African American Story at Handsell

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Enslaved Community Database – a comprehensive list of enslaved persons who are connected with the Rider-Billings-Steele families of Dorchester and 19th century owners of Handsell plantation. This document will be updated periodically, so keep checking back with us.  Download available HERE.

On October 9, 2021 the Memorial to the Enslaved was dedicated at Handsell Historic site.  This engraved, 6.5 ton boulder stands in recognition of more than 210 enslaved persons who labored at and near Handsell who were held in bondage by the owners of the Handsell plantion.

One of the missions of the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance is to pay tribute to the people of African descent who worked the fields and labored at Handsell for 300 years as both free and enslaved people.  As a commitment to this goal, NHPA has produced a 25 minute documentary film with video interviews of those who grew up in the Indiantown area around Handsell who were the children of Sharecroppers.  Families with the names of Pinder, Jackson, Chase, Robinson have stories to tell of what life was like growing up in rural Dorchester County in the early to mid-20th century during a time of segregation.  These stories tell of the schools and churches attended and chore and jobs done on the farm that lead to further education and professional careers in adulthood.  NHPA is proud of this endeavor to capture these voices from the past to ensure they are heard in the future!

Listen the to the WYPR Radio Interview about the film.

WATCH Voices of Indiantown teaser on You Tube.

WATCH “Delmarva Life” Show about Handsell and the African American Story on You Tube.

The film has been shown in seven counties on the Eastern Shore since February of 2014..  If your school, church, library or museum is interested in having a screening of the film, please contact us at

Would you like to purchase a copy of this documentary film?   You can reserve a copy by submitting $20 (included shipping and handling) to NHPA using the Order Form!

Over 250 copies already sold!!

To order a copy of the DVD, please CLICK HERE

Or email us for more information.


“Fred and I just wanted to say how terrific we think the film is—Kudos to all who made the film possible–it is a credit to Handsell and all of the participants”.

—Lexine Lowe and Fred Pomeroy,  Feburary 10, 2014

“NHPA documentary is strikingly poignant…the film is entrancing”

—Susan M. Bautz, Dorchester Banner, February 12,2014

“I just viewed the ‘Voices of Indiantown’ video and must say I was blown away.

What an awesome job was done in documenting and weaving together interviews with vintage photos.  I might add that the untouched photos added authenticity to the telling.

My family left Indiantown when I was very young and my memory of life there is faint, but I can attest to the fact that the same value system  and sense of community in the face of harsh realities permeated  African American life throughout the broader area and I dare say the entire county.

This is a story that needed to be told, especially in the this age of self-absorption, apathy  and alienation,  and it was done so with such grace and elegance.

Please extent my thanks to everyone involved in the project”.

Ruth Robinson, March 25, 2014

“We’re still talking about the Voices of Indiantown video!  It had quite an impact.  I think the parallels between Banneker’s life and the Voices lives are remarkable and the lessons universal”.

Justine Schaeffer, Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, Catonsville, MD,   August 21, 2014


NHPA Continues in the Research of the History and Genealogy of the African American Families who Lived and Worked at Handsell

DATA BASE now available online

The most updated list of enslaved people once connected with the Handsell property itself or owners of the plantation.  An individual on this list may have been at Handsell, Weston, Hambrooks Plantation (in Cambridge), or The Ogle House (in Annapolis), all of which were properties owned by the Steele family members.  Other individual may have been loaned out to other farms.

It is clear that from the very early days on, both white and black families, enslaved and free, lived together at Handsell in the Indiantown in a plantation community.  Later in the 19th century free blacks continued working on the farms side by side with enslaved people.  Many of the slaves and freemen were related and their descendants continued to reside on Indiantown Road through the 1950’s.  One of NHPA trustees, Shirley Jackson is one of those who grew up in the area.  NHPA is  fortunate to have several photographs contributed by living family members.  All structures that you see in these old photographs, including former slave houses, sheds and barns have been demolished, except for ‘Handsell’.

These families – Pinder, Jackson, Pinkett, Chase, Jolley and others – are coming together through the NHPA to reunite and share stories and happy memories of growing up in the “Indiantown”, as they called it.  Contact us if you are a descendant of one of these families.

What Research Can Teach Us!

Uncovering data from historic documents such as death inventories, manumission papers, deeds and Wills can provide important information to reveal the story of those descendant from the Indiantown community.

Comparing names and ages of listed persons helps to identify not only a specific individual but sometimes family connections as well.  This following timeline, with just a few excerpts from NHPA’s research to date,  shows  examples of what can be learned from this kind of study.

1749 – As the sole survivor(s) of her parents, Ann Billings Steele inherited several slaves.  One was a young girl named Nell.

1776 – According to the Maryland Colonial Census, Henry Steele (and his wife Ann Billings) lived in the Nanticoke District of Dorchester County with his family and 91 slaves.

1782 – When Henry Steele died, three slaves were treated by (medical ) Dr. Gordon who charged debits to Henry Steele’s estate: Negro Isaac, Negro Man and Negro child.

1803 –  James Steele signs the first of several annual agreements with Overseer Levin Simons at his farm in the Indiantown: (which states):

“Levin Simmons agrees to continue in the employment of James Steele as Overseer during the present year at his plantation in the Indian Town…also that he will see that a Negro woman intended to be kept mostly at spinning does follow and perform her business as she ought.”

Other slaves listed to assist Simmons on the farm were Stephon, Bill, Jim, John, Dick, Hicks, old Dido, young Dido, Lucy and Mary.

1803 – On January 20, 1803 Isaac Steele grants freedom to Negro Levi, with a receipt for $36.50 “in full balance for his freedom”.

1810 – Levin Simmons, overseer, is listed as living in the Vienna District with family and 27 slaves.  John C. Henry, James Steele’s son-in-law, is also living in the Indiantown with two other females and 52 slaves.  Both Henry and Steele owned parts of the ‘Handsell’ tract.

1814 – In Deed 3 ER 114, James Steele releases from slavery and forever manumits William, age 28, son of Sarah for $1.  Witnessed and sworn by Richard Pattison and John C. Henry.

1814 – Charles Jackson, born a slave in 1814 is the paternal ancestor of the Jackson family who lived and worked on the Indiantown farms into the 1950’s.  Who owned Charles is still a mystery, but we know he was freed by 1860 and that was some apparent relationship to the Steele/Henry family.

1837 – Handsell was sold to John Shehee of Dorchester County, who rebuilt the brick house.  The 1840 Census indicates he lived in the Vienna District with his family.  Also listed in his household were 3 free black males.

1837 – Journal of medical Dr. Hodson states “treated Susan, daughter of Charles Jackson”.

1850 – The 1850 Federal Census lists John Nevett Steele, white, widower, living in the Indiantown with his three sons.  He lived in a house just up and across the road from Handsell.  Also listed in the household were Charity Jackson, age 37, “mulatto” and her daughter Fanny, age 8 months.  The 1850 Slave Schedules also lists 26 slaves owned by Steele.

1850 – The 1850 Slave Schedule lists a free black man Thomas Pinder as a slave owner.  He owned one female, age 45 and two girls ages 8 and 6.  It is assumed that these were his wife and two daughters.  During this time it was not unusual for a free black man to keep his family enslaved as a way of protecting them from being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the deep south.

1854 – After his death, slaves of John N. Steele, “of Indiantown” were transferred to “James B. Steele, son of James Steele of Henry…do grant bargain and sell unto the said James Steele…the following negroes to wit Joshua, Lucy, Daniel, Marshall, Hooper, Moses, Charles Littleton, Henry, John Nace, Mary, Elizabeth and her three children, Sarah and her three children, Jack Wesley and another, Margaret and her Son Isaac, Maria and Nancy her Child and Lilly all being Slaves for life…”

1859 – Handsell was sold to John Thompson who is listed in the 1860 Census, age 73,  farmer.  The 1860 Slave Schedule listed John Thompson as the owner of 10 slaves.  His mother-in-law, living with the Thompsons, was also a slave owner.   During this time the underground railroad was most active.

Harriet Tubman is known to have used the Nanticoke River and/or the Marshy Hope Creek as a route to the north.

1860 – Federal Census listed Charles Jackson, Rachel and their 9 children as living in Vienna area.

1870 – In the Federal Census, Rachel Jackson, age 16 is listed as the “house servant” in the home of the Samuel Thompson family at Handsell.