The Unfolding Story of the Black Kinship Community Along Great Falls Road

By Sharyn R. Duffin in collaboration with Noreen Bryan
2013

Introduction
In her book, Rockville: Portrait of a City Eileen McGuckian identifies four locations in Rockville where black communities were established in the 1800s.

Until recently, documented knowledge of the Great Falls black community was limited to the families who lived on a one acre parcel purchased by Ann Willson, a free black woman, prior to the Civil War.  Now we know that the community was composed of more than nine acres stretching from south of Maryland Avenue, including the land which makes up Millennium Park today, and following Great Falls Road towards the center of Rockville.

In short, the settlement began earlier than previously dated; was composed of a greater number of families with more extensive land holdings than previously known; and was the home to some of the early leaders in Rockville’s greater black community.

Of the black land owners in Rockville recorded in the 1867 Freeman’s Bureau Records, four of the ten held parcels are located along the Great Falls Road.  They are Daniel Brogden, Louisa Blair, Ann Willson Davis, and Martha C. Graham.

The information which follows is a collaborative effort between Sharyn Duffin of Lincoln Park and Noreen Bryan of the West End.  Ms. Duffin is a direct descendant of Ann Willson’s granddaughter, Eliza Johnson.  Through family stories and detailed research of historical records Sharyn has assembled extensive knowledge of family members and their neighbors in the black communities of Rockville.  She has elaborate records and a prodigious memory.  To this knowledge, additional research of the land records—deeds and wills—was done by Noreen Bryan to establish the location and extent of the land holdings belonging to free blacks along Great Falls Road.  To honor the history of these early pioneers, more research into individuals and their contributions that led to the establishment of strong, educated communities is warranted.

Snapshot of the Story – as we know it thus far
In 1832 Jesse Leach sold five acres of land to Thomas Price for $175.  We know that Thomas Price was black and a free man because he is included in the 1832 listing of Free African Americans in the state of Maryland.  This listing was used to determine how many former slaves were interested in relocating to Africa.  Thomas Price, age 49, his wife, Tabitha, age 31, and their daughter, Martha, age 3, are included in the list.  The location of the land purchased by Mr. Price begins at the intersection of Maryland Avenue and Great Falls Road and extends along Great Falls Road towards the center of Rockville.

Six months later in 1833 Mr. Leach sold an additional acre of land to Sarah Hopkins.  This land was contiguous with Mr. Price’s land and located to the north.   More than a decade later in 1845 Mr. Leach sold one more acre of ground to Ann Willson as noted above.  The last known parcel of the land, which defines this community, was added in 1856 when Mr. Leach sold 2 3/4 additional acres to Thomas Price.  These acres were located south of Mr. Price’s existing holdings.

These contiguous parcels of land—9.75 acres in all—are the site of a very active black community begun before the Civil War and continuing through much of the twentieth century.  Census data shows that family members of the original free black land owners— mothers, sisters, brothers and later children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and their descendants settled on these lands.

The map below shows the location of the individual properties and the extent of the holdings.  (Some of the southern portions of these lands have been converted into the expansive I-270 interchange and Millennium Park.)

Great Falls Road Black Kinship Community

Great Falls Road Black Kinship Community

The existence of this community is substantiated by family histories, census data, deeds, wills and several maps created in the 1800s.  The Martinet and Bond Map of 1865 shows five houses labeled “col’d.”   The Hopkins Atlas of 1879 shows these houses and some of the people who lived there—B. Davis, T. Graham, and G. Blair.  Lastly, the 1889-1890 subdivision plat for “Rockville Heights” blocks off the land of the black community as separate from and surrounded by the subdivision.  The full record of land sales by deed with liber and folio is included at the end of the story.

Detailed Histories
A.  Lands Owned by Thomas Price and his family ( 7.75 acres)
Before the Civil War Mr. Price lived on his 7.75 acres of land along Great Falls Road for almost thirty years.  He raised his family here.  His will of 1858 left four acres of his land and his “dwelling house” to his daughter Martha Graham with instructions to sell the rest.  Census data tells us that Martha lived almost all of her life on this site.  After the Civil War she was joined by her husband, Tilghman Graham, a former slave.  Martha had two sisters, Caroline R. Price Ransall and Sarah A. Price Dove.  Caroline’s children—John and Ann Ransall—spent much of their childhood in the Grahams’ household.

Numerous family members lived on or near the Grahams property.  Sarah Price, Martha’s sister, and her husband Henry Dove lived for many years in a household located further south along the Great Falls Road.  In 1857, shortly before he died, Thomas Price sold an ½ acre of his land to Louisa Carroll, a free black woman.  A kinship connection is likely here.  The 1850 census lists a household of Carrolls headed by Kitty Carroll living next door to the Prices.  Study of the deeds indicates that Kitty and her family were located on Thomas Price’s land.  One of her children is Virginia Carroll, age 7.  Later census data shows that when Virginia grew up and married she continued to live in a household on the Price’s land.

Acquiring the land from Thomas Price allowed Louisa Carroll to bring her children into her own household.  Prior to the Civil War, the 1860 census shows that Louisa’s children were scattered amongst several households.  After the end of slavery in Maryland in November 1864 Louisa Carroll was able to collect her children and her husband around her on the land purchased from Thomas Price.  The 1870 census shows her living there with her husband George Blair and seven children.  In the 1880 census Mr. Blair, a widower, continued to live on this land with some of his children.  Louisa is absent having died in the same year of the birth of her last child.

Preserving the family land holdings was important to this community.  It is evident in the histories of the Price–Graham land and the other properties that make up this community.  In 1863 Martha bought back the balance of her father’s holdings—three acres—from the executor of his estate.  She paid $569, a hefty sum in those days.  In the 1870 and 1880 censuses she is living here with Tilghman and various other family members in her household.  Virginia Carroll is now 37 years old, married to Wesley Smith and the mother of five children.  They are living in the same location along Great Falls Road on the property belonging to either the Grahams or Blairs.  The loss of the 1890 census data to fire, leaves a hole in the chronology of these people making it difficult to determine how long Martha stayed on her property.  The 1900 census shows that Wesley and Virginia Smith continued to live on the site with some of their children and grandchildren.  By that time Martha is living with her niece, Susan Hepburn in Lincoln Park.

Martha and Tilghman never had children.  Martha, who outlived her husband, died in 1903.  Without family to inherit the land it was sold for taxes to William H. Trail, a white man.  In this deed the boundaries of the land are described clearly.  They are Maryland Avenue on the south, Great Falls Road on the west, the property of the Masonic Temple on the north, identified as Jane Brogden’s land in the deed, and the property of Louisa Blair and Rockville Heights on the east.  It contained “four (4) acres more or less.”  (Note: The land holdings had been reduced by prior sales.  In 1881 Martha gave her sister, Caroline, approximately ¾ acre.  Subsequently Martha and Caroline sold 2.21 acres of land to the developers of the “Rockville Heights” subdivision.  This land, mostly composed of the parcel purchased by Thomas Price in 1856, was south of Maryland Avenue.)

In a tax sale in 1910 the same WH Trail acquired the half acre of land sold to Louisa Carroll Blair in 1857.

Subsequently Dr. Trail sold the land to William and Laura Bennett in 1925 and they proceeded to subdivide the land into seven separate parcels.  These parcels can be traced to existing deeds.  One parcel was lost to the intersection at Great Falls Road and Maryland Avenue.

B.  Land owned by Sarah Hopkins and the Brogdens (1 acre)
The history of Sarah Hopkins’ land begins with its purchase from Jesse Leach in 1833.  The record of ownership of this land is not yet complete.  By the time that Ann Willson bought her acre from Jesse Leach in 1845, Sarah Hopkins had become Sarah Patricks and her land is recorded as one of the boundaries of the property sold to Ms. Willson.  The next known recorded deed comes from 1856 when Daniel Brogden and his wife, Lydia, bought the land from Frank Joy and Ann Matilda Williams, presumably Sarah’s children or next of kin.  Mr. Brogden was an elderly Methodist minister at the time.  By the 1870 census he is listed as age 84 living with his wife, Lydia, age 70.  Their household is next door to the Grahams and the Blairs on one side and Annie Davis (née Willson), age 70, on the other side.  By the 1880 census this land is occupied by John and Jane Brogden with no mention of either Daniel or Lydia.  Presumably John is their son.   John and Jane are still on this site in 1900.  How long they continued to live has yet to be determined.  However, in the 1906 tax sale in which WH Trail acquired Martha Graham’s land, the northern boundary is described as “the Lane on the south side of the Jane-Brogden property.”  Jane Brogden would have been 57, based on the 1900 census data.  In 1939 Sarah Hopkins’ land was purchased at a tax sale by Lillian Finley Hairston, great-granddaughter of Ann Willson.  In 1956 Ms. Hairston sold the land again and it became the site of the Masonic Temple which exists there today.  For more than 100 years the land was owned by members of the black community.  The last owner Lillian Hairston had acquired this parcel and most of the land owned by Ann Willson.   The outcome of her actions was a gathering together of her family lands and an expansion of them through the purchase of Sarah Hopkins property.

C.  Land owned by Ann Willson and her family (1 acre)
The history of Ann Willson’s land begins with its purchase from the same Jesse Leach in 1845.   Earlier, Ann Willson, a free black woman, aged 30, is shown in the 1832 listing of Free African Americans in the state of Maryland.    Subsequently in the 1850 census, prior to the Civil War she is recorded living with George Willson, presumably her brother, a few doors away from the households of Kitty Carroll and Thomas Price and closer to the center of Rockville.  Accordingly, it is fair to conclude that she is living on the land which she purchased from Jesse Leach.  In the 1870 census she is 70 years old and is continuing to live on her land.

By this time she has sold ¼ acre of her land to Benoni Davis, her stepson, and his wife.  The transaction is recorded in a deed from 1868 and shows the property to be located along the Great Falls Road.  This is corroborated by the 1879 Hopkins Atlas which lists B. Davis beside a house at this location and up the street from the Grahams and Blairs.  Shortly thereafter in 1871, Ann Willson Davis sold another quarter acre to William H. Johnson, husband of Benoni’s daughter, Eliza Ann.  At the time of her death in 1879, Ann left the balance of her property, ½ acre, to her other stepson, William Davis.

The tradition of preserving ownership of family lands was carried on by Eliza Johnson, Ann’s granddaughter.  During her lifetime Ann Willson Davis had parceled out her land to her stepsons and a son-in-law.  Subsequently, more than 50 years later, Eliza Ann reassembled nearly all of Ann’s land under her name.  The ½ acre given to William Davis was left in his will to his son, John Davis in 1886.  In 1901, John Davis, now a resident of Pittsburgh, sold his ½ acre back to his cousin Eliza Ann for $50.  In a separate deed of 1901 between husband and wife, Eliza acquired the ¼ acre which had been sold to William Johnson in 1871 by her grandmother.  Following the death of her father, Benoni, Eliza Johnson, as one of two heirs to her father’s property, reclaimed ownership of all of Ann’s property, except the 1/8 acre bequeathed to Ella Davis Nugent, her sister.  Eliza Davis Johnson was a woman in her early 50s when she completed these land transactions.  In 1910, given that Ella Nugent was deceased, Eliza Johnson and Ferdinand Nugent, son of Ella, signed a deed which legally recorded the transfer of 1/8 acre in the southwest corner of the property to Ferdinand and his wife, Emma, thereby fulfilling transfer of land inherited by his mother.

In 1902 following the tradition of helping family members, Eliza and her husband sold ¼ acre to their daughter, Elizabeth “Bessie” Hill, in a 1902 deed which states “in consideration of the love and affection which we bear towards our daughter Elizabeth Hill (wife of Vernon Hill) …”  In 2010 the house built by Bessie and her husband, Vernon Hill, was approved for historic designation.  Members of her family lived on this property until 1966.  This land was part of the ½ acre sold to William Davis.

Eliza Davis died in 1917 leaving her remaining land holdings to her four daughters (i.e. Ann Willson’s land excluding the 1/8 acre owned by the Nugents and the ¼ acre belonging to Bessie Hill.)

By 1928 two of Eliza’s daughters had died and her fourth daughter, Lillian, stepped forward to preserve the integrity of the remaining Willson/Davis/Johnson property.  Lillian Finley purchased the land from her living sister, Eulie Carroll of Pittsburgh and the heirs of her previously deceased sisters, Bessie Hill and Cora Meadows.  In 1932 she sold ¼ acre to Samuel Green.  Currently his relation, if any, to the Johnson family is unknown.   But preservation must have been a continuing goal, because Lillian Finley Hairston purchased the neighboring property, the current site of the Masonic Temple, at a tax sale in 1939.   According to the census she was 54 years old at this time.  Her grandniece, Sharyn Duffin recalls that Lillian lived in Washington, DC and spent summers in Rockville in one of the houses located on Ann Willson’s property.  Today Nina Clarke, local black historian and school teacher lives in the house built by Eliza and William Johnson circa 1913 and later owned by Lillian Finley Hairston.  She bought it with her husband, Samuel, in 1946.

Achievements of the Black Community Along Great Falls Road 
After the Civil War, within Rockville’s black communities there were strong leaders who fostered the well-being and improvement of their families by acquiring land and working to establish schools for their children and churches as the spiritual centers of the community.

Black women recognized the importance of family land to the sustenance of their families.  As the story above shows, land purchased by free black women before and after the Civil War gave them the place to gather their children and spouses into a family unit where they were nourished—physically through the gardens they planted and spiritually through the presence of family members.  It is hard to imagine the hard work and frugality required of Martha and Tilghman Graham to amass the $569 they presented to reacquire the three acres of her father’s land, which was sold by the executor of Thomas Price’s will.  For black individuals, who as slaves had been forced to live and work separated from their families, family lands must have held a value that is difficult for those who have not been slaves to appreciate.  The women played strong roles in acquiring and hanging on to these lands.  By selling portions of the land to children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews they improved the well-being of an extended family.  There are at least five outstanding, land-owning women in the black community along Great Falls Road—Martha Graham, Louisa Carroll Blair, Ann Willson, Eliza Davis Johnson, granddaughter, and Lillian Finley Hairston, great granddaughter.

Black men worked to improve the lot of their children and their community through schools and churches.  Recognizing the importance of literacy and fluency in numerical calculations, they were actively engaged in efforts to create schools for their children immediately after the Civil War.

The first advocacy for a school occurred in 1867.  The Federal Government opened an office of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Rockville to assist newly freed slaves.  In 1866, this office pursued the request of “the Colored People of Rockville” to collect $18.50 owed them by J. Mortimer Kilgour.  Presumably, this success emboldened twenty black Rockville men to pledge “support of a school at Rockville” and to hold themselves responsible for funds “necessary to pay the board and washing of the teacher and to provide fuel and lights for the School house.”   Tilghman Graham and George Blair of the Great Falls Road community were part of the group of petitioners, as were Henry Dove, Adam Baker and Reuben Hill who lived further south along Great Falls Road on the other side of the Alms House.

In 1868 Daniel Brogden, the 82 year old Methodist minister, and his son John Brogden of the Great Falls community joined five other black men in purchasing ½ acre of land “for the purpose of erecting, or allowing to be erected thereon a School House, for the use, benefit and education of the colored People of Montgomery County forever.”   The land was purchased from Mary Brashears, one of the black land owners listed in the 1867 Freeman’s Bureau Records.

The land records show that Tilghman Graham and John Brogden were Trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1892 when they purchased a church lot.  In earlier days, when the church served both whites and blacks Thomas Price was the Exhorter.

Residents of the Great Falls community were active participants in the furtherance of the black people of Rockville.  Undoubtedly there is still more to discover.

History of Thomas Price Land-Listing of Deeds-Liber/Folio
1832 Deed T Price from J Leach-5 acres-p 1 BS 5 296
1832 Deed T Price from J Leach-5 acres-p 2 BS 5 297
1856 Deed T Price from J Leach- 2 acres JGH 5 515
1857 Deed L Carroll from T Price-1/2 acre-p 1 JGH 6 298
1857 Deed L Carroll from T Price-1/2 acre-p 2 JGH 6 299
1863 Deed T Price Est to M Graham-3 acres-p 1 JGH 9 98
1863 Deed T Price Est to M Graham-3 acres-p 2 JGH 9 99
1881 Deed M Graham to Caroline Ransell sister-p 1 EBP 24 295
1881 Deed M Graham to Caroline Ransell sister-p 2 EBP 24 295
1890 Graham to Chapman-p 1 JA 17 321
1890 Graham to Chapman-p 2 JA 17 321
1890 Graham to Chapman-p 3 JA 17 321
1906 Deed M Graham est to WH Trail p 1 190 166
1906 Deed M Graham est to WH Trail p 2 190 167
1910 Deed Wm Robertson to WH Trail-1/2 acre-p 1-214-9
1910 Deed Wm Robertson to WH Trail-1/2 acre-p 2-214-10

History of Louisa Carroll Land
1857 Deed L Carroll from T Price-1/2 acre-p 1 JGH 6 298
1857 Deed L Carroll from T Price-1/2 acre-p 2 JGH 6 299
1910 Deed G Blair to Leola and Fontleroy Williams-1/2 acre-p 1-212-152
1910 Deed G Blair to Leola and Fontleroy Williams-1/2 acre-p 2-212-153
1910 Deed Leola and Fontleroy Williams to Wm Robertson-1/2 acre-p 1-214-8
1910 Deed Leola and Fontleroy Williams to Wm Robertson-1/2 acre-p 2-214-9
1910 Deed Wm Robertson to WH Trail-1/2 acre-p 1-214-9
1910 Deed Wm Robertson to WH Trail-1/2 acre-p 2-214-10
1925 Deed WH Trail to Bennett-384/43

History of Trail to Bennett and subdivision of property
1925 Deed WH Trail to Bennett-384/43
1930 Deed Bennett to Hunter-p 1-512/361
1930 Deed Bennett to Hunter-p 2-512/362
1932 Deed Bennett to Freeburger-3/8 acre-540/393
1946 Deed Bennett to Woodrow Bennett-p 1-1012/64
1946 Deed Bennett to Woodrow Bennett-p 2-1012/65
1949 Deed Bennett to Hughes-p 1-1304/556
1949 Deed Bennett to Hughes-p 2-1304/557
1949 Deed Bennett to Sullivan p 1 1308/475
1949 Deed Bennett to Sullivan p 2 1308/476
1949 Deed Hughes to Wm Bennett-p 1-1304/562
1949 Deed Hughes to Wm Bennett-p 2-1304/563
1949 Deed Hughes to Woodrow Bennett p 1-1244/141
1949 Deed Hughes to Woodrow Bennett p 2-1244/142

History of Ann Willson Land-Listing of Deeds-Liber/Folio
1845 Deed Leach to Willson-p 1 JGH 2/151
1845 Deed Leach to Willson-p 2 JGH 2/152
1868 Deed Ann Davis to Benoni-p 1 EBP 4/474
1868 Deed Ann Davis to Benoni-p 2 EBP 4/475
1871 Deed Ann Davis to Wm H Johnson-p 1 EBP/343
1871 Deed Ann Davis to Wm H Johnson-p 2 EBP/344
1886 Deed Wm & Eliza Johnson to Spencer Jones-p 1 JA 2/19
1886 Deed Wm & Eliza Johnson to Spencer Jones-p 2 JA 2/20
1886 Deed Wm & Eliza Johnson to Spencer Jones-p 3 JA 2/21
1901 Deed John Davis to Eliza Johnson-p 1 TD 17/406
1901 Deed John Davis to Eliza Johnson-p 2 TD 17/407
1901 Deed Wm H Johnson to Eliza Johnson-p 1 TD 17/405
1901 Deed Wm H Johnson to Eliza Johnson-p 2 TD 17/406
1902 Deed Johnson to Elizabeth Hill-p 1 TD 24/16
1902 Deed Johnson to Elizabeth Hill-p 2 TD 24/17
1910 Deed Eliza Johnson to Fred Nugent-p 1 210/431
1910 Deed Eliza Johnson to Fred Nugent-p 2 210/432
1928 Deed Eulie Carroll et al to Lillian Finley-p 1 458/217
1928 Deed Eulie Carroll et al to Lillian Finley-p 2 458/218
1928 Deed Eulie Carroll et al to Lillian Finley-p 3 458/219
1928 Deed Eulie Carroll et al to Lillian Finley-p 4 458/220
1928 Deed Eulie Carroll et al to Lillian Finley-p 5 458/221
1932 Deed Hairston to S Green-p 1 542/43
1932 Deed Hairston to S Green-p 2 542/44
1946 Deed Hairston to Clarke-p 1 1009/241
1946 Deed Hairston to Clarke-p 2 1009/242
1956 Deed Hairston to G Parker et al (Masonic Hall) 2171/449

History of Sarah Hopkins Land-Listing of Deeds-Liber/Folio
1833 Deed J Leach to Sarah Hopkins-p 1 SB 5/435
1833 Deed J Leach to Sarah Hopkins-p 2 SB 5/436
1856 Deed Joy to Daniel Brogden-p 1 JGH 5/318
1856 Deed Joy to Daniel Brogden-p 2 JGH 5/319
1939 Deed to Hairston-p 1 730/116
1939 Deed to Hairston-p 2 730/117
1956 Deed Hairston to Parker et al (Masons?) 2171/449

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