Easton’s “The Hill” neighborhood just may be the oldest neighborhood in the country created by free persons of color. New Orlean’s “Treme” neighborhood, next to the Fresh Quarter, has that title now, but scholars believe they will be able to prove Easton’s section is older.

The Hill in Easton, Maryland

The Hill, an Easton neighborhood started by free Africans and former slaves

The Hill, in southeast Easton, has been around more than 200 years. That much they know. However, Tremé’s start has been documented at around 1812, when free persons of color bought property there. These were Africans who were never enslaved. They were joined over the years by freed slaves.

The Star Democrat’s Chris Polk reports group of academics think the same happened in Easton, only earlier. And they’ve put together a team of historians, researchers, archaeologists and university students who will start digging next summer to find out.

Groups have tried four other digs in the past, and they found old stuff, but not enough to prove their case. This time they’re going to look on the property of the Bethel AME Church and nearby homes along Hanson Street.The original church was build in 1877 but the building has been replaced several times.

Bethel AME Church Easton, MD

Bethel AME Church in Easton (photo courtesy StarDem.com)

Here’s where investigators get excited: the Bethel Society which started the church can be traced back to 1818. That’s within reach of proving The Hill is older if they can dig out the proof.

“It is the oldest colored organization on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, an African-American church,” according to Morgan State University assistant professor Dale Green

“By 1790, this is a fully established community of free blacks,” says Green.

In the summer, they’ll set out to prove it.

Read Chris Polk’s entire story about The Hill neighborhood and the free-born and former enslaved African-Americans who build it, on the Star Democrat’s website — stardem.com.