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Person Interviewed: Page Harris
Location: Camp Parole, Maryland
Place of Birth: Charles County MD
Date of Birth: 1858
Place of Residence: Campe Parole, A. A. C. Co., MD
Reference: Personal interview with Page Harris at his home, Camp Parole, A.A.C. Co., Md.
“I was born in 1858 about 3 miles west of Chicamuxen near the Potomac River in Charles County on the farm of Burton Stafford, better known as Blood Hound Manor. This name was applied because Mr. Stafford raised and trained blood hounds to track runaway slaves and to sell to slaveholders of Maryland, Virginia and other southern states as far south as Mississippi and Louisiana.
“My father’s name was Sam and mother’s Mary, both of whom belonged to the Staffords and were reared in Charles County. They reared a family of nine children, I being the oldest and the only one born a slave, the rest free. I think it was in 1859 or it might be 1860 when the Staffords liberated my parents, not because he believed in the freedom of slaves but because of saving the lives of his entire family.
“Mrs. Stafford came from Prince William County, Virginia, a county on the west side of the Potomac River in Virginia. Mr. and Mrs. Stafford had a large rowboat that they used on the Potomac as a fishing and oyster boat as well as a transportation boat across the Potomac River to Quantico, a small town in Prince William County, Va., and up Quantico Creek in the same county.
“I have been told by my parents and also by Joshua Stafford, the oldest son of Mr. Stafford, that one Sunday morning on the date as related in the story previously Mrs. Stafford and her 3 children were being rowed across the Potomac River to attend a Baptist church in Virginia of which she was a member. Suddenly a wind and a thunder storm arose causing the boat to capsize. My father was fishing from a log raft in the river, immediately went to their rescue. The wind blew the raft towards the centre of the stream and in line with the boat. He was able without assistance to save the whole family, diving into the river to rescue Mrs. Stafford after she had gone down. He pulled her on the raft and it was blown ashore with all aboard, but several miles down the stream. Everybody thought that the Staffords had been drowned as the boat floated to the shore, bottom upwards.
“As a reward Mr. Stafford took my father to the court house at La Plata, the county seat of Charles County, signed papers for the emancipation of him, my mother, and me, besides giving him money to help him to take his family to Philadelphia.
“I have a vague recollection of the Staffords’ family, not enough to describe. They lived on a large farm situated in Charles County, a part bounding on the Potomac River and a cove that extends into the farm property. Much of the farm property was marshy and was suitable for the purpose of Mr. Stafford’s living—raising and training blood hounds. I have been told by mother and father on many occasions that there were as many as a hundred dogs on the farm at times. Mr. Stafford had about 50 slaves on his farm. He had an original method in training young blood hounds, he would make one of the slaves traverse a course, at the end, the slave would climb a tree. The younger dogs led by an old dog, sometimes by several older dogs, would trail the slave until they reached the tree, then they would bark until taken away by the men who had charge of the dogs.
“Mr. Stafford’s dogs were often sought to apprehend runaway slaves. He would charge according to the value and worth of the slave captured. His dogs were often taken to Virginia, sometimes to North Carolina, besides being used in Maryland. I have been told that when a slave was captured, besides the reward paid in money, that each dog was supposed to bite the slave to make him anxious to hunt human beings.
“There was a slaveholder in Charles County who had a very valuable slave, an expert carpenter and bricklayer, whose services were much sought after by the people in Southern Maryland. This slave could elude the best blood hounds in the State. It was always said that slaves, when they ran away, would try to go through a graveyard and if he or she could get dirt from the grave of some one that had been recently buried, sprinkle it behind them, the dogs could not follow the fleeing slave, and would howl and return home.
“Old Pete the mechanic was working on farm near La Plata, he decided to run away as he had done on several previous occasions. He was known by some as the herb doctor and healer. He would not be punished on any condition nor would he work unless he was paid something. It was said that he would save money and give it to people who wanted to run away. He was charged with aiding a girl to flee. He was to be whipped by the sheriff of Charles County for aiding the girl to run away. He heard of it, left the night before he was to be whipped, he went to the swamp in the cove or about 5 miles from where his master lived. He eluded the dogs for several weeks, escaped, got to Boston and no one to this day has any idea how he did it; but he did.
“In the year of 1866 my father returned to Maryland bringing with him mother and my brothers and sister. He selected Annapolis for his future home, where he secured work as a waiter at the Naval Academy, he continued there for more than 20 years. In the meantime after 1866 or 1868, when schools were opened for colored people, I went to a school that was established for colored children and taught by white teacher until I was about 17 years old, then I too worked at the Naval Academy waiting on the midshipmen. In those days you could make extra money, sometimes making more than your wages. About 1896 or ’97 I purchased a farm near Camp Parole containing 120 acres, upon which I have lived since, raising a variety of vegetables for which Anne Arundel County is noted. I have been a member of Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church, Annapolis, for more than 40 years. All of my children, 5 in number, have grown to be men and women, one living home with me, one in New York, two in Baltimore, and one working in Washington, D.C.”