Friday, July 3, 2009

Beall-Dawson House

By: Angie Powell
HS 129, Summer 1 2009

The Beall Dawson house located in Rockville, Maryland is a “restored 1815 Federal style home furnished in period.” (Historical Marker Database). As seen in the picture, it is a two and a half story home that exhibits the life of Upton Beall, his wife, three daughters, and their slaves. In the museum today, “the daily life and culture of the Bealls and their slaves are presented along with displays related to the War of 1812, architecture, the early history of Montgomery County, tobacco farming and medicine.” (Planetware Travel Guide).

Upton Beall built the house in 1815 (Montgomery Historical Society). Today it is located at 103 West Montgomery Avenue in Rockville, Maryland, which is where these pictures were taken. Two of the pictures show the restored Beall Dawson house that was built in 1815 and the other picture talks about the slavery in Rockville before emancipation was issued in Maryland on November 1, 1864 (Historic Rockville African American Heritage Walking Tour). I took these pictures of May 28, 2009 for the purpose of learning more about slave life in Maryland and also for this project.

To find this historical site, I did a lot of searching on Google and found many web sites that listed multiple historical sites close to the Rockville area. I decided on the Beall Dawson house not only because of the convenience of location but also because it appealed to my interests. I was interested to see that slaves were passed down from generation to generation in the Beall family. Also, the Beall slave population did not increase because of buying and selling but because of birth from slaves which made them born into ownership by the Bealls (Historic Rockville African American Heritage Walking Tour).
What astonished me is the fact that it looked like a normal house that people might live in today. Knowing that the house was built in 1815 and even if it was restored, the condition it is in today is fantastic and is very interesting since the architecture is not so different to some houses today. What also attracted me to this historical site was the knowledge that slaves and people lived in this exact house less than 200 years ago which in and of itself is very impressive and almost unimaginable.

Knowing that I was standing on the same ground that slaves walked on and that I was at a place that added dimensions to slave life in Maryland was exhilarating and unbelievable. Today, I couldn’t imagine seeing slaves being put to work or being punished, but when I was at the Beall Dawson house I realized the enormous change the United States took after the Civil War and the emancipation of all slaves in the U.S. I am grateful that the U.S. has made life how it is today so all of us wouldn’t have to find out what being a slave or owning slaves would feel like.

The relationship of African American history to the Beall Dawson house is the presence of slaves. Upton Beall, a wealthy landowner and Clerk of Montgomery County Court in 1815, built the house in 1815. He owned 25 slaves which were split to work on one of his three estates: the Beall Dawson house, one of Beall’s mills in Watts Branch, or Beall’s rural property in Beallmont. After Upton Beall’s death in 1827, the ownership of slaves transferred to his wife and three daughters. Under the ownership of Mrs. Beall and her daughters the slaves “worked the land, cooked, cleaned, tended kitchen gardens, canned, washed, ironed, and cared for livestock” (Historic Rockville African American Heritage Walking Tour). After their mother’s death, the three daughters inherited the estates and slaves which by 1853 that had 40 and by 1860 they had 52.

The Beall sisters never sold or bought any slaves except for John Henson of whom they sold to Josiah Henson, assumed to be John Henson’s brother, for $250. Josiah Henson was a famed fugitive slave who is known as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s prototype in her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. His family was sold and in 1830 he escaped his master with his wife and four children where he then helped over a hundred slaves escape, including his brother John Henson (Josiah Henson: Biography from

The growth of slaves happened because of births within the slave population that the Bealls already owned. The majority of their slaves lived in quarters on the three estates, while some slaves were hired out to families in D.C. In 1862, the Beall sisters freed the 17 slaves who worked in D.C. and received “$9400 for them under a federal compensation program.” (Historic Rockville African American Heritage Walking Tour). The Beall sisters freed the rest of the slaves on November 1, 1864 when emancipation was declared in Maryland. After the freeing of their slaves, the Beall’s sold some of their land to the free slaves and other African American families. Not much is known about what the Beall slaves did after they were free but we can generalize that some went to work in their skilled practices while others went on to raise families because many of the Beall slaves weren’t treated harshly and were able to become skilled workers.

The Beall Dawson house is an interesting historical site that future generations should take time to visit. They will be able to gain knowledge about what slaves did in and around the Beall Dawson house. In the house, slaves were under closer supervision by the Beall sisters and therefore probably worked harder and were more stressed. House duties included cooking, cleaning, washing, and ironing. The slaves who worked outside worked the land, tended kitchen gardens, canned, and cared for livestock (Historic Rockville African American Heritage Walking Tour).

The museum portrays the lives of these slaves as always working but not intensely working as in other places like southern plantations. From what I read, it seems as if we can generalize that the slaves were still treated as inferior by the sisters and had to live above the kitchen or in small slave quarters on the field, but conditions on the Beall Dawson house and fields was nowhere near as harsh or cruel as in other places in the Deep South. Future generations will enjoy the knowledge incorporated within and around this house and may bring to them an understanding of how slave life was in Maryland.

While visiting this historical site may be interesting and knowledgeable, future generations should keep in mind that it may be haunted. The Beall-Dawson house is a pre-Civil War house that survived through the presence of General Jeb Stuart’s Confederate troops and the invasion of General George McClellan’s Union Army (HAUNTED MARYLAND).

Not much is known about the haunting activity around and in the Beall Dawson house but a ghostly apparition has been seen in the house. It could have been Upton Beall, his wife Jane Beall, one of their three daughters Jane, Mathilda, and Margaret, or one of the six to eight household slaves that lived in the main house (Paranormal Everything). Since the house has been declared haunted, I warn all people to beware of visiting the site at night and encourage them to visit during the day because although it may be haunted, it is a great experience that introduces people to slave live in this area. However, if you wish to be daring, the Beall Dawson House offers ghost tours every Halloween (HAUNTED MARYLAND).

Works Cited:
"African American Historic Sites in Montgomery County, Maryland." Google Maps. 28 May 2009.

"Beall-Dawson House, Rockville." PlanetWare Travel Guide - Hotels, Attractions, Pictures, Maps & More. 28 May 2009.

Fuchs, Tom. "Beall-Dawson House and Park Marker." The Historical Marker Database. Ed. J. J. Prats. 5 Apr. 2006. 28 May 2009.

"HAUNTED MARYLAND." Haunted Traveler Home Page. 28 May 2009.

"Historic Rockville African American Heritage Walking Tour." Rockville, Maryland - Official Web Site. 28 May 2009.

"Josiah Henson: Biography from" - Online Dictionary, Encyclopedia and much more. 16 June 2009.

Paranormal Everything - 16 June 2009

"Rockville Campus, Beall-Dawson Historic Park." Montgomery Historical Society. 28 May 2009.

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