In terms of African American history, the term “property” takes on different yet equally powerful meanings. Many African Americans were property, and for some, once freed, their property was of land passed on to family. The acquisition of land property symbolizes a kind of freedom and hopefully security for the future. Sarah Young of East New Market, Maryland, was a person who was for a time property. After gaining her freedom, she passed on a sizable piece of land to a community that continues to cherish the gift.
Frank Collins runs an extraordinary website on the history of East New Market. He provides the following description of Sarah:
Sarah Young (ca.1793- ca.1845) is founder of the Depot area community of East New Market, Maryland. She was the first African-American to own land in the town. In 1844 she deeded a small part of her land to the Trustees for the Colored People’s Methodist Episcopal Church. Many African Americans who have family in East New Market are descended from Sarah Young.
When Henry Nicols (ca.1778-1832) died in 1832, aside from the property left to his wife, Margaret, and his niece, Emily Green, the primary person he left property to was Sarah who he described as “his negro woman”. Sarah later came to be known as Sarah Young. Henry Nicols bequeathed a considerable amount of his estate to her. In Henry Nicols’ Last Will and Testament, he freed Sarah and set dates for her son’s Clem and George to gain their freedom as well. He bequeathed to Sarah $100 and two properties consisting of 7 acres (near the school) and 35 acres (in the depot area). He also freed Rosette and gave her survivor rights to the property left to Sarah. An 1844 record states that Rosette is a child of Sarah, but the wording of the 1832 will was not as clear about the relationship.
The value of the property that Henry Nicols left to Sarah Young leads one to explore their relationship. One would suspect that for Henry Nicols to leave so much to Sarah in his will, he must have known her for a considerable amount of time or had a special relationship with her.
Yes, property is a powerful thing. Today, Sarah is honored at least once a year for the gift that remains a significant cornerstone of the community. [I took the above photograph in 1996.]