Who knew that an African-American woman born into slavery in 1740 would emerge as Easton’s newest hero in 2013?
Records indicating that Brooks was the first female landowner in Easton’s Hill neighborhood have shot Easton into the national spotlight as home of The Hill, now known as the nation’s oldest free African American neighborhood.
On Friday evening at the Academy Art Museum, a packed crowd listened intently as Professor Dale Green of Morgan State University made the announcement. Previously, Treme in New Orleans, founded in 1812, held that distinction. But with the discovery of property records showing eight African-American land holdings from 1789 to 1805, Easton can now claim that title.
Born in 1740, Brooks was born a slave, emancipated herself in 1788, and worked as a midwife in Easton. Eventually she emancipated her children and her grandchildren, and purchased property in her name. An 1810 obituary indicates that she was a person of distinction in Easton – at the time, obituaries were rare for women, even more so for African-American women.
Professor Green’s talk was the opening event of the town’s Juneteenth celebration, commemorating the abolition of slavery. Sponsored by the Frederick Douglass Society and the Academy Art Museum, the annual celebration includes a weekend of music, art and local history.
Green gave a fast-paced, spirited history of the Hill project, in which results of recent archaeological digs have brought forth continual surprises about the Hill’s historical significance. The digs have been conducted by the Archaeological Field School in the University of Maryland at College Park.
Professor Green’s theme was “Let the LAND tell the story”. In 2012, a dig at 323 South Street unearthed records of a Buffalo Soldier, military buttons and a knife with 19th century origins. Searches into property records have been key to the establishment of the new standing. He demonstrated that the land itself holds the keys to the real stories about our history. In one case, evidenced removed from under only six inches of soil helped to establish historical fact.
The audience was equally spirited, erupting in applause and cheers throughout the hour.
As the story about The Hill project has spread, a wide audience of scholars, archaeologists, historians and others have joined in as partners. Green’s slide show powered through dozens of participating supporters from University affiliations to state and federal partnerships.
The project has far-reaching implications – from increased heritage tourism opportunities to more funding for research, and further distinctions as a historic site – a National Historic Landmark Site, even a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
The public is invited to visit the continuing archaeological digs on weekdays from July 8 – 26. This summer’s sites will include a location beside Bethel AME Church on Hanson Street, and one at the Talbot County Women’s Club.
With support from the Talbot County Office of Tourism, Professor Green will offer free walking tours of The Hill every Thursday at 3:00 p.m. starting at the Easton Welcome Center on Harrison Street.
Grace Brooks, Easton’s first female African-American landholder – our new hero.