Slave Streets, Free Streets: Visualizing the Landscape of Early Baltimore

Mapping to illuminate power & place

Slave Streets, Free Streets, is part of the IRC’s research on Visualizing Early Baltimore. After creating The BEARINGS of Baltimore, the IRC’s representation of Baltimore circa 1815 there remains a desire to fill these empty streets with the people who lived in them. Slave Streets, Free Streets seeks to bring to life the streets and squares, by focusing on the enslaved and free black workers who populated the city. At this writing, it remains a planned, versus produced project, with funding having been sought from the National Endowment for the Humanities and other sources. The project, should funding be acquired, would be produced as follows.

Slavery was inextricably woven through the fabric of society in Baltimore, shaping the lives of blacks and whites, free and enslaved. Drawing on records such as city directories, tax records, census reports, newspapers, and other historical documents, Slave Streets, Free Streets identifies people, including free and enslaved residents, at locations around the city, tying them by name to specific addresses. Slave advertisements and slave narratives also helped in identifying dozens of places where Baltimoreans were engaged in the slave trade and in telling the stories of fugitives from slavery. This experience is spatially represented in several ways including dot-density maps. Dot-density maps show that Baltimore’s 1820 population (by ward) was relatively integrated, in vivid contrast with the so-called “black butterfly” configuration of racial, social, and economic segregation that become the reality in so many US cities during the Great Migration due to racist practices such as "red-lining." Such segregation is revealed in more recent maps of the city and is with us today.

Dot-density map of Baltimore’s 1820 population arranged by wards: whites are purple, free blacks are green, and enslaved workers are blue.

Slave Streets, Free Streets, demonstrates the power of visualization as a story-telling medium and reinforces how mapping can spatially illuminate relationships of power and place: It allows users to see the way that slavery was enmeshed in the world of early Baltimore, even though the city appears far more integrated than it is today; It also reminds us of the degree to which racial slavery and nascent capitalism spun a web from which people struggled to extricate themselves and their families; Finally, it allows us to put faces and names to the largely anonymous ordinary people of the past.

Production Notes

Project Directors: Dan Bailey and Anne Sarah Rubin
Researchers: Sarah Driver and Alexander Sievers
Programmers: Mark Jarzynski
Modeler: Ryan Zuber