I have read many stories of African-Americans who extended their family trees and found their enslaved ancestors by researching slave-holding families who shared their surname. I watch them unfold, most weeks, on Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s Finding Your Roots. Such research is painstaking work, but at least it follows common sense
Unfortunately, researching your African-American roots in Maryland is seldom that simple. In all my reading of wills, freedom records, court cases, and slave statistics for Maryland and Washington, D.C., I can count on one hand the number of people named Magruder or McGruder who were owned or manumitted by one of that name.
I assume this means that for most Magruders/McGruders the crossover point–of mixed parentage or of taking the name–goes further back, and thus is harder to find. Slavery began in the Chesapeake region of Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware in the 1660s, so it makes sense that many families would have taken English or Scottish surnames at a very early date. By the time a family reached freedom, they may have been several steps removed from the slave holding family from whom (one way or another) they acquired their surname. At Emancipation, people were also free to choose a surname, so again the path can be difficult to trace.
In addition, plantation life in Maryland was highly unstable. Most land holdings were small in comparison to plantations in the deep South; most slave owners held only a few people; and slaves often married a free person or someone enslaved on a neighboring plantation. Slave marriages had no legal standing and children (unless sold away) were the property of the person who owned their mother. Thus, what looks like a hodge-podge of families listed as the property of a single Magruder slave holder, might include people who were closely related through their mothers.
Imagining–and in some cases witnessing–the frustration of black Magruder researchers is one of my strongest motivations for creating this site. Perhaps the odds are slim that a detail I unearth will turn out to be someone’s missing link, but it’s worth a shot.
In the “Slavery’s Legacy” pages derived for the most part from Magruder wills, I will include all the names I find while also telling some stories and trying to reconstruct relationships. On pages connected directly to this one, I aspire to list all the free and enslaved people I find with the surname Magruder or McGruder, wherever I find them.
However, I never have time to post everything; so if you are an African American Magruder, or descended from a family who was or may have been enslaved by white Magruders, please write to me. I have more information than I have time to summarize and post, nearly all of it from Maryland (especially Prince George’s County) and Washington, DC.
Keep in mind that Magruder, McGruder, McGruther, MaGruder, Mccruder, Mcgruda, McGouder, Mcruder, Mcgruter, Magruger, and other spellings are all variants of the same name, and in the U.S. nearly everyone bearing one of these names is descended from Magruders in Maryland, so we might be able to trace your family connections back from other states to a point where it intersects with information I have or can find. I look forward to helping in any way I can–and the more detail you provide the better the odds. Full names, dates, names of farms–whatever you have.
I also hope to learn from you, from your research and your family stories and traditions. If you wish, you can contact me privately by using the Contact tab at the top of each page on this site.
And be sure to check out the Facebook group African American Magruder Descendants and the Ancestry.com group linked at right.
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Anyone searching for African-Americans in Maryland and the District should check the following sources, as well as the genealogy pages linked at right. The books are available at libraries and historical societies. You may be able to find them through your local library’s Interlibrary Loan service.
Searching for Ancestors Who Were Slaves: An Index to the Freedom Records of Prince George’s County, Maryland, 1808-1869, typescript prepared by Louise Heinton, 1971, MSA S1411, Index 38. An electronic publication of the Maryland State Archives. Magruders start with Image #59 in the M’s. http://www.msa.md.gov/megafile/msa/stagser/s1400/s1411/000013/html/s141113-0059.html
Archives of Maryland on Line, Index of records of the Slavery Commission. http://www.aomol.net/html/commission.html
African-Americans in Maryland, Archives of Maryland Historical and Biographical Series. Individual biographical files on a few individuals. http://www.msa.md.gov/msa/speccol/sc3500/sc3520/afriamer/html/afriamer.html
Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland. An electronic publication of the Maryland State Archives. http://www.mdslavery.net/ugrr.html
Civil War Washington. Slavery Petitions. Petitions for compensation following Emancipation in Washington, D.C., (16 April 1862). Most are petitions filed by slave holders. A few were filed by enslaved people claiming their freedom, when their former masters had neglected or refused (to use the language of the petitions themselves) to file. About 3300 people were emancipated. http://civilwardc.org/texts/
Heinegg, Paul. Free African Americans of Maryland and Delaware, from the Colonial Period to 1810. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2000. Also available free on line at http://freeafricanamericans.com/. Focuses on the Colonial period and on families traceable through court records because they are descended from white women who were prosecuted for giving birth to mulatto children.
Provine, Dorothy S., compiler. Registrations of Free Negroes, 1806-1863, Prince George’s County Maryland. Washington, D.C.: Columbian Harmony Society, 1990. Abstracts from the Registry of the County Clerk, 1806-1829; the Register of Wills, 1820-1852; and Affidavits of Freedom, 1810-1863, using microfilm copies: CR47, 249 and CR47, 250.
Provine, Dorothy S., compiler. District of Columbia Free Negro Registers, 1821-1861. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1996. Abstracts from NARA Record Group 21, Records of the United States District Courts, Manumission and Emancipation Record, 1821-1862, 5 volumes (vol. 4, 1846-1855, missing), created and maintained by the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia for Washington County.
Rogers, Helen Hoban, compiler. Freedom & Slavery Documents in the District of Columbia, 1792-1822. 3 vols. (Vols. 1 & 2: Baltimore: Gateway Press, 2007-08), (Vol. 3: Baltimore: Otter Bay Books, 2009). Abstracts from the Recorder of Deeds Office: Bills of Sale, Certificates of Freedom, Certificates of Slavery, Emancipations, Manumissions, using the original Libers (1792-1869): NARA, Record Group 351, Records of the Government of the District of Columbia. Typewritten copies are available at the District of Columbia Archives and Record Center, and typewritten indexes are available at the District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds Office.
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