Hen­son’s roots

Ar­ti­facts date to pe­riod Josiah Hen­son was born

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

Ar­chae­ol­ogy dig may have lo­cated birth­place of famed abo­li­tion­ist

Josiah Hen­son was a lead­ing mem­ber of the Un­der­ground Rail­road, a Bap­tist min­is­ter, and founder of a school and com­mu­nity for run­away slaves, but his life be­gan in Charles County, and an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion has dis­cov­ered a num­ber of ar­ti­facts re­lat­ing to the time pe­riod and place he was born into.

An open house was held on the pri­vate prop­erty of La Grange in Port To­bacco to show­case the ar­ti­facts dis­cov­ered, as well as to high­light the life and times of Hen­son.

Ju­lia King, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of ar­chae­ol­ogy and an­thro­pol­ogy at St. Mary’s Col­lege of Mary­land, said she be­lieves she has dis­cov­ered the place where the 19th cen­tury run­away-slave-turned-abo­li­tion­ist was born.

“The slave quar­ter com­plex is prob­a­bly about 400by-400 [feet],” King said.

King said that a study of old maps led to a prob­a­ble lo­ca­tion for the slave en­camp­ment on the La Grange prop­erty, and soil ex­ca­va­tions turned up a num­ber of ar­ti­facts in a wooded area near the manor house.

“We think this area near the woods was a slave en­camp­ment where Hen­son was born,” King said.

King said Hen­son lived on the prop­erty for the first seven or eight years of his life.

Dur­ing that time, King said Hen­son’s fa­ther was bru­tally whipped af­ter beat­ing an overseer who had as­saulted Hen­son’s mother. Hen­son’s fa­ther was then sold south.

“Hen­son never heard from his fa­ther again,” King said. “It was this event that served as a for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for Hen­son.”

Hen­son’s owner at the time, Fran­cis Newman, the owner of La Grange, was a con artist and bigamist who left his wife in Eng­land to set­tle in Port To­bacco with the wife of an­other man.

Hen­son later ran away to Canada, where he founded a town and a school for es­caped slaves and assisted other slaves es­cap­ing to free­dom on the Un­der­ground Rail­road.

“Hen­son is a very im­por­tant char­ac­ter, but he’s re­ally been over­looked. He’s up there with Har­riet Tub­man and Fred­er­ick Douglass,” King said.

The five-week in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the prob­a­ble site of the slave quar­ters has turned up hun­dreds of ar­ti­facts, in­clud­ing bricks, but­tons, nails and pot­tery, dat­ing back to the late 18th and early 19th cen­turies, King said.

“Not a whole lot of stuff, but enough that we can tell there was def­i­nitely some­thing there,” King said.

King said the slave en­camp­ment was oc­cu­pied be­tween 1790 and 1830.

King said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is also look­ing at ar­ti­facts around the La Grange manor house.

“In or­der to un­der­stand the en­slaved, you have un­der­stand the en­slaver,” King said.

Janice Wil­son, pres­i­dent of the Charles County chap­ter of the NAACP, said it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber lo­cal in­di­vid­u­als like Hen­son who ad­vanced the cause of free­dom for en­slaved African-Amer­i­cans.

“Josiah Hen­son rep­re­sents a lot of African-Amer­i­cans. When we look at our his­tory, you see his re­siliency, the sac­ri­fices he made, the love for his fam­ily, is just over-the-top phe­nom­e­nal. And fac­ing the ad­ver­sity he faced in those times, he just kept go­ing,” Wil­son said. “It’s a point of pride for Charles County, and the na­tion, that some­one like Josiah Hen­son left his foot­print in Charles County.”

The cur­rent in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­ing con­ducted by King’s stu­dents ended this week, but the lo­cal chap­ter of the NAACP is col­lab­o­rat­ing with King to hire two in­terns to con­tinue look­ing for ar­ti­facts through the sum­mer.


Ju­lia King, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of ar­chae­ol­ogy and an­thro­pol­ogy at St. Mary’s Col­lege of Mary­land, shows the rear of the La Grange manor house, which was the front of the house at the time Josiah Hen­son was born.

St. Mary’s Col­lege of Mary­land stu­dents Ly­dia Roca, left, and Ji­a­han Liu sift through a soil sam­ple look­ing for ar­ti­facts at the La Grange prop­erty Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

A dis­play of some of the ar­ti­facts dis­cov­ered at the prob­a­ble birth­place of Josiah Hen­son.

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