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Charity Castle: Germantown’s Unsolved Mystery

February 3, 2012

Cliveden, circa 1910 (courtesy of

In 1814, a series of events led Charity Castle to become one of the best remembered cases under the Gradual Abolition Act.

Charity Castle accompanied her mistress Harriet Chew to her parents’ home at Cliveden. Amidst marital troubles, Harriet decided to extend her stay in Germantown. Charles Carroll Jr., Harriet’s husband, demanded that Charity be returned. She pleaded to not be sent back, claiming abuse on the part of Carroll. A few days short of her planned return to Maryland, Charity was severely injured while retrieving fire wood, delaying her departure.

For months, letters were exchanged amongst the families, doctors, and lawyers, regarding the incident, all documented in the extensive Chew Family Papers. There was much disagreement regarding Charity’s fate. Finally Carroll conceded to sell Charity to her husband for $300.

Despite the lengthy letters, the mystery remains unsolved as to whether Charity Castle gained her freedom or was sent back to Maryland.

“Accident made her a Slave, accident made her free, and it seems right that she should avail herself of it.”        – William Lewis, a lawyer arguing in favor of Charity’s freedom

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