"The first day of Freedom in Maryland": Slavery in a Border State
President Lincoln delivered a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation after the Union victory at the battle of Antietam in September 1862 and later made the proclamation official on January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to areas still in rebellion and did not affect slave states such as Maryland that had not withdrawn from the Union. In order to be legally free in Maryland, enslaved African Americans had to wait until Maryland's 1864 state constitution was ratified. The October 1864 ratification vote proved greatly controversial. The soldiers' vote, which included only those soldiers from Maryland serving in the Union Army, just tipped the scale so that this new state constitution could be ratified.
Since enslaved women and men were often illiterate, they did not often write letters or diaries. There are consequently a limited number of such first-hand manuscript sources documenting enslaved individuals' perspectives of and roles in the war and their feelings about emancipation. Oral histories with former slaves have been one way that historians have tried to understand slave perspectives, but the usefulness of these interviews is somewhat uncertain because they were usually recorded long after the fact.
Researchers frequently turn to other sources to try to gain insight into slavery and the lives of enslaved individuals. Published sources, such as William Still's The Underground Railroad (1872), provide second-hand accounts of Maryland slaves, including some very resourceful women, who escaped to freedom. Manuscript sources created by slave owners and witnesses to the "peculiar institution" of slavery can also assist in filling this gap in the historical record, but must be read with caution. Slave owners often kept careful track of their holdings, listing out the first name, age, and value of each slave. Enslaved women were normally considered less valuable than their male counterparts. White observers of slavery sometimes had mixed emotions about the treatment of slaves. Although the motivations of such witnesses must be carefully examined, such observations can be very helpful in learning about enslaved lives that may not be recorded anywhere else in history. Special Collections has numerous examples of original historical documents relating to the history of slavery in Maryland.