Skip to content

Martha (Elder) Snowden


Mrs. Martha Ann Virginia (Elder) Snowden was born on 24 September 1842, to Rebecca (Selby) Elder. Rebecca was enumerated in the 1840 census as a free Black woman. Later censuses list her as being white, with mulatto children. It’s unclear from the vantage of more than a century later whether or not Rebecca was Black. Her marriage was registered in 1838, which is odd. Interracial marriage had been illegal in Maryland since before the Revolution. It would remain illegal until 1967, following the Loving vs. Virginia case.
Martha’s father was John Joshua Elder who may have been enslaved on a nearby farm. Ms. Martha Elder would have inherited her freedom from her mother (whether she was white or free Black) even while her father remained enslaved. She lived with her mother and sisters in Carroll County, Maryland, likely near Westminster.
While no schools existed for the Black community, young Martha did learn to read and write. Around 1860, she married Mr. Nathan Snowden, a literate free Black man and son of a local minister, Reverend John Baptist Snowden. They had at least one child, named Mary Snowden. Mary had the benefit of attending school in 1870. Mr. Snowden was prospering, with $1000 of real estate to his name by this time. He worked as a day laborer, while she stayed in the home, keeping house for their small family.
In 1880, Mrs. Snowden is living with her mother (who again is enumerated as white), her daughter and a niece named Virginia Parker. She is listed as being married rather than widowed, but we have yet to find Nathan Snowden elsewhere in the census.
In 1905, she died of heart failure, by now a widow. She had been working as a domestic in the home of Mr. John T. Brown. Her sister, Mrs. Frances Bell, erected a beautiful headstone for her in Ellsworth Cemetery, outside the city of Westminster. Interestingly, the American Sentinel did not mention her race in her obituary, which was a strange omission for the time. They do however note that her burial would be in the Black cemetery (e.g., Ellsworth Cemetery).

American Sentinel, 27 Jan 1905