On 4 November 1846, the Prince George’s County Court recorded a note received from Nathaniel M. McGregor regarding the free status of two unnamed girls, daughters of Joseph and Cate Mullin, and granddaughters of Basil Mullin.
Nathaniel re free status of Mullin family, 1847.
Basil Mullin (I) was a grandfather by 1816 and a free man, a carpenter manumitted in the will of Benjamin Hall, Nathaniel’s maternal grandfather, in 1803. The will reads: “I hereby manumit and set free from the time of my decease, my carpenter, called ‘Old Basil’ and Easter, his wife.” The will also manumits a blacksmith named Clem, provided he serve Benjamin’s son, Henry Lowe Hall, in the blacksmith trade for one year. Nineteen other adult slaves are carefully parceled out among Benjamin Hall’s daughters, granddaughters and grandsons, though no slaves were left to his daughter Eleanor Magruder (wife of John Smith Magruder and mother of Nathaniel McGregor). Among those named is “Mulatto Basil the carpenter, son of Old Basil” who is left to Henry Lowe Hall. Unknown numbers of children are also included in family groups, who are kept together in the will. One woman, named Hannah, is even given the choice of going with her son Sam and all her other children to Catharine Hall or being sold, together with all of her children except Sam.
Ensuing legal struggles over Dolly Mullin’s freedom and inheritance reveal that the carpenter “Old Basil,” patriarch of the family, was over 45 years of age when manumitted in 1803, so he was born before 1758. Assuming he was no younger than 18 when his oldest known child was born, we can postulate that he was b ~1753-57. Taking the median of 1755 would make him ~48 when manumitted.
Basil Mullin (I) b ~1755-57, a carpenter, “Old Basil,” manumitted by will of Benjamin Hall, 1803
+ Easter or Ester [unknown]
Children of Basil & Ester:
Joseph Mullin b~1775
+ Kate (Magee?) b ~1775
1. Harry Mullin, b~1803-1804
2. Lucy, b~1813
3. Sally, b before 1814, d before 1817
4. Liza, b~1815
- On 3 Dec 1814, John Smith Magruder sold “one negro slave named Joe” to Basil Mullin for $280. On 19 Dec 1814, he sold Kate Mullin and her daughters Lucy and Sally to Basil Mullin for $450. Both sales were recorded on 28 Dec 1814.
- On 4 April 1817, Basil Mullin manumitted Joseph Mullin, age 42, his wife Kate, age about 42, and her children Lucy, 4, and Liza, 2. There is no mention of Sally. Because it seems unlikely Basil would have failed to manumit one of his grandchildren, I assume Sally died before 1817.
- Consistent with the content of Nathaniel McGregor’s note, there are no surviving certificates of freedom for Joseph, Kate, or their daughters, but the original bills of sale and manumissions can be viewed on line at the Maryland State Archives page MDLandRec.net.
- In July 1825, Roderick McGregor advertised repeatedly for the return of Harry Mullin, who had decamped from the Magruder/McGregor plantation after the death of John Smith Magruder. Harry was described as “about 21 or 22 years old, yellow complexion, a broad flat nose, and wide mouth; with the first joint of one of his large toes cut off, and about five feet four or five inches high. His father, Joseph Mullin, lives on or near Hanson Branch, in [Prince George’s] county.” The reward offered depended on where Harry was apprehended: $25 if taken in the county, or in Washington, D.C., “or anywhere else nearer than Baltimore,” $30 if taken in Baltimore or beyond.” I have not found Harry in the 1870 census for P.G., Washington, D.C., or elsewhere nearby. If captured, he may have been sold; if not, he could have been living anywhere. Nor is there any man named Harry in later records of those Roderick McGregor enslaved.
Sarah Mullen b~1766
Also called Sarah Digges, possibly her married name
2. Ester b~1798, Ester Hall in 1821 Certificate of Freedom, possibly her married name
3. Molly b~1799, Mary Dulany in 1821 Certificate of Freedom, possibly her married name
4. Suckey b~1801, Susan Biggs in 1821 Certificate of Freedom, possibly her married name
- On 11 March 1806, Henry Lowe Hall (son of Benjamin Hall and brother of John Smith Magruder’s wife Eleanor) sold Sarah Digges and the four children named above to Basil Mullin, who manumitted them on 29 March 1806. Sarah Digges is identified by Hall as “the daughter of said Basil Mullin.” Her birth date is from the manumission record. Birth dates for the three daughters are from ages given in their certificates of freedom. I have found no further record of Betty.
- Ester Hall’s freedom certificate, as transcribed by Provine, reads: “Ester Hall is a colored woman, about 23 or 24 years old, and about 5 feet tall. She has a light complexion and has a small scar on the second finger from her thumb on her left hand, apparently caused by a cut, and two scars between the wrist and elbow of her right arm. She obtained her freedom [at age 8-9] by a deed of manumission from Basil Mullen dated 29 March 1806.”
- Mary Dulany’s freedom certificate, as transcribed by Provine, reads: “Molly, who calls herself Mary Dulany, is a colored woman, about 22 years old, and about 5 feet 2 inches tall. She has a light complexion, a small scar on the third finger from the thumb of her right hand, a mole on the upper part of her right arm, and a small mole on her breast. She obtained her freedom [at age 7] by a deed of manumission from Basil Mullen dated 29 March 1806.”
- Susan Biggs’ freedom certificate, as transcribed by Dorothy Provine, reads: “Suckey, who calls herself Susan Biggs, is a colored woman, about 20 years old, and about 5 feet 3 inches tall. She has a light complexion and has a small mark on the under part of her right arm. She obtained her freedom [at age 5] by a deed of manumission from Basil Mullen dated 29 March 1806.”
Dolly Mullin b~1788, d before 15 Aug 1860, in Washington DC
1. Charles b~1801
2. Henry b~1813?
- In his 1817 will, Henry Lowe Hall left 141 acres of land, part of a tract called Partnership and part of a tract called The Manor Land, to Dolly Mullen. The land adjoined the dwelling place of Basil Mullin, who owned 100 acres also described as part of Partnership. After her death, the land was to pass to her son, Henry Mullen.
- He also left to Dolly Mullen “two young Negroes, one called John and the other Aaron,” along with one bay mare called Nell, her new colt about six years old, one horse called Grant, three milk cows, and two yearlings. The name “John” has been written over and corrected in the will, and the estate inventory identifies these two young people as Jane and Aaron, though it is believed from other documents that John/Jane was actually Joan–an uncommon name among the enslaved, but found in families enslaved by the Halls.
- Were Joan and Aaron children or other relatives of Dolly Mullin?
- Was Henry Mullin fathered by Henry Lowe Hall?
- Hall’s executors betrayed his wishes and sold all the property meant for Dolly and Henry Mullen, including Joan and Aaron. The probate court ordered them to reimburse Dolly and Henry for the value of “articles returned in the inventory & afterwards sold,” to a sum of $1,113.45.
- On 15 August 1860, the National Daily Intelligencer ran a notice to creditors of Dolly Mullen’s estate, signed by “Basil Mullen, Executor.”
- Legal disputes over the free status of both Dolly Mullin and her father, “Old Basil,” make their relationship clear, which also establishes her as a sister of the younger carpenter, “Mulatto Basil.” Dolly’s freedom certificate, as transcribed by Dorothy Provine, reads: “Dolly Mullen is a colored woman, about 32 years old, and about 5 feet 6 or 7 inches tall. She has a bright complexion and has no perceptible scars or marks. She obtained her freedom [at age 21] by a deed of manumission from Basil Mullen dated 26 May 1810.”
- Charles’ freedom certificate, as transcribed by Provine, reads: “Charles Mullen, who calls himself “Mails” Mullen, is a colored man, about 19 years old, and about 6 feet tall. He has a bright complexion and a scar on the right side of his neck caused by a burn. He got his freedom [at age 8] by a deed of manumission from Basil Mullen dated 6 May 1810.”
- Henry’s freedom certificate, as transcribed by Provine, reads: “Henry Mullins is a bright mulatto, about 14[?] years old, and 5 feet 5 inches tall. He has a small scar on his forehead caused by a burn[?]. Mullins was born and raised in the family of Henry Lowe Hall and freed [at age 4] by his will dated 6 May 1817 and recorded 15 May 1817”. Apparently his age is not fully legible, and the age Provine gives would place Henry’s birth after his mother’s manumission. William A. Hall (a nephew of H.L. Hall) attested to his freedom in 1827, and could have misremembered Henry’s birth and history. This same William A. Hall, however, spent years fighting in court to challenge Dolly’s freedom and negate her inheritance.
- Henry also inherited from Hall a feather bed and four pair of sheets, a sorrel mare called Patty, a young gray horse about three years old, and eight leather chairs.
- Hall’s will also left 100 acres–again, part of the tract called Partnership–to Charles Tilghman, son of Peggy Tilghman. That tract was to be for the use and benefit of Thomas Clark until Charles Tilghman reached the age of 35, when he would come into full possession.
- Was Charles Tilghman fathered by Henry Lowe Hall or another member of his family?
Basil Mullin (II) b~1786, a carpenter
+ Suck b~1780
1. Basil Mullin (III) b~1809
- Benjamin Hall’s will of 1803 bequeaths a “negro woman Doll” to his daughter, Catharine Hall. Dolly Mullin would have been about 15, possibly not old enough to be so described. Also, Benjamin Hall clearly identifies families in his will, and “Doll” is not said to be related to any other person named.
- It is possible the two “Dolls” are one and the same, but it was Henry Lowe Hall, not his sister Catherine, who on 14 April 1810 sold “Doll,” Basil, and Suck to Basil Mullin for $450 pounds. Basil manumitted them on 10 July 1810 for $5. Ages are from the manumission.
* * * *
According to certificates of freedom sworn by Henry Lowe Hall’s nephew, William A. Hall, in 1827, Henry’s will manumitted three people named Mullin–Henry, Basil, and Sarah. The will itself doesn’t name the slaves manumitted. Instead, it names a few to be left to various nieces and nephews, then manumits all the remainder. The will does refer to Henry as Dolly’s son. The other two could also be her children, but I have found no reference to confirm that. Below, I give Dorothy Provine’s transcriptions of the freedom certificates. Ages are for 1827; I have inserted their ages at time of manumission. Both were born after the death of Benjamin Hall in 1803.
Basil Mullin b ~1807
“Basil Mullin has a brown complexion, is about 20 years old, and 5 feet 6 inches tall. He has lost the little finger of his left hand. Mullin was born and raised in the family of Henry Lowe Hall and freed [at age 10] by his will dated 6 May 1817 and recorded 15 May 1817.”
- This birthdate is close enough to the Basil who was the son of Basil Mullin (II) and his wife Suck to make me wonder if this is the same person, whose history was mis-remembered by William A. Hall in 1927.
Sarah Mullin b ~1812
“Sally, commonly called Sarah Mullin, has a brown complexion, is about 15 years old, and 5 feet 2 inches tall. She has no perceptible mark except three small moles on her under lip. Mullin was born and raised in the family of Henry Lowe Hall and freed [at age 5] by his will dated 6 May 1817 and recorded 15 May 1817”.
- I have not yet been able to correlate this Sarah Mullen with other records.
* * * *
The various Basil or Bazil Mullins are difficult to track accurately. The 1850 and 1860 census records give us a Bazil Mullen, a hack driver, with a wife named Ann and an almost perfect match for the children’s names and ages. Bazil’s age, however, is 50 in 1850 and 48 in 1860, while Ann is said to be 35 in 1850 and 38 ten years later. (See below for a chart of these records.)
- The Basil Mullin who was the son of Basil (II) and his wife Suck was born ~1809. It is unlikely the manumission record would be wildly inaccurate about a child only one year old, so this date should be reliable. This Basil would have been 41 in 1850, 51 in 1860.
- The Basil Mullin whose freedom certificate says he was manumitted by the will of Henry Lowe Hall would have been 43 in 1850, 53 in 1860.
* * * *
- Additional surnames include Semmes, Sims, Tilghman, Hall, Rustin, Lane, Digges, and Sprigg. For several, only first names are provided. Transcriptions of their freedom certificates can be found in Dorothy S. Provine’s Registrations of Free Negroes, 1806-1863, Prince George’s County, Maryland, available at historical societies and libraries, including American University and the Maryland Hall of Records.
- To a former slave named Jim he left $400.
- To his niece, Anna Maria Clarke, he left a woman named Rachel and a woman named Jenny with her unnamed child.
- To his nephew, William A. Hall, he left a woman named Milly.
- To his nephew, Benjamin H. Clarke, he left a man named Harry Hickman.
- To Benjamin Clarke’s youngest child (unnamed), he left Rachel’s daughter, named (?) Treace.
- An addendum to the estate inventory added a man named Joe Crane, a woman named Beck, a woman named Nancy, and a woman named Suckey.
Self-purchase or the purchase and manumission of family members was one of the most common paths to freedom for African Americans in Maryland, and the process often involved complicated negotiations between enslavers, slaves, and free blacks seeking to free their relatives. By law, slaves could not enter into contracts with free persons, so agreements obtained from slave owners were not secure until the manumission was recorded by the county. In The Price of Freedom: Slavery and Manumission in Baltimore and Early National Maryland, T. Stephen Whitman summarizes it thus:
The process might be envisioned as a kind of bootstrapping, beginning with obtaining the freedom of one family member, possibly by pooling resources accumulated by others. Over time, the freed person could hope to save or borrow more money, eventually ‘buying out’ spouse, children, or other kin. Ideally, the entire family could together leave slavery behind, but that could occur only with the agreement of the master or masters who owned the family’s members. (119)
The financial burden of this process was a primary force shaping the lives of free people of color, and often prevented them from accumulating any property other than themselves. Just the three transactions mentioned on this page cost Basil Mullen $1,180, nearly the 1828 value of the 160 acres he owned. If a family borrowed the money, complications (including re-enslavement for payment of the debt) could follow. In addition, families straining to earn enough money to purchase the freedom of loved ones had terrible decisions to make. Whitman poses the dilemma like this: would you first free, say, an 18 year-old man, whose earning power would be high, hoping thus to free more family members through his efforts? Or would you free a young girl before her childbearing began, so her children would not be born into slavery?
Most people manumitted were past their productive years for physical labor and for child bearing, the slave owner having first extracted all he or she could. Maryland law in this period prohibited manumission of anyone over 45, but even those freed earlier–at expiration of a term of service, perhaps–often left their children in slavery. At a glance, this seems to have been the experience of “Old Basil” and Ester Mullen. But Basil’s carpentry skills allowed him to earn money quickly, and both John Smith Magruder and Henry Lowe Hall were willing to let him purchase family members and set them free. However, not all family members thus attained freedom. At least two relatives, Lloyd Mullen and Lucy Mullen (no ages given), were still held in slavery in 1864, when Maryland’s new constitution manumitted all slaves in the state. They were declared in the Slave Statistics of 1867-68 by Mrs. Ann Lowe, of the 6th District, Prince George’s County. This court record on the site O Say Can You See: Early Washington DC Law & Family preserves a complicated struggle between an enslaved woman named Letty seeking freedom from another member of the Lowe family. The court’s ruling is based on Letty’s failure to pay the entire amount she had contracted to pay for her own freedom, and current law which did not allow an enslaved person to enter into a contract. Previous cases are cited in the ruling, which may be of interest if you are trying to sort out the tortured legal status of slaves who had been promised their freedom but had not received it.
* * * *
Census Records, 1820:
In 1820, after the manumission dates of all the people I’ve listed so far, Basil Mullin (I) was head of a Prince George’s County household in the neighborhood of “Hydes” of 14 free people of color, including: 1 man over 45 (presumably Basil himself), 3 women 26-44 (presumably including Ester), 1 man or boy 14-25, plus 5 boys and 4 girls under 14. Translating to birth dates: 1 man born before 1776, 3 women born 1776-1794, 1 man or boy born 1795-1806, plus 5 boys and 4 girls born 1806-1820.
Even allowing for the inconsistent guesswork involved in the recording of ages for slaves, for freed persons, and by census-takers in general, these ages don’t match easily to those freed by Basil or by H.L. Hall. Dolly Mullen (b~1789) is possible, as are her sons Charles Mullen (b~1801) and Henry (b~1813). If Dolly and Suck are the second and third women aged 26-44, Suck’s husband Basil (II) is absent. In short, we can’t say exactly who was in this household, and it could have included a number of people not mentioned in this account, who bore other surnames, were born free, or manumitted by other slave owners.
In 1820, Joseph & Kate Mullen headed their own large household in Bladensburg, as follows: 1 man 26-44 (presumably Joseph), 2 women 26-44 (1 of them presumably Cate), plus 3 boys and 5 girls under 14. Translated to birth dates: all 8 children born 1806-1820, possibly to 2 mothers.
* * * *
Census Records, 1850 & 1860:
By 1850, when the census began providing names and ages for all members of the household, there is no record for Joseph & Cate, nor for Basil (I). Here is a comparison of the Washington D.C. households of Bazil Mullin (II?), Sarah & Henry Mullin, and for others who seem to be related.
Names in this transcription: Bazil Mullin, Ann Mullin, Bazil R. Mullin, Richmond Mullin, George F. Mullin, Mary E. Mullin, Angelica Mullin, Cecelia Mullin, John Mullin, Sarah Mullin, Dortha Mullin, George Mullin, Cecelia Magee, Mary Cook, John Cook, James R. Cook, Rachael Mann.
It is possible Bazil R. Mullin in the 1850 household and Richmond Mullin in the 1860 household are the same person.
This is possible this Henry is Dolly’s son, but this Sarah Mullin appears to be far younger than the Sarah freed with Henry in H.L. Hall’s will.
Ann Mullin‘s age is as slippery as her husband’s. She is 35 in 1850, but only 38 by 1860. If the latter age is correct, she was only 28 in 1850–just old enough, perhaps, to have a 14 year-old son, though it’s not likely. See below for the possibility that she was the second wife of Basil (II).
* * * *
Sometime in the months of Nov-Dec 1849 & Jan 1850, a Basil Mullen paid $10 each for two hacking licenses and $2 for a dog license in the District of Columbia. In April of 1868, he was one of 21 hack drivers and hack companies indicted for leaving too much horse manure on 14th Street.
In 1864, a Basil Mullen was a founding member of the D.C. chapter of the Colored Catholic Male Benevolent Society.
* * * *
Bazil R. Mullin (III) & Bazil Mullin (IV)
I will call Bazil R. Mullin “Basil (III),” though there might be another Bazil Mullin between Basil R. and his father in age–namely, the Bazil Mullin who registered for the draft in 1863, at age 45 (and thus was born ~1818). I’ll call him a hypothetical Basil Mullin (IV).
Basil R. Mullin was ~21 in 1863 and his father was somewhere between 63 and 51. If the latter age is correct, it is just feasible that Bazil (II) could have registered and given his age as 45–though it’s hard to imagine why he would do so.
* * * * *
1) On 17 May 1831, a Bazil Mullin married Nancy Piggee in Washington, D.C. As I have found no other record of this couple, I can’t say if Bazil (II) had an earlier marriage (before Ann) or if this is my hypothetical Bazil (IV).
2) In 1825, 24 year-old Basil (b~1801, no surname provided) was named in the estate inventory of John S. Magruder,and subsequently passed to his son, Nathaniel McGregor.
3) In 1858, a man named Basil (neither age nor surname provided) was included in the estate inventory of Nathaniel’s brother, Roderick McGregor. In 1865, Nathaniel, acting as executor of Roderick’s estate, posthumously manumitted eight men who had joined or been drafted into the Union Army, including one Basil Mullin. How is he related to the other Basils, and why was his freedom not purchased along with that of Joseph Mullen in 1816? The purchase and manumission of Joseph and his family seems to have been last achieved by Basil Mullin, the elder, so this young Basil may simply have been born too late. If so, was his mother among those still enslaved by Roderick McGregor?
Numerous proposals for the compensation of slaveholders circulated both during and after the war, at least one of which would have required slaveholders to voluntarily surrender and legally manumit their service-age men, in order to receive a $300 bounty per man. Presumably Nathaniel’s action was motivated by the hope of such a plan. Prince George’s County land records show that slaveholders filed 132 after-the-fact manumissions in 1864 and 1865.
What do you know? Are you descended from any of these people? Can you set me straight about their relationships with each other, or with the Halls, Lowes, Magruders, or McGregors? Can you fill in the gap between the records of manumission and the 1850 census?
* * * * * * * *
Sources: Prince George’s County Records
Prince George’s County Court (Freedom Affidavits) 1810-1850, MSA CM 1183-1, note from Nathaniel McGregor re: free status of Mullin family, electronically reproduced as Archives of Maryland Vol. 763, p44, 2009. On that page, you can click to see a scan of the original image.
Prince George’s County Court (Land Records), JRM 11, [dates], p301. Bill of Sale from Henry Lowe Hall to Basil Mullin, for Sarah Digges and children. MSA CE 65-43. Digital image, MDLandRec.net.
Prince George’s County Court (Land Records), JRM 11, [dates], p302. Manumission of Sarah Digges and children by Basil Mullin. Digital image, MDLandRec.net.
Prince George’s County Court (Land Records), JRM 13, [1808-1810], p660. Bill of Sale from Henry Lowe Hall to Basil Mullin, for Dolly Mullin. Digital image, MDLandRec.net.
Prince George’s County Court (Land Records), JRM 14, 1810-1811, p15. Manumission of Dolly Mullin by Basil Mullin. Digital image, MDLandRec.net.
Prince George’s County Court (Land Records), JRM 16, [1813-1814], p258. Bill of Sale from John S. Magruder to Basil Mullin, for Kate, Sally, & Lucy. Digital image, MDLandRec.net.
Prince George’s County Court (Land Records), JRM 16, [1813-1814], p258. Bill of Sale from John S. Magruder to Basil Mullin, for Joe. Digital image, MDLandRec.net.
Prince George’s County Court (Land Records), JRM 17, [1816-1818], p302-303. Manumission of [names] by Basil Mullin. Digital image, MDLandRec. MSA CE 65-46.
Prince George’s County Court (Land Records), FS 3 [1865-1866], p85-87. Manumissions by Nathaniel McGregor of Basil Mullin & seven other men. Digital images, MDLandRec. MSA CE 64-10.
Prince George’s County, Register of Wills (Wills) 1793-1808, Liber T 1, will of Benjamin Hall, MSA C1326-4.
Prince George’s County, Register of Wills (Estate Papers) 1788-1840, Estate Papers of Henry Lowe Hall, MSA C2119-40.
Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), 15 Aug 1860, no page number legible, legal notice of Dolly Mullen’s estate, digital image, Genealogybank.com.
Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), 8 March 1850, p1, Register’s Office List of Persons Who Have Taken Out Licenses Under the Laws of Corporation, Nov-Dec 1849 & Jan 1850, digital image, Genealogybank.com
Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), 2 July 1825, p. 4, col. 2, “Fifty Dollars Reward” [for Harry Mullin], digital image, Genealogybank.com. Also July 4, 6, 15.
Evening Star (Washington, DC) 3 April 1868, p1,
Maryland State Archives, Microfilm MSA SC M3169, Governors’ Letterbooks, Unit 1: 1854 Feb-1866 Jan, 1862 Jan.-1866 Jan., Governor Augustus W. Bradford, p235-709; Correspondence b/t Gov Bradford & committee of slave-owning citizens of Prince George’s County, Oct 22 & 27, 1863, pp. 469-473; digital images, Archives of Maryland Online, pp. 503-507 (https://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc4800/sc4872/003169/html/m3169-0503.html : accessed 21 Oct 2022).
Provine, Dorothy S., compiler. Registrations of Free Negroes, 1806-1863, Prince George’s County Maryland (Washington, D.C.: Columbian Harmony Society, 1990). Extracted 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.
- Names I listed are from Registry of Certificates of Freedom, 1820-1852, Register of Wills, Prince George’s County Court: Henry Mullins No. 92, p 97, Sarah Mullin No. 106, p 99-100, Basil Mullin No. 107, p 100. Check the index for 28 entries regarding Henry Lowe Hall.
Whitman, T. Stephen. The Price of Freedom: Slavery and Manumission in Baltimore and Early National Maryland (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1997). See especially chapters 3,4,&5. Though for this book Whitman focused on Baltimore, his descriptions of the legal, social, economic, and human conditions prevailing in Maryland are always valuable, not least because he recognizes (and documents) the active role African Americans took in seeking and securing their own freedom.