You are standing in front of a graphic panel titled “The Plantation Economy.” To your left is a reader rail titled “Window on the Past: Unsustainable Practices.” To your right is a timeline titled “Historic Milestones: From First Peoples to the Arrival of SERC.”
The panel in front of you includes text, four images, and a list of enslaved people owned by the Sellman family.
The main text reads:
The Plantation Economy
The local population grew rapidly in the 1700s as more and more European colonists arrived seeking land and opportunities. As demand for labor rose, plantation owners began replacing indentured servants with enslaved people from Africa.
Slavery, legally recognized in Maryland in the 1660s, formed the basis for the plantation economy that remained in place for 200 years. Plantation owners, such as the Sellmans, grew wealthy off slave labor.
The secondary text reads:
From Indentured Servants to Slaveholders
The Sellman family, who owned this house, went from being indentured servants themselves to owning slaves, in just two generations. John Sellman, an indentured servant from England, arrived in America in 1658 at the age of 12 or 13. He worked for ten to twelve years without pay in exchange for his passage to the colonies. At the end of his service, he received two warrants worth 50 acres of land each. By the time he died in 1707, John Sellman was a wealthy plantation owner with indentured servants of his own. His son William, who built this house, owned more than 30 slaves.
The accompanying images include:
A black-and-white illustration of a bare-chested African American man holding a stick behind a pair of oxen pulling a large barrel.
Two handwritten pages of a document. The caption reads: Pages from William Sellman’s will, in which he left 31 slaves to his children. In such cases, enslaved families were often broken up, never to see each other again.
A newspaper clipping. The caption reads: Jonathan Sellman (William’s son) placed a notice in the Maryland Gazette in 1755, requesting the return of his “indented” servant, ironically named William Freeman.
A botanical drawing. The caption reads: Tobacco plants (Nicotiana tabacum) vintage illustration from Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 1897.
The panel includes a list of enslaved people owned by the Sellman family, headlined “The Names of the Enslaved.”