Hidden History: Slave cemetery uncovered in Maryland

Black History Month

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CROWNSVILLE, Md. (Nexstar) – African-American History is sometimes hard to come across, because so little is known and written about it. But archeologists can unearth unspoiled records of what happened hundreds of years ago. The Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration recently uncovered a long forgotten slave cemetery in Crownsville, Maryland.

Unmarked field-stones left by slaves on the former Belvoir Plantation indicate an enslaved community’s burial grounds, tucked deep in the woods of the former tobacco plantation. Archeologists have discovered slave quarters, a slave cemetery, and descendants of slaves that once worked and lived on the land.

Sisters Shelly Evans and Wanda Watts share a frustration common to many African-Americans whose ancestors were enslaved in America. 

“We have no history. We begin and we end here,” said Watts.

But thanks to this recent, accidental discovery, the sisters may have uncovered their hidden family.

Evans and Watts are descendants of slaves who lived, worked and may have died on the land that was the Belvoir Plantation.

Dr. Julie Schablitsky, the Chief Archaeologist with the Maryland Department of Transportation, explained, “When we first came here to Belvoir we were first looking for the Rochambeau encampment which was during the American Revolution.” Instead, they found slave quarters built in the 1780s and lived in until Emancipation in 1864.

The land was a tobacco plantation once owned by relatives of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the Star Spangled Banner.

A former resident of the property tipped Dr. Schablitsky’s team off to what they thought could be a slave cemetery tucked along a ravine, deep in the woods. They found nearly half a dozen pieces of broken marble and stones resembling grave markers thrown around the location.

Dr. Schablitsky brought in cadaver dogs. Once they picked up a human scent they confirmed it was a cemetery.

Dr. Schablitsky says there are no immediate plans for the uncovered slave cemetery. The slave quarters have been fully excavated and the Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration plans to add interpretive panels to the site.

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