Dec. 13, 1937
PAGE HARRIS, Ex-slave.
Reference: Personal interview with Page Harris at his home,
Camp Parole, A.A.C. Co., Md.
"I was born in 1858 about 3 miles west of Chicamuxen near the Potomac
River in Charles County on the farm of Burton Stafford, better known as
Blood Hound Manor. This name was applied because Mr. Stafford raised and
trained blood hounds to track runaway slaves and to sell to slaveholders
of Maryland, Virginia and other southern states as far south as
Mississippi and Louisiana.
"My father's name was Sam and mother's Mary, both of whom belonged to
the Staffords and were reared in Charles County. They reared a family of
nine children, I being the oldest and the only one born a slave, the
rest free. I think it was in 1859 or it might be 1860 when the Staffords
liberated my parents, not because he believed in the freedom of slaves
but because of saving the lives of his entire family.
"Mrs. Stafford came from Prince William County, Virginia, a county on
the west side of the Potomac River in Virginia. Mr. and Mrs. Stafford
had a large rowboat that they used on the Potomac as a fishing and
oyster boat as well as a transportation boat across the Potomac River to
Quantico, a small town in Prince William County, Va., and up Quantico
Creek in the same county.
"I have been told by my parents and also by Joshua Stafford, the oldest
son of Mr. Stafford, that one Sunday morning on the date as related in
the story previously Mrs. Stafford and her 3 children were being rowed
across the Potomac River to attend a Baptist church in Virginia of which
she was a member. Suddenly a wind and a thunder storm arose causing the
boat to capsize. My father was fishing from a log raft in the river,
immediately went to their rescue. The wind blew the raft towards the
centre of the stream and in line with the boat. He was able without
assistance to save the whole family, diving into the river to rescue
Mrs. Stafford after she had gone down. He pulled her on the raft and it
was blown ashore with all aboard, but several miles down the stream.
Everybody thought that the Staffords had been drowned as the boat
floated to the shore, bottom upwards.
"As a reward Mr. Stafford took my father to the court house at La Plata,
the county seat of Charles County, signed papers for the emancipation of
him, my mother, and me, besides giving him money to help him to take his
family to Philadelphia.
"I have a vague recollection of the Staffords' family, not enough to
describe. They lived on a large farm situated in Charles County, a part
bounding on the Potomac River and a cove that extends into the farm
property. Much of the farm property was marshy and was suitable for the
purpose of Mr. Stafford's living--raising and training blood hounds. I
have been told by mother and father on many occasions that there were as
many as a hundred dogs on the farm at times. Mr. Stafford had about 50
slaves on his farm. He had an original method in training young blood
hounds, he would make one of the slaves traverse a course, at the end,
the slave would climb a tree. The younger dogs led by an old dog,
sometimes by several older dogs, would trail the slave until they
reached the tree, then they would bark until taken away by the men who
had charge of the dogs.
"Mr. Stafford's dogs were often sought to apprehend runaway slaves. He
would charge according to the value and worth of the slave captured. His
dogs were often taken to Virginia, sometimes to North Carolina, besides
being used in Maryland. I have been told that when a slave was captured,
besides the reward paid in money, that each dog was supposed to bite the
slave to make him anxious to hunt human beings.
"There was a slaveholder in Charles County who had a very valuable
slave, an expert carpenter and bricklayer, whose services were much
sought after by the people in Southern Maryland. This slave could elude
the best blood hounds in the State. It was always said that slaves, when
they ran away, would try to go through a graveyard and if he or she
could get dirt from the grave of some one that had been recently buried,
sprinkle it behind them, the dogs could not follow the fleeing slave,
and would howl and return home.
"Old Pete the mechanic was working on farm near La Plata, he decided to
run away as he had done on several previous occasions. He was known by
some as the herb doctor and healer. He would not be punished on any
condition nor would he work unless he was paid something. It was said
that he would save money and give it to people who wanted to run away.
He was charged with aiding a girl to flee. He was to be whipped by the
sheriff of Charles County for aiding the girl to run away. He heard of
it, left the night before he was to be whipped, he went to the swamp in
the cove or about 5 miles from where his master lived. He eluded the
dogs for several weeks, escaped, got to Boston and no one to this day
has any idea how he did it; but he did.
"In the year of 1866 my father returned to Maryland bringing with him
mother and my brothers and sister. He selected Annapolis for his future
home, where he secured work as a waiter at the Naval Academy, he
continued there for more than 20 years. In the meantime after 1866 or
1868, when schools were opened for colored people, I went to a school
that was established for colored children and taught by white teacher
until I was about 17 years old, then I too worked at the Naval Academy
waiting on the midshipmen. In those days you could make extra money,
sometimes making more than your wages. About 1896 or '97 I purchased a
farm near Camp Parole containing 120 acres, upon which I have lived
since, raising a variety of vegetables for which Anne Arundel County is
noted. I have been a member of Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church,
Annapolis, for more than 40 years. All of my children, 5 in number, have
grown to be men and women, one living home with me, one in New York, two
in Baltimore, and one working in Washington, D.C."
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