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Sotterley Lecture Details Slave Escapes During War of 1812
Hollywood MD - 9/10/2012
By Dick Myers
The new monument at Lancaster Park in Lexington Park reminds us that a number of African-American slaves escaped during the Civil War to fight for the Union Army. What may not be as well known is that a number of slaves also escaped during War of 1812. They fled to the British ships in the Chesapeake Bay region with the promise of resettlement and land somewhere within the British Empire.
The story of those slaves is being told at Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood through interpretation and also through the 2012 Speaker Series. On Sunday long-time Maryland State Archivist Dr. Edward Papenfuse told the story with a presentation of original documents by himself and members of his staff.
Just two days after the Battle of St. Leonard’s Creek four or five slaves escaped from Sotterley and several nearby farms to the British fleet in the Patuxent River. The next month, probably aided by the intelligence received from those escapees, the second much larger wave of 44 slaves escaped.
Dr. Papenfuse and Seth Weisenberger of his staff then told through the original documents the story of at least some of the escaped slaves who became members of the Colonial Marines. Eventually some of those former slaves were resettled in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. Eventually because of the sheer numbers of refugees, the governor of Nova Scotia shut the gate. Some of the former slaves did not survive the voyage. But some adjusted to the much harsher winters than in Maryland to become successful. Some of that information comes from family research of the descendants, although more research is needed, Dr. Papenfuse said.
One of the results of the American victory in the War of 1812 was the British promise to provide financial reparation of the landowners who lost slaves during the war. Dr. Papenfuse and Weisenberger showed some records from the St. Mary’s County Historical Society that were in family collections and thus survived the several courthouse fires in Leonardtown.
The reparation became such a contentious issue that eventually the British paid a lump sum and left it up to the local counties how to divvy up the money A reparation committee was set up in St. Mary’s County and records of their decisions exist. Those records include the claims of John Plater, uncle of George Plater V, the youthful owner of Sotterley.
There are two more lectures in this year’s Sotterley Speaker Series:
·Sunday Sept. 30, 3 p.m. in the barn – Dr. Frank Smith on the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum
·Friday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. in the bard – Michael Kauffman on American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies.
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