Free Black Men and Women Founded an Eastern Shore Village to Avoid Attention. Now Their Descendants Want to Share the StoriesHistorians in the News
tags: African American history, Maryland
It’s a sunny late afternoon on Gran’Sarah’s Hill, Newell Quinton’s 40-acre spread in a wooded corner of northwestern Wicomico County, and the lanky 77-year-old is in his element.
His 50 goats scurry and bleat as he walks among them, tossing out feed. His female hogs, Laverne and Shirley, nestle in a pen, each pregnant with a litter of piglets.
He’ll sell the goats and butcher or market the hogs when the time comes, making use of every cubic inch of living inventory just as people have done in the remote community of San Domingo, Md., for more than two centuries.
“We’ve never wasted much of anything here,” he says cheerfully. “It’s one of the values that has kept us going.”
Quinton is a native son and ongoing champion of San Domingo, an enclave of a few hundred mostly African American residents just inland from the Nanticoke River on the Eastern Shore.
Established as a settlement of free Black men and women in the early 1800s, it is believed to be the first and oldest such community in the state. But that is not all that makes this out-of-the-way place unique.
In a place and at a time when the slave trade was at its strongest, and when most Black people classified as free lived on property owned by others, San Domingo’s founders owned and tended land, set up businesses, built a church and a school, raised families and generally created a close-knit, thrifty and self-sufficient community that coexisted peacefully with the White towns around them well into the mid-1900s.
When Quinton works Gran’Sarah’s Hill, he says, he’s not just earning a living. He’s carrying on a way of life that made the community possible for all those years, right into his childhood.
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