On the quiet streets of Unionville in the 1950s it wouldn’t have been unusual to see a man driving a horse and buggy, dressed as if he was from the Old West. By that time most people in the small Maryland village were driving cars, but Mr Albert Emory, who made his living shoeing horses, never made the switch.
Today, 68-year-old Ronald Hayman remembers Mr Emory and his horse and buggy vividly. It is one of the quintessential images that Mr Hayman thinks of when he talks about growing up in the historic village of Unionville, where he has since returned in his retirement.
Unionville was founded in 1867 by 18 African American Civil War veterans – some who were freed from slavery when they enlisted in the Union Army and others who had been free already. After the war they returned to Talbot County, Maryland, where they leased property from a local abolitionist and Quaker, Ezekiel Cowgill, who even set aside land so they could build a schoolhouse and a church.
Though African Americans slaves were emancipated during the Civil War, the state of Maryland passed Jim Crow laws in the 1870s and starting in the 1890s there were lynchings on the state’s Eastern Shore.
Meanwhile, Unionville became a place where African Americans thrived and built a strong, close-knit community. After the first 18 veterans and their families founded the village, 31 other families joined them. Last May the village had its 150th anniversary, where residents celebrated Unionville’s longevity and unique story with a parade, speakers and exhibits and other community activities.
‘We think it is the only surviving town in the country that was founded by black Civil War soldiers,’ Talbot Historical Society President Larry Denton tells DailyMail.com. ‘That’s a pretty bold statement, but certainly it’s the only town in Maryland and we are not aware of any other town in the country that still exists in a self-contained kind of way.
‘The urban sprawl has taken over others, but this one is still there pretty much the way it was 150 years ago. The homes, of course, are modern, the church is modern, the old school house is long gone, but the graveyard is the same. It’s just – unique is an overused word and I don’t want to use it, but this is a very, very unusual place.’
In 1863, the Union Army began to enlist African American troops and even offered to pay slave owners who were ‘loyal Unionists’ $300 per slave if they let them join the army with the promise of freedom after the war. Though Maryland was part of the Union, slavery was prevalent in the state, so when 3,400 African American men enlisted from Talbot County, Maryland, many of them were joining for their freedom, though some of the men had already been free, Denton says.
The 18 men who eventually returned to Talbot County and founded Unionville, had all been born and raised there. Many of them had served in a Maryland regiment that was sent to a large Texas town that had no law enforcement after the war, where they helped maintain order.