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

This project grew out of the IRC’s representation of Baltimore circa 1815: The BEARINGS of Baltimore. That visualization shows the city streets and buildings in beautiful detail. But the streets and squares themselves are empty. It’s a stage set, and Slave Streets, Free Streets seeks to bring it to life, by focusing on the enslaved and free black workers who populated the city.

Slave Streets, Free Streets 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 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. We are also trying to make an argument about the power of visualization as a story-telling medium, to show how mapping can spatially illuminate relationships of power and place.

Slavery was inextricably woven through the fabric of society in Baltimore, shaping the lives of blacks and whites, free and enslaved. We spatially represent this experience in several ways. In dot-density maps we 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 revealed in more recent maps of the city.

Drawing on records such as city directories, tax records, census reports, newspapers, and other historical documents, we are re-discovering people, including free and enslaved residents, at locations around the city, and tying them by name to specific addresses. We also identified dozens of places where Baltimoreans were engaged in the slave trade and told the stories of fugitives from slavery by drawing on runaway slave advertisements and slave narratives.

Production Notes

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