Negro Frederick, alias William Williams, 38th U.S. Infantry at Fort McHenry, Sept. 1814

“FORTY DOLLARS REWARD – For apprehending and securing in jail so that I get him again, NEGRO FREDERICK; Sometimes calls himself FREDERICK HALL a bright mulatto; straight and well made; 21 years old; 5 feet 7 or 8 inches high, with a short chub nose and so fair as to show freckles, he has no scars or marks of any kind that is recollected; his clothing when he left home, two months sine, was home made cotton shirts, jacket and Pantaloons of cotton, and yarn twilled, all white. It is probable he may be in Baltimore, having  relation there, a house servant to a Mr. Williams, by the name of Frank who is also a mulatto, but not so fair as Frederick. BENJAMIN ODEN, Prince George’s County, May 12th, 1814.”

In the Spring of 1814 the slave Frederick Hall ran away from his owner Benjamin Oden (1762-1836) of Prince George’s County. On April 14, Frederick, alias William Williams was enlisted as a private in the 38th U.S. Infantry by an Ensign Martin. Federal law however prohibited the enlistment of slaves because they “could make no valid contract with the government.”

It seems the officer who enlisted Williams made no inquiries, nevertheless Williams received his bounty of $50 and was paid a private’s wage of $8 per month.  In September the 38th U.S. Infantry were ordered to Baltimore to Fort McHenry, taking part in its defense, within the dry ditch surrounding the Star Fort with 600 other U.S. Infantry soldiers. Records at the National Archives reveal that Williams was “severely wounded, having his leg blown off by a cannon ball.” He was taken to the garrison hospital at Fort McHenry where he died.. His final resting place remains unknown.

After the war in 1833-34 Mr. Oden petitioned the government for Williams land bounty, but since Williams was a slave, and “therefore, inasmuch as a slave cannot possess or acquire title to real estate by the laws of the land, in his own right, no right can be set up by the master as his representative.” Mr. Oden’s claim was therefore dismissed.

Sources: Baltimore American and Commercial Daily Adv., May 18, 1814; “On Claim To A Bounty Land Warrant for the Military Services of a Slave by His Owner,” American State Papers, Volume 6, Public Lands, No. 1223, 23rd Congress, 1st Session. April 7, 1834, p. 644, 969; Oden Papers, 1755-1836, MS. 178, Maryland Historical Society.

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Published in: on April 10, 2011 at 5:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

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