Published in Maryland Historical Magazine, Spring 2008.
During his unusually long life, Robert Pearle (c. 1685-1765), a free mulatto who had been "born of a negroe Slave" in Calvert County, Maryland, achieved a level of success truly remarkable for the time and place in which he lived. "Manumitted by his late master's Will" with his wife and eldest son in 1720, Pearle established himself as a carpenter and began a rise to prosperity that would eclipse that of most men in the eighteenth-century Chesapeake, black or white. Pearle probably never lost his identity as a former slave and even though not free until age thirty-five, he nevertheless attained a level of economic success that placed him among the ranks of the wealthiest white planters in Maryland during the colonial era. The evidence and measure of that achievement - the fourteen slaves enumerated in Pearle's will - testify to just how far he had traveled - from slave to slave owner - during his life.1
No probate inventory survives to provide a detailed analysis of Pearle's personal property, but his fourteen chattels were perhaps worth as much as £700, the value of which - exclusive of his other property - would have placed Pearle among the top 5 to 10 percent of all inventoried Chesapeake decedents during the colonial era.2 Pearle did not own any land when he died, choosing instead to live on the 200-acre tract on Carrollton Manor in Frederick County that he had rented from the Carroll family for more than two decades. Nevertheless, Pearle had acquired a level of wealth that placed him among the top ranks - though not at the very pinnacle - of Chesapeake wealth holders.
Several factors seem to have contributed to Robert Pearle's success. First, while enslaved, Pearle had acquired a valuable skill - carpentry - that allowed him to find employment as a free man and probably provided the foundation for his eventual prosperity.3 In addition, he lived an extraordinarily long life by eighteenth century standards, dying at age eighty, years that allowed him time to accumulate property despite his long period of bondage. Most importantly, Pearle enjoyed the support of some members of the white ruling elite, beginning with his master, Richard Marsham (by c. 1640-1713), the wealthy Prince George's County land and slave holder who gave Pearle his freedom.4 After Marsham's death Pearle continued to enjoy the patronage of some powerful whites, which proved critical to maintaining his rights and to his eventual success in a world where whites controlled all access to power and most blacks were slaves. Pearle was able to convert his unique advantages into economic success, which, once attained, perhaps exerted an equal or even greater influence than his race.
Robert Pearle was born about 1685 and grew to maturity in the early eighteenth-century Chesapeake, simultaneously with the emergence of a slave-based plantation economy that would shape and define his world. His was a very different world from the Chesapeake of the previous century, when white indentured servants outnumbered slaves by as many as five to one and blacks, both slave and free, comprised only a tiny part of the population - about 6 percent of the total in 1670. White servants and black slaves worked together in the same fields, usually alongside their masters, on small agricultural units, lived under the same roof with their owners, played together, ran away together, sometimes enjoyed intimate sexual relationships, and occasionally married. Though most blacks were slaves, slavery was not yet legally codified, race and slavery were not synonymous and race relations more fluid. Before the 1680s the majority of slaves in the Chesapeake came not directly from Africa, but had spent time in the Caribbean or other parts of the New World or along the Atlantic coast. Because this "charter generation" of slaves had acquired an understanding of European languages and cultures, they quickly adapted to life in the Chesapeake. They either spoke or soon learned English, became Christians, and used the legal system to their advantage. Often granted the opportunity to work independently, they developed their own economy, allowing some to accumulate the resources to purchase their freedom. Though difficult, it was possible for some blacks to work their way out of slavery. Very few became wealthy or acquired land, but nevertheless generally enjoyed a modest level of prosperity.5
During the last quarter of the seventeenth century, however, Chesapeake economy and society underwent a sweeping transformation that would completely alter the system of plantation slavery by the time Robert Pearle came of age. The seventeenth-century world characterized by small planters, white indentured servants, and racial fluidity would become a closed slave society dominated by two extremes: large planters who consolidated control over the land, courts, and economy at one end of the spectrum and an enslaved black labor force at the other. In that society, slavery became the primary labor system, slave holders the ruling class, and race the basis of slavery. White servitude declined, while the importation of slaves, now directly from Africa, greatly expanded. Whereas the total black population numbered perhaps no more than two thousand in 1670, planters imported another two thousand during the 1680s alone, double that number in the 1690s, and eight thousand during the first decade of the eighteenth century. Unlike the charter generation, the majority of these slaves, who by 1700 outnumbered white servants, came directly from Africa. Lacking any familiarity with European culture, they Africanized Chesapeake slavery with their foreign dress, music, religion, material culture, and languages. At the same time, the conditions under which slaves labored declined. Longer work days, harsher labor regimes, physical isolation, increased physical coercion, and less freedom to move about or labor independently now characterized the new plantation system. Opportunities to escape slavery diminished or disappeared altogether, while the rights of free blacks, whose very existence undermined the rational of race-based slavery, declined.6
Free people of African descent did not entirely disappear from the Chesapeake, but they shrank to an insignificant, marginalized segment of the population. According to census figures compiled in 1755, people of African descent, designated as either "black" or "mulatto," comprised about a third of the nearly one hundred and fifty-five thousand inhabitants of the colony. But only 4 percent of all blacks and mulattos - fewer than two thousand people altogether and no more than one percent of the entire population - were free. Eighty percent of the free population was designated mulatto, but mixed racial origins did not necessarily or even usually lead to freedom. More than half of those enumerated as mulatto in 1755 were slaves, most of whom, like Robert Pearle, were probably the children of black slave women, whose status followed their mothers. Free people of mixed racial origins, on the other hand, frequently descended from white servant women who, aside from their free status, had little to offer their children, many of whom were often required to work as servants for long periods before obtaining their liberty.7
The small number of free blacks who lived in the eighteenth-century Chesapeake generally enjoyed limited opportunities for social and economic advancement. Although there were variations and exceptions, many held on to only a precarious freedom and lived a marginal existence in a "constricted world," not far removed in status, residence, or condition from their enslaved kinsmen. Most lacked access to land or skills, had often served some years in bondage before attaining their freedom, and were sometimes forced to contract themselves or their children into servitude to survive. All in all, their often humble origins, the courts, and racial prejudice conspired to keep most free blacks near the bottom of Chesapeake society.8
The well-to-do and well-connected Pearle stands out in striking contrast to the majority of free people of color in the early eighteenth-century Chesapeake. But in many ways Pearle's distinctiveness preceded, and indeed made possible his outstanding achievements. To be sure, Pearle must be credited with the personal drive and determination to carve out a place for himself and his family in a world dominated by white slave holders. But throughout the history of slavery, blacks repeatedly demonstrated their ability to seize opportunities to better their situations and occasionally win their freedom. Pearle was unique, however, in the unusual advantages he enjoyed, due in large part to the support, or at least acquiescence he received from the white community, which he won precisely because he was not like most free blacks in the region at that time. Pearle was not the son of a poor white servant woman, nor the descendant of one of the free black families from the charter generation who had managed to cling to a marginalized and precarious freedom. Rather, he was the son of a black slave woman and a white man, almost certainly his master, the wealthy and powerful Richard Marsham, a Roman Catholic with ties to the colony's proprietary family. Sexual relationships between masters and slaves were not unusual, but rarely did white owners free the offspring of these unions or make any provision for their mulatto children.9 Because Marsham did not acknowledge Pearle - then called "mulatto Robin" - as his son, his paternity cannot be definitively established, nor can his reasons for freeing his slave, which were not explicated in his will, be known. Nevertheless, what is clear is that Pearle enjoyed a highly unusual relationship with Marsham that led to his eventual freedom and probably accounted for the continuing white patronage he enjoyed after his master's death.
Marsham himself followed a trajectory in life remarkably parallel in some respects to that of mulatto Robin. Imported to the colony as a servant in 1658, Marsham began his rise to wealth and power after a period of bondage, as did Robin, though Marsham's time of servitude appears to have been short.10 Like others who started with little or nothing, including a few free blacks, Marsham quickly joined the scramble for land, labor, and upward mobility that characterized the mid-seventeenth-century Chesapeake. He soon began to acquire land and during the two decades before 1680 had acquired "wealth" and an "estate" by planting tobacco, engaging in trade, and - like mulatto Robin - plying the "art and mistery of a house Carpenter." During those years Marsham employed "great numbers or Gangs of servants" - probably white indentured servants - "for the ordering manageing Carying on and effecting of his said, trade, faculty, art, mistery, and businesse aforesaid."11 Like other aspiring Chesapeake entrepreneurs, Marsham apparently combined several different economic pursuits - his knowledge of carpentry (a skill he evidently passed on to mulatto Robin), trade, land, tobacco, and servants - to ascend the economic ladder. By the time he died Marsham had acquired an extensive estate that included thirty-six slaves and over three thousand acres of land.12
Not too long after beginning his rise to wealth and power, Marsham fell afoul of the law when, in 1669, the Calvert County court presented him for the murder of his servant Jenkin Price. Although the presentment was quashed for lack of evidence, the case suggests that Marsham was not the most benevolent master. And though the charges did not result in a trial, rumors regarding Marsham's treatment of Price would not die. Ten years later Marsham sued William Collins, one of his original accusers, claiming that the previous fall, a decade after the alleged crime had occurred, Collins, "malitiously intending" to deprive him of his "good name fame creditt and repute" had on more than one occasion publicly declared in the presence of several witnesses that Marsham had beaten his servant Jenkin Price to death. Perhaps there was no truth to these allegations, and Marsham was, as he claimed, always a "carefull Loveing and kinde Master towards all his servants." A jury trial did in fact return a verdict in favor of Marsham - not an exoneration of responsibility for Price's death, but a conviction of Collins, who was assessed nearly four thousand pounds of tobacco in fines and costs.13
Collins's motives remain a mystery, yet he was not the only person to accuse Marsham of murder, and his persistence in repeating those charges years later suggests that Marsham's reputation was not above challenge. It is also curious that Marsham did not immediately sue his accusers, including Collins, once the original charges had been dismissed in 1669. Perhaps Marsham was not as powerful then, nor his reputation so precious as it had apparently become ten years later, about the same time that he was first appointed as a justice of the peace in Calvert County. Marsham's appointment, in1679 and for several years thereafter, indicates that he had by then indeed left his lowly origins behind.14 He now not only had a reputation to protect but was, as Collins discovered to his financial detriment, a force to be reckoned with.
Sometime before his run-in with the court and soon after ending his indenture, Marsham had married his first wife, Catherine, who, like Marsham, was also a former indentured servant.15 Catherine bore Marsham two daughters, but, perhaps significantly for mulatto Robin, no male heir. Both daughters - possibly Robin's half-sisters - married extraordinarily well given their parents' humble beginnings, both to members of the Catholic gentry, which had not yet been deprived of political power by the Glorious Revolution of 1689 and its aftermath. One daughter, Catherine, married Baker Brooke (?-1698), the son of Baker Brooke (1628-1678/9), a wealthy Roman Catholic who served in the Upper House, on the governor's council, and as deputy governor of the colony, and his wife Ann Calvert (1644-c. 1714), who was herself the granddaughter, niece, and cousin, respectively, of the first, second, and third Lords Baltimore. The Marsham's other daughter, Sarah, did not make quite so striking a match, but her husband Basil Waring (1650-1688) was the son of Sampson Waring, a sheriff and justice in Calvert County and member of the colonial assembly. Sarah's son Marsham Waring (by 1688-1732) would later serve as executor of Richard Marsham's estate and interim owner of mulatto Robin while he served out his term.16
Eventually Marsham himself would make a second, highly distinguished match as the third husband of his daughter Catherine's mother-in-law, Ann (Calvert) (Brooke) Brent, whose first cousin was, at the time of her marriage to Marsham, the third Lord Baltimore. Ann was far too old (about fifty-two at the time of their c. 1696 marriage) to bear Marsham a male heir, but the couple did share common grandchildren in the offspring of their children, Baker and Catherine (Marsham) Brooke. By the time of his death in 1713, therefore, Marsham had, much like mulatto Robin, transcended his lowly beginnings to attain a truly impressive rise to wealth and power. With a personal estate including thirty-six slaves and valued at more than a thousand pounds, over three thousand acres of land, and a marital alliance with Maryland's proprietary family, Marsham had without doubt reached the very pinnacle of Chesapeake society.17
Parallels between Marsham and mulatto Robin, who began life much farther down the ladder and faced an entirely different set of challenges as a mixed race, former slave in the less-open eighteenth-century Chesapeake, should not be overdrawn, but are nevertheless compelling. To what extent Marsham's own experiences, including the lack of a legitimate male heir, might have influenced his relationship with his slave Robin is unknown. But shortly before his death, Marsham directed in his will that Robin and three other mulatto slaves eventually be set free. Robin, then twenty-eight, his mulatto wife Nanny, and their son Daniel, a sickly two-year-old, were to be "fully discharged and set free" when Robin reached age thirty-five, provided they be "vigilent and faithfull" to his executor during their time of servitude. Eighteen-year-old mulatto James, whose identity is unknown, was also freed under the same conditions. Marsham's other thirty-two, less fortunate "negro" men, women, and children were to be divided his grandchildren with no provision for future freedom.18
Aside from his manumission, further evidence of Robin's special position comes from the inventory of Marsham's goods made after his death, which reveals that Robin, the only slave so privileged, lived in his own house on the plantation, the contents of which were inventoried separately by Marsham's appraisers. The eclectic assortment of goods at "Robin's house," valued at nearly £60, included "one Indifferent good flock Bed boulster and old blankett," "3 worne Stript Duffies Matchcoates," a set of carpenter's tools, a chest, several yards of cloth and a pound of thread, a pair of scales and weights, an "old Plow," several hogs, 82 ounces of plate, and "1 ream of writing paper 6 papers Ink powder."19 Evidently the goods in Robin's house, even the tools of his trade, did not belong to him, as they were part of Marsham's estate. Nevertheless, he was the only slave who lived in his own house and clearly enjoyed a status different from the bulk of Marsham's other chattels.
While it seems likely that Robin's slave mother was also the property of Marsham, she was not, if still living, freed under the terms of his will. Possibly she was "Negro woman Sarah," age sixty, the only other slave singled out for special treatment. In his will Marsham directed that Sarah remain with her daughters "negro" Beck, age twenty-two, and "negro" Sarah, age fifteen, on his dwelling plantation "to Cair, and mend and make for so many of my Grand Children as shall dwell thereon." Marsham's executor was directed to ensure that Sarah have "good sufficient Dyet and apparill and to pay her yearly and every year during here natural Life the Sum of two Pounds Sterling provided she prove true and faithful" to his executor. At the time of Robin's birth Sarah would have been about thirty-two. Marsham's birth date is unknown, but assuming he was at least eighteen when imported in 1658 (born by c. 1640), he would have been at least forty-five. Since both of Marsham's daughters were born by about 1675, it seems quite possible that his liaison with his slave - if indeed such a relationship existed - began after the death of his first wife, and certainly preceded his second marriage. Marsham's Sarah was probably "old Negro Sarah at Mount Pleasant" freed by Marsham's grandson when he died in 1732, leaving her a legacy of £10 current money. If so, Sarah, like mulatto Robin, enjoyed remarkable longevity, living well into her seventies, and Marsham himself was at least seventy when he died.20
On the whole, Marsham appears somewhat conflicted about his relationship with his mulatto slave Robin. Although he accorded Robin a special status and eventually freed him and his family, the terms of his freedom were encumbered from the start. Not only were Robin and his wife to continue serving Marsham's heirs until age thirty-five, any children born to the couple before they had attained their freedom - that is from the time of Marsham's death in 1713 until 1720 - were to remain slaves, the property of Marsham's grandson and executor, Marsham Waring.21 Nor did Marsham provide Robin with any land or property with which to begin his new life; even the goods appraised in Robin's house belonged to Marsham's estate. Nevertheless, Marsham, who himself had, as already noted, once been a carpenter, probably ensured Robin's training in that skill. More importantly, Marsham gave Robin an invaluable and extremely rare gift with his eventual manumission. In doing so, he declared to Robin and to the community at large that Robin was different and should be treated differently from his other slaves. Marsham's patronage, whether it stemmed from paternal affection or some other source, probably ensured that Robin would receive continuing support from at least some other influential whites in the community.
Marsham's declaration that mulatto Robin was different probably resonated with some whites because at the time Marsham wrote his will in 1713 Robin was very different from most other slaves both on Marsham's plantation and in the Chesapeake region as a whole. Not only were all of the thirty-two slaves whom Marsham did not free "negros" rather than mulattos, their names suggest that some - Coco, Pompey, Prince, Dido, Quash, and Mingo - might have been African imports. Whatever the composition of Marsham's particular labor force, by the time of his death in 1713 the overwhelming majority of slaves living in the Chesapeake had been imported directly from Africa. These alien men and women, with their strange appearance, languages, and religions, contrasted strikingly with mulatto Robin, the son of a charter generation slave and a white father. Robin had far more in common with Marsham and other white slave holders than with the new arrivals from Africa. His mixed racial origins were only one of several features differentiating Robin from the majority of plantation slaves. A skilled artisan rather than a field hand, Robin was a second generation Marylander who spoke like a native, looked and dressed like a native, and who demonstrated a familiarity with the Chesapeake world: able to navigate the economy to prosper, use the courts to his advantage, and establish a place for himself and his family in a potentially hostile world. Furthermore, Robin was a Christian, more precisely, a Roman Catholic, the faith also ascribed to by his master. That religious affiliation, which Robin apparently maintained until his death, quite possibly won him some allies among the close knit Catholic gentry, who, though excluded from political office, still wielded considerable influence.22
Despite the potential for abuse - only Marsham's executor, his grandson Marsham Waring, who stood to lose a valuable laborer, had the power to determine if Robin and his wife had been "vigilent and faithful" - the couple finally obtained their freedom in accordance with their late master's wishes. Under the terms of Marsham's will, Robin was to be freed in 1720, and the following year he first appeared in the Prince George's County court records, having adopted for unknown reasons the name Robert Pearle.23 In this instance Pearle requested an allowance for keeping Margaret Baker and her child, a common procedure in which the county courts, dispensing what limited welfare services existed, compensated private citizens for providing public assistance. Neither Baker nor Pearle's race is specified in the record, but evidently the justices saw nothing unusual in his request, duly awarding him 200 pounds of tobacco. Pearle does not appear in the records again until 1725, after which the pace of his appearances escalates. In March 1726 Pearle brought suit against Edward Bradshaw, inn holder, for 3,200 pounds of tobacco. Pearle won this case, and a number of other suits he brought over the next two years: against Richard Normansell, dancing master, for £10 sterling, William Calvert, a Prince George's County planter, 600 pounds of tobacco, and against John Bursh for an unspecified amount. The case against Calvert, possibly the son of William Calvert (c. 1642/43-1682) and if so the nephew of Richard Marsham's second wife,24 reveals Pearle's continuing association with his late master's family. According to a written agreement recorded in the court proceedings, Pearle had sold Calvert a horse and a barrel of corn, for which Calvert refused to make payment. Ruling in Pearle's favor, the court ordered that Calvert's goods be attached for the debt and costs and placed in the hands of Marsham Waring, Pearle's former owner and possibly now patron, until subsequently condemned for his use.25
Pearle's frequent appearances in the court records suggest that he might have had difficulty collecting his debts, but that was not uncommon and not necessarily an indication of racial bias. The cases do indicate, however, that the court treated him fairly, forcing his debtors to live up to their agreements. Legally, Pearle enjoyed most of the same rights as other free men. Aside from prohibitions on miscegenation, the legal statutes placed few restrictions on free blacks, probably because they were too few in number to pose a "realistic political or economic threat" to the white community.26 Slaves and free blacks were not permitted to give evidence in a court of law in cases involving whites, but this restriction applied to mulattos only during their term of servitude as prescribed by law - that is, until age thirty-one if they were the children of a white mother, a condition that did not apply to Pearle. "No Negroe or other Slave" was "permitted to Carry any gun or Any other Offensive weapon," but the subsequent phrase "without License from their said Master" suggests that the law applied only to slaves. The law also "exempted" from military training and service "all Negroes and Slaves whatsoever."27 No records survive to reveal whether the Pearles could vote, but no family members appear to have served on a jury, suggesting they were excluded on racial grounds. Otherwise they do not seem to have been barred from participation in white society. Robert Pearle never held major office, but he participated in local government by signing petitions and held the minor office of road overseer near Carrollton Manor on three different occasions in the late 1740s. While this office was more of a burden than a privilege, Pearle's appointment does demonstrate that he was not excluded because of his race.
The law did not prohibit free blacks from owning land or slaves, and, not long after attaining his freedom, Pearle in January 1722/3 acquired a tract of land in Prince George's County from John Cranford, the son of James Cranford (?-1699), a wealthy land and slave holding attorney who represented Calvert County in the lower house of the assembly from 1696 until his premature death from a lightening strike in 1699. Cranford first conveyed the land, a tract of unspecified size laying between Beaver Dam Branch and the Patuxent River, by bequest in his will to his "well beloved and esteemed Friend Robert Pearl . . . alias Molatto Robin," in consideration of £20 already paid. A week later Cranford executed a second conveyance of the same land by an unusually worded deed naming Pearle as his attorney with power to take possession of the land to "occupy and enjoy . . . as his own proper right to him the said Pearl and his heirs forever." Perhaps concerned about the legality of the transaction, Pearle paid to have both documents recorded in the county land records. Cranford's apparent friendship indicates that Pearle had already won the approval of some whites in the community, but the significance of the unusual wording should probably not be exaggerated, since Cranford likewise referred to another beneficiary in his will, to whom he also conveyed land, as "my well beloved friend."28
The following year Pearle purchased another tract in the county, one-hundred-acre Archer's Pasture, near Cabin Branch, for £14.10 sterling. The court records indicate that by 1727 he also owned a servant, for at the August court term Robert Pearle, Prince George's County carpenter, pledged £10 security for his possibly white servant Thomas Row's appearance in court. Row, a white servant, was convicted of assaulting John Bursh, the defendant in a debt suit brought by Pearle that was subsequently settled without a trial, with Bursh agreeing to pay all costs.29
Evidently unwilling to live quietly on the margins of colonial society, Pearle proved his determination to assert his rights the same as any other free man. Not all whites accepted his inclusion, however, leading to an effort to bar Pearle from his often successful use of the courts on the basis of his race. In late 1727 Pearle sued Charles Drury, a white planter, for assault. The incident might have stemmed from the earlier suit Pearle had won against Richard Normansell, for whom Drury had pledged security. Unable to satisfy Pearle, Normansell was committed to the custody of the sheriff and Drury became responsible for the debt. When the case came before the court, Drury questioned Pearle's right to bring suit, and the justices, "Considering the Circumstances of the Plaintiff who is a Molatto (born of a negroe Slave) and although manumitted by his late master's Will," declared "Unanimously they are of Opinion" that Pearle was "Incapable to prosecute any action at Law in this Court" and should thus "take nothing by his action." The justices then directed Pearle to pay Drury 972 pounds tobacco for his costs.30
Such a decision might have brought devastating consequences for Pearle. Men at all levels of Chesapeake society routinely used the courts to collect debts and enforce contracts, and the knowledge that Pearle was denied that right would not only label him as not fully free, but would have denied him essential legal protection and subjected him to potential abuse from unscrupulous men, such as Drury, with whom he did business. Refusing to accept meekly the court's decision, Pearle complained to the Assembly that "he is rendered Incapable by the Justices of the said County to Recover his Just Debts and Praying for releife."31 The action of the Assembly, though not recorded, was evidently favorable, for the following year Pearle successfully resumed litigation in the county court against his adversaries. And in what must have been a particularly satisfying action, his assault suit against Drury was tried before the Provincial Court in May 1729, with Pearle requesting an immense £200 sterling in damages. Although the jury did not award Pearle the full amount he requested, they did find in his favor and awarded him £45 sterling plus 2,363 pounds of tobacco for costs and charges.32 Although Pearle had to fight to retain his rights, he successfully met the challenges that came his way. His ability to do so, however, depended on the patronage and support of at least some influential whites in the colony.
In addition to successfully prosecuting his own cases, by 1729 Pearle had acquired the financial wherewithal to post a joint, £200 sterling bond for the administration of the estate of Thomas Lloyd, a white landowner. To secure the bond, Lloyd's administrator, Benjamin Lloyd mortgaged sundry properties to Pearle and his co-security, blacksmith Peregrine Mackanesse, including sixty-two acres and two slaves, probably the "negro man Harry" and "negro woman Lucy" Pearle mortgaged to the county sheriff the following August. During the 1720s Pearle also posted security for several different defendants in various court actions. In one such case he acted jointly with Richard Croxall, a member of the Catholic gentry, hinting at ongoing ties with members of his own and Marsham's faith.33 Along these lines it is interesting to note that Pearle's attorney during his suit against Drury was William Cumming. Although Cumming was not a Catholic, which would have made him ineligible to practice law, he was a former Jacobite rebel arrested and transported to Maryland as a servant, and might well have harbored Catholic sympathies.34
In another action involving a wealthy Catholic, Pearle entered into an agreement with Henry Darnall II (1682-1737) in May 1729 to buy his slave Charles Pembrooke for £35 sterling. Before Pearle had completed the purchase, however, Darnall made plans to move to England for a time. Unwilling to separate Pembrooke, who had served "faithfully and honestly," from his wife and children, Darnall manumitted him from further service. Why Pearle wanted to buy Pembrooke, a married man with children who was unable to perform "hard labour," is not known. Pembrooke was not one of Pearle's children, the eldest of whom, Daniel, was only eighteen at the time.35 Whatever Pearle's reason, the incident suggests that he had established some sort of relationship with Darnall, a wealthy land and slave owner from a powerful Catholic family closely connected to the proprietor and, more distantly, to Richard Marsham's family. Darnall's father, Henry Darnall I (c. 1645-1711) held several important offices, including justice, chancellor, commissary general, and member of the governor's council, before the Revolution of 1689 excluded Catholics. After 1689 he was the primary agent representing the proprietary interest in the colony and continued to serve the proprietor as receiver general until his death. Darnall's mother, Elinor (Hatton) (Brooke) Darnall (1642-1725), was the widow of Thomas Brooke (1632-1676), the brother of Ann (Calvert) (Brooke) (Brent) Marsham's first husband and uncle of Catherine (Marsham) Brooke's husband. Darnall's son, Henry Darnall III (1702/3-1783), who nominally converted to Protestantism to retain access to political office (while his wife and children remained Catholic), would subsequently play an important role in Pearle's future.36
Despite Pearle's acquisition of land, successful use of the courts, and increasing prosperity, at least two of his children might still have lived in bondage as late as 1732. The children born to Robin and his wife Nanny between 1713 and 1720, were, as noted earlier, to remain enslaved to Richard Marsham's grandson, his executor and heir Marsham Waring. Like Marsham, when Waring died in 1732 his extensive property place him among the colony's elite, with hundreds of acres of land and a personal estate, including thirty-three slaves, worth over £1,500.37 Several of those slaves were mulattos, at least two and possibly four of whom could have been Robin and Nanny's children. Pearle's 1765 will named seven children: Daniel, James, Basil, Charles, Thomas, Ann Marshall, and Catherine Dean. Quite possibly Charles and Catherine were the mulattos Charles (age nineteen, born c. 1713) and Kate (age fourteen, born c. 1718) listed in Waring's 1732 inventory.38 Mulattos Robin and Margery (both age sixteen) might also have been Pearle's children, but neither is named in his will nor is there any further record of any Margery in the Pearle family. A Robert, Jr., later appears in the court records (see below), but he was probably a grandson, the son of Pearle's son Daniel. James, Basil, Thomas, and Ann were not listed among Waring's slaves and were probably born after 1720, and hence free. Though free, all were under age sixteen in 1733, therefore not taxable and not listed on the assessment made that year. Daniel Pearle, the only child living at the time of Richard Marsham's death in 1713, was freed with his parents in 1720 and in 1733, at age twenty-two, was living as an independent head of household in the county.39
Although Robert Pearle owned land, he was not assessed as an independent head of household in 1733, but was living on a quarter belonging to Marsham Waring's son Richard Marsham Waring (by 1713-1743) with thirteen slaves. It seems likely that Pearle, who as a free land owner could live where he chose, opted to remain near his former master's heirs to be with his still-enslaved children. Despite his successes, Pearle probably had not yet been able to free all his children from bondage. Eventually, however, his seven known offspring attained their liberty (although what became of Robin and Margery, if they were in fact Pearle's children, is unknown). Catherine married a free man named Richard Dean and was still living in 1765. Charles, a carpenter like his father, bought land in Frederick County in 1763 and later moved to Allegheny County.40
But while the bondage of some of his children might have induced Pearle to remain near his late master's descendants, there is also evidence that Pearle enjoyed a good relationship with the Waring family. Robin's interim owner, Marsham Waring, freed Robin and his wife as directed in Richard Marsham's will, though they would have had little recourse had Waring chosen to ignore his grandfather's wishes. Waring also acted as receiver of property due Pearle in his suit against William Calvert, and the account of Waring's estate made after his death in 1732 included a payment to "Robert Pearle" (not the diminutive "Robin"), indicating that he had continued to work for the family after his release.41 Also telling are the names of Robert and Ann Pearle's children, especially their choice of the name Basil, the name of both Marsham Waring's father and his son, who was born before 1713 and probably lived near the Pearles while they served out their time to his father. The name Basil continued in both the Waring and the Pearle families into succeeding generations. Other names found in both families were Ann (both Richard Marsham's second wife and Marsham Waring's daughter), Catherine (Marsham's daughter and granddaughter), and Thomas (Basil Waring's son). Pearle's daughter Catherine christened one of her sons Marsham, clearly derived from the family of her father's, and probably her own, former master. If "Negro Sarah" had indeed been Pearle's mother, however, he evinced no desire to enshrine that memory in his family through the use of her name, which never appeared among his descendants.
While some of Pearle's children might have remained enslaved as late as 1732, all had probably attained their freedom by 1744, when he moved to Carrollton Manor in the Monocacy Valley, a newly settled region not far removed from the colony's western frontier, in what would shortly, in 1748, become Frederick County. Pearle leased a two hundred-acre tract on Carrollton beginning in 1744, at the same time both his son Daniel and son-in-law William Marshall began renting their own one-hundred-acre tracts on the manor.42 The family's move might have been motivated in part by a confrontation with the county authorities that underscored both their potentially vulnerable position in Chesapeake society and the importance of their white allies. In November 1742 the Prince George's County grand jury charged William Marshall, a white planter, with the crime of marrying an unnamed mulatto woman, identified in August 1743 when his case came before the court as Ann Pearle, the daughter of Robert. The same court also charged Elizabeth Graves with the crime of marrying mulatto Daniel Pearle, another of Robert Pearle's children. Elizabeth was probably the sister of William Graves, another Carrollton Manor tenant, and the daughter of William Graves, a Prince George's County planter who had died in 1730, leaving two children, Elizabeth and William, "the eldest about 7 yrs old," and a medium-sized personal estate valued at £64.43
Because free blacks undermined the logic and legitimacy of race-based slavery, the ruling elite sought to prevent any addition to their numbers. Statutes passed by Maryland's General Assembly in 1699, 1704, and 1715 placed severe penalties on miscegenation, stipulating that any white woman who "Suffer[ed] herselfe to be got with child by a negroe or other Slave or Free negroe" shall "become a servant for and dureing a terme of Seven years." If free, the father was also to become a servant for seven years, and the "Children of such Unnaturall and Inordinate Copulations" were to become servants until age thirty-one. A supplementary act passed in 1717, noting that the 1715 act failed to include penalties for interracial marriage, specified that any white who married any "Negro, or Mulatto" was also to become a servant for seven years. The "Free Negro, or Mulatto," who entered such a union was to become "a Slave during Life, excepting Mulattoes born of White Women," who "shall only become Servants for Seven years."44
Under the terms of the statute then in effect, therefore, William Marshall and Elizabeth (Graves) Pearle were, if convicted, to become servants for seven years, while their mulatto partners, Ann (Pearle) Marshall and Daniel Pearle, were to be made slaves for life. Surely the Pearles, not so very far removed from slavery by either race or history, would not have jeopardized their freedom to enter into these unions had they believed the law would be enforced. In fact, neither was ever indicted for their alleged crimes. The real target appears to have been the white partners, whose liberty was for a time actually at risk. When Marshall's case came before the court he was convicted and ordered to "Become a Servant for Seven Years." Before sentence could be carried out, however, Marshall's attorney - the same William Cumming who had earlier represented Pearle - produced a writ of habeas corpus removing the case to the Provincial Court, where it was finally, in April 1745, struck off the docket without explanation. There is no indication as to why the case was not prosecuted, but it was not because Marshall reconsidered his marriage to Ann Pearle. Robert Pearle's 1765 will left five shillings to his daughter Ann Marshall, who was also listed as kin on William Marshall's 1778 inventory, and William Marshall's son James was later identified as a mulatto in the county court records. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Graves' case was not transferred to the Provincial Court, but in March 1744/5 struck from the county court docket, again with no explanation except, "by order of Attorney General."45
The laws against miscegenation were taken seriously by the courts, yet they were not enforced against the Pearles, who almost certainly enjoyed access to some channel of white power. Significantly, at the time the cases against William Marshall and Ann Graves were dismissed, the attorney general was none other than the crypto-Catholic Henry Darnall III, whose father had apparently had some relationship with Pearle. Attorney General Darnall's intervention in the marriage prosecutions indicates that Pearle's ties to some of the most influential Catholic gentry families, beginning with his master Richard Marsham, might have been a valuable asset. Though excluded from politics, wealthy Catholics still wielded power through alliances with Protestants, or, as in Henry Darnall III's case, nominal conversions that removed the disabilities against office holding. Other Catholics might readily have sympathized with the Pearles as outsiders, unfairly excluded not just because of religion but race as well. Pearle's supporters were not exclusively Catholic: the members of the courts and the assembly who upheld his rights were not Catholics. Nevertheless, the Pearles' ties to the Catholic community added yet another dimension to the complex web of relationships defining and protecting their place in society.
Once the cases against Marshall and Graves had been dismissed, the laws against miscegenation were never again invoked against the Pearle family. No records survive to document the race of the marriage partners of most of Robert's other children, and it is possible that they all married other free blacks or mulattos, thus avoiding any potential legal ramifications. Given the scarcity of free black and mulattos, however, it seems more likely that at least some married whites without legal intervention from the courts. At least one of Robert's granddaughters, Priscilla Marshall - the daughter of Ann Pearle and William Marshall - did marry a white man without penalty. There is no record that either Priscilla or her husband William Graves, who was probably the younger brother of Elizabeth (Graves) Pearle, was ever presented, let alone prosecuted, for the crime.46
Furthermore, the statutes, which were designed to prevent miscegenation, applied to mulatto bastardy as well as intermarriage. Yet when Robert Pearle's grandson Samuel was convicted of fathering a bastard child with Sarah Yaunt, the daughter of white Carrollton tenant John Yaunt (a German immigrant), neither was tried for the more serious crime of mulatto bastardy, which could have resulted in seven years servitude for them both. Likewise, Robert's granddaughter Ann Pearle and her partner, Carrollton tenant Benjamin Stewart, were charged and convicted only of the lesser crime of bastardy, not mulatto bastardy, in 1769.47 These incidents, as well as the Pearle marriages to white partners, show that race relations were more fluid than the statutes implied, at least when the perpetrators enjoyed the support of powerful whites. In contrast, at least two white servant women without influential friends were convicted of mulatto bastardy by the Frederick County Court and sold into servitude for seven years. Their mixed-race illegitimate children, bound out as servants until age thirty-one, faced a future far different from the lives of Robert Pearle and his progeny.48
Although the Pearles and their partners ultimately escaped prosecution, the coincidence of the presentments with the move to the frontier suggests they might have hoped to escape the hostility apparently still prevalent among some of members of their Prince George's County community, where Robert Pearle's origins were common knowledge. Perhaps Pearle envisioned the move to a new area as an opportunity to present himself as white, and in fact references to the family in the Frederick County records rarely employ the identifying label "mulatto" prevalent - but not always used - in Pearle's appearances before the Prince George's County Court. Nevertheless, while the family might have encountered less racial hostility, their mixed-race origins were evidently known, since they were "exempted" from military service as required by law.49 In addition, Robert's grandson James Marshall - the son of a mulatto mother and a white father and at most one quarter black - was referred to as "mulatto" in the county records during the 1780s, almost certainly to distinguish him from a wealthy Scots immigrant of the same name who lived near Carrollton Manor. And finally, some - though not all - members of the family living in the county after the initiation of a regular ten-year census in 1790 were enumerated as free blacks.
More likely, Pearle elected to pull up stakes and strike out in search of new opportunities because, lacking the resources to help establish his sons in the more densely populated areas to the southeast, he saw the migration to the Monocacy Valley as a means to acquire access to land as well as to keep his family together. At the time that Pearle and his family moved to Carrollton Manor, its proprietors sought to improve the land through a policy of developmental leasing, which offered many potential benefits to men with few resources. Rents were low compared to the value of the land, especially during the early years in which Robert and his family moved to the manor, and little capital was required to set up a tobacco plantation. If access to land and maintaining close family ties was his aim, Robert's strategy proved successful, for he and his descendants lived on the manor for generations, and several, including Robert himself, became quite prosperous.50
Pearle might have been drawn to Carrollton Manor because its owners, the very wealthy Carroll family, were prominent members of the Catholic gentry. There is no evidence, however, that Charles Carroll, Sr., who oversaw the management of the manor during Robert Pearle's tenure, sought to attract Catholic tenants or encouraged them in any way, such as providing a chapel or a priest to say mass. Nor is there any hint that Carroll, one of the largest slave owners in the colony, extended any protection or patronage to Pearle and his family. On the other hand, there is no indication that Carroll discriminated against the family because of their race, which was not noted either in Pearle's lease nor in Carroll's tenant account book.51 It also seems likely that Pearle might have learned of opportunities to rent land on Carrollton through his Catholic connections: the Carrolls and the Warings were acquainted, though not affiliated by marriage or close friendship, while Henry Darnall III and Charles Carroll, Sr., were first cousins. Furthermore, members of the Darnall and Waring families later followed Pearle to the manor. A Basil Waring, either the son or nephew of mulatto Robin's interim owner Marsham Waring, rented land on Carrollton Manor beginning in 1750. And John Darnall (1708-1768), the brother of Henry Darnall III, leased a 240-acre tract on the manor beginning in 1749. Darnall later purchased his Carrollton tenement from his cousin Carroll in 1764 and, although he owned hundreds of acres elsewhere in the county, he, and his son John Darnall, Jr. (by 1749-c. 1797) maintained their residences on the manor. Like his brother, the senior John Darnall converted to Protestantism and held public office, serving as clerk of the Frederick County court for many years. At least two of his sons, however, either remained Catholic or later converted back to the faith of their forefathers.52
After he moved to the Monocacy, Pearle continued to appear in the county court records regularly for the next several years, both as plaintiff and defendant in debt suits. Most of these were routine cases for relatively small amounts, but in 1747 the court found Pearle guilty in a suit brought for an unpaid debt of 16,000 pounds of tobacco, a huge sum equivalent to more than twenty times the annual rent he was paying for his two hundred-acre tract on Carrollton Manor. The sheriff, ordered to attach Pearle's goods to satisfy the plaintiff, returned an inventory of his Prince George's County tract, Archer's Pasture, valued at seven thousand pounds of tobacco. Before judgment could be executed, however, Robert took his case to the Chancery Court, which issued an injunction and the case was ordered struck off.53 Robert retained possession of Archer's Pasture until 1751, when he sold it to John Eversfield, rector of St. Paul's parish, for six thousand pounds of tobacco.54 As with many of the major cases involving Pearle, this incident suggests that he encountered greater hostility at the lower courts that he was able to neutralize through his connections to people who wielded power higher up, having won reprieves from both the provincial and chancery courts, the assembly, and even the attorney general.
After 1751, the year he turned sixty-six, Pearle's court appearances declined precipitously, perhaps because of his advancing years. One final intriguing case brought shortly before Pearle's death indicates that sometime after his wife Ann's death,55 Pearle established a relationship with a "free" widow - probably of mixed race - named Elizabeth Jervis. Her presence in Pearle's household at the time of his death was evidently a source of contention among his children. In June 1762 the Frederick County court presented one Robert Pearle, probably a son or grandson, for "whipping & abusing" Jervis. Robert Pearle, Sr., posted security for Jervis's appearance to testify and he also gave evidence against the younger Pearle, who submitted to "the Grace of the Court" when the case was heard the following year. Pearle sided with Jervis in this dispute, and, when he died three years later, his will directed that his executors pay her four barrels of corn, one barrel of wheat, one crop hogshead of tobacco, and weight of pork "each Year for two years." He also left her one bed and furniture "that is in the Chapell" and one "duch Cow forever." The bulk of Robert's estate went to his sons Daniel, James, and Basil, but Jervis received far more than any of the other children named in the will - Charles, Thomas, Ann Marshall, and Catherine Dean - who inherited five shillings each. Robert Pearle, Jr.'s rancor against Jervis resurfaced a year later, when he accused her of theft. Tried and convicted on the evidence of Thomas, Basil, and James Pearle of stealing seven Spanish dollars and a French Guiana, Jervis was sentenced to thirty lashes and the pillory. Whatever her relationship with their father, evidently Pearle's children were not fond of Elizabeth Jervis.56
By the time Pearle died in 1765 he had become quite prosperous, as evidenced primarily by the fourteen slaves mentioned his will. While it might seem ironic that the wealth of former slave Pearle should be measured by his own acquisition of human property, Pearle himself undoubtedly saw his "Negro" slaves as a sign of his success. It is not really surprising, however, that Pearle, who had more in common with other slave owners than with most slaves, should have identified with the class and race of his father, rather than the slave status inherited from his mother. It seems quite likely, in fact, that once he had settled on his two hundred-acre Carrollton tract worked by his slave laborers, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, at least some of whom were also prosperous slave holders, Pearle viewed himself as a member of the gentry. Of course he could not vote or hold office, but then neither could other Catholics; in fact, his exclusion on the basis of religion might have mitigated or even nullified the effect of his exclusion due to race.
Pearle's "Chapell," though probably just a room in his house (as was generally the case with these private places of worship) no doubt added to his stature as a kind of minor lord of the manor, providing a place for his extended family, possibly his slaves, and perhaps other members of the local Catholic community to worship. Certainly for other members of the Catholic gentry, including the Carrolls, who kept chapels in Annapolis and at their country seat, Doughoragen Manor, the maintenance of chapels was a sign of their status.57 Perhaps even the younger generation of the wealthy Darnall family, tenants and, after 1764, landowners on Carrollton Manor and close kin of squire Carroll himself, worshiped at Pearle's chapel. Unfortunately few records survive to document the work of the priests who rode circuit to the various privately held chapels, but there were very few places for Catholics to worship in Frederick County during the years Pearle lived on the manor.58 Because John Darnall had converted to Protestantism and held political office, it seems unlikely he would have maintained a chapel, nor is there any mention of one in his will. It is therefore quite plausible that his sons, at least two of whom were Roman Catholics when they died, attended services with the Pearles.59 Perhaps Pearle's chapel was even the forerunner of the Catholic Church built on Carrollton Manor some years after his death.
In addition to his fourteen slaves, to be divided among sons Daniel, James and Basil, Pearle's will mentions livestock (cattle and hogs), a riding horse and a bed, and several items left to Elizabeth Jervis. Pearle also left five shillings each to sons Charles and Thomas Pearle and to daughters Ann Marshall and Catherine Dean. The remainder of Pearle's unspecified property was to be distributed among James and Basil. Pearle's will mentions no land, and aside from his slaves his most valuable asset was undoubtedly his rented farmstead on Carrollton Manor - referred to as "my now dwelling plantation" - which he left to son Basil. Although Pearle's original lease with Carroll had expired and he was probably renting "at will," he evidently considered the Carroll tract as his property to dispose of as he chose. Normally the Carrolls acknowledged this right, but Carroll, Sr., was annoyed when informed by his son that Basil Pearle had "forsook his 50 a. and is gone to his father's Rob. Pearl's place," but the two evidently reached some agreement, and by 1768 Basil was renting a 150-acre tract on the manor.60
Members of Robert Pearle's family - the most extensive kin group on Carrollton Manor - continued to rent from the Carrolls for decades, well into the nineteenth century. Altogether at least eleven family members rented land on Carrollton. Not all of Pearle's children and grandchildren were able to replicate his success. His son Daniel (like Robert, born a slave), who had married the white Elizabeth Graves, was moderately well off when he died in 1774 at age sixty-three but divided his resources among his numerous children, none of whom were able to maintain his place on the manor. Daniel's son Joseph initially took over his father's tenement, but failed to pay the rent and left after a few years. Another son, Jeremiah, reduced to the status of a landless laborer in the employ of other Carrollton tenants, was conscripted into the Revolutionary army in 1778 as a vagrant. In a petition to the governor and Council for relief, Jeremiah asserted that he was "no Vagabond" but was born and "raised from an Infant . . . on Mr. Carrols Manner," where he had contracted to work for one of the tenants.61 Although eventually dismissed from military service, Jeremiah, a dependent laborer, had fallen a long way from the status of his independent, prosperous grandfather. His problems stemmed more from a dispersal of Daniel's limited resources, however, rather than from his racial origins.
In contrast to Daniel's family, Robert Pearle's son James, son-in-law William Marshall, Sr., and grandson William Marshall, Jr., were all wealthy slave owners when they died. As noted earlier, James Pearle left a personal estate worth nearly five hundred pounds in 1774, making him a wealthy man.62 Robert Pearle's white son-in-law William Marshall, Sr., the husband of his daughter Anne, was also quite prosperous. Marshall, who rented a one-hundred-acre tract on Carrollton Manor from 1742 until his death in 1778, left an estate worth £342, including five slaves. As with Robert Pearle's children, however, Marshall's sons James and William, Jr., both of whom also rented land on Carrollton Manor, followed divergent paths. James became an independent householder on Carrollton Manor in 1769 and shortly thereafter began to appear frequently before the county court to answer creditors for unpaid debts. By 1786 - the year he evidently fled the county - his debts totaled nearly four hundred pounds current money, in addition to overdue rents which his brother William agreed to pay the landlord, Charles Carroll of Carrollton. William, Jr., on the other hand, remained on the manor until his own death in 1810 and left a prosperous estate valued at £355, including five slaves. Whatever the cause of James Marshall's problems, the successful careers of his brother, father, and grandfather demonstrate that they were not the result of his racial origins. No probate records were found for Robert Pearle's other children, though another grandson, Samuel Pearle, also a Carroll tenant, was quite prosperous when he died in 1816.63
Many of Pearle's descendants continued to live in Frederick County into the nineteenth century. All of the Pearles - Basil, Samuel, and Thomas - and the Marshalls enumerated in the first federal census of 1790 were listed as white. By 1800, however, a number of black Pearles appear on the census as well, and in subsequent decades Pearles are listed as both free blacks and as whites. Some members of the family migrated west to Washington (later Allegheny) County, where they are again listed as both white and black. At least one branch of Pearle's family moved north to Pennsylvania, where they were first listed as black, and then to Ohio, where they ultimately became white. Over the generations those Pearles lost any familial memory of their mixed racial origins.64
Robert Pearle himself probably never "became white," nor probably would it have made much difference in his life if he had. Pearle did not need to present himself as white because he had successfully fought all the most important battles in a society where his racial and slave origins were well known. Establishing himself in free society after his release from bondage, plying his trade as a carpenter, acquiring land, property and eventual prosperity, ensuring the freedom of his children and their right to intermarry with the partners of their choice, fighting discrimination and attempts to bar him from the courts - all of these achievements Pearle made while living in Prince George's County where he was identified as a mulatto and a former slave. Pearle continued to prosper after his move to the Monocacy Valley on the colony's western frontier, not, however, because he had assumed a new racial identity, but rather because, like many whites, he was able to take advantage of the economic opportunities available there. Once Pearle, and at least some of his descendants, had established themselves as substantial, well-to-do members of the community, their racial origins, while still known, were less important. Not all of Pearle's children and grandchildren were as successful as he, however, and it seems likely - though beyond the scope of this study - that the more successful ones became "white," while those less prosperous continued to be designated as free blacks.
Robert Pearle probably could not have been much more successful in the Chesapeake of the early to mid eighteenth century even had he not been of mixed racial origins. Of course, had Pearle been the legitimate son and heir of Richard Marsham, his life would have been quite different, however he would not have been Robert Pearle, but a Marsham and a member of the Chesapeake gentry, not the unique individual profiled in this study. But had Pearle been a white indentured servant freed in 1720 after a period of bondage, it is unlikely he could have surpassed the achievements of mulatto Robin. Richard Marsham, an indentured servant transported in 1658, was notably successful as were other former servants of his era, but the open society of the mid-seventeenth century offered far more opportunities for upward advancement to individuals - white or black - with few resources. Part of what makes Pearle remarkable was his ability to attain a level of wealth that exceeded that of most blacks and whites, after having spent the first thirty-five years of his life in bondage. Pearle also managed to free his children, keep his family together and provide them with access to land and the chance to prosper, and to overcome efforts to exclude him or deprive him of his rights on the basis of his race. Though a remarkable individual, Pearle could not have achieved what he did without the support of some influential members of the white community, beginning with his master Richard Marsham. The most basic fact of Pearle's existence, his freedom, depended on Marsham, who, by singling Pearle out with his manumission, ensured that he would continue to enjoy the patronage of some important whites. Pearle's own distinctive characteristics - his white father, artisanal skill, English culture, religion, and relationship with Marsham and his descendants - differentiated him from most slaves as well as the majority of other free blacks in the Chesapeake during the first half of the eighteenth century and played a decisive role in winning the support of influential white allies, including some members of the Catholic community. Though unique, Pearle was nevertheless a product of the time and place in which he lived. He could not escape that reality but was remarkably successful at making the most of the opportunities available to him and attained the outer limits of success possible for a former slave in the eighteenth-century Chesapeake prior to the American Revolution.
Ira Berlin, Samuel T. Brainerd, Jennifer Dorsey, Beatriz Betancourt Hardy, Stephen G. Hardy, Ronald Hoffman, Philip D. Morgan, and T. Stephen Whitman provided helpful comments on various drafts of this paper. Genealogist Beverly Dean Peoples and two of Pearle's descendants, Linda Cunningham Fluharty and Joan Moore, generously shared their extensive genealogical files on the Pearle family.
Illustrations in Original Article(Not shown in this online presentation)
1) Photo of Pearle's descendants, courtesy of Linda Cunnigham Fluharty. Mary will provide caption.
2) Photo of Mount Pleasant, home built by Richard Marsham's great-grandson John Waring c. 1750 on tract Marsham had patented and where mulatto Robin probably lived. (HABS)
3) Tenant house on Carrollton Manor (Maryland Historical Trust)
4) Copy of Robert Pearle's lease on Carrollton? Or CCA's account book? (account book owned by MHS; lease from MSA)
5) John Darnall's house on Carrollton Manor. Of interest because of Darnall's Catholic connection to Pearle; however only photo available is published in Grove, History of Carrollton Manor (could not locate on Habs or MHT).
1 Frederick County Wills, Liber 33, fols. 351-52, Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, Md. (hereinafter MSA). None of these "Negro" slaves, some identified as "working hands," could have been Pearle's mulatto children. Pearle had at least seven children, all of whom were named as beneficiaries in his will; all were free long before he died.
2 When Robert's son James died in 1774, three of the slaves he inherited from his father were appraised at £55, £50, and £45 current money of Maryland. Lois Green Carr and Lorena Walsh, using data compiled by the St. Mary's City Historic Commission to analyze the inventories from four Chesapeake counties between 1636 and 1777, divided some 7,500 decedents into five wealth levels based on their total estate values (deflated to 1700-1709 prices): poor (less than £50), lower middling (£50-94), upper middling (£95-225), wealthy (£226- 490) and very wealthy (over £490). Carr and Walsh found that by the 1770s, 30 percent of inventoried decedents left estates worth less than £50, and 38 to 45 percent less than £95, while those with estates worth over £490 comprised only 5 to 10 percent of decedents over the entire colonial period For comparison, inventory and estate values in this paper have been converted to a common currency and deflated to 1700-1709 prices using the same deflator, provided to the author courtesy of Lois Green Carr. At £50 each Robert Pearle's fourteen slaves alone would have been worth £700, or £542 deflated. Pearle's will also mentioned a riding horse, two beds and furniture, and livestock, with all the remainder of the unspecified estate to be divided among two sons. James Pearle's entire personal estate, which included only nine as compared to Robert's fourteen slaves, totaled £782 (£590 deflated) and 9,037 pounds of tobacco, placing him among the very wealthy, or top 5 to 10 percent of inventoried decedents in the colonial Chesapeake. Frederick County Inventories, Liber 118, fols. 142-45, Administration Accounts, Liber 71, fol. 367, MSA; Carr and Walsh, "The Standard of Living in the Colonial Chesapeake," William and Mary Quarterly , 3d ser. 45 (1988): 135-45, and "Changing Lifestyles and Consumer Behavior in the Colonial Chesapeake," in Of Consuming Interests: The Style of Life in the Eighteenth Century , ed. Cary Carson et al. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994), 59-166, especially 70, 81, n.13.
3 Other prosperous eighteenth-century free black carpenters included Azaricum Drighouse of Virginia and Gideon Gibson of South Carolina. Douglas Deal, "A Constricted World: Free Blacks on Virginia's Eastern Shore, 1680-1750," in Colonial Chesapeake Society , ed. Lois Green Carr et al., (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1988), 289-90; Winthrop D. Jordan, "American Chiaroscuro: The Status and Definition of Mulattoes in the British Colonies," William and Mary Quarterly , 3d Ser. 19 (1962): 189-91.
4 I am extremely grateful to Dr. Beatriz Betancourt Hardy for identifying Richard Marsham as Robert Pearle's master. Though a 1728 Prince George's County Court case identifies Robert Pearle as a "Molatto (born of a negroe Slave) and . . . manumitted by his late master's Will" (Liber O, fols. 65-67, MSA), the record does not name Marsham. Without her assistance locating Marsham would have been a difficult if not impossible task.
5 Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), 29-46; Philip D. Morgan, Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1998, 8-12; T. Stephen Whitman, Challenging Slavery in the Chesapeake: Black and White Resistance to Human Bondage, 1775-1865 (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 2007), 3-12. For the concept of a charter generation, see Berlin, 29-46.
6 Berlin, Many Thousands Gone , 109-126; Whitman, Challenging Slavery , 7-18; Morgan, Slave Counterpoint , 13-16.
7 Gentlemen's Magazine and Historical Chronicle , 34 (1764): 261. Berlin, Many Thousands Gone , 123-125.
8 Deal, "A Constricted World," 303-5; Morgan, Slave Counterpoint , 485-97; Ashley Ellefson, "Free Jupiter and the Rest of the World: The Problems of a Free Negro in Colonial Maryland," Maryland Historical Magazine , 66 (1971): 1-13. Thomas E. Davidson offers a more positive assessment in his study of free blacks on the lower eastern shore of Maryland, stressing their ability to shape their own lives, in contrast to slaves, indentured servants, and other dependent laborers, though he concludes that they were never an economic threat to their white neighbors, and that the majority "were either laborers or tenant farmers who worked on white plantations." Free Blacks on the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland: The Colonial Period, 1662-1775 (Crownsville, Md., Maryland Historical Trust, 1991), 46, 75-76.
9 Philip D. Morgan, "Interracial Sex in the Chesapeake and the British Atlantic World, c. 1700-1820," in Jan Ellen Lewis and Peter S. Onuf, eds., Sally Hemings & Thomas Jefferson: History, Memory, and Civic Culture (Charlottesville, 1999), 67-68.
10 Gus Skordas, ed., The Early Settlers of Maryland: An Index to Names of Immigrants Compiled from Records of Land Patents, 1633-1680, in the Hall of Records, Annapolis, Maryland (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1968), 306. Marsham testified in 1680 that he had spent the previous twenty years living on the Patuxent River in Calvert County as "Master of a ffamily," suggesting his term of servitude had ended about 1660. William Hand Browne, Edward C. Papenfuse, et al., eds., Archives of Maryland (Baltimore and Annapolis, Md., 1883- ; this series is ongoing and available online and searchable electronically), 69: 118.
12 Beatriz Betancourt Hardy, "Papists in a Protestant Age: The Catholic Gentry and Community in Colonial Maryland, 1689-1776" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Maryland, 1993), 493-94.
13 Archives of Maryland , 69: 118-121.
14 Archives of Maryland , 15: 327, 395, 17:378-79, 717:236.
15 Skordas, Early Settlers , 306.
16 Hardy, "Papists in a Protestant Age," 435, 493-94, 527; Edward C. Papenfuse et al., eds., A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), 1: 168, 190-91, 2: 864.
17 Hardy, "Papists in a Protestant Age," 435, 493-94, 527; Papenfuse, Biographical Dictionary , 1: 168, 190-91.
18 Prince George's County Wills, Liber 1, fols. 69-72, MSA. Marsham moved to the newly created Prince George's County by 1696, probably when he married Ann Brent.
19 Prince George's County Inventories, Box 3, folder 27, MSA.
20 Prince George's County Wills, Liber 1, fols. 69-72, Liber 20, fols. 450-55, and Inventories, Box 3, folder 27. The death date of Marsham's first wife is unknown. Daughter Sarah, the mother of two sons by her husband Basil Waring who died in 1688, had to have married by c. 1685, placing her birth no later than c. 1670. Daughter Catherine had four sons with husband Baker Brooke, who died in 1698, placing her marriage no later than c. 1690, and her birth at no later than 1675.
21 Marsham's will also directed that Robin build Marsham's grandson Leonard Brooke "one twenty foot Dwelling House and one fifty foot Tobacco House cleare of Carpenters Wages together with one fifteen foot quarter" when Brooke reached age twenty. But since Brooke, whose father died in 1698, would have reached age twenty by 1718 at the latest, before Robin's emancipation date of 1720, the question of wages would appear to have been between the two grandsons - Marsham Waring, who still owned Robin, and Leonard Brooke.
22 Because Catholics were prohibited from worshiping publicly prior to the American Revolution, several kept private chapels in their homes. Robert Pearle's will mentions a chapel, evidence he was a Catholic. Richard Marsham also kept a chapel in his home. Marsham's Waring descendants were Catholic, as were at least some of Pearle's descendants, including Lawrence Pearle (1793-1868), probably Robert's great-grandson, who was born in Frederick County and later moved to Pennsylvania and then to Ohio, where is buried in St. Dominic's Catholic Cemetery in Perry County. His son John James Pearle (1836-1923) is buried in St. Patricks's Catholic Church Cemetery, also in Perry County (information provided by Joan Moore, a descendant of Lawrence Pearle).
23 There is no doubt that Marsham's slave "mulatto Robin" and Robert Pearle were the same person. The court records frequently identify Robert Pearle as either or both "alias mulatto Robin" and as a carpenter. A 1728 Prince George's County Court case identifies Robert Pearle as a "Molatto (born of a negroe Slave) and . . . manumitted by his late master's Will." Not only were manumissions extremely rare, Marsham's slave mulatto Robin was a carpenter, had a son Daniel born c. 1711, and wife Nanny (or Ann). Robert Pearle was a carpenter, had a son Daniel born c. 1711, and his wife Ann released her dower right when Pearle sold land in 1736. Not only is Daniel Pearle mentioned in Robert Pearle's will, in 1768 Daniel, identifying himself as the son of Robert Pearle, deposed that he was then about fifty-seven years old, placing his birth c. 1711, the exact age of Marsham's slave and Robin's son Daniel (Frederick County Land Records, Liber L, fols. 518-20, MSA). I am grateful to Beverly Dean Peoples, a genealogist who has researched Pearle's descendants in conjunction with her search for her own Dean ancestors, for pointing me to this deposition.
24 Papenfuse, Biographical Dictionary , 1: 191.
25 Prince George's County Court Records, Liber K, fol. 426, Liber L, fols. 540, 614-16, Liber N, fols. 158-61, 589.
26 Davidson, Free Blacks on the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland , 21.
27 Archives of Maryland , 30: 277-83, 291.
28 Prince George's County Land Records, Liber I, fols. 429-30, 443, MSA. I am grateful to Beverly Dean Peoples for pointing out this deed to me. It is also cited in George Ely Russell, "Pearle Family of Maryland," Western Maryland Genealogy , 13 (1997): 2. Some researchers of the family, unaware of Pearle's connection to Richard Marsham, postulated a relationship between Pearle and Cranford, buttressed by James Cranford's inventory, which included "One Negroe man Called Robin" (Prerogative Court Inventories, Liber 19½ B, fol. 32, MSA). But Cranford's Robin was a "Negroe man" in 1699, while Pearle was a mulatto boy, no more than fourteen years old. Also unexplained is how Cranford's Robin would have become Marsham's slave, and why in that case Marsham would have freed him.
29 Prince George's County Court Records, Liber N, fols. 490-91; Liber O, fol. 52.
30 Ibid., Liber O, fols. 65-67.
31 Archives of Maryland , 36: 20.
32 Provincial Court Records, Liber R. B. no. 2, fols. 135-37, MSA. The Provincial Court heard this case because of the amount of damages requested, since the county court had jurisdiction only in suits involving £100 or less. Pearle also resumed other prosecutions in the county court the same year.
33 Prince George's County Administration Accounts, Liber 10, fols. 308-9, Land Records, Liber I, fol. 568, Liber M, fols. 460-461, 464, Court Records, Liber L, fol. 540, Liber O, fol. 495, Liber P, fols. 88, 294 It seems unlikely Pearle would have owned these slaves while some of his own children remained in bondage, and he was not recorded as owning own any slaves in the 1733 tax assessment for Prince George's County (printed in Calendar of Maryland State Papers No. 1. The Black Books [Annapolis: Hall of Records Commission, 1943], 2: 110-24).
34 Papenfuse, Biographical Dictionary, 1: 245-46.
35 Prince George's County Land Records, Liber M, fol. 433. I am grateful to Joan Moore for this reference.
36 Hardy, "Papists in a Protestant Age," 239-40, 455-56; Papenfuse, Biographical Dictionary , 1: 250-51.
37 Hardy, "Papists in a Protestant Age," 527.
38 Prerogative Court Inventories, Liber 17, fols. 6-13.
39 List of taxables, 1733, Black Books, II, 110-24.
40 Frederick County Land Records, Liber J, fols. 152-154, 652-653, Liber W. R. no. 7, fols. 122-123, MSA; Russell, "Pearle Family of Maryland," 13 (1997): 52-53. I thank Beverly Dean Peoples for the information regarding Catherine Dean's husband.
41 Prince George's County Administration Accounts, Liber 14, fols. 143-44, MSA.
42 Prince George's County Land Records, Liber B. B. no. 1, fols. 264-65, 379-80. Daniel Pearle's lease was not recorded, but his tenement is referred to in the 1744 lease of another Carrollton tenant named John Adams (ibid., fols. 186-87). Carrollton Manor, located in what was still part of Prince George's County in 1744, was considerably west of the part of the county where Marsham and his descendants lived and became part of the newly created Frederick County in 1748.
43 Prince George's County Court Records, Liber A. A., fol. 191, Liber C. C., fol. 17, Inventories, Liber 14, fol. 5, and Accounts, Liber 10, fol. 473. William Graves was a tenant by at least 1767 until his death in 1783.
44 Archives of Maryland , 13: 546-49, 22: 546-53, 26: 254-61, 30: 283-92, 33: 111-13.
45 Provincial Court Records, Liber E. I. no. 9, fol. 227, MSA; Frederick County Wills, Liber 33, fol. 351, and Inventories, Liber G. M. no. 1, fols. 142-44; Prince George's County Court Records, Liber D. D., fol. 26.
46 William Graves rented a 100-acre tract on Carrollton Manor from before 1767 until his death in 1783 (CCA, Account Book and Index, 1754-1784, Ledger MT, fols. 36, 83, MS 211, MHS. Unlike the Pearles, who were exempted because of their race, William Graves served in a militia company raised in Lower Monocacy Hundred during the French and Indian War, as did William Marshall. The muster roll is printed in George Ely Russell, Moravian Families of Carroll's Manor Frederick County (Middletown, Md.: Catoctin Press, 1989), 17.
47 Frederick County Court Minutes, Nov. 1768, fol. 392, Mar. 1769, fols. 461, 474-75, MSA. Ann Pearle was probably the daughter of Robert's son Thomas, who posted security for her fine and fees. Two other Pearles were also convicted of bastardy, but their partners were members of the Burgess family, who also intermarried with the Pearles and who were probably mulattos.
48 The cases, against Ann Grimes and Ann Dunn, are in ibid., Aug. 1773, fols. 41 and 46.
49 A militia list compiled during the French and Indian War for Lower Monocacy Hundred, where Carrollton Manor was located, includes the names of several tenants, but although the Pearles were living on the manor, and all of Robert's sons were of age to serve, none appears on the list. Russell, Moravian Families, 17.
50 Altogether eleven family members, including Robert's sons Basil, Daniel, James, and Thomas, rented land on Carrollton Manor during the eighteenth century. Mary Clement Jeske, "Autonomy and Opportunity: Carrollton Manor Tenants, 1734-1790 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Maryland, 1999), 19-25.
51 Frederick County Land Records, Liber B. B. no. 1, 264-65; Ledger MT, fols. 33, 41-42, 45.
52 Frederick County Land Records, Liber B, fols. 91, 181-84, Liber H, fols. 678-79, and Wills, Liber 36, fols. 255-57, Liber G. M. no.3, fols. 154-57, and Liber R. B. no. 1, fols. 411-13. Both John Darnall, Jr., and his brother Henry specified in their wills that they be buried according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church.
53 Chancery Court Records, Liber I. R. no. 5, fols. 154, 236, 249, 461, 539, MSA.
54 In 1756 a Robert Pearle bought a one hundred and fifty-acre tract in Frederick County on the Seneca River, several miles east of Carrollton in what is now Montgomery County (Frederick County Land Records, Liber F, fols. 93-95, 318-20). Robert Pearle/mulatto Robin was then seventy years old, living on Carrollton Manor, and it thus seems likely this was either a son or grandson. In any case, the owner sold the tract in 1761, and Robert Pearle, Sr., did not own any land at the time of his death in 1765 (ibid., Liber G, fols. 318-20).
55 Ann had probably died by the time Pearle sold land in 1751 because she did not release her dower right in that deed.
56 Frederick County Court Minutes, June 1762, fols. 445, 460, Mar. 1763, fols. 28, 42; Frederick County Court Docket, June 1766, MSA; Frederick County Wills, Liber 33, fols. 351-52.
57 Hardy, "Papists in a Protestant Age," 201-2, 561, 565.
58 Ibid., 553-75.
59 John Darnall, Jr., and Henry Darnall were both Catholics when they died (Frederick County Wills, Liber G. M. no. 3, fols. 154-57, Liber R. B. no. 1, fols. 411-13). Henry Darnall, who died without progeny, left the bulk of his estate to his "friend" Henry Waring of Montgomery County, probably one of Richard Marsham's descendants.
60 Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Queries and answers about tenants [on Carrollton], [1765?], MS 216, Carroll Papers, MHS; Ledger MT, fol. 33.
61 Maryland State Papers, Blue Books, MSA; Archives of Maryland, 21: 133.
62 See note 2, above.
63 Frederick County Inventories, Liber 118, 142-45, Liber G. M. no. 1, fols. 65-66, Liber R. B. nos. 2, fols. 443-46, Liber H. S. no. 2, fols. 16-19; William Marshall to Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Bond, Nov. 17, 1786, Carroll Family Papers, DLC.
64 Census data compiled by Joan Moore and Linda Cunningham Fluharty, two of Pearle's white descendants who have shared their extensive work on the family's genealogy with me. Both were astonished to discover their family's descent from a former slave.
About The Author
Mary Clement Jeske received her doctorate in history from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1999. She ran across Robert Pearle and his family while writing her dissertation on tenants who rented land on Carrollton Manor in Frederick County Maryland. She now works as an Editor on the Charles Carroll Papers, located at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, which is preparing a scholarly edition of the papers of Charles Carroll of Carrollton and his family.