The Historical Society of Carroll County has acquired the old ledger stone of Legh Master, an early settler and landowner whose legacy includes the mistreatment of slaves and possibly murder.
The Historical Society requested the ledger from the Church of the Ascension after they recently replaced Master’s cracked ledger with a new granite one — with an inscription matching the original — according to the Historical Society.
Legh Master was one of the first settlers in what is now Carroll County and later bought thousands of acres in Westminster. He named his plantation Furnace Hills, in a likely nod to the blast furnace he had there for processing iron ore.
“He was a real entrepreneur and he bought a lot of land of what was then Frederick County," said Frank Batavick, Historical Society of Carroll County Board of Trustees chair. “He bought a lot of land and started a plantation. At the time, he used slave labor and he started a mine and foundry.”
According to historical accounts, Master treated his slaves horribly. According to a Times article published in 1996, one of his slaves “disappeared” one night, spurring speculation that Master threw him into a furnace to increase productivity for other workers. A human skeleton was reportedly later found in a furnace on Master’s property.
The article also mentioned a legend that, after Master’s death in 1796, a workman saw him shackled and riding on horseback, begging for mercy, with three imps following him.
It is the history regarding Master’s apparent treatment of slaves that makes Jean Lewis, president of the Carroll County’s National Association for the Advancement Colored People chapter, wish that the Historical Society hadn’t added it to their collection.
“We tend to glorify the mistreatment of slaves,” Lewis said. “It causes pain to my race when these kind of things are added. I really do wish it wasn’t added.”
The Historical Society isn’t particularly concerned with the stories surrounding the person behind the latest addition to its collection; the historical significance of the item is what interests historians.
“Legends are legends, be it what they may," Batavick said. "I think the whole idea is an artifact from the late-18th century of a man who was an early settler, that’s the most important thing for us. We have that now and we can show that to people and say, ‘Yes, Carroll County was settled by a number of waves of immigrants beginning with the English.’ ”
The ledger itself contributed to Master’s notoriety in part because of its large cracks, which inspired a legend that the crack was evidence of Master’s spirit escaping.
According to Batavick, the ledger gets a lot of attention from people from all over on Halloween due to the legends that surround Master.
“I wanted this done by Halloween, only because of the whole legend and there’s just no way it could be arranged with the powers that be, we just couldn’t pull that off,” he said. “It’s here, and that’s all that’s important.”
The Historical Society wanted the ledger to display a piece of the county’s early history.
“We have so little evidence of the English settlement back in the late 18th century,” Batavick said. “This is tangible, this is something you can touch that goes way back to somebody that came here to this promised land and was a settler and, of course, he was also a slave owner. It’s all a part of the history."