Coming Home: Unionville

Gabriella Demczuk

2015 - Ongoing

United States

After the American Civil War, eighteen black soldiers came home as free men to the very same plantation they served and created Unionville, the only town in America founded by veterans of the U.S. Colored Troops. The land on which it was built belonged to the wealthiest plantation owners in Maryland, the Lloyd family, the very same plantation on which famed abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass grew up before being sent to Baltimore.

I collaborated with the people of Unionville and my uncle Bernard Demczuk, an African American scholar at the George Washington University and preeminent historian on Unionville, and brought together first person narratives and historical documents to tell a deeper story of the town’s history—it’s enduring legacy rooted in faith, its close ties to the land, and its people's commitment to their ancestor's vision of a free, black community.

The photographs were printed through an etching process called intaglio that evokes an aesthetic of the past, bringing the history of the town to the viewer in a present day image. Printmaking was the first method for mass producing images, a process which would have been used during the early years of America before the invention and popularity of daguerreotypes.

As America continues to face its legacy of slavery and white supremacy, Unionville has become a symbol of black resilience. Naming the town Unionville, after the victorious Union army, in an area that was pro Confederate, was an act of defiance and a stance against the white oppression that they faced decades later through the failed Reconstruction era and the Jim Crowe laws, policies that are still affecting black communities today.

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  • “ I believe that was in Virginia, that big battle of Bull Run. And I heard old man John Blackwell say he was in it, and Ike Johnson, that was one of the Colonel’s slaves. And this man was carryin the flag, well, he got shot. Ike Johnson saw the flag fallin and he run and grab it sayin, ‘I ain’t gonna let it hit the dirt.’ And he carried it the rest of the war. Didn’t get killed. Now they was brave, and they know’d if they won the war they’d get free; they had somethin to fight for.”-Joseph Sutton, whose parents were slaves of the Lloyds, in his biography “Praise the Bridge That Carries You Over” by Shepard Krech, III

    Talbot County Color Guard at the 150th Unionville Memorial celebration, Unionville, Maryland, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2017

  • "Secluded and out-of-the-way places...seldom visited by a single ray of healthy public sentiment - where slavery, wrapt in its own congenial, midnight darkness, can and does develop all its malign and shocking characteristics; where it can be indecent without shame, cruel without shuddering, and murderous without apprehension of fear of exposure." Frederick Douglass describes the Miles River Neck plantations, which included the Lombardy Plantation, in his autobiography “My Bondage and My Freedom”

    The 305 acres of the Lombardy Plantation where Unionville is situated was established in 1679 and by 1800 the Lombardy Plantation housed approximately 100 slaves and free persons of color. Lombardy was first owned by the Lloyd family and was later sold in 1843 to Orson (Austin) Gore, who was accused of murdering William Demby, a relative of Benjamin and Charles Demby who were one of 18 founding members of Unionville, in Frederick Douglass’ “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave.” Ezeckial Cowgill, a Quaker farmer vehemently opposed to slavery, bought Lombardy in 1856 and was the first to hire paid laborers.

    The Lombardy Plantation, Unionville, Maryland, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2015

  • The remains of St. John's Chapel of St. Michael's Parish, constructed in 1835. A short walk from Unionville, the Gothic style revival church sits along the Miles River for worship by the Lloyds and other white families. John Blackwell, 23, one of the founding members of Unionville, married Mary Blake, 22, in 1867 at St. John’s before St. Stephen’s AME church was constructed.

    Unionville, Maryland, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2015

  • “Spiritual music and dance became at once a form of resistence to slavery as well as an act of liberation, solidarity and strength. The church itself, became a vehicle of organization and an incubator for dance and music and later for activities against black oppression.” – Bernard
    Demczuk, “Unionville: Race, Time, Place and Memory in Talbot County, Maryland 1634-1892"

    On December 28, 1870, the Cowgills sold a plot of land to nine black trustees for the purpose of building a church and a school, an audacious move for black advancement during a time when they were often burned to the ground by anti- emancipationists.

    Unionville, Maryland, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2015

  • "The town's spirit is centered in the church. The town's problems and the people in the town turn to the church for problem solving. So far we have solved all the problems, right here, inside Unionville, inside this little church."

    U.S. World War II veteran and St. Stephens AME pastor for 11 years, Reverend William F. Holt, who was 96 years old when he died on April 5, 2016. His family at St. Stephens affectionately called him “Pop-Pop” and his favorite past time was dancing. 

    Unionville, Maryland, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2017

  • Otis Williams, raised in Unionville, usher and caretaker at St. Stephen's AME church.

    Unionville, Maryland, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2015

  • "The church has been Unionville's integrity, pride, and faith. The church is why the town has longevity and success. When those eighteen soldiers took the initiative to build homes, a school, and a church, they had an opportunity for freedom and they took it. They then passed on that opportunity for freedom to their children and their faith has carried all of them through." –Reverend Charles Robinson, Former pastor of St. Stephen's AME, interview with Bernard Demczuk from “Unionville: Race, Time, Place and Memory in Talbot County, Maryland 1634-1892"

    The church of St. Stephen's AME, Unionville, Maryland, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2015

  • Wendell "David" Hayman Jr., the oldest sibling, with his youngest sibling Debbie Hayman Short, both born and raised in Unionville and whose ancestors were slaves of Colonel Lloyd.

    Unionville, Maryland, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2017

  • Ronald C. Hayman, born and raised in Unionville and whose ancestors were slaves of Colonel Lloyd. He stands in the field outside St. Stephen's AME church where he played baseball as a child. 

    Unionville, Maryland, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2017

  • M. Burton Cornish, Jr., great grandson to Private Joseph Goobey, one of 18 founding members of Unionville. 

    Gooby was sold for $300 into the army on September 23, 1863 and served in the 7th Regiment, Company C, of the U.S. Colored Troops. He was shot twice in the left hip. One bullet went into his hip joint and the other into the front of his hip near the groin at the battle of Chaffin’s Farm, paralyzing his left leg.

    Unionville, Maryland, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2017

  • "We welcome all newcomers to our church. We save souls, that's what we do and every soul is welcome into our church regardless of who they are." –Rev. William F. Holt in an interview with Bernard Demczuk on November 2001 from “Unionville: Race, Time, Place and Memory in Talbot County, Maryland 1634-1892"

    The fence, which divides St. Stephen's AME Church and the Lombardy plantation, was erected when the current owners bought the farm, challenging the church's principle of a welcoming space inviting of both neighbor and stranger.

    Unionville, Maryland, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2015

  • A road leads down the land once known as "The Rest", located on the opposite bank of the Miles River, a half-mile from Unionville. The plantation was owned by Admiral Franklin Buchanan, son-in-law of the Lloyds and Commander of the U.S. Naval Academy, who was an active Union officer in South Carolina when Fort Sumter was bombed, starting the war. He later joined the Confederacy becoming the highest-ranking traitor in the Civil War from Talbot County. Former Confederacy president Jefferson Davis, who ordered the execution of all Union Negro soldiers captured by the South, later recuperated from the war at "The Rest” in 1867, the same year Unionville was founded. Many in Unionville worked on "The Rest" before and after the war and Frederick Douglass visited with Mrs. Buchanan in 1881 after the Admiral’s death in 1874. Douglass recounts a hopeful future...

    "The next part of this memorable trip took us to the home of Mrs. Buchanan, the widow of Admiral Buchanan, one of the two only living daughters of old Governor Lloyd...I spent an hour or so in conversation with Mrs. Buchanan, and when I left a beautiful little grand-daughter of hers, with a pleasant smile on her face, handed me a bouquet of many-colored flowers. I never accepted such a gift with a sweeter sentiment of gratitude than from the hand of this lovely child. It told me many things, and among them that a new dispensation of justice, kindness, and human brotherhood was dawning not only in the North, but in the South; that the war and the slavery that caused the war were things of the past, and that the rising generation are turning their eyes from the sunset of decayed institutions to the grand possibilities of a glorious future."

    Talbot, Maryland, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2015

  • “The Miles River runs through the heart of Talbot County in a central area known as the Miles River Neck. It is here that large plantations would rise from forests near rivers and creeks needed to transport crops and goods. Enslaved blacks cleared these forests to make way for tobacco cultivation, producing great wealth for the large landowners. At the center of Miles River Neck were two large plantations: The Wye and the Lombardy, owned by the Lloyds.” Bernard Demczuk, “Unionville: Race, Time, Place and Memory in Talbot County, Maryland 1634-1892"

    The Miles River, once a waterway that brought slaves to the Eastern Shore, later became a waterway to freedom, as slaves would run to the river to catch the steamer to Baltimore.

    Talbot, Maryland, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2017

  • Bernard Kellum with his daughters Rashanda Davis, left, and Bernadine Davis, right, and his grandchildren, Kaniyah Stanford, 8, Hy'yona Norman, 6 month, Malasya Murray, 4, Hunterian Norman, 7, and Maliea Davis, 6, descendants of Zachary Glasgow, one of 18 founding members of Unionville.  Glasgow served in the 39th Regiment, Company H, of the U.S. Colored Troops.

    Unionville, Maryland, 2017, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2017

  • Ernestine Boulden, left, Shelly Boulden, right, and Sanai Boulden, 6, descendants of Benjamin Demby, one of 18 founding members of Unionville. Benjamin Demby was enlisted on Sept. 23, 1863 and served in the 7th Regiment, Company A, of the U.S. Colored Troops. He, along with seven other Unionville founders from the 7th and 19th Regiment, was at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865 when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant. The Dembys were traced back to the Philemon Lloyd Plantation in Talbot County. Philemon Lloyd was the heir to Edward Lloyd, founder of the Lloyd Dynasty in Talbot County. Benjamin Demby and his brother 
    Charles worked in the stables at the Wye plantation, where Frederick Douglass was a slave. 

    Douglass recounted the death of their relative William Demby, who was killed by the overseer Mr.Gore when he refused to come out of the water after healing his lash wounds. "Mr. Gore then, without consultation or deliberation with any one, not even giving Demby an additional call, raised his musket to his face, taking deadly aim at his standing victim, and in an instant poor Demby was no more. His mangled body sank out of sight, and blood and brains marked the water where he had stood.” 

    Unionville, Maryland, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2017

  • “It seems strange to me that I should have fallen haphazard into Miles River Neck, the great hotbed and stronghold of American Slavery and among Goliaths, Nebuchadnezzars and Pharaohs of the peculiar institution - can I desire to fraternize with such and to partake of the abominations? I have sustained considerable loss in my endeavors to conduct my farming operations on free labor and have often said to myself and my children that we were now getting a more honest living...and can truly say that these hands have ministered to our necessities. I have thought much on the subject of slavery since I have been in this “Sink of in” (iniquity) and have had occasion to say that I belonged to a Society of profession Christians.”

    Ezekiel Cowgill and his wife Sarah, who bought the Lombardy Plantation in 1856, were Quakers who vehemently opposed slavery. It is believed that Ezekial had cast one of only two votes on the Eastern Shore of Maryland for Abraham Lincoln’s reelection. He later volunteered to fight in the Union army. After the war, the Cowgills went on to lease plots of land to newly freed black veterans for a monthly payment of one dollar starting in February of 1867 for thirty years. Cowgill land records show that the plots of land were intended for a township, which also stipulated the addition of a church and schoolhouse.

    Unionville Road, Unionville, Maryland, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2017

  • John Blackwell, Ennels Clayton, Isaac Copper, John Copper, Benjamin Demby, Charles Demby, William Duane, William Doran, Horace Gibson, Zachary Glasgow, Joseph Gooby, Joseph H. Johnson, Peter Johnson, Edward Jones, Enolds Money, Edward Pipes, Henry Roberts, Matthew Roberts -- The founding members of Unionville, eighteen veterans of the U.S. Colored Troops and former slaves.

    Unionville, Maryland, Intaglio Photo Etching, 2017