African-American Heritage

“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage – to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning.”
   –  Alex Haley, Author of Roots

NEW! Visit the Website: “African-American Voices, Memories and Places: A Four Rivers Heritage Trail”

Anne Arundel County owes much to the rich heritage, culture, and bravery shown by African-American Marylanders. Many were first brought to Maryland from West Africa and the Caribbean through the slave trade, with numbers in Anne Arundel County once exceeding those of European Americans. Their labor was the backbone that built the strong local economy and the beginning of America’s early infrastructure. Their legacy and struggle have been documented and preserved here in Anne Arundel County, allowing for visitors to experience their plight, learn about the many important figures, and relive the stories that abound in our county.


African Americans have lived in Annapolis for over three centuries. From the 1700s through today, one-third or more of the city’s population has been African American. Initially, most were slaves, however, by 1850 an equal number of free blacks and slaves lived here. In colonial times most urban slaves were women, girls, and young boys. They slept in a kitchen, loft, attic, or nearby outbuilding, and did household work such as cooking, washing, spinning and sewing, baking, and brewing. A smaller number of enslaved men were servants and drivers; men also worked as sawyers, carpenters, artisans, blacksmiths, rope makers, and maritime tradesmen. A growing number of free African Americans in the 19th century changed the character of Annapolis by establishing their own businesses, neighborhoods, and churches, often buying freedom for enslaved loved ones. Their historic churches and neighborhoods survive as vital elements of the City’s heritage.

There are a number of important sites, exhibits, and memorials in Annapolis. The Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial at the Annapolis Harbor’s City Dock memorializes the contributions of Alex Haley, author of Roots. At the Harbour, Haley’s ancestor, Kunta Kinte, allegedly arrived aboard the Lord Ligonier and was sold into slavery in 1767. Here, 48 slave ships unloaded their human cargo in the 20 years before the American Revolution. There’s also the Historic Annapolis Foundation’s Waterfront Warehouse (4 Pinkney Street) and Museum (99 Main Street), where their ongoing exhibit, Freedom Bound: Runaways of the Chesapeake, tells the stories of a number of escaped slaves trying to make their way to the safety of the north. The Banneker-Douglass Museum (84 Franklin Street) is another must-visit when in Annapolis. The museum is the official state repository for African-American cultural materials, and named for two famous Marylanders: Benjamin Banneker and Frederick Douglass. Inside, you’ll find permanent exhibits highlighting the lives of slaves in Maryland, important Maryland turning points in the Civil Rights Movement, and highlights of important African-American Marylanders like Matthew Henson, credited with discovering the North Pole with Admiral Robert Perry in 1909. The museum also showcases rotating exhibits and holds educational programs throughout the year. All three of these powerful sites are located in the heart of Historic Downtown Annapolis.

Southern Anne Arundel County

Known as South County to locals, Southern Anne Arundel County is a sprawl of rolling hills and waterfront views. The area is known for its maritime industries like shipbuilding, oystering, and fishing – a trade in which African Americans played a major role. Small maritime villages like Historic Galesville the Historic Village at Herington North offer a glimpse into the lives of African-American watermen, along with original and replicated homes in which they lived. One of the main historical attractions in South County is Historic London Town and Gardens (839 Londontown Rd., Edgewater, MD). Here, visitors can explore the remnants of a colonial merchant town circa 1693 on the South River. This “lost town” was a major port of call in the 1730s for ships taking tobacco to Britain and bringing African slaves, indentured workers, and convicts to Maryland. The town’s most prominent figure, James Dick, imported slaves on a large scale and put them to work in his ropewalk and other businesses. Restored as a National Historic Landmark, the mansion, gardens, and newly recreated buildings are a wonderful example of Anne Arundel County’s initiative to preserve the area’s African-American History.

Experience the Area

With the support of our local partners and associations, Chesapeake Crossroads is dedicated to preserving the attractions, locations, and stories that portray African-American History in the area. If you are interested in experiencing the area’s rich history for yourself, you can plan a visit to one of our partner sites, look into a local tour, attend a local seminar or lecture series, or join us for one of many monthly events in the region.

If you’re looking for a peek into the lives of Annapolis and South County’s earliest African Americans, there’s no shortage of history in Anne Arundel County and the Chesapeake Crossroads Heritage Area. Click here to discover all the area’s African-American History attractions.