African-American Education in Rockville (Part 1)

by MCS Staff

Realizing a Dream – Providing Opportunity Through Education 

Researched and Written by Sharyn Duffin

In Part 1 of African-American Education, courtesy of Peerless Rockville, Sharyn Duffin looks at slavery in Maryland and Montgomery County as well as emancipation and the Freedmen’s Bureau in Rockville.

Slavery in Maryland and Montgomery County

By 1860, regional differences in farming practices around Maryland affected the prevalence of enslaved labor. Northern and western counties in Maryland had transitioned to less labor intensive diversified agriculture. Southern counties continued to focus on tobacco cultivation and remained heavily reliant upon slaves. Early in the 19th century, Montgomery County farmers switched from tobacco to wheat and corn, crops that required fewer slaves. However, the county remained culturally and politically allied with neighbors to the south and on the Eastern Shore.

So many Marylanders had emancipated their slaves by 1860 that more free blacks could be found in Maryland than in any other state of the Union; they nearly equaled slaves in numbers. In contrast, Montgomery County’s population of 18,322 included 5,421 enslaved and only 1,552 free blacks. After June 1, 1860, the Maryland General Assembly prohibited manumission, so slaveholders could no longer legally free their slaves. However, there was a surge of manumissions ahead of the deadline. Sentiment was changing and the future of slavery in Maryland was uncertain.


The Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 did not apply in Maryland or any state that remained in the Union. Some Marylanders favored gradual abolition in loyal states and held out for compensation to slave owners.

A new 1864 Maryland constitution passed by popular vote outlawed slavery, disenfranchised Southern sympathizers, and established a system of free public education, but for nearly a decade public schools were for white children only.

Emancipation and the Freedmen’s Bureau in Rockville

The vote to approve the 1864 constitution was close— 30,174 in favor to 29,799 against. Montgomery County overwhelmingly opposed ratification with 422 votes in favor and 1,367 in opposition, numbers similar to counties in southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

The constitution took effect on November 1, 1864, freeing all enslaved men, women, and children in Maryland. Slaveholders received no compensation. Maryland was the first state below the Mason-Dixon Line to free slaves within its boundaries by popular vote.

A legacy of the 1864 constitution was a census of slaves and owners, as of November 1, 1864, taken in 1867 in the vain hope that the federal government might compensate slave owners in gratitude for Maryland’s loyalty to the Union. The census is organized by district and then by slave owner, with each slave listed by name, gender, age, and sometimes additional notes.

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, popularly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, opened in Maryland in September of 1865. Colonel R. G. Rutherford supervised Montgomery County’s program from an office in Rockville. He adjudicated claims for collection of wages, taking some to court. He met with residents interested in building schoolhouses for their children, attempted to connect freedmen with prospective employers, kept lists of black property owners, and intervened for parents whose hired-out children were not returned when promised.

Featured photo shows an early school for black children in Rockville operated in the basement of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Preserving Rockville’s Heritage

Peerless Rockville

Researched and written by Sharyn R. Duffin


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