Monday, November 4, 2019

Obituaries for Laurel: Artist and Laundress Charity Goviens (1820?-1878)

Obituaries for Laurel

Charity (Bayly) Goviens/Govans (1820?-1878), Chenille Artist and Laundress of Old Town, Baltimore

On October 28th, 1878, Charity (Bayly) Goviens/Govans died at her long-time residence on Aisquith Street in Baltimore at the age of 58.[1] Her occupation is listed on the death certificate as “keeper of her own house”, and the cause of death appoplexis.[2] She was attended by George W. Wayson, M.D., who lived at 18 Aisquith Street, and prepared for burial by undertaker Theo J. Locke of 73 Jefferson Street, also close by. She was buried in Laurel Cemetery.[3]

Charity had resided in Baltimore for at least 38 years, over half of which time she lived at 133/609 Aisquith Street. She and her daughter Charity remained proud of the spelling of her husband Daniel’s actual last name, Goviens, while the directories and the census takers persistently corrupted it to “Govans” or some other variation.

1876 Tax Assessment on Charity Goviens/Govan’s 3 story brick residence and lot

next door to the Aisquith Presbyterian Church property. In 1876 her next door neighbor at the parsonage

was Reverend Stephen Noyes, pastor of the Church. With the renumbering of houses in Baltimore City in the late 1880s, 133 became 609 Aisquith Street and by 1880, the Aisquith Presbyterian Church had moved from the neighborhood to be replaced in the same building by Ohel Yakov Synagogue.[4]

Recently Charity has been the subject of a few references in a book by Martha Jones, Birthright Citizens, in which Charity’s efforts to obtain a travel pass in the 1850s under the restrictive laws of Maryland is featured. While the efforts to identify Charity from the surviving records were extensive and accurately cited in Dr. Jones’s footnotes, the image of Charity and the story of her life that emerges from Dr. Jones’s pages is incomplete and misleading. Despite the oppressive and discriminating world of Baltimore, she and her husband prospered. She was more than a gilder of frames and a laundress for the more affluent white population of Baltimore. She was an accomplished Chenille embroidery artist and possibly an important connection to the underground railroad to Canada, the destination for which she applied for, and was granted a travel pass by the Criminal Court judge of Baltimore City, Henry Stump, about the time of her return from Canada. It is likely that she went to Canada without a pass issued by the Court, but knew that to be able to return in safety she would need one. On June 26, 1854, on the written recommendation of David Stewart, John Stewart, and James A. Buchanan, Esq., Judge Stump retroactively approved her travel out of the State of Maryland for the space of three months.[5]

Charity Govien’s maiden name was Bayley, and by 1840 she was married to Daniel Goviens, a Free Black owner and the proprietor of a feed store on North Gay Street who was several years her senior. An indicator of Daniel’s wealth is to be found in 1845 when their home was robbed:

Baltimore Sun, February 17, 1845

Daniel Goviens first appears on the Baltimore City tax lists in 1813 on North Gay Street between Potter and Exerter Streets, in the two story brick dwelling with a feed store and granary where he and Charity were living by 1840.[6] Their daughter Charity was born about 1842.[7] There is no record of their having any other children, although Daniel did have Goviens relatives who he provided for in a deed of Trust intended to protect Charity’s interest in their home and store.[8]

Charity first appears by name in print and on public record in 1851 when her delicate Chenille work was rejected by the Maryland Institute, not on the grounds of quality, but because it “was done by a colored woman.” the judges praised the quality of her work noting that

In the first place, we do not deem it advisable to receive contributions to the exhibitions of the maryland Institute from colored persons, because of their work is accepted they will have to be received as visitors to the fairs.

Secondly , we do not approve of their work entering into competition with that of the whites.

And thirdly, the colored population have fairs of their own where they can exhibit the productions of their industry.[9]

Charity took her art work to Toronto, Canada, in 1853, where it was favorably received, and reported to Frederick Douglass’s Rochester, New York newspaper:

TORONTO, August 12, 1853.

DEAR Mr. EDITOR: - Not long since, I saw in this city, in a large, splendid guilt frame, a piece of fanciful workmanship, which has been the admiration of all who have seen it. It was the work of Mrs. Charity Govans , recently of Baltimore. This lady was by the very general invitation of the managers of the Maryland Institute, to "all engaged in industrial pursuits not only in Baltimore, and the state if Maryland, but throughout the United States, to contribute specimens of their productions for public inspection, and to compete for the prizes offered by the Institute," induced to contribute the unsurpassingly beautiful production of her skill, ingenuity and taste, if which we have spoken. This work was one of so much merit and attraction, that it was generally anticipated that the artificer would be most signally rewarded. How signally, however, you will be better prepared to learn, after you shall have read the following notice and rule extracted from the printed "regulations and arrangements for the fourth annual exhibition of American Manufactures, by the Maryland Institute, held in Baltimore, October, 1851, and signed by the chairman and standing committee on exhibition: "The particular attention of contributors and others is requested to these rules, ad they will in all cases, be adhered to and enforced." - Rule "15th. The judges are required to make their decision strictly upon the merits of the article alone, and to make full reports in writing to the "Committee of Awards, &c."

Accordingly, we have [a] sufficiently "full report, in writing," as it regards Mrs. Govan' s work. I have copied it from the published reports for the edification of your numerous readers-

"No. 1356 - A framed of CHENILLE FLOWERS, made by Mrs. C. Govans , is tastefully designed, ingeniously and accurately arranged. But the committee on Class 15 are unwilling to recommend this price of work for merited. First, because, it was done by a colored woman. In the second place, we do not deem it advisable to receive contributions to the exhibitions of the Maryland Institute from colored persons, because if their work is accepted, the will have to be received by visitors to the fairs. And thirdly, the colored population have fairs of their own, where they can exhibit the productions of their industry. Having given our opinion at length concerning Mrs. Govan' s work, we leave it with the Committee on Premiums to decide whether they think proper to give a premium for it. We would respectfully advise the Managers of the Institute if they wish to preserve their exhibition in good repute, and prevent dissatisfaction on the part of whites and blacks, to decline the acceptance of colored persons' work at all subsequent exhibitions."





The Committee are unwilling to recommend this piece of work for a premium, because it was done by a colored woman. The reason here given for this magnanimous treatment is indicative of a littleness, dwarfish caliber and ineffable meanness soul, which in despite of the copiousness of our language, and its adaptedness to the expression of every shade of thought and sentiment, it is exceedingly difficult to describe in terms sufficiently appropriate. Look at it: We are unwilling to discharge an obviously assigned duty, a simple act of Justice to a lady of intelligence, wealth and standing, because she is a colored woman. The singular frankness - not to say shameless - of an avowal of a reason so despicable, and that by ladies whose self respect permitted them to give their names to the scrutinizing gaze of the world in such a connection, its a mournful evidence of the full influence of those Institutions and prejudices in the United States, which deteriorates and destroys all that is lively and liberal, just and humane, in the human character. These ladies, and all whose feelings are equally groveling, should receive the pity of the truly wise and excellent of the earth, to throw intrinsic nobility they are strangers, and whose good opinion they are incapable of appreciating. We pity them, because we cannot deny them. Again; "if their work is accepted, they will have to be received as visitors to the fairs." A horrible consequence truly! They will then be in the same room with ourselves, walk the same floor, and gaze upon the same objects. Intolerable! Well, one thing is certain and inevitable; either the fastidious taste of these ladies will have to undergo a seasonable and serious change, or they will be unable to enter the kingdom go God with many of these despised ones; for "there shall, in now wise, enter into it anything that defileth;" their vitiated taste will exclude them. Are they prepared for the stern, the unavoidable alternative? These considerations, however, weigh but little in these days of fashionable, time serving Christianity. But we must not forget that colored persons are not excluded from these fairs, if they willingly accompany white visitors as servants. Special provisions is made for all such. The green eyed monster cannot brook the sight of a colored gentleman or lady, whose condition is above that of a servant. - Let him not be alarmed when I tell him that such sights will become increasingly annoying, and they are destined to put the severest test the religion and philosophy of the American Union. He would do well to make a virtue of necessity. "Thirdly, the colored population have fairs of their own, where they can exhibit the productions of their industry." True, but they would no longer remain in comparative obscurity; they would occasionally place some of the productions of their skill in just a position, I and in competition with those of their paler brethren. Speak out, ladies, all you objections - your worst fears in regard to such a competition. Remember, we have given you credit for your frankness. "We would respectfully advise the Managers of the Institute if they wish to preserve their exhibitions in good repute, and prevent dissatisfaction on the part of both whites and blacks, to decline the acceptance of colored person's work at all subsequent exhibitions." - Thank you ladies, we think we understand you. You mean to say that if colored competitors should be successful, as was Mrs. Govans , in winning admiration, and deserving highest premiums - of which there would be a great probability - then the Institute would suffer in it reputation; and dissatisfaction on the part of unsuccessful competitors as among the whites, would be as inevitable as it would be with the successful rivals among the blacks to whom your silly prejudices would render you incapable of doing Justice. In view of this unpleasant state of things, I thank God that I am no more an inhabitant of your country - my native land - but that it is my privilege to rejoice that I am now,


At the time of the exhibition at the Maryland Institute and her travel to Canada where there was a large expatriate former slave community from Maryland, Charity was living on North Gay Street in Baltimore on the East side of the Jones Falls, with her husband Daniel, who is listed in the 1849/50 Baltimore city Directory at 161 North Gay Street.[11]

While there is no record of when she actually returned from Canada, she was resident on Aisquith Street for certain by 1854, and probably had come back in late 1853 or early 1854 after her husband dissolved the trust he had established to protect her interest in their home on North Gay Street. It would appear that Daniel used the proceeds of the sale of their North Gay Street home to build her a new home at 133/609 Aisquith.

Why Charity journeyed to Toronto and then returned is not known, but with the passage of the Fugitive Slave act of 1850, life for Free Blacks in Baltimore became increasingly difficult, and at any moment slave catchers might snatch those who thought they were free back into slavery.

The Sun (1837-1994); Baltimore, Md. [Baltimore, Md]07 Jan 1850: 4

Baltimore was the epicenter of the Domestic Slave Trade to New Orleans. Demand for slaves was high and advertisements of Cash for Slaves appeared with regularity in the Baltimore press. It is possible that Charity was only living as free and that she had fled to Toronto, leaving her husband to find the means to buy her freedom. Or perhaps he planned on following her and became ill, causing her to return to a city that was increasingly distrustful and suspicious of the ‘free’ Blacks within its midst and whose slave owners would actively pursue those slaves that dained to flee to what they hoped would be a more hospitable place.

Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, Columbia University

James Hamlet, the first person returned to slavery under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, in front of city hall in New York; engraving from the National Anti-Slavery Standard, October 17, 1850. Hamlet was returned by force to Baltimore, but ‘by the time this appeared in print,’ Eric Foner writes in Gateway to Freedom, ‘New Yorkers had raised the money to purchase Hamlet’s freedom and he was back in the city.’ [source:]

It is well known that the very first case of a fugitive slave captured and hailed before the new commissioners created by the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law was James Hamlet from Baltimore, claimed by the mother-in-law of a clerk at the shot tower, Thomas J. Clare, who was also the Treasurer of the Maryland Institute. He collected the $800 that was raised in New York to free Hamlet from his mother-in-law, Mary Brown, who resided with the Clare’s, a sum sufficient it would seem to help purchase or rent a new home on Hollins Street extended.[12]

Whether or not Charity sought safety in Toronto, she returned to Baltimore a free woman of means. Beginning in 1853 and until her death in 1878, Charity was taxed for a three story brick building on North Aisquith Street, initially numbered 131, then 133, and finally, after 1886, 609.

[detail, 1914 Topographical Survey of Baltimore]

After Charity’s death in 1878 the house number on Aisquith Street was changed to 609. By the 1960s

the front of the building was a laundromat, and by the 1970s a vacant lot approximately where the white car beyond the church is parked. Charity’s house is shown on the detail from the 1880 Sanborn Insurance map with the store front of the building rented by a tinsmith and plumber. By 1914 the Church was synagogue as shown on the 1914 topographical survey..

Charity lived two doors down from the all white Aisquith Presbyterian Church, which is today Greater Grace Harvest Church.[13] She may have attended Bethel or Waters AME church, which was nearby, but her son-in-law, Burwell Banks, who lived with her for a time in the 1860s and early 1870s, was a long-time vestryman of St. James Episcopal Church.[14] Charity’s home survived until the 1970s serving in its last years a laundromat, somewhat fitting, as in her last years her occupation was listed as a “laundress.”[15]

Composite from Google Earth images, captured 2019/11/18 indicating the site of Charity Govien’s house and the Wells & McComas monument at the end of her street, erected in 1873, five years before Charity’s death[16]

Today the site of Charity’s house is a vacant lot, a casualty of the failed urban-renewal development of Old Town.[17]

After her return from Canada, Charity lived a quiet life of domestic service. In the one public notice of her that appeared in the Christian Recorder October 10, 1863, she was mentioned as the wealthy mother of an “accomplished daughter” also named Charity who was about to be wed to a “Mr. Bromwell [Burwell] Banks,” a wealthy Baltimore grocery “Provisioner” who supplied the fashionable hotels of Baltimore including the Rennert, and who owned considerable real estate in the city.[18]

In 1870, while Burwell Banks and his wife, Charity Govan’s daughter, Charity, were living at 133 Aisquith, Catherine Labeat (age 60), ten years older than Charity Govan, was resident there as well. Who Catherine Lebeat was, is unknown, but she might have been Charity’s teacher of Chenille work, and possibly an Oblate Sister whose order was well-known in Ante-bellum Baltimore for training Black girls in Chenille and expert needle work. [19]

In the same Christian Recorder article recording the prospective marriage of Charity’s daughter, it was observed that “Our city has been in a state of joyful excitement for several days or weeks past. The first outburst of joy was caused by the military authority opening the slave pens and letting all the slaves go free. The men all went out and joined the regiment, and the women found comfortable homes among the friends in the city.”[20] Perhaps Charity took in some of the women at 133 Aisquith?

It would be a very long time before full citizenship came to the Black Community of Baltimore, and it would not be until the 1930s that the Maryland Institute would exhibit the work of Black artists like Charity Govans,and even then it would be controversial.

Among the Black Artists in the exhibition were

Cartoonists Elmer Simms Campbell and

William Chase of possible Maryland descent, but no Black women [21]

By all public accounts, Charity was among the wealthiest of the Black community of Baltimore by the time of her death. In 1870 she was noted on the Census as possessing $8,000 in real estate, while her son-in-law (Burwell Banks) who in 1870 lived with her at 133 Aisquith, and owned a prosperous produce business, was credited with $15,000 in real estate and $1500 in personal property. When she died in 1878 she left an inventory of personal property worth

nearly $1400, including $54 in cash in the house and $1200 in a bank account.[22] Among her

personal effects, apart from a feather bed, a horsehair couch, lace curtains, a table, 13 chairs and a sideboard, were two pieces of “framed embroidery,” perhaps the very same Chenille work that was rejected by the Maryland Institute and carried with her to and from Canada?[23]

When Charity Goviens died, her examples of Chenille work passed to her daughter Charity Goviens Banks, along with the house and storefront and the rest of her mother’s property, which in turn were left to Burwell Banks:

Excerpt from Charity Goviens Banks will probated in 1886, leaving her mother’s framed

Chenille work and the house to her husband, Burwell Banks[24]

Sadly neither Charity Goviens, nor her daughter and son-in-law, would be permitted to rest in peace, memorialized in Laurel Cemetery where they were all laid to rest. Their remains may still be there under the blacktop of the shopping center, moved and covered over by bulldozers that desecrated the graves.[25]

Revised by Ecpclio, 2019/11/18

[1] Death certificate, Msa_cm1132_010_cr048054-28377. Sorting out the Charity Govans who appear in the public records and the city directories of Baltimore is a daunting task. The ages on the census records are unreliable estimates, and the city directories are far from complete or accurate, but the surviving documentation strongly suggests that the Charity who was denied the right to exhibit her work at the Maryland Institute, was living on North Gay Street with Daniel Goven (Goviens) in 1840 as a free woman without children, was living on Aisquith Street as early as 1854 in a house on which she paid taxes, with a daughter also named Charity who married Burwell Banks in 1863, and that she died in her home at 133 (later renumbered to 609) Aisquith Street in October 1878. Her death certificate asserts she was 85 at her death, but all the other evidence of her existence indicates that the number is reversed, and that she was instead ca. 58 when she died.

[2] Appoplexis uteri apparently was a medical term described briefly in the Journal of Obstetrics, volume 58, for 1908, p. 752, as meaning hemorrhaging of the uterus.

[4] Baltimore City Archives, Baltimore City Property Tax Records, field Assessors’ Work Books, BCA BRG 4-3,

[5] Jones, Martha S. Birthright Citizens. A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018, pp. 98, 99, 100, 101. Professor Jones and her research assistants did discover many of the sources about Charity as cited in this essay, but failed to interpret them correctly, or overlooked their significance. Professor Jone’s Charity was only four years old in 1854. Charity Govans, the subject of this esssay, always lived on the East Side of the Jones Falls, not the West, while Professor Jones misses altogether the reasons for seeking a travel pass, as well as Charity’s considerable talent as a Chenille artist. For the travel pass, see: BALTIMORE CITY CRIMINAL COURT (Minutes) 1851-1971 T483-1, unnumbered folio at 1854, January 26. Buchanan and the Stewarts were prominent white members of the Baltimore legal and mercantile Community and can be found in the Baltimore City directory for 1851. Their connection with Charity is unknown.

[6] See: Goodson, Noreen J., and Donna Tyler Hollie. Through the Tax Assessor's Eyes: Enslaved People, Free Blacks and Slaveholders in Early Nineteenth Century Baltimore. 2017, pp. 66, 197, and the Baltimore Census for 1840.

[7] See 1870 census for Baltimore City where Charity Banks is listed as age 28.

[8] 1845, Baltimore County Land Records, TK348, ff. 551.

[9] The book of the exhibition. Annual exhibition of the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the mechanic arts. Baltimore. Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts.Baltimore, 1852.

[10] See:,

Collection: African American Newspapers, Publication: FREDERICK DOUGLASS PAPER, Date: August 26, 1853,Title: TORONTO, August 12, 1853. DEAR Mr. EDITOR: - Not long since,...Location: Rochester, New York.

[11] 1840; Census Place: Baltimore Ward 3, Baltimore, Maryland; Roll: 158; Page: 102; Family History Library Film: 0013183, and 1849/50 Baltimore City Directory. Daniel does not appear in the 1851 Baltimore City Directory, nor does Charity. Charity first appears on her own in the addenda to the tax list for 1853/54, living at 133/609 Aisquith Street. Probate records for Daniel could not be located and, as he placed all his assets in recorded trusts for the benefit of his family, it is likely the property at 133/609 Aisquith passed to Charity without there being a surviving chattel, land or probate record at the time. By the time of her death in 1878, there was sufficient proof of her ownership that the property passed to her daughter Charity Goviens Banks without dispute, and she in turn left it to her heirs among whom was a Calloway, perhaps related to Cab Calloway..

[12] IMPORTANT FUGITIVE SLAVE CASE: First Arrest of a Fugitive Slave under the new Act Highly Important Proceedings, and Great Excitement among the Colored People

The Sun (1837-1994); Baltimore, Md. [Baltimore, Md]30 Sep 1850: 1, and Baltimore City Directory, 1853-54. Once the price on his head was paid, James Hamlet was manumitted: Light complexion, height: 5'6.5', raised in Baltimore County, scar on left side of cheek, manumitted on October 4, 1850, Liber AWB#81, p. 19. AW Bradford, Clerk, witnessed by Thomas J. Clare. (See entry for James Hamlet at:

[14] Baltimore Church Advocate, Saturday, February 13, 1892.

[15] Hellier Business Directory, 1863/64, Laundress living at 133 Aisquith.

[16] How Charity acquired 133 (609 Aisquith) is a complicated story of Daniel’s efforts to ensure that she was provided for through a number of recorded trusts that ensured Charity benefited from his real and personal property at the time of his death. For example see: Baltimore County Land Records, TK 348, ff.551-552. It appears as if Daniel revoked this trust and a subsequent one in order to sell their North Gay Street home and his business there for $7,000 in 1852 (see Baltimore County Land Records, ED 24, ff. 168), with which he probably built the three story brick home on Aisquith sometime in 1853. Daniel was taxed for the Aisquith street property as early as 1818 when there was a two story frame building on the property, but to date no record of his purchasing the Aisquith property has been located. It would appear that Daniel died sometime between 1852 and 1855. Charity alone is first taxed for the three story storefront brick home in 1854 which had a rental storefront on Aisquith to provide her with a steady rental income. (see:, and the Baltimore City directories for the address that indicates what businesses rented the storefront). Clearly Daniel made every effort to provide for Charity and their daughter. To date no probate records have been found for Daniel, nor has a recorded trust that specifically identifies the Aisquith street property been located, yet from 1854 on until her death, Charity paid taxes on the property and it descended to her daughter Charity Goviens Banks who was the administrator of her mother’s estate. A plausible scenario is that Daniel became ill while Charity was in Toronto and Charity came home to care for him. The last mention of Daniel in the city directories is his living at 134 Chestnut according to the 1855/56 Baltimore City Directory

[17] See, Baltimore City Land Records RHB 2941/676, other references to the “Old Town” renewal project. For Burwell Banks, see below, note 11.

[18]Burwell Banks was once arrested and fined for selling Quail out of season to the owner of the Rennert Hotel. When he died in 1891 he left a considerable estate, and was remembered as one of the first Black men to serve on a Grand Jury in the city charged with investigating conditions at the City Jail. See the Baltimore Sun for July 14, 1887, and August 29, 1891, the Baltimore Church Advocate for Saturday, February 13, 1892, and the quail incident in the Baltimore Sun for January 20, 1877.

[19] To date no evidence has been found of Charity Govans having attended the school for girls founded by the oblate sisters, nor is there any surviving record found to date that illuminates the life of her boarder in 1870, Catherine Lebeat. For Charity Govan and those residing with her in 1870, including Catherine Labeat, see: 1870 Census, Ward 5, Dwelling no. 2033, with real estate owned or leased by Charity worth $8,000, on, 1870; Census Place: Baltimore Ward 5, Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland; Roll: M593_573; Page: 276B; Family History Library Film: 552072. The Oblate Sisters history in Baltimore is to be found in summary form on their website:, from which the following is derived:

The Oblate Sisters of Providence is the first successful Roman Catholic sisterhood in the world established by women of African descent. It was the work of a French-born Sulpician priest and four women, who were part of the Caribbean refugee colony which began arriving in Baltimore, Maryland in the late eighteenth century. Father James Hector Nicholas Joubert, SS, a Sulpician priest discovered it was difficult for the Haitian refugee children to master their religious studies because they were unable to read. He heard of two devout religious Caribbean women who were already conducting a school for black children in their home in Baltimore. In 1828 those two women, Elizabeth Lange (later Mother Mary Lange ) and Maria Balas accepted his proposal to start a sisterhood with the primary mission of teaching and caring for African American children. After adding two more women, Rosine Boegue and American-born Theresa Duchemin, they began studying to become sisters and opened a Catholic school for girls in their convent at 5 St. Mary's Ct. in Baltimore. Thus began St. Frances Academy. It is the oldest continuously operating school for black Catholic children in the United States and is still educating children in Baltimore.​​

[20], Collection: African American Newspapers, Publication: THE CHRISTIAN RECORDER, Date: October 10, 1863, Title: For the Christian Recorder. Our city has been in a state of ....

[21] See: and There is no biography of Chase, but the Chase family was prominent as teachers, editors, and undertakers in both Baltimore and the District of Columbia. For example see:, and

[22] See: 1870 census entry for Charity and her daughter and son-in-law: Charity’s probate is indexed at:, f. 72.

[23] BALTIMORE CITY REGISTER OF WILLS (Inventories) 1878-1879, JHB 111, MSA C196-47, 231-232.

[24] Baltimore City Will Books, 1886, RTB 56, 310 ff. Everett J. Waring was Charity Banks’s lawyer. It is not known if she and her husband, Burwell Banks, lost any money in the collapse of Waring’s Bank. See the Lexington Bank scandal at: and a biography of


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