“Crosscurrents of Slavery and Freedom”
An important shipbuilding center during the early 19th century, Church Creek suffered the consequences of interaction between highly mobile and helpful free black sailors and the area’s enslaved workers. The maritime world and its connections to the story of freedom is complex and intriguing. Here at Church Creek, whites, blacks, free and enslaved shipwrights, caulkers, sail makers and blacksmiths labored alongside each other. Visiting African-American seamen, known as Black Jacks, were part of a large, but secret, communication network that spanned not only these local coastal towns, but across the globe. These skilled seamen brought news, ideas and information to enslaved communities near and far, spreading notions of liberty and equality, and sometimes, the means to escape.
Church Creek sits along Route 16, which follows an ancient pre-colonial Indian trail used for seasonal migrations and trade between the Chesapeake and Delaware bays. In the early 19th century, a large community of enslaved and free black families lived and worked between here, Harrisville and Whitemarsh Roads. The great majority of enslaved people who fled this area before the Civil War came from places along this road, from Taylors Island to the west heading northeast to Delaware. Access to information and escapes via vessels likely secured this route’s reputation as a "Highway to Freedom."
GPS Coordinates: 38.501579,-76.152396