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Headstone of wealthy 19th century free Black man found in Annapolis cemetery

John Maynard, born a free Black man in Annapolis in 1810, died at the age of 64, a wealthy property owner in the city.

After he was buried in St. Anne’s Cemetery decades ago, the exact location of Maynard’s headstone in the city graveyard was mostly forgotten. It became one of the hundreds of markers filling the hilly plot in the shadow of the majority-Black Old Fourth Ward.

But thanks to the sharp eye of Annapolis historian Janice Hayes-Williams and with the help of cemetery maps provided by Ginger Deluca, co-chair of St. Anne’s Cemetery Committee, the worn gray headstone was rediscovered this week nestled between two bushes, covered in dirt, branches and grass clippings.

A clean break at its base indicates it broke off its foundation at some point and was perhaps placed under the bushes for safekeeping, said Mark LaBuda, St. Anne’s manager. Other broken headstones are often propped up against the cemetery walls.

Now, Hayes-Williams hopes to find a place to display Maynard’s headstone permanently to teach future generations about the city’s Black history. A logical spot, she said, would be in the backyard of the historic Maynard-Burgess House on Duke of Gloucester Street that Maynard owned from 1847 until his death in 1875.

This year, in partnership with the Maryland Historical Trust and the African American Heritage Preservation Grant Program, the city will begin restoring the building as an “adaptive reuse” project. It will be a mix of exhibits with artifacts from Maynard’s life and other owners, plus storyboards to tell the building’s history. The project could also include office and meeting spaces.

“It’s long overdue,” said Hayes-Williams, whose grandmother was related to Maynard. “When these doors open, it will be the first African American home open to the public. Of all the homes to tour, they’re all White. This is significant.”

Many residents see Brewer Hill Cemetery on West Street, the city’s oldest Black graveyard, as the primary resting place for the city’s Black population. But the discovery of Maynard’s headstone could show contemporary Black families that they have relatives in other parts of the city. St. Anne’s is also the resting place of other prominent Black figures in Annapolis history, such as William H. Butler, the first Black alderman.

“The only cemetery that Black people identify with is Brewer Hill, and what we’re telling you is that going back to 1800, [Black ancestors] are here,” said Hayes-Williams, pointing across the rows of weathered grave markers. “It’s an opportunity to get to know your family. You have family here, too.”

Maynard was a man unique to his time. Between 1834 and 1845, he bought and freed his wife Maria, her daughter Phebe Ann and his mother-in-law, Phoebe Spencer, according to a history compiled by the city. Census records show he worked as a waiter.

In 1847, he purchased the building at 163 Duke of Gloucester Street and, over the next decade, expanded the home to a 2½ -story dwelling with two front entrances, dormers and a massive central brick chimney. Some of those modifications are still intact more than 150 years later, including some original paint, wallpaper, doors and windows. The backyard is scattered with dozens of buttons, remnants of Maria Maynard’s time as a laundress.

After he died, the house was purchased by Willis Burgess, a former boarder. It remained in Black family ownership until 1990, when a for-profit preservation company bought the house and eventually transferred ownership to the City of Annapolis in 1993 for restoration.

The city has put more than $1.1 million in capital funds, grants and other money toward stabilizing and restoring the structure, according to city records. The upcoming restoration project is expected to cost about $400,000.

The project set to begin this summer, while massive in scope, will be treated with respect, said John Tower, Annapolis’s assistant chief of historic preservation.

“I do not plan to allow a single bit of its original material to be compromised,” Tower said. “That’s my goal.”

By Brooks DuBose, Baltimore Sun, May 6, 2021 [Source]

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