On The Cusp of History

I am not what you would call a history buff, but I have always enjoyed reading books about historical figures, watching movies and TV shows based on historical facts and hearing personal stories and lectures based on historical findings.  I especially admire those who devote their time and resources in research to uncover hidden truths of the past and give voice to those whose voices have been silenced or prevented from telling their truth

As a child growing up in the 1960’s, my parents were instrumental in cultivating my interest in history by taking my siblings and I to the many museums and galleries in and around Washington DC and Maryland. I have fond memories of exploring life in a city that wasn’t just the capital of our country, but to us felt like the epicenter of the world. During those years we also witnessed history as we saw the civil rights movement unfold with protests, marches, sit-ins, and civic activism for social justice. This point in time was described as the most turbulent and divisive in world history.

Many years later after I got married, my husband and I began looking for a community that we thought would be a great place to raise a family, and after some research and visiting various locations, we moved to the community of Columbia in Howard County Maryland. Similar to my parents who had moved to DC during the Great Migration of African Americans who relocated from the rural south to cities in the north, they came seeking a safe, fair and equable environment for their family that would open doors to social and economic opportunities. A lot has changed since my parents moved north, but so much more work still has to be done to address racial inequity.

As the year 2020 nears an end, we have witnessed peaceful demonstrations protesting the violence against people of color and systemic racism not just across the U. S. but thousands worldwide have shown solidarity with many of the voices crying for justice. The killing of George Floyd has renewed a movement for change that has united people of all ages, races and economic backgrounds. After viewing the video of what happened to Mr. Floyd, members of the UN Human Rights Council meet and issued a critique of the event as ” a modern-day racial terror lynching” and are calling for investigations on systemic racism. We are witnessing events that have similarities and differences with the civil rights movement of the 1960s that historians are just beginning to explore, and some are calling this time “A National Reckoning” and “The New Reconstruction.”  The cries for justice that are happening today are motivating many of our legislators, law enforcement and those in power to reexamine many of our legislative policies, and to move toward policy changes that better serve the common good. 

It is encouraging to see action for change happening in our local community. In June of this year, more than 400 current and former students from Howard County wrote testimonies and signed a petition that was sent to the board of education and the school administration saying how racism is a problem in the school system, and HoCo4 Justice held a March & Vigil for Black Lives at the lakefront in Columbia, MD. Also, this year The Maryland State Medical Society called racism a “tragic and ongoing public health crisis”, and has created the Empowerment and Advocacy Task Force, to make recommendations for how doctors and health professionals can promote equity and actively address issues of racial disparity in their work. In October the Howard County council voted to approve legislation to establish Howard County’s first Racial Equity Task Force that will study racial disparities throughout the county and make legislative recommendations to the council.

This year is leaving us with a lot of stories and information that could fill volumes of books, countless movies, TV shows and blog posts. As with the 1960’s, we are witnessing what could be the cusp of historical transformation.

I am thankful for this opportunity to share my thoughts as a founding member of the Howard County Lynching Truth & Reconciliation.

Gina Richardson


Compensation Given For Howard County, MD Slaves

The question has come up: “Were any Howard County Maryland enslavers compensated for claims made to the government for money after the effects of Emancipation?” The question gets posed when some look at the list of enslavers who placed their names on a list in 1867 that was designed to express their interest in being compensated for the “loss” of the value of those they had held in captivity/enslavement who were liberated. That list is on our website HERE

After hearing from one person who shall remain nameless that they had been told by a person of authority that the answer was “no”, I decided to do a little dig to put it to the test. I already knew the story of a Dorsey that I’d been tracking for a novel in progress, so I knew where to look. The following story involves Mary Moxley, James Walters, George D. Walters, Caroline V. Walters and the Bell children who had been enslaved by them all..

Mary Moxley appeared on the 1840 census, living in Division 3 of Anne Arundel county (was prior to Howard being a separate county). The census taker noted 2 white females between the ages of 60 and 70 in her household, and Mary was one of them. A few years later on June 11, 1846, Mary created her last Will and testament. Mary couldn’t read nor write, so she placed her “X” upon the record you see below. She bequeathed various enslaved persons to her family members as follows:

To her niece Harriett L. Walters: “one negro boy Tom and one negro woman named Lid”

To William G. Walters, son of James Walters, Jr: “a negro boy Henson”

To Caroline V. Walters: “a negro girl named Juay”

To George D. Walters: “a negro girl named Caroline”


courtesy, FamilySearch.org “Maryland Register of Wills Records, 1629-1999,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9TY2-S5H?cc=1803986&wc=SNY4-4WB%3A146534701%2C146767001 : 20 May 2014), Howard > Wills 1840-1862 vol 1 > image 1 of 273; Hall of Records, Annapolis.

There are many people who are of the mistaken belief that only men enslaved persons. That’s simply untrue, and Mary was just one example of many. The 1850 slave schedule for Maryland that has the name “Harriett Walters” contains the details regarding the 27 people she enslaved. James enslaved 6.



courtesy, FamilySearch.org

courtesy, FamilySearch.org

The observant reader will notice that there aren’t any last names written for the enslaved people listed in Mary’s will. This was an interesting phenomenon that isn’t discussed enough regarding slavery of this time period. You’ll see that first and last names were noted for her heirs. Did Mary not know the last names of those she enslaved, or did it make it easier to treat them as property to give to her heirs if she didn’t think of them as humans in family units such as her own? The slave schedule entries of 1850 above does the same: depersonalized humans by referring to them only by features used to assign monetary value to them (age, sex and perception of skin color).

So, how is it known that there were enslaved children with the last name “Bell” being enslaved by the Walters family?

For that, another database was consulted. Within the website CivilWarDC.org lies documentation in the form of petitions that were made by Caroline Walters, James Walters, and James on behalf of George D. Walters. Each were making claims for their perceived losses due to the emancipation of those they had enslaved.

Jesse Maria Bell was said to be 18 years old as of 1862. That would have made her about 2 years old when Mary Moxley gave Jesse to Caroline in 1846. Caroline went on to state that Jesse was an “excellent house servant, chamber maid waiter or nurse” and “I am not aware of any bodily or mental defect to detract from her full value as a healthy, trusty, and faithful servant.”





Next is George. George was the son of James Walters. That is known because of the affidavit filed with the petition made on George’s behalf by his father, in which George is referred to as his “infant” son (which means, underage). George was 17 years old when the petition for compensation got filed by his father in 1862. That would have made him about one year old when Mary Moxley gave him a slave.

The claim for compensation was for the loss of the services of Caroline Bell. Written on the claim was “The said negro woman was born at the residence of the affiant, and he has known her ever since.” Also, “He does not know a more valuable woman..”



The thing about Caroline Bell is that she was listed by James to have been almost 17 years old. “Almost” means she was 16. That means that baby George was given a baby girl, Caroline, when Mary made out her will 16 years prior in 1846. It is interesting to see Mr Walters consider his 17 year old son to be a minor, yet 16 year old Caroline to be a “negro woman”.

Ancestry.com. Washington, D.C., U.S., Slave Owner Petitions, 1862-1863[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. This collection was indexed by Ancestry World Archives Project contributors.
Original data:Records of the Board of Commissioners for the Emancipation of Slaves in the District of Columbia, 1862–1863. NARA Microfilm Publication M520, 6 rolls. Records of the United States General Accounting, Record Group 217. National Archives, Washington, D.C


James also did a claim of his own. In his claim, one gets to see how the enslaved were sometimes lent to other family members (in this case) in another state (DC). This of course was in addition to them being essentially “leased out” by enslavers to others who may not have wanted to have the tax payment that came with owning property. (Yes, enslavers were taxed by the county for their enslaved). James reported having received Margaret from his father (also named James Walters) in 1828. Since she was reported to have been 56 in 1862, that means she was born near 1806 and was 22 when he received her. Alexander and Maria were children of Margaret’s, both whom James considered to be “slaves for life”. All of them were living in DC with James Walters, Sr, with his son’s consent. Margaret was reported to be “No. 1 cook, washer, and ironer”, Alexander “good looking”, and Maria was married.



This 1862 financial claim regarding Margaret is likely one of the first documents acknowledging her existence. No other prior records could be found mentioning her. It is unclear who (if anyone) was paying the tax associated with enslaving her. In 1850, she’d have been 44 and no line contains a person of that age on the listing for James above. His father in DC also didn’t report anyone with that age to authorities.

The same can be said for 1860. The Howard County James Walters reported no one 54 years old, nor did his father in DC.

courtesy, FamilySearch.org

courtesy, FamilySearch.org

As for Caroline Bell, perhaps the DC James reported her age wrong (above, he reported an 11 and an 18 year old female in 1860) and he was the one paying the tax.

As for the compensation part, all claimed their enslaved to have high dollar values. That is known because of the report that contains the following info regarding those claims:


  1. Caroline Walters placed a value on Jesse Bell at $800.
  2. James Walters collectively valued Margaret, Alexander and Maria at $2200.
  3. James Walters, on behalf of his son, valued Caroline Bell at $800.

The final valuations were:

  • Caroline Walters’ claim for Jesse Bell was ultimately valued at $459.90
  • James Walters had his claim valued at $109.30+(what looks like $613.20)+481.80= 1204.30
  • James on behalf of George was $481.80 for Caroline Bell.

Courtesy, FamilySearch.org “District of Columbia Court and Emancipation Records, 1820-1863,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CS9H-CCVH?cc=2515818&wc=79PD-44D%3A1591892317%2C1591892315 : 10 February 2017), Roll 1, Minutes, lists of petitions and awards, and final report 1862-1863 > Records of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia relating to Slaves, 1862-1863, M520 > image 223 of 669; citing NARA microfilm publication M520, M433, and M434 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

Nearly one million dollars was paid out to enslavers who filed claims under the DC Compensated Emancipation Act. I’ve read that there were more than 930 petitions filed and approved for enslavers who received pay. The legislation provided that an enslaver would receive “up to $300” for each freed person. Receiving a document showing they had been freed by their enslaver, was a requirement. More on that program can be found HERE

Caroline didn’t show up for the hearing on Thursday October 3, 1862, but James Walters did and he brought along a “Maria Bell”. James was examined about his loyalty to the Union, and Maria was asked about Caroline’s health, etc. The person responsible for the valuation of Caroline and others for the Commissioners was the notorious enslaver, Bernard M. Campbell. Campbell had been responsible for placing a dollar value on many enslaved who had been on auction blocks in Baltimore City as well as those sold to him by estate administrators and others for transportation and enslavement to the Lower South. He would have known the game.


“District of Columbia Court and Emancipation Records, 1820-1863,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CS9H-CCXP?cc=2515818&wc=79PD-44D%3A1591892317%2C1591892315 : 10 February 2017), Roll 1, Minutes, lists of petitions and awards, and final report 1862-1863 > Records of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia relating to Slaves, 1862-1863, M520 > image 162 of 669; citing NARA microfilm publication M520, M433, and M434 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

Here is the page showing the payment received by the Walters family. James acknowledged receiving payment for all of their claims.

“District of Columbia Court and Emancipation Records, 1820-1863,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CS9H-C4CK?cc=2515818&wc=79PD-44D%3A1591892317%2C1591892315 : 10 February 2017), Roll 1, Minutes, lists of petitions and awards, and final report 1862-1863 > Records of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia relating to Slaves, 1862-1863, M520 > image 477 of 669; citing NARA microfilm publication M520, M433, and M434 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

Did Caroline find her way back to Howard County after the proceedings in DC? YES she did! First, it’s important to show the following…

James Walters placed these names on his Maryland list for purposes of trying to get compensated in 1867. That full list in on this website under “The Enslavers” tab. While the relationship between Lydia Bell (33), Mary Bell (3), Benjamin Bell (9) and Hannah Bell (11) to Caroline isn’t known with certainty, she must have had ties to them that caused her to return.

Image taken from file supplied courtesy of the Maryland State Archives

Caroline Bell’s story has been an absolute pleasure to research and create. Before I get to her coming back to Howard County, something needs to be restated. There was another purpose for showcasing her story here.

James Walters is the person who agreed to release Nicholas Snowden from his enslavement in order to fight in the Civil War as a substitute for someone who didn’t want to. Mr. Walters was to get financially compensated for having agreed to release Nicholas from enslavement in order to enlist. Nicholas’ name doesn’t appear on the 1867 list above, because he had been freed to fight as a member of the USColored Troops before it was created. Here is Nicholas’ paperwork:

Courtesy, Howard County Historical Society. Can also be accessed via https://collections.digitalmaryland.org/digital/collection/hcbh/id/606/rec/1

I postulate that it’s entirely possible that Caroline Bell knew Nicholas Snowden. George resided with his father. He was listed as continuing to reside with him on the 1860 census, where he is listed to be 15. It would all depend upon exactly when Nicholas started living there, and how much time it overlapped with Caroline also being there before going to DC.

courtesy, FamilySearch.org

Finally, there’s Caroline Bell’s return to Howard County.

In 1870, she was reported as being the 25 year old cook for the Ellicott City household of the Howard County Register of Wills, Benjamin Dorsey.

courtesy, FamilySearch.org

The stories she could have told about things seen and heard in that household! Did you catch the nearby household in the census image above?? A cook of a similar age to Caroline, whose name was Susan Jackson, worked for James E. VanSant. VanSant was listed as a “merchant” in 1870, but that would soon change. He was the Mayor of Ellicott City for a term, but lost his bid for re-election in 1875. He then became Ellicott City’s chief of police chief in 1877. The stories Susan could have told! More on VanSant when we look at the Jacob Henson, Jr case, since he factors into it.


Across the County in District 5, Benjamin Bell, reported by James Walters on his 1867 claim form to have been his 9 year old “slave for life”, was living with Waters and his family in 1870 as a farm laborer…right alongside of George D. Walters who used to enslave Caroline.

Wish I could have interviewed them all.


courtesy FamilySearch.org

Final Note: There were other Howard Countians who did the same as James Walters did. It was an indication of people who were made to work in DC. Andrew Mercer and John A. Dorsey (prior Orphan’s Court judge) were two easily-recognized names for me due to my interest in them both for another project. Links to records for them both are below.

Andrew Mercer of R’s records can be found HERE


no award given, because he failed to produce the guy for them to see.

John A Dorsey’s records can be found HERE His petition was marked “after time” (late). He was trying to get paid for two runaways (Nelson and Luther) who had left a year or so before, who he believed to be in DC. Both had been inheritances from he and his wife’s parents.


For more on Vansant, check out the police department museum’s website where you’ll also see his photo. That is HERE

Marlena Jareaux



2020 Compassion For A USCT Veteran

The next man our group will be looking at is a vet. For too long, the Howard County historical community and beyond has been content to label Nicholas Snowden as simply a Black man lynched for allegedly assaulting a Black girl named Alberta, according to the newspapers of the time. Some recent comments in the community have included something along the lines of “Well, he did something to a young girl, so what’s there left to say?”

The HCLTR group challenges you to view him with more information. Nicholas Snowden was a veteran of the Civil War. Nicholas had also been enslaved by James Walters, who released Nicholas from his enslavement on the condition that Nicholas fight in some man’s place in the Civil War as a substitute. He was 19. It was a one-sided written agreement which would entitle his enslaver to receive financial compensation for Nicholas’ labor in the military. The payment Nicholas would receive would be his freedom. We’ll never know whether Nicholas agreed to the terms, since his signature wasn’t called for on the  paper Walters signed on June 14, 1864. Keep in mind that this was more than a year AFTER Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect which didn’t apply to the enslaved in Maryland. This would have been one way for Nicholas to obtain his freedom besides running away from his enslaver. 

Courtesy, Howard County Historical Society

Nineteen year old Nicholas is believed to have been a part of Company B of the 30th regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops Infantry, enlisting on June 15, 1864. Nicholas was a wounded veteran. We know this because he was reported in his service files to have been wounded “before Petersburg”, and that he was sent to the hospital on July 30, 1864. 

Accessed via FamilySearch.org

We don’t know what his wounds were (yet). We assume they were physical, but it’s conceivable that there could have been more. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) wasn’t acknowledged in the 1860s. Did the Civil War and the wounds he received have an effect on his life? Though we have not yet found evidence that Nicholas was viewed in 1885 through the lens of him being a war vet, our group WILL be with compassion. 

According to Louis Diggs, it is possible that members of the 30th were depicted in the photo below. Taken on August 4, 1864, we don’t yet know if Nicholas may have possibly returned to battle after being hospitalized in July, and therefore was in this scene (depicted or not). It does provide a great visual for an aspect of the war that helped to shape the country.

Civil war photographs, 1861-1865, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

For more on Louis Diggs and his work in this area, you can read more by clicking the link. Interestingly, another vet from Ellicott’s Mills is mentioned as having been captured and died. Riley Pitts was reported to have been “owned” by Edward Pitts. He was a Prisoner of War, sent by Confederates to Salisbury NC on November 24, 1864 AFTER the state’s new Constitution banning slavery in Maryland. He died in January 1865, never getting to experience freedom.



Marlena Jareaux