in 1840. Courtesy of Henry Banning Chew Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Epsom’s proximity to the urban center of Baltimore and to northern free states meant that slave owners in Baltimore County granted certain privileges to slaves to discourage escape. At Epsom, these were presumably successful since escape attempts were strikingly rare, with only one recorded case between 1829 and Emancipation. The Chews did not deliver any known beatings. Slaves were very much seen as chattel and were unapologetically kept in bondage to work in the fields, care for livestock and quarry and haul limestone. Slaves evidently could visit relations on neighboring farms and others could visit them at Epsom. Henry Banning Chew made small monetary gifts to his slaves, and although these were never of great value, they probably made life slightly more endurable and could be saved to help with the transition into society after their eventual manumission. Slaves likely lived in multi-family cabins similar to the one from Hampton depicted above. While the masters of Hampton encouraged nuclear families, the Chews may not have done so to the same extent. Intact nuclear families did not arrive at Epsom and further separation was exacerbated by the frequent manumissions.

Advertisement in the Baltimore Sun for a runaway slave from the Epsom Farm. November 23, 1840.

Promise of Freedom
Prior to the Civil War, there was the constant future promise of freedom at Epsom. The system of gradual manumission, instituted by Governor Ridgely and continued by Henry Banning Chew, guaranteed eventual emancipation to men at the age of 28 and women at the age of 25. However, in practice, the system of gradual manumission meant that many freed individuals were still tied to the land on which their family members continued to be enslaved. It was not until the Civil War that a hope for true freedom began to emerge. At least three Epsom slaves worked to advance the cause of freedom when, on March 30th 1864 they joined the Union Army and enlisted in 39th Regiment Infantry, United States Colored Troops, Maryland Volunteers.