African American Heritage

A significant part of Annapolis history, and life in Annapolis today, comes from the culture of the African Americans who have shared in this community since its earliest days.

Annapolis has a number of sites and structures that convey the African American experience, from the bondage of slavery, the turmoil of the Civil War, and the Civil Rights movement. They are found in monuments, historic homes, churches and museums.

These are links to many of these sites, as well as maps and descriptions of historic African American landmarks in the city, and some of those notables who contributed so greatly to our heritage.

African-American Heritage in the Historic District of Annapolis

During the 19th century, African-Americans comprised one-third of the population in Annapolis. Prior to the Civil War, Maryland had more free African-American citizens than any other state, approximate 43%. In Annapolis, about 400 of the city's 4000 inhabitants were free blacks and, of those, forty owned real property. Their legacy survives in written records and in cultural resources throughout the city's historic district and is revealed on maps, at archaeological sites, and in the surviving buildings.

Since 1992, the City of Annapolis' Historic Preservation Commission and the Maryland Historical Trust have sponsored an intensive survey of historic buildings within the district to document in full previously uninvestigated properties, determine the development and character of neighborhoods, and identify African-American sites and geographic neighborhoods within the historic district. While the city and state recognize the many important African-American sites and neighborhoods throughout Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, the criteria for this survey limits it to standing structures within the historic district. Initial results, while not yet comprehensive, show clusters of African-American residences integrated into several neighborhoods throughout the city before and after the Civil War. The Clay and West Street areas had the highest number of black households. However, Market, Duke of Gloucester, Cornhill, Pinkney, East and Fleet Streets provided a variety of housing for the city's black population.

The survey findings confirm demographic studies and complement the results of recent archaeological investigations that preceded major construction projects. These range from the Gott's Court Garage site the the Anne Arundel County Courthouse block. Originally a small development of rental rowhouses between West and Northwest Streets, Gott's Court was constructed by 1908, reflecting the increased demand for housing among the black population. The Clay Street neighborhood to the west provided the principal religious, educational and recreational facilities for the African-American community. It included the Stanton School on West Washington Street, Asbury Methodist Church on West Street, St. Phillips Episcopal Church on Northwest Street, and Mt. Moriah A.M.E. Church on Franklin Street. Fraternal organizations, such as the 130-year-old Universal Lodge #14, F.&A.M., also established homes here. Mt. Moriah is now the Banneker-Douglass Museum, the official repository of African- American material culture for Maryland. Built in 1874, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and dedicated as the Banneker-Douglass Museum in 1984.

Other late 19th century and early 20th century neighborhoods appear on the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. An enclave on Newman Street near St. Mary's had its own school. Bellis Court occupied land south of the County Courthouse, close to Mt. Moriah Church. Like Gott's Court and areas near the Naval Academy, these simple frame tenements were demolished as the office needs of a growing government expanded.

At Duke of Gloucester and Market Streets near City Hall, several prominent black families acquired property, raised families and pursued professions. From this neighborhood, they contributed to the growth of their community and its culture. As late as the 1920s, a violin instructor, a chiropodist, a florist and a caterer continued to represent the black professional community in homes on Market Street, reflecting a trend begun in the mid-19th century when two "free persons of color," William H. Butler and John Maynard, purchased property on Duke of Gloucester and Market Streets.

William H. Butler House

According to Anne Arundel County Land Records, in 1863 William H. Butler, "a free person of color" purchased 148 Duke of Gloucester Street, a recently built, stylish example of the urban Italianate townhouse, one of the few in the city. A builder and landowner, Butler was one of the wealthiest free blacks in the city in 1860. He served on the Annapolis City Council from 1873 to 1875, becoming the first African-American in Maryland to be elected to public office. He continued to purchase and develop property into the 1880s, particularly on Market Street. Between 1885 and 1890, he built five frame rowhouses as rental properties, providing a legacy for his six children. Two lots, now 121-123 Market, he sold to the Maryland Colored Baptist Congregation for a church, part of which is incorporated in today's existing duplex. William H. Butler, Sr. died a wealthy man in 1892. His wife Sarah remained in the house, and it stayed in the Butler family until 1922. Their son William H. Butler, Jr., also served on the Annapolis City Council from 1893 to 1897.

Maynard-Burgess House

Home of two successive African-American families from 1847 to 1900, the Maynard-Burgess House, across from City Hall on Duke of Gloucester Street, is a tribute to the aspirations of the free black population of Annapolis in the 1800s. John Maynard purchased the property on Duke of Gloucester from James Iglehart in 1847, "with buildings." Architectural evidence indicates that what Maynard bought may have been, at least in part, an outbuilding dating to the late 18th century that had been moved to the site. During the next ten years Maynard improved the property, expanding the three-bay, story and a half structure to a full two-story dwelling with two front entrances, dormers and a massive central brick chimney. By 1860, the property had nearly tripled in value.

John Maynard was born a free black in Maryland about 1811 and died in Annapolis in 1875. Maynard's life was a deeply responsible and public one. Between 1834 and 1845, he purchased and freed his wife, her daughter and his mother-in-law. His improvements to the house suggest that he may have provided a home for other family members. David Maynard, an unidentified relative, and also a free black, lived with his family in the house adjacent to John Maynard's house.

Listed as a waiter in the 1860 census, Maynard may have worked at the City Hotel on Main and Conduit Streets, less than a block from his residence. Further evidence of John Maynard's financial status and community responsibility can be found at Old Mt. Moriah A.M.E. Church on Franklin Street. A leader in the church, he donated funds for a stained glass window when the church was built in 1874. John Maynard died in 1876. The inventory of his personal estate, appraised by his neighbor William H. Butler, provides a room-by-room description of his home, complete with a formal "Front Room."

Maynard descendants held on to the property and operated it as aboarding house until 1914 when Willis Burgess, a resident, purchased it. Hisfamily owned it until 1990. Later archaeological investigations have shown that the families joined the transition to Victorian consumerism, chasing more processed foods and beverages as well as typical mass-produced tableware. In the early 1990s, Port of Annapolis, a private developer of historic properties, attempted to renovate the structure for resale. Recognizing its historic significance, they transferred ownership to the City of Annapolis. With grants from the City and the Maryland Historical Trust, Historic Annapolis Foundation, the designated restoration agent, is working to restore the property as a house museum depicting 19th century African-American life in Annapolis.

East Street

Northeast of Main Street, African-Americans found rental and ownership opportunities along East and Fleet Streets. Although both streets were fully platted by the late 1700s, extensive subdivision did not begin until the mid-1800s. Lumber merchants, builders, and grocers who had saved sufficient capital invested in the lots and built "tenements," that is, rental properties of simple rowhouses in groups of twos and threes, for the growing working class, largely African-American.

Approximately 35 properties were built on East Street between 1820 and 1920. A few of these replaced earlier structures, but most represent 19th century trends in urban housing. Built of wood with little or no ornamentation, these narrow dwellings were only two rooms deep with an entrance and single window on the first floor and two windows on the second floor. Slightly more than one-third of these properties were either owned or rented by African-American families. Many of the houses provided inexpensive dwellings for the laborers, carpenters and cobblers who worked at the Naval Academy. East Street, like Duke of Gloucester, became the neighborhood of a few free black families prior to Emancipation. In the 1850s, James Holliday, identified in land records as a "free person of color," purchased 97, 99, and 101 East Street. 99 East Street is still owned by a Holliday descendent.

Education came to East Street in 1868 when the Order of the Galilean Fisherman opened a school at 91 East Street in association with the Free Seat M.E. Church. The Annapolis chapter of the Galilean Fisheman was incorporated in 1865 to provide education for the city's African- American children. The order's efforts preceded by several years the struggling public initiative to found the Stanton School, built by 1878 on West Washington Street. By 1885, the Galilean's "Free School" had grown from two-stories to the four-stories surviving today. Although the order continued into the 20th century, the school was closed in the late 1890s, about the time the Stanton School received increased public funds and was rebuilt as a two-story brick school house. Galilean Hall served the African-American community as a location for offices and a social hall until l908 and today provides apartment housing.

Fleet Street

Unlike East Street, Fleet Street did not experience substantial development until the late 1800s when 24 of the 27 dwellings were constructed. Most were built as tenements by merchants Jacob Blum and Joseph Basil and rented to African-American laborers, watermen, laundresses, and domestic workers.

Gradually, many blacks changed the ownership pattern on Fleet Street by purchasing their own homes. Around 1880, Benjamin Holliday, a black waterman, purchased 45 Fleet Street, an 18th-century dwelling. Henry Clay was the highest bidder for 51 Fleet, another 18th-century house, auctioned in 1872. Susan Wright built 48 Fleet c. 1897 and left it to her daughter and son-in-law, Susan and Joseph McGowan, who were employed at the Naval Academy. The property is still owned and occupied by their descendants. During the same period Anthony Wilson built 50 Fleet and his wife Eliza, a chambermaid, retained ownership after his death. This small neighborhood kept its character well into the 20th century and expanded to include the three-story Ideal Hotel at 14 Fleet, built in the 1920s. Once a drugstore and hotel, it was the largest building on the block, and undoubtedly served the African-American watermen and tradesmen needing easy access to the City Dock and Market House.

During the same period, Roger Williams opened his barber shop in the much older "flat iron building" at the corner of Cornhill and Fleet Streets. Williams' shop became a social institution, enduring until his death in 1983.