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Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences

Student Work Spotlight

Undergraduate research sheds light on the politics of race in colonial Maryland.

Maite Horte

Creative Commons map showing possessions of Britain, France, and Spain in North America just before the French and Indian War (1754-63). The earlier War of Jenkins’ Ear between Britain and Spain, and the French and Indian War sparked fears of foreign invasion in the coastal colonies, including Maryland. History student Maite Horta found that colonial governors linked invasion scares to fears of slave insurrection when justifying an enlarged militia.


Recent incidents between police and African-American males remind historians that race-based fear has a long history in the United States. In the history program at UB, events that touch us today can become undergraduate research projects about our past.

In fall 2013, Professor Jeffrey Sawyer offered a seminar on the early history of crime and punishment in Maryland. Students selected their own research projects, and were encouraged by Dr. Sawyer to look at 18th century court records and legislation to find answers to their questions.

One student in the seminar, Maite Horta, became interested in the pattern of serious crime during the pre-Revolutionary era. She began an independent study with Dr. Sawyer in 2014, looking at the link between fears of a French invasion in Maryland during the Seven Year’s War, and fears of slave insurrection in the colony. Historian Mark Stegmaier had argued in the Maryland Historical Magazine that fear of slave insurrection was widespread in the region, but was this really the case? Evidence in the Proceedings of the Maryland General Assembly and other sources indicate that stoking of fears may have been a political ploy used in attempts to get funding to strengthen the Maryland militia.

Horta’s independent study was a great example of how digital history is energizing a new generation of students. The 18th century issues of the Maryland Gazette, criminal statistics, and the legislative archives have all been digitized for study online. Historic sites in Maryland, too, have made their stories available on the Internet. The slave conspiracy at Poplar Neck, for example, is recounted on Brandywine, MD’s Web site. Horta utilized all of these sources in addition to the key scholarship on the subject.

Now getting ready to graduate, Horta has taken advantage of most everything the UB history program has to offer students. She successfully completed three public history internships, including one in UB’s Special Collections department and another at the Enoch Pratt Library Special Collections. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a career in records management.