Updated: Jan 28, 2021
The Lost Lives of London Town series remembers the lives of Africans and African-Americans enslaved in the London Town area. We'll share their stories as best as we know of them. The stories aren't always easy to read, but they are always important.
In 1750, Joseph Galloway’s tobacco house caught fire in London Town. Everything inside was destroyed. A fortune gone.
He pointed the finger at Grace and Jane, two women he owned. His brother John was Deputy Sheriff, who arrested Grace and Jane.
In this installment of our series #LostLivesOfLondonTown, we look at how slavery disenfranchised not only these two women but everyone else it ensnared. Slavery allowed people of power to use enslaved people however they sought fit. The laws allowed a person to own another person, rip apart families, or to force them to do whatever you wished.
And if a slave owner decided that money was more valuable than two people’s lives, they could arrange for that.
The women pled innocent to the charge of arson. The testimony records “that they are in no wise Guilty thereof and for Trial they put themselves upon God and the Country.” However, as people enslaved, they had little legal standing and no method to counter accuse Joseph Galloway. By law, they were not allowed to speak up against anyone who was white.
A local “Gentleman” named Henry Darnall did speak on their behalf. A white man with land and money, he used his station to ask Anne Arundel County to investigate more deeply into the matter before condemning Grace and Jane. Nor was he the only neighbor to have doubt about their guilt.
Grace and Jane maintained their innocence throughout the short trial. But it was no of avail. On Friday, April 15, 1751, they were hanged outside Annapolis City Gate.
As a final insult to their memory, Joseph Galloway was awarded £100 by the county for their deaths. Colonial law provided financial compensation to enslavers when their human property was executed. They paid up to “Three Fourths of their Value.”
Did Galloway accuse them knowing they couldn’t fight back? Was he hoping to recover money for their execution to counter his lost fortune? We will never know. Not all enslaved people convicted and sentenced to death were guaranteed this fate. However, in a study on the death sentence in colonial Maryland between 1726 - 1775, C. Ashley Ellefson found that enslaved people only had a 44% chance of being reprieved or pardoned.
In other words, they had a 56% of dying. Odds that Grace and Jane lost.
This Friday June 19th marks Juneteenth, the day celebrating the actual end of slavery, when the last people enslaved in America learned of their freedom. On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger came to Galveston, Texas, and informed those still enslaved there that they were free. Unfortunately, it was well over 100 years after the unnecessary deaths of Grace and Jane.