Last Saturday afternoon, 50 people gathered at the historic Union Memorial Baptist Church on Center Street in Westminster for a production of the "Maryland Slave Narratives." The production was an opportunity to pull back the curtain of time and take a glimpse at the dark past of slavery in America from the comfort and safety of sitting in the pews at church.

Of all the ironies of local history, Westminster was founded in 1764 by William Winchester of England who arrived in Annapolis, Maryland in 1731 as an indentured servant. Although indentured servitude was contractual and arguably a bit different from slavery, according to the "Law Library" of the Library of Congress, "Before the Civil War, slaves and indentured servants were considered personal property, and they or their descendants could be sold or inherited like any other 'personalty.'" Winchester later moved to what we know today as Manchester, years after he had successfully fulfilled his obligations as an indentured servant to Dr. George Buchanan.


In the 1950s, I grew up very near the Union Memorial Baptist Church, which at the time was located at 298 E. Green Street. This section of town at the intersection of Washington Road and Green Street was once a separate free-black hamlet that was essentially the city's first annexation in 1788 — and one of the original five villages that came together in 1818 to form the consolidated town of Westminster.

The church was erected in 1881. On March 28, 1977, the church collapsed during a storm. On October 23, 1983, the church rebuilt at 160 S. Center Street at the edge of the quarry that supplied much of the stone for the walls at the Westminster Playground.

Meanwhile, the Feb. 25 event was spearheaded by local community leader Diane Hurd, a Manchester resident, who is a member of the church. Pastor Edna Smith began the program with a prayer and a reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes "A Time for Everything."

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens …"

To provide some background and context, Hurd explained at the beginning of the program, "What we will hear today is a collection of slave narratives that had its beginning in the second year of the Federal Writers' Project … in 1936." Between 1936- 1938, the project, in part, "recorded interviews with ex-slaves." The body of work created by the project now resides in the Library of Congress in Washington.

On Saturday, seven of the narratives in the collection were brought to life. Former slave, James Deane, born at Goose Bay in Charles County, May 20, 1850, was brought to life by Natasha Costley. James Calhart, whose father was a descendant of the Randolphs of Virginia, was presented by Tania Brown.

The Rev. Silas Jackson was played by Reather Miles. Jackson's "grandfather ran away through the aid of Harriet Tubman and went to Philadelphia and saved $350, and purchased my grandmother through the aid of a Quaker …" Tania Brown presented Paige Harris, a slave from Charles County.

The Rev. Betty Alexander presented Caroline Hammond, a fugitive slave. Hammond "was born in Anne Arundel County near Davidsonville [in] 1844. … 'Mother … married George Berry, a free colored man of Annapolis with the proviso that he was to purchase mother within three years after marriage for $750 dollars.'" After the slave owner reneged on the agreement, the family, including Caroline, escaped to Scranton, Pennsylvania on the Underground Railway (probably through a portion of Carroll County).

Charles Coles was played by Hillaree Heath. Coles "was born [in] Charles County, about 1851. Anne Young was presented the Rev. Betty Alexander. After Young was set free, "I came to Baltimore and I have never been back since. … I worked … $6.00 per month."

"In this house," said Hurd of the program, we "give honor and praise to Him for all he's brought us through yesterday, for what he's doing in our lives today and the blessings He has waiting for us tomorrow ... and we pray."

Mark your calendars for next year's presentation on Feb. 24, 2018.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. Email him at