Slave Dwelling in the Heart of Historic District

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles related to the “Slave Dwelling Project Comes to Dorchester.” Presented by the Harriet Tubman Organization and the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance, Oct. 13-14 at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, Historic High Street Cambridge, Md. and Handsell Historic Site, Vienna.

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In the heart of the Cambridge Historic District sits a historically important little building. It leans a bit from decayed sills but otherwise is remarkably original to the mid-18th century period when it was most likely built. In December 2014, Catherine Morrison purchased the historic Bayley House, which included an attached kitchen and smoke house, and this little building, which was described as a slave cabin. She immediately began the task of restoring the exterior of the “main house,” uncertain of what to do about the dilapidated slave cabin in the backyard. Her research revealed that the house was moved by the owner, John Caille (Caile) upon his appointment as a Clerk of the Court in Dorchester County. Although the popular oral history recounts that the house was brought “across the Chesapeake Bay from Annapolis,” Ms. Morrison learned that Mr. Caille and his siblings all resided in Oxford, and Mr. Caille was in fact a close friend and employee of Robert Morris Sr. It is her belief that the house was more likely floated across the Choptank River to Cambridge, around 1750, and then shortly thereafter was moved from the current site of the Dorchester County Courthouse, across High Street, to its present location. The property was purchased by the prominent Bayley family around 1830, and occupied by Dr Alexander Hamilton Bayley (1814-1892) and his descendants until 2003.
Dr. Bayley’s father was Josiah Bayley, famous in the history of Cambridge, who lived in the house next door, where the law office in which he practiced still stands in the front yard facing High Street. Josiah Bayley was born on Halloween in Somerset County. He served in the Maryland House of Delegates (1803, 1804), was District Attorney in 1818, and was also Maryland’s Attorney General from 1831 to 1846. Josiah died at age 77 and was the oldest member of the Maryland Bar, but he is probably best remembered as the attorney who defended Patty Cannon, the famous ringleader of a bunch of ruffian kidnappers and slave catchers. Josiah Bayley and Dr. Alexander Hamilton Bayley are buried in the Christ Church Cemetery, but alas, the known burial places of their enslaved people are long ago lost.
It is well documented that both Josiah Bayley and Dr. Alexander Hamilton Bayley were slave owners. (Dorchester County Slave Purchasers, 1823-1836 and William Still’s UGRR) In fact, a “runaway” advertisement was placed in the papers by Josiah on Oct. 21, 1857 seeking the return of his “negro woman Lizzie, age 28 … she is medium sized, dark complexion, good looking …” Lizzie had run away with her husband, Nat Ambie who was held in bondage by John Muir. The combined reward offered for the two was $800. According to William Still’s account, Nat and Lizzie successfully escaped to freedom and by June 10, 1858 were located near Auburn, NY.
Kate Larson, author of Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero, has done extensive research on the enslaved on the Eastern Shore. In her records, she lists the following individuals held as enslaved people by Dr. Alexander Hamilton Bayley: Maria Cya [Kiah], daughter Hannah and other children (enslaved by wife Delia), Eliza Conoley [Connely], Joseph Conoley [Connely}], Louis Phillip Conoley [Connely], Ellen Johnson, John Wesley, Fayette, George, Lewis, Charles, Henry, George Edward, Edward, John Banks, Sarah, Sally Ann, Emily, Grace, Ellen, Fanny, Willie, Milly, Hester, Julia, Elizabeth (Lizzy Ambly), Louisa, Hagar, Chloe and Robert Elsey Kerr. This is only a partial listing of slaves held by Bayley.
Located directly behind the family home of Dr. Bayley, this previously described small cabin is believed to have housed some of the enslaved individuals held by Dr. Bayley and his father. It has been questioned whether this “slave cabin” was indeed a dwelling at all, since it currently has no fireplace. In her quest for more accurate information, Ms. Morrison contacted Joseph McGill, founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, in the late summer of 2015, and after hearing her story about the supposed slave cabin in her backyard, he agreed to visit Cambridge and see the structure for himself. In March 2016, trustees of the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance and Mr. McGill accepted the invitation by Ms. Morrison to visit the Bayley Slave Cabin. They discovered what they consider to be clear evidence in the ceiling joists of a long-ago chimney. Further study of the building is merited and will likely reveal further evidence of human occupation. Ms. Morrison has plans to continue to pursue preservation and restoration opportunities for this important and increasingly scarce structure. Dorchester County Public Schools is planning to bring 4th graders to visit this site in September as part of their education about the history of Dorchester County.
The Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance, in following its mission of bringing public awareness to important historic structures in Dorchester has planned the “Slave Dwelling Project Comes to Dorchester” which will feature a “Candlelight Remembrance” on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Dorchester County Courthouse. Participants of this event will include descendants of both the slave holders and enslaved people of Dorchester and will include members of both Coming to the Table and the Slave Dwelling Project sleeping the night in the Bayley Slave Cabin. More information can be found at www.restorehandsell.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the Bayley Cabin.

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