Family Unification

Draft posted 20210412

In 1797, Patrick Barnes purchased his freedom for L200 from Ambrose Marechal, who was then presiding over Bohemia Manor. The terms of his freedom bond required him to settle within 10 miles of Bohemia, likely because Marechal wished to continue to make use of his services as a blacksmith.1 This transaction marked the end of what had been nearly a decade long effort on Barnes part to secure the freedom of his family and himself. These efforts at family unification showcase the incredible dedication and desire of the enslaved people owned by the Jesuits to take control of their own lives. For the Jesuits, however, the notion of family unification rarely involved a freedom transaction. Rather, their commitment to coresidential marriages compelled them to undertake a number of transactions designed to ensure that enslaved husbands and wives could remain together to fulfill the commitments of their marriage vows.

Barnes, whose mother also resided at Bohemia Manor, might have sensed that the moment was right for him to move forward with his plan based on a successful transaction that Perry Greenwood undertook in 1790. In that year, Greenwood, whose racial status is unclear, purchased a woman named Nell and her son, also named Perry. According to the daybook ledger for Bohemia Manor kept by Robert Molyneax, Greenwood put down L1.10.0 on a total debt of 4 dollars.2 Given the shared given name, it is likely that Perry Greenwood was the boy's father.

Patrick Barnes's heroic efforts to secure freedom for his family began in the early 1790s. It is likely that his skills as a blacksmith translated into earning power that made every element of his freedom plan possible. In February 1792, the Jesuits purchase a woman, Mary and her children, Isaac and Hannah, from Samuel and John Fulton for L35. Then, in April 1793, Barnes placed a downpayment of L26.7.6 on the purchase of Mary, Isaac, and Hannah. He would owe a balance of L13.12.6 on the total price of L40.3 Four years later, in March 1797, he filed a freedom petition for himself, and in August he was able to purchase his freedom from Marechal.4 This string of transactions suggests that Barnes had a long-range plan to unite his family, facilitating the relocation of his wife and children to Bohemia, and then working diligently to buy their freedom and his own.

While other Jesuit-owned individuals filed a set of very effective freedom petitions with the Maryland courts arguing that they descended from a free woman [link to sales section of the narrative], Greenwood and Barnes took the route of self-purchase and compensated emancipation. Julia Bernier argues that "[r]esponding to the increasing threat enslavement posed to their kinship bonds, enslaved and free people used self-purchase and compensated manumission as part of a continuum of resistant efforts." These individuals had to enter into the marketplace of human bondage on their own behalf, leveraging their own labor, savings, and negotiating power to secure autonomy or as much autonomy as would be possible for a free Black person in Maryland in the early national period. Again, Bernier explains, "As African Americans undertook to buy their liberation, they used market techniques that were common in the American economic landscape in subversive ways."5 In these cases, the maintenance of family units was central to enslaved people's efforts to use the market logic of slavery in their quest for freedom.

Footnotes
  1. Patrick Barnes, Freedom Bond (1797-08-15), MPA, Box 30, Folder 3, https://slaveryarchive.georgetown.edu/items/show/369.
  2. Bohemia Plantation Day Book, 1790-1870, Box 49, Folder 3: Greenwood sale, p. 5 and https://slaveryarchive.georgetown.edu/items/show/206;
  3. Bohemia Plantation Day Book, 1790-1870, Box 49, Folder 3: Fulton purchase, p. 44, and http://slaveryarchive.georgetown.edu/items/show/272; and Barnes sale, page 71 and http://slaveryarchive.georgetown.edu/items/show/277.
  4. Records of Bohemia, Bound Manuscript. (March 9, 1797) MPC, Box 1, Folder 1.
  5. Julia W. Bernier, “‘Never Be Free without Trustin’ Some Person’: Networking and Buying Freedom in the Nineteenth-Century United States,” Slavery & Abolition 40, no. 2 (August 17, 2018): 1, 4, https://doi.org/10.1080/0144039X.2018.1480876.
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