East Towson's founding by freed slaves commemorated with historic marker

Community leaders and elected officials unveiled a new historic marker at the northeast corner of Towsontown Boulevard and Virginia Avenue Friday afternoon that commemorates East Towson’s mid-1800s settlement by freed slaves from the Hampton estate in northeast Towson.

The site was once the location of a handful of homes in the historically African American community that have since been razed and now is the property of Baltimore County.

Charles Carnan Ridgely, the former governor of Maryland and owner of the Hampton House, freed more than 300 of his slaves at his death in 1829 through his will. The land that would become East Towson was deeded to those slaves— females between the ages of 25 and 45 and males between the ages 28 and 45, according to the Hampton National Historic Site’s website.

The former plantation is now a national park that features tours of the 18th-century plantation. The site tells the story of seven generations of the Ridgely family and the growth of their farm, which included slave labor and indentured servants.

The sign’s installation is a county requirement for the development of Towson Mews, a neighboring project of 34 luxury townhouses that is being developed by Evergreene Homes, Inc. on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The East Towson community requested the sign to be included as part of a planned unit development for Towson Mews. The project faced initial objections from the community due to its density, according to Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, a Republican who represents Towson.

Twelve of the homes have been completed and six have been sold, according to Josh Mastrangelo, of Evergreene Homes.

“We were extremely excited to participate in honoring the history of East Towson and having the sign installed,” Mastrangelo said in an email.

The sign lies just west of the nearby Jacob House, a renovated log cabin hand-built between 1850 and 1880 by an emancipated slave that provided shelter to generations of former slaves who established themselves in East Towson.

Among those who attended the unveiling of the marker was Adelaide Bentley, 88, a lifelong East Towson resident and president of the North East Towson Improvement Association, who is known by some as East Towson's unofficial "mayor."

Bentley, Marks and State Sen.Jim Brochin removed a black plastic bag that was covering the marker to reveal its inscription: “Founded by freed slaves from the Hampton estate, East Towson grew to become a vibrant, largely African American community.”

Del. Steve Lafferty, a Democrat from District 42A who represents Towson, also attended the event.

“There’s a lot of history in this neighborhood,” Marks told about a dozen people who gathered to view the sign. “It’s a perfect example of how local government can do things right.”

East Towson resident Cleo Cole said the sign solidifies the historical significance of the neighborhood, particularly for the new residents of Towson Mews.

“This spells it out for the newcomers that might not know the history here,” Cole said.

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