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Individual Marylanders freed, or manumitted, thousands of enslaved African Americans by individual voluntary acts recorded in deeds or wills. Here, Maryland’s path again diverged from that of neighboring states. The northern states ended slavery through legislative or judicial acts, typically through the delayed emancipation of all enslaved children born after a fixed date.

Because Maryland did not abolish slavery as its neighbors to the north did, or limit the practice of private manumission as its neighbors to the South did, it had a high rate of manumissions. Maryland masters often freed their enslaved African Americans, not one or two, but most, or all of them together. Balancing economic necessity with religious and moral reasons, owners who manumitted their enslaved persons often did so by term, meaning they were to be freed at a future specified date. These were called “delayed manumissions.” It has been estimated that just over half of all manumissions registered in Maryland prior to 1832 were of this type.

Prospective manumitters also freed their enslaved individuals by wills once the state lifted its prohibition against the practice in 1790. This method not only allowed masters their full services during the master’s lifetime but also often provided a term of service for the owner’s beneficiaries. Margaret freed a few individuals during her lifetime. As part of dissolving Margaret's estate, her executors sold the entire enslaved group to new enslavers, with the exception of the eldest men and women and the youngest infants. In the process, families were frequently split apart. The substantial cash proceeds were inherited by Margaret's female relatives.

Although the executors of Margaret's will entered dates of freedom into the legal record, most of the people she enslaved remained in slavery for years or decades more. In addition, freedom was not assured: enslaved persons did not necessarily know their date of manumission. Others died, escaped, or were sold to new enslavers who ignored their manumission.

The will of Margaret Carroll, the Barrister’s widow is a perfect example of this trend as its terms stated that:

"I hereby devise all my negroes and slaves To Mr. Henry Brice and Tench Tilghman, my Executors, in trust that they will set them all free in such ages, and on such terms as they deem best under all circumstances, having a view to a provision for the comfortable support of the aged and infirm with which duty my Executors are charged, if either decline acting or die, I vest all these powers in the acting or surviving executor."

One specific enslaved person, “my Negro boy Tom” was singled out in the will to be given to Charles Ross with a specific time period for his delayed manumission “till the boy arrives to thirty one years old, when he shall be free.”

Maryland Journal, April 8, 1785.

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