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John Baptist Snowden


This obelisk is one of the largest monuments in Ellsworth. 

The Reverend John Baptist Snowden was born enslaved in 1801 in Anne Arundel County. 

We know a great deal about his life because Reverend Snowden wrote his autobiography. It was published in 1900 by his son, the Reverend Thomas Snowden.

The elder Snowden knew his grandmother, who was born in Africa. She would often tell him stories about her life there. 

He purchased his own freedom about 1830. 

The Reverend Snowden has become a minister even before his manumission, but had waited for freedom to marry. He took marriage and being father as serious commitments. Additionally, he was determined to marry a free woman, as he vowed not to increase the sin of slavery by making his children enslaved (as they would be if their mother was enslaved). 

He married Margaret Coone, who is also buried here. 

She had been born enslaved, by an elderly Catholic, German woman named Mrs. Grand Adams. When her enslaver died in 1817, both Margaret (known as Peggy) and her mother, Elizabeth, were manumitted. She was eight (8) years old at the time. We don’t know anything about Mrs. Snowden’s father. 

Mrs. Snowden never learned to read or write. In his autobiography, the Reverend Snowden described her as a woman of “much force of character and real worth.” She had a very strong memory and good natural ability, particularly with numbers. She often traveled to Baltimore, selling and buying goods for herself and her neighbors. 

She spoke German as fluently as English, perhaps because Mrs. Adams was originally from Germany. She was also fluent in Pennsylvania Dutch. Their German neighbors delighted in speaking with her.

Margaret and John were blessed with fourteen children, eight boys and six girls. Unfortunately, due to the state of health care, particularly for African Americans, four died very young, and two died as teenagers.

Margaret made clothes for her large family from scratch. And by that it is meant that she plowed the ground, sowed the seed, pulled the flax, threshed it, put it out, broke it, spun it, made the cloth and then sewed the clothes.

She passed away on February 14th in 1870. 

Her husband outlived her, and moved in with his daughter and son-in-law, William and Elizabeth Lowery (who are buried nearby). His son, the Rev. Thomas Snowden, wrote an extensive appendix to the elder Snowden’s autobiography. In it, we find the most touching of tributes. 

“As a provider for our home, according to his surroundings, father had but few equals….. He seemed to act upon the theory that men should wear out and not rust out. To spend and be spent in honest labor and in doing good was the height of his ambition.”  And again, “It is safe to say that all who knew John B. Snowden would trust him in all things and to any extent, and from that fact all who knew him knew him to love him.”

Rev. John Baptist Snowden died in 1885. 

Of his children that we know are buried at Ellsworth, there are:

  • Elizabeth Lowery and her husband, William
  • Mary E. E. Walker and her husband, the Rev. Perry Walker
  • John M. Snowden and his wife, Mary Ann Woodyard. This son was the first African-American man to serve as a juror in Carroll County.
  • Ignatius Snowden, who was just shy of his 20th birthday when he died. His headstone is among those in need of professional repair.
  • James Snowden, who was not yet 16 when he died. His headstone also needs professional repair. 


Colorized photo from Rev. Snowden's autobiography, Colorization released under Creative Commons License, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Obelisk for Rev. Snowden

Find additional information about John Baptist Snowden Family on FamilySearch.