Although the legal status of slavery in the South was untouched by the Revolutionary War the chaos engendered by that conflict made it possible for many slaves to escape, some to join the British with their offer of freedom, others to try to survive on their own. A few masters had manumitted their slaves and there was a small population of free blacks. These were always in danger of being seized by marauding bands or opportunistic individuals and forced back into slavery. The following petition of one Margareta Powell to the governor of Maryland in 1779 illustrates the plight of one such woman and her family.
The Humble Petition of Margareta Powell to his Excellency the Governor of the State of Maryland
Show that your Honor humble petitioner being formerly the property of a certain late John Campbell lastly living near the Fork of Potocktion near Mr.Henry Ridgley’s in the year 1764. My master John Campbell set me free and for to certify the same, I have enclosed a certificate from the gentleman whom my master employed to enter me upon the Records. At the decease of my master he left me part of 200 acres of land and part of the moveable which was left by him for support of myself and my children whom my master had set free altogether for the space of three years before my master decease. My children were free dealers throughout the neighborhood, those that were of age have taken the oath of fidelity and have entered into the service of their country and one of them having a furlong to come to see me. They who have disinherited me have taken and sold him for life time and if the other should come from the camp they threaten to do the same to him—and all the rest of my children and grandchildren throughout the neighborhood. They have sold and have stripped me of everything I had and burned me out of my house and I being old and infirm and unable to help myself I most humbly implore your honor would look into the affair and help the wronged and afflicted and I shall be in duty bound to pray and thank your excellency.
The man who claims this right from me and my children is one John Ashton, a Priest—he sold my child to a certain Thomas Snowden residing in the same neighborhood and he has sold them to others about the neighborhood Fork of Potocktion.
Ann Arundal County
It is not known whether Margareta’s petition was successful. The fact that she sought redress is evidence of her courage and determination to preserve her children’s freedom and to keep the family unit together.