Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Garden History - Gardeners - Free Blacks


Throughout the 18th & 19th centuries, free African Americans also hired on to assist with garden chores during the growing season. Records of such temporary employments are very difficult to find. Rather than hiring on for a season, free blacks usually assisted with specific chores as they needed to be completed.

Craftsman Willaim Faris kept a diary in the town of Annapolis, Maryland, between 1792 & 1804. During that period a total of 16 free black men helped town craftsman William Faris with garden tasks. Most were permanent free black residents of the town, but some were passing through & hiring themselves out as garden laborers for a season.

In the spring of 1792, Faris hired a black garden helper, Peter Shorter. Two days later the craftsman learned that Shorter was a runaway slave, & he immediately discharged the man. Faris recorded in his journal, that he usually paid 12 pounds per annum to his free black helpers. He did not specify in his diary the amount of work expected from the workers for pounds per month.

By 1790, blacks composed a third of Maryland’s population. In the city of Annapolis at the time of the 1800 census, out of a total population of 2,212 persons, there were 646 slaves & 273 free blacks. Between 1790 & 1800, the population of free blacks in Maryland increased about 144 percent. Slavery grew at a much slower rate.

One dramatic increase in the number of free blacks occurred as a result of the slave uprising in the French colony of Saint Dominique led by Toussaint L’ Ouverture. About 2,000 French-speaking refugees, including well over 500 of black or mixed racial ancestry, arrived in Maryland during the summer of 1793. Faris noted in his diary, “July 10, 1793. Yesterday & too Day there has been between 30 & 40 Vessels went to Baltimore, the most of the full of French people…one Vessel had near 1200 on board.”

After this French settlement, free black & white French gardeners-for-hire began searching for work in the Chesapeake. These gardeners had a significant influence on Mid-Atlantic & Upper South pleasure gardening, as they introduced tropical varieties of plants & new garden designs into the region.

French-speaking gardeners became so numerous, that Maryland seedsmen Sinclair & Moore published their 1825 trade catalogue in French as well as English. The contributions of the French refugee gardeners from Saint Dominique were extolled by orator John Pendleton Kennedy at the first exhibition of the Horticultural Society of Maryland: “They brought with the….the knowledge of plants & garden stuffs. After their arrival…Baltimore became distinguished for the profusion & excellence of fruits & vegetables.”

Throughout most of the 18th century, indentured white servants & free & slave blacks were the backbone of the garden labor force in the Mid-Atlantic & Upper South. White free white professional gardeners & nurserymen began to appear after the Revolution in the urban areas, it is likely that, until the Civil War, most rural Mid-Atlantic & Upper South pleasure gardens in Maryland were maintained by black gardeners, some of them free but most of them slaves.