James Tilghman grew up at the Tilghman family estate on the eastern shore of Maryland before moving to Annapolis and later Philadelphia to pursue a law career. The family tobacco plantation, the Hermitage, was the residence of dozens of slaves living there in the late 18th-century, though no data exists for how many slaves were on the property during Tilghman’s youth. However, he continued to own slaves throughout his life.
After moving to Philadelphia in 1760 to serve in the Pennsylvania land office, his tax records indicate that he owned four slaves up until 1776.
The tax records listing his taxable property past 1776 are not listed on Ancestry Library, so it is not clear what happened to his slaves after the Gradual Abolition Law of 1780.
Pennsylvania Tax & Exoneration records serve as further proof that James Tilghman owned 4 enslaved people in the years 1769 and 1776:
Letters and Correspondance
Tilghman received a letter from Ringgold Hemsley on October 2, 1775 in which Ringgold referred to a previous letter that mentioned “[his family’s] willingness to take Philly and supposing it may be agreeable to have him [?] with us this winter we mention it now” and that Philly “shall [be?] usefully employed” by the Hemsley family should Hemsley have reached an agreement with Tilghman in proceeding discussions. (Letters from the Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore)
The language used by Ringgold Hemsley suggests that Philly was an enslaved man. In another letter from December 1785, Tilghman rented his enslaved man Jacob to John Hurt for £27.10.0 per annum. Tilghman added that Jacob was not allowed to choose his own clothing for the summer months for fear he might choose something “more extravagant than necessary.”
James Tilghman’s Philadelphia will enumerates which of his heirs were bequeathed which of his plantations and the enslaved people who worked on those plantations. James Tilghman only specifically mentioned two of his enslaved people, James and Hannah, but none of his other slaves, only referring to them as his “stocks of negros.”
Tilghman's Maryland records indicate that he continued to use enslaved labor on his plantations until his death. He was assessed in 1783 as owning 51 slaves across his Maryland properties. Upon his death, Tilghman requested no official inventory of his estate be taken. However, an unofficial estimate was performed by his executors, who determined that his estate was worth roughly $80,000 at the time of his death in 1793.