How do you uncover the life of an enslaved person who left no paper trail?
What can the everyday life of an enslaved person tell us about slavery, how it was practiced, and how some enslaved people made the transition from slavery to freedom?
We explore the life of Charity Folks, an enslaved woman from Maryland who gained her freedom in the late-18th century. Our guide through Charity’s life is Jessica Millward, an Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine and author of Finding Charity’s Folk: Enslaved and Free Black Women in Maryland.
This episode originally posted as Episode 089.
About the Show
Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.
It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.
Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.
Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Omohundro Institute.
In this episode, Jessica Millward, an Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine and author of Finding Charity’s Folk: Enslaved and Free Black Women in Maryland, leads us on an investigation of slavery and freedom in Maryland during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
During our investigation, Jessica reveals: How slavery started in Maryland and how early Marylanders practiced slavery; The story of Charity Folks, an enslaved woman who gained her freedom; And, what Charity Folks’ story reveals about how some slaves experienced a transition from slavery to freedom.
What You’ll Discover
- How slavery started in Maryland
- Marylanders’ practice of slavery
- Task vs. Gang system of slavery
- Charity Folks
- The role public history played in helping Jessica uncover the story of Charity Folks
- Public history sources
- How Jessica used public history and archival sources to uncover Charity Folks’ story
- How Charity, her daughter, and grandchildren obtained their freedom from slavery
- Freedom suits in Maryland courts
- What types of evidence slaves mustered to win their freedom suits
- How slaves learned about the court system and how to use it
- Charity’s life after manumission
- How Charity experienced slavery and freedom as a woman
- Slave families and their dynamics
- Interactions between slaves and free African Americans
- The legacy of Charity Folks
Links to People, Places, and Publications
- Jessica Millward
- Jessica’s website
- Jessica on Twitter: @DrJMill
- Finding Charity’s Folk on Facebook
- Finding Charity’s Folk: Enslaved and Free Black Women in Maryland
- Episode 070: Jennifer Morgan, How Historians Research
- Episode 083: Jared Hardesty, Unfreedom: Slavery in Colonial Boston
- Episode 084: Zara Anishanslin, How Historians Read Historical Sources
- Episode 176: Daina Ramey Berry, The Value of the Enslaved from Womb to Grave
- Episode 212: Erica Dunbar, Research Biography
Time Warp Question
In your opinion, what might have happened if Charity Folks had not worked as the maid of the Governor of Maryland or invested in property? How would her experience as a free African American woman, and that of her family, have been different?
Questions, Comments, Suggestions
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