With freedom from slavery came the ability for African Americans to move freely across the landscape. Almost immediately upon learning of Emancipation, thousands of African Americans began leaving their homes to reunite with family members who they had been separated from during slavery. Suddenly, a transition occurred in the African American household: during slavery, the family was a fragile unit, and the community was relied on as the unit of production. Now, the African American family became a more solid component of African American life. At St. Mary’s City, a number of families were reunited by 1870. Similarly, the landscape and architecture surrounding the duplex and single quarter begin to transform into a single family space, indicating that this transition was underway.

Reunited

During slavery, many marriages, particularly in Maryland, were abroad marriages, meaning that enslaved families were divided on multiple plantations. Once these families received their freedom, they began to reunite in order to live in one household. At St. Mary’s City, at least three families were reconstructed in this manner. On the 1870 census, three male laborers appear with wives who were not listed on the 1867 list of Dr. Brome’s freed slaves. While they may of been married since the Emancipation, this is unlikely: two of the couples, Hiram and Eliza Bennet, and Peter and Jane Biscoe, are of advanced age. Also, Peter and Jane Biscoe and Charles and Margaret Biscoe, had children older than 6, none of whom were listed on the 1867 list, indicating that they lived with their mothers. This increases the liklihood that they were married before 1864, and living on separate plantations. Once freed, these families reunited under the same roof at St. Mary’s Manor.

The 1870 census lists a number of African American households after Dr. Brome’s home. In most cases, these households include nuclear families of Dr. Brome’s former slaves.

Families at St. Mary’s Manor

In total, ten families can be identified on the 1870 census, most of whom at least one member had been previously enslaved by Dr. Brome. Two of these families appear to only be a woman and children: Lucy Nelson had a son named Julius, and Adaline Biscoe had four children, and occupied the same home, likely the duplex, with seven male farm laborers. Both women were house servants for Dr. Brome. Otherwise, the other family units each occupied their own household and were nuclear families: Ralph and Eliza Butler had four children; Hiram and Eliza Bennett had no children; Lott and Henrietta Biscoe had four children; Peter and Jane Biscoe had one child and a grandchild; George and Mary Whalen had seven children; John and Ann Bush had four children; Charles and Margaret Biscoe had six children; and Peter and Harriet Gough had seven children. The Goughs were the last identifiable family formerly enslaved by Dr. Brome, although two additional families, the Homes and Sewalls, appear before the next white family. It is possible that they, too, lived on the plantation and worked for Dr. Brome.

A Single Family Home

The transition from community to family dominated households are most evident in the architecture of the duplex quarter and the surrounding grounds, particularly after the sale of the farm in 1890. Survey data indicates that, gradually, the other quarters on the plantation began to disappear as the post-slavery era continued, and as Dr. Brome invested less in agriculture. As families moved off the plantation, they were not replaced.

Architecturally, it appears that the duplex quarter was modified into a single-family home sometime after Emancipation. This is particularly noticeable in the dividing walls, which have been sawed off in order to create passageways between the two sides of the quarter. This meant that the home was occupied by only one family, and that the household size had been doubled.

Read about how this happened at a duplex quarter at Shirley Plantation in Virginia.

Photographs from the 1890s to the 1930s indicate that the single quarter became increasingly dilapidated through time. A photo from the last decade of the 19th century shows considerable damage to the chimney, front door, and the clapboards, particularly when compared to the duplex quarter. A photograph from the 1910s shows the single quarter in the background with a collapsed roof. It is likely that this building was used as a storage shed, a sharp contrast to the subfloor pits that were used during slavery.

Learn about how archaeology tells us about the addition of glass windows after slavery.

In all, a space that had once been home to three different households, two in the duplex and one in the single quarter, was transformed through the post-slavery era into a single household for one family. Such changes reflect the transition from a community-based society during slavery to one that relied on the family for survival.

The top photo shows the single quarter, ca 1890s, in disrepair. Damage to the clapboards, chimney, and roof suggests it was uninhabited. Below, the single quarter is in the background of the photo with a collapsed roof, and damaged chimney, likely serving as a shed for the duplex quarter. 

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