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Discover how African-American history shaped the culture and economy of the Chesapeake Bay, from the s to today. The Chesapeake Bay region is a ificant setting in African-American history. The region was a gateway for the first black people brought from Africa to the colonies.

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Throughout the mids, the Bay and its rivers were important pathways along the Underground Railroad. After the war, newly emancipated Black people found their way to the Chesapeake's shores, where they helped build the region's economy and shape its culture.

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Slavery in the Chesapeake region began inwhen a Dutch trading vessel carrying 20 African men entered Jamestown, Virginia. The slave trade expanded in the following years. Between andthe region's slave population grew from 13, toBy the beginning of the Revolutionary War inBlack people made up nearly one-third of the region's population. In the s, the Chesapeake region became a focal point of the national controversy surrounding slavery because it was in the unique position of spanning free, border and slave states:.

The Underground Railroad, which operated prior to the Civil War between andwas a coordinated network of safe houses. Aided by free Black citizens and sympathetic white citizens, enslaved people traveled under the cover of darkness along the Underground Railroad to reach freedom.

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Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact routes that escaped enslaved people followed, records show the Chesapeake and its rivers were often used as passageways to the North. Tubman escaped slavery in and returned to the South 19 times, freeing more than slaves through the Underground Railroad. Douglass used the Chesapeake in his first attempt to escape slavery. Douglass and five other men planned to canoe up the Bay and into Pennsylvania.

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However, the men were turned in by another enslaved person. Douglass ultimately found freedom on a steamboat traveling from Delaware to Pennsylvania. The Chesapeake region, like much of the country, was increasingly divided over slavery.

Pennsylvania, a free state, was loyal to the Union.

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The border states of Maryland and Delaware were pro-slavery, but also remained loyal to the Union. Virginia seceded from the Union in to the Confederacy. Enslaved people seized the opportunity to escape. They often did not have to travel far to find freedom and assistance with avoiding capture. Butler invoked property law to protect escaped enslaved people that fled to his camp.

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He reasoned that if the Confederacy was going to refer to enslaved people as property, he could seize them as property contraband of war. Butler's interpretation of the law created new hope and a new workforce. Runaway enslaved people flooded into Union camps, where they were put to work. Although they were not fighting on front lines, Black citizens were instrumental in wartime operations such as building forts, maintaining railro and mining coal.

As time passed and Union casualties grew, Black citizens were granted the right to serve in the Union Army. Many fought in battles throughout the Bay watershed. In Maryland, six Black regiments totaling more than 8, men formed. These regiments played major roles in the Union's battle plans.

The 36th U. Later in the war, the infantry disabled Confederate torpedoes in the lower Chesapeake.

Twenty-one were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military honor in the U. By the s, the Chesapeake Bay became the primary source of oysters in the U. This created an industry in need of strong labor. The availability of jobs and relatively low start-up costs for new watermen lured many newly freed Black citizens to the region.

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In addition to harvesting the Bay's bounty, many also found jobs building boats and processing the day's catches. New African-American communities sprung up along the Bay's shores.

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These communities became economic and cultural centers for Black citizens in the region. During the early s, it was not uncommon to hear men singing while hauling in seines full of fish. These rhythmic songs, known as chanteysare rooted in African tradition.

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Chanteys helped the men coordinate their movements and control the pace of the grueling work. Many watermen believed that singing chanteys helped them haul in nets faster and more efficiently than those who did not sing.

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African Americans in the Chesapeake Discover how African-American history shaped the culture and economy of the Chesapeake Bay, from the s to today. Photo Credit: M. Slavery in the Chesapeake Bay region Slavery in the Chesapeake region began inwhen a Dutch trading vessel carrying 20 African men entered Jamestown, Virginia. The Underground Railroad The Underground Railroad, which operated prior to the Civil War between andwas a coordinated network of safe houses.

Chesapeake waterways were used in a variety of ways: Escaping enslaved people would quietly slip aboard docked vessels, which would shuttle them up the Bay into the Susquehanna River. Captains in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia hid runaways aboard their ships, risking high fines and jail time.

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Enslaved people working on boats also aided runaways by secretly smuggling them aboard. Enslaved people heading from Virginia toward freedom crossed shallow sections of the Potomac River on horseback or wagon to reach safe houses on the Maryland side.

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In order to support you during this unprecedented time, CBF educators are hard at work creating new ways for educators and students to keep learning outside and learning about the environment.

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On sunny days, take the family to explore the many parks and trails that Chesapeake has to offer.