Grace Brooks, a founding member of The Hill Community, lived on Hanson Street just beyond the site of today’s standing water tower in the distance to your left. Though she was born enslaved in 1734, her skills in nursing and midwifery afforded her the opportunity to earn a personal income. In 1788, she bought her freedom, as well as that of her daughter Phebe and her granddaughter Priscilla, for £70. She later purchased her son David for £75 and granddaughter Nancy Walker for a sum of £40. Grace immediately gave them their freedom.
Known locally as “Granny Grace,” she became the first African American woman known to own land in the town of Easton. When Brooks died on March 12, 1810, the Republican Star newspaper published a detailed obituary about her remarkable life. At that time, women’s lives, regardless of race, were not typically memorialized in this fashion. Even after her death, she continued to care for family and friends by leaving specific bequests in her will.
An enslaved woman named Sucky Bailey lived in a house that was also on Grace’s property. Bailey and many other enslaved people in Easton and throughout Talbot County were able to live on their own with a degree of liberty and freedom that those in other parts of Maryland and the South did not enjoy.
For many years, Easton Primary and High School, where the white children of Easton were educated, stood at the corner of Hanson Street and South Lane. Developer James Rouse, who is credited with popularizing the modern shopping mall, grew up on a farm just south of here off Hanson Street. He would have walked past his African American neighbors on the way to school. Rouse credited his childhood experiences in this integrated community with the inspiration for the racial and class integration in the planned community of Columbia, Maryland, which is considered his crowning achievement.