After the Civil War, dramatic changes began to occur on the physical landscape at St. Mary’s City, and the way that African American life was represented on and off of St. Mary’s Manor. For Dr. Brome, his interaction and alignment with the wharf, Female Seminary, and Trinity Church remained the same, as did the orientation of his plantation home as a dividing line between public and private space. However, the control he had over the activity and lifestyle of those laboring on his plantation had been limited by the elimination of slavery. Throughout the end of the 19th century, space began to change, and African Americans began to modify the landscape on multiple scales to become more visible and active participants in their families and communities.
Expanding the Household Space
In 1870, the census records and archaeological survey suggest that the former slave quarters continued to be used by African American laborers, either as wage or tenant laborers. As the 19th century progresses, however, and Dr. Brome begins to lessen his involvement in plantation agriculture, the amount of households located in this row decreases. On the 1880 census, fewer African American families lived in the neighboring structures to Dr. Brome that year. Although the data is limited, archaeological survey data indicate that the amount of household concentrations also diminish through time, although additional analysis needs to be conducted to verify this conclusion. By 1900, the survey data indicate that only the duplex and single quarters still remained.
This changing household landscape suggests a shift in the way that African American communities interacted. During slavery, the close concentration of slave quarters provided immediate community spaces. Post-slavery, these communities of households on the plantation began to disappear, spreading households out across the plantation: while at St. Mary’s this appears to be caused by the changing demand for agricultural labor, the pattern was similar throughout the South, where tenant or sharecropping households were more spread out across the landscape in order to be closer to their fields. For planters, this was fine since they no longer had to monitor the actions of the laborers; for the families, this meant greater physical separation from their landlords and more freedom to run their household independently.
We All Walked Together: Church and Community
With the diminishing community spaces on the plantation, and more freedom to participate in the public sphere, African Americans began to build churches and schools on the public landscape. These spaces became important symbolic and community spaces, representing independent places for the community to gather regularly.
The church was a critical component of post-slavery African American life. Almost immediately following Emancipation, congregations throughout the South began raising funds to construct African American churches. In St. Mary’s County, many of the oldest African American churches and congregations were built during the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s. Independent churches provided African Americans with a separate space for worship, but also for communities to gather, socialize, pass on traditions, educate their youth, marry, and interact. These churches were distinct from the black church experience during slavery, where slaves worshipped in the same church as their master, but often segregated from them. In these churches, African Americans controlled the type of worship, the sermon, and the message that was given. It provided a sanctuary from the prevalent racism that existed outside of the church walls.
Emma Hall, who lived in the duplex quarter during the 1940s, discussed how church was both a family and community event. Each Sunday, her family would walk three miles to church, stopping at houses along the way to pick up, socialize, and walk with other families and children, a trip that would take hours. After church, they repeated the pattern, and finished the day with a large family dinner. Attending church was not just a spiritual experience but also one that provided often isolated families a vital opportunity to interact and participate in a larger community.