Look right along South Street to Talbot Lane. This row of houses sits on land once owned by Jeremiah Banning, also known as Jere. He was born a slave and was manumitted at age 21 on January 1, 1801, by the Reverend Joseph Telford of Easton. The Bethel A.M.E. Church listed Jere as a trustee in 1827. He and his wife Cassie, along with their children, resided on Lot No. 30. Jere later bought the land from Samuel Yarnell’s estate in 1837. Like most town residents, Jere had a garden and raised animals on this half-acre plot of land.
Continue across South Street and walk to 107 Hanson Street. James Freeman, a free black man, purchased Lot 31, where this more recent house sits today, when the town lots were originally auctioned in 1788. He and his wife Henny had nine children and rented the rear portion of the lot to a free black man named Hercules. The family lost the land and house because of an unpaid 62¢ tax bill in 1828, when the country was enduring a tremendous depression. Freeman’s descendants continue to live in Easton today.
Polly Blake purchased the house now standing at 107 South Hanson Street in 1881. She was born enslaved to the Hambleton family in 1804 at Emmerson Point outside St. Michaels. After the Civil War ended and she gained her freedom, Polly worked for James Parrott Hambleton, a white man she helped raise while enslaved.
After Hambleton married, Polly moved to Easton. When she died in 1887, her daughter and son-in-law Joseph H. Gray held the property until it was sold in 1908. During the war, Joseph served in Company F, 2nd Regiment of the U.S. Colored Infantry. Polly’s son Albert also served in the military and was a member of Company B, 7th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Infantry.
The garden or urban farm plots that the Banning and Freeman families established on their properties were much like those of other early Eastonians. Some enslaved people on plantations were able to grow kitchen gardens to fill gaps in their sometimes meager rations. Free black people planted gardens and held livestock on their own land in an effort to become self-sufficient.
Archaeological excavations on the Freeman site in 2017 and 2018 indicate the scale of these urban farms in early Easton. Here, several large planting beds were uncovered that would have supplied much of the family’s diet. Tax records show that the Freemans also owned several hogs, horses, and cattle. A large barn door hinge recovered at the site testifies to the family’s investment in facilities to house these animals.