Students in Maryland Eastern Shore are currently excavating land that is believed to be the oldest and first free black community in the United States. Students from the University of Maryland and Morgan State University are digging up artifacts in a neighborhood called The Hill that may prove to be older than the Treme neighborhood in New Orleans. Until now, Treme has been said to be the oldest black settlement in the country.
Students have found evidence of nail-making materials, giving proof that a blacksmith worked and lived in the free community. The students are working with the 1790 Census to determine the population and location of freed blacks in Easton, Maryland.
Maryland Eastern Shore is the home of abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. Archaeologists are using the census data against the names of families that continue to reside in the area.
Ironically, slaves who still worked on plantations were in close proximity to the free community. The Hill was said to form after the Methodists and Quakers freed slaves around 1790. The records indicate that over 400 freed blacks lived in the Easton area in the late 18th century.
The continued work of the students and the group ‘Historic Easton’ will take years to evaluate with the assistance of African American historians. Treme remains as the oldest free community in the country until data from The Hill has been assessed.