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Brutal slave history unearthed at Frederick County's L'Hermitage

Cruel treatment

Experts discover what are believed to be remnants of two more cabins that once made up a small slave village in Frederick County, Md.

A dark portrait of what is likely L'Hermitage appears in the 1798 account of the Polish writer and patriot Julian Niemcewicz, who happened to pass by in a carriage and probably was told about the plantation by his driver.

Niemcewicz reported that Boisneuf lived with many slaves "whom he treats with the greatest tyranny."

"One can see on the home farm instruments of torture, stocks, wooden horses, whips etc.," Niemcewicz wrote. "Two or three negroes crippled with torture have brought legal action against him."

Beasley and another Park Service archaeologist, Sara Rivers-Cofield, now with the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, point out that the account may be affected by anti-Catholic, anti-French feeling among the mostly Protestant county residents. But in sum it is probably accurate.

Members of the family were charged in nine state court cases with cruelty against their slaves, a remarkable occurrence when mistreatment of slaves was commonplace, Rivers-Cofield said Monday.

Boisneuf was accused of "cruelly and immercifully beating and whipping" slaves Harry, Jerry, Abraham, Stephon, Soll and George.

One of the Vincendiere daughters, Victoire, was charged with beating her slave, Jenny, according to court records.

Those charges were dismissed, Rivers-Cofield found. But in 1797 Boisneuf was found guilty of "not sufficiently clothing and feeding his negroes," and of beating a slave named Shadrack.

L'Hermitage was sold in 1827. And over the years, as family members died, the Vincendieres gradually sold their slaves, including 17 for $2,925 to a buyer from Louisiana in 1825.

One of those was Fillelle, then 35, who had come with the family to Maryland when she was 8.

When Victoire died in 1854, her will ordered the eventual freedom of the remaining slaves in her possession. Of the 90 people once held in bondage at L'Hermitage, she had three left to set free.

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