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Sarah and Henry

Sarah (c. 1820-?) and Henry (c. 1810-?) were enslaved individuals likely born in Montgomery County, Maryland about ten years apart. They were recorded on the list of thirty-two enslaved individuals hired out by the Thomas Cramphin (1740-1830) estate after his death. They were hired out to a man named J. Bittinger, who is listed as John Bidenger and Bettinger on other records. Bittinger was a livery stable owner and lived on High Street in Georgetown, District of Columbia. The 1830 federal census records show that the Bittinger household previously hired two enslaved laborers. The list indicates that $3 per month was to be paid to Cramphin’s estate for Henry’s labor. Additionally, the list shows that food and clothing were exchanged for Sarah’s labor, and were likely given to her directly. 

Although there is not an exact description provided for the duties that Sarah and Henry performed at the Bittinger household, we know that they were living and working in an urban setting. This would have been different from their earlier rural location at the Cramphin estate, which is estimated to be located by Rock Creek, between the districts of Rockville and Bery, Maryland. Perhaps their experience could be similar to their contemporary Frederick Douglass (c. 1818 - 1895),  who was hired out in Baltimore during his time in bondage. There is no way to know if the treatment they received was similar or different, but there is a significant distinction between urban and rural work. Enslaved individuals working in urban settings had greater opportunities to interact with free blacks and more avenues to possibly gain their freedom. Some of these options might have included flight, like Douglass. Some enslaved people received a small portion of the payment allotted to their enslavers for their labor, as can be seen in the experiences of other enslaved Marylanders like Alethia Tanner, Margaret Blake, and Isaac Mason. In this way, it was possible for some enslaved people in urban areas to save up enough money and purchase their own freedom.

Sarah and Henry are also documented in an account book archived at the University of Maryland Libraries, presumed to be written by Charles Benedict Calvert after his father’s death in 1838. In this book, we see Sarah and Henry listed with the group of enslaved individuals sold to John Armfield. Sarah was assigned a valuation of $300 and sold at that price, while Henry was valued at $650 and sold for that amount. Armfield and his business partner Isaac Franklin were the largest slave traders in the United States during the 1820s and 1830s. It is unknown what happened to Sarah and Henry after this point, however, they might have shared the same fate as 20,000 other enslaved individuals sold from Maryland to the deep south from 1830-1860. The record shows that Sarah and two other girls sold to Armfield, Miranda and Henrietta, were much younger than Henry at the time of their sale. 

Despite a lack of additional concrete information, Sarah and Henry’s stories communicate the experiences of enslaved individuals hired out in urban and rural areas in early 19th-century Maryland, as more enslaved rural individuals moved into urbanizing areas surrounding the nation’s capital. 


“List of Slaves Belonging to Estate of Thomas Cramphin Deceased that are Hired Out." [n.d.] Riversdale House Museum, Riverdale Park, MD.

Finkel, Jill, Armani Jackson, Brooklyn Jarrett, Kamryn Nelson, and Sarah Reeves. "The Account Book of Charles B. Calvert in Southern Maryland, 1830-1860."Journal of Slavery and Data Preservation 2, no. 3 (2021): 32-36. https://doi.org/10.25971/FBNC-FV84.

“Slave account book of Charles Benedict Calvert, Prince George's County, Maryland, circa 1830-1860.” Maryland Manuscripts collection, item 4077, accession 97-33. Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries, College Park, MD. https://hdl.handle.net/1903.1/5750.


Ashley Castillo, Ousmane Diop, Viviana Martinez, Caitlin McClister, Grace Murry, Zora Sanders, Taylor Woods

Russell, Andrew J. Front of ‘slave pen,’ Alexandria, Va [1315 Duke St., formerly Franklin & Armfield]. [1861-1865?]. Photograph. Library of Congress, Washington, DC. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3ca28447.