On June 19, 1865, a ship reached Galveston Bay, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and all slaves were free. If you’re thinking, Wait a minute, didn’t the Emancipation Proclamation take effect in January 1863? And didn’t the war end in April of 1865? you are correct. After the Proclamation some enslavers had fled to the remote Southern stronghold of Texas, where they held out with thousands of captive slaves until the arrival of 2,000 Union soldiers put an end to their fantasy of some frontier survival of the Confederacy. That’s why we celebrate the final end of slavery on this day, and why it has also become a celebration of blackness, of culture, and of the true complexity of African American history.
In observance of this Juneteenth, I want to call out the names of the last people I know to have been enslaved by my direct Magruder ancestors in Maryland.
John, a man. Rachel, a woman. Kitty, a woman, & Kitty’s infant child. Christy, a woman. Henry, William, George, Elias, & Lemuel, boys. Louisa, Dorothy, Martha, & Caroline, girls.
These people are named in the inventory of the estate of my third great-grandfather, Edward Magruder, who died in Prince George’s County in 1842. I have not been able to trace them further. With the exception of Kitty’s unnamed infant they are not grouped by family, and no ages are given.
It is possible John was the husband of Rachel, Kitty, or Christy. In the 1840 census, the household also included a free man or boy of color, aged 10-23. If a man, he could have been the husband of one of the women and father of some of the children. If a boy, he could have been the son of Edward Magruder.
Caroline’s assessed value was but $20, so she was either an infant or unwell. She appears last on the list, so it’s possible to theorize that the children are listed in descending order of age, as was often done. However, their assessed values do not correspondingly decrease; they appear in clusters. So it is possible to use assessed value of each child to theorize three family groups. Henry, Louisa, & William are listed first, with decreasing values from $350 to $150. George, Dorothy, Elias, & Lemuel come next, valued at $175 down to $100. Martha at $150 and Caroline at $20 come last. Dollar values on human beings are repulsive, but useful in the search for patterns and information. If they stoke your anger, good. Let’s stay angry.
John, the only man listed, was valued at $400, Rachel and Christy at $300, and Kitty with her infant together at $350. It is worth noting that Henry, listed as a boy, is valued more highly than the women, which strongly suggests he was near adulthood and/or an apprenticed tradesman.
That’s all I know, and all I can guess at. I have not yet found them in estate records of Edward’s children, but am relatively certain they did not pass to my direct ancestor, who was the youngest child of Edward’s second marriage.
John, Rachel, Kitty, Christy, Henry, Louisa, William, George, Dorothy, Elias, Lemuel, Martha, & Caroline: I am still looking for you. It’s not much, but it’s all I can do for you. To your descendants I owe much greater responsibilities, and like to think some of them are out in the streets right now, 155 years after the original Juneteenth, celebrating you and themselves, and fighting for a meaningful freedom.