Ebenezer Church (ssblackcommunities-map)

Route 108 east of Ashton

Clustered along the old post road from Ashton to Snell’s Bridge across the Patuxent (today’s Route 108) was a small free black enclave informally known as Ebenezer after its roadside log chapel and cemetery. Here were the homes of William Bowen (Ebenezer Church’s founder and minister), Remus Q. Hill, Thomas Marriott, Tilghman Mitchell, Henson Plummer, and their families.

In 1801, Syrus Bowen, a free black from Maryland, purchased a plot of 42 acres from John B. Magruder for 40 British pounds, hoping to establish a foothold for his family in the Sandy Spring area. That same year his son William was born. Family tradition holds that Cyrus was one of twenty children, the son of a free African man who emigrated from England and one of his three reputed white wives.

Gradually, over the next decades, Cyrus Bowen expanded his holdings, both real and personal. In 1804, he bought from James Currin a variety of animals and household goods, including a mare, a pig, a skillet, a Dutch oven, and farming tools. His buy also included six leather bottom chairs and six white oak bottom chairs. The 1810 census notes Cyrus Bowen as head of a household with six other free blacks and one white female.

Cyrus’s son, William Bowen, began purchasing land for his own home in 1838, buying small plots of land along the Old Baltimore Road, east of the village of Ashton, from the Bentley, Porter, and Holland families. Though a free man himself, Bowen was known to have owned three slaves, whom he did eventually free in the 1850s. Speculation is that he bought freedom for the enslaved. There is no information on any blood relationship.

Bowen made his living as a fence maker, digging post holes and nailing rails. He, like his neighbors, was a trustee of Sharp Street Church in Sandy Spring. However, Bowen himself became a Methodist minister and began his own church across the road from his home, first known as Bowen Chapel, later called Ebenezer Church.

During the 1850s, the homes of more free blacks joined that of the Bowens along today’s Route 108. One of the earliest free African American family residents was Thomas Marriott, his wife Caroline, and their nine children. Marriott was a trustee of both Sharp Street Church in Sandy Spring and the Eureka Society, a local African American religious organization. Another early resident was Tilghman Mitchell. He and his family moved there about 1861. Mitchell was also a trustee of Sharp Street Church as well as Cedar Mount Cemetery, now Mutual Memorial Cemetery, in Sandy Spring.

The 1870s saw more families move to the Ashton area, including Henson Plummer, a farmer, and Remus Ignatius “Q.” Hill, a carpenter, and shingle maker. Hill, a trustee of Sharp Street Church, Cedar Mount (Maryland Mutual) Cemetery, and the Eureka Society, was head of a large family whose descendants owned one of the only African American construction businesses in Montgomery County.

William Bowen and his family became the center of the Ebenezer community, and by 1868 he had built a small African Methodist Episcopal log chapel on his property along Route 108. However, the land for the building and a burial ground was not formally conveyed to church leaders until Bowen’s will of 1878. Based on the surviving headstone inscriptions, it does appear that most burials are Bowen family members. Perhaps it was loyalty to Sharp Street Church by other community members that doomed Ebenezer to a short existence, primarily as a family chapel.

After thriving for many years, Ebenezer Church fell into disuse in the early 20th century as family members began leaving the county. Though the log chapel no longer stands, the burial ground and gravestones remain.