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.
The family identified by Nathaniel McGregor:
Basil Mullin (I) was a grandfather by 1816 and a free man. I believe he is identical to 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, grand daughters and grand sons, 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.)
How old did a slave have to be to be called ‘Old Basil’? It suggests gray hair, but since there was a younger Basil perhaps middle age was old enough. So, assuming he was no younger than 20 when his oldest known child was born, we can postulate that he was b ~1755 or later, making him ~48 when manumitted.
Basil Mullin (I) b ~1755 or later, 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. Lucy, b~1813
2. Sally, b before 1814, d before 1817
3. 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.
Called Sarah Digges, possibly her married name
2. Ester b~1798 called Ester Hall in 1821 Certificate of Freedom
3. Molly b~1799, called Mary Dulany in 1821 Certificate of Freedom
4. Suckey b~1801, called Susan Biggs in 1821 Certificate of Freedom
- 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 (but I don’t know which Basil). 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, but the estate inventory identifies these two young people as Jane and Aaron.
- Sadly, Hall’s executors betrayed his wishes and sold all the property meant for Dolly and Henry Mullen, including Jane 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.”
- I have found no statement of relationship between Dolly and either of the two Basils. I am placing her here as Basil (II)’s sister, another daughter of the “Old Basil”and Easter, but have no proof. 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. Or, there could be two Dolly Mullens.
- 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 land 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.
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, probably 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. But of course it is possible the two “Dolls” are one and the same.
- On 14 April 1810 Henry Lowe Hall 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 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 slave masters, 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. 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. If they 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. Parents freed in old age or at, say, 40 or 45, 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. Of course 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.
* * * *
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, 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, surname unknown) was named in the estate inventory of John S. Magruder,and subsequently passed to his son, Nathaniel McGregor. In 1858, a man named Basil (no age or surname given) was included in the estate inventory of Nathaniel’s brother, Roderick McGregor. At least two other slaves who were left to Nathaniel in 1825 were transferred to Roderick before 1858, but since no age is given we can’t tell if this is the same Basil. Nor do we know if either or both of these Basils were surnamed Mullin or Mullen.
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?
* * * * * * * *
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, 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.
Dorothy S. Provine, 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.
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
Evening Star (Washington, DC) 3 April 1868, p1,
T. Stephen Whitman, 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.