Proposed Changes to the National Register Raise Concerns

By Elizabeth Hughes, Director of MHT and State Historic Preservation Officer

Nationwide, preservation organizations are sounding the alarm regarding the impact of proposed changes to the National Register of Historic Places Program. The Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) has grave concerns about the proposed changes and their effect on the future of Maryland’s heritage. The changes are not finalized yet, and there is an opportunity for MHT and others to express their views. The National Park Service (NPS)—the agency which oversees the regulations governing this program—is seeking public input through April 30.

Established by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register of Historic Places is this country’s official list of places worthy of preservation. In Maryland alone, the National Register has 1,801 listings, including 255 historic districts, altogether comprising 108,523 contributing resources. Although inclusion in the National Register is largely honorific, this designation is the threshold for access to state and federal rehabilitation tax credits—a powerful tool for community revitalization. The National Register also plays an important role in ensuring that local communities have a voice when the federal government’s actions have the potential to impact historic resources. Federal agencies are required to consider the effects of their actions on National Register-listed or National Register-eligible properties and to engage with citizens concerned about the future of these non-renewable resources.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is an example of a federal agency that has embraced its historic property stewardship role.  This year, NIST will be receiving an award from Preservation Maryland in recognition of their exemplary preservation program at the agency’s Bethesda campus.

Among the various rule changes currently under consideration by NPS, one of greatest concern to MHT will provide federal agencies with unilateral and exclusive rights to nominate or refuse to nominate their properties to the National Register of Historic Places.  This change to the National Register nomination process extends not only to the listing of historic properties but also to the process of determining whether or not federally-owned properties are even eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The eligibility determination process is an essential step as agencies and state historic preservation offices, like the Maryland Historical Trust, work together to consider the effects of federal agency actions on historic properties through the Section 106 review process.  Federal agencies take the lead in developing determinations of eligibility (DOEs) for properties under their care.  DOEs are designed to be objective assessments of a property’s history and significance, uninfluenced by the nature or possible impacts of proposed projects. 

Under the current National Register regulations, this process is typically collaborative, resulting in “consensus determinations” between the federal agency and MHT.  Should a disagreement arise, the dispute is resolved by the Keeper of the National Register.  Regardless of the Keeper’s ultimate determination, federal agency projects still proceed.  The Section 106 process cannot stop federal agency undertakings from proceeding, it simply requires agencies to take into account the effects of their actions on historic properties.

Fort Howard, located in Baltimore County, was determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Owned by the Veterans Administration, plans for the redevelopment of the property are of significant interest to the local community.   This historic image, showing Fort Howard’s main hospital building and officer housing, is from the collection of the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society.

Under the proposed rule, it would now be possible for federal agencies to refuse to acknowledge the existence of historic properties in their care and, with impunity, carry out projects that may damage or destroy historic buildings, landscapes, and archeological resources under their control. The rule as proposed undermines the role of the state and the Keeper of the National Register as impartial arbiters of eligibility determinations. It also prevents local governments, tribes, and non-profit organizations from providing input on how federal agency actions may impact historic resources. Under this new scenario, there is no system of checks and balances on federal agencies who, in certain cases, have a vested interest in determining that no historic properties will be impacted by their actions. In this way, state and local communities are blocked from commenting on the impact of federal agency actions in our own backyard.

This proposed rule erodes the most basic principle undergirding the origin of the National Historic Preservation Act. Crafted in response to urban renewal and transportation projects of the 1950s and 1960s, which excluded local communities from deliberations about federal actions and resulted in large-scale demolition of historic resources, the Act sought to give states and local communities a voice in federal decision-making. By cutting states, local governments, tribes and non-profit organizations out of the process of determining whether properties may be eligible for listing on the National Register, the proposed rule subverts the intent of the National Historic Preservation Act.

To learn more about this proposed rule or to provide a comment, go to: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/03/01/2019-03658/national-register-of-historic-places

Comments are due to NPS by 11:59 p.m. EST on April 30, 2019.

A Curated Coin from Calvert County (Guest Blog)

By Kirsti Uunila, RPA, Calvert County Historic Preservation Planner

For the past two summers, MHT archeologists have partnered with the Archeological Society of Maryland (ASM) and Calvert County to investigate the Calverton Site on the shore of Battle Creek to search for what remains of the seventeenth century town. Calverton, also known as Battle Town, was the first seat of Calvert County government. Established around 1668, it was abandoned sometime after the court was relocated to Prince Frederick in 1724. The town site has been in agriculture ever since. Battle Creek has eroded the Calverton Site with an estimated loss of more than 50 meters of shoreline. Using a plat of the town drawn in 1682 (see map), archeologists concluded that some of the town is still on land, including the first home of Michael Taney and other buildings.

A 17th-century plat of Calverton geo-rectified to modern satellite imagery.

An area near the Taney house is believed to have been a dependency or outbuilding related to the dwelling. It contained numerous artifacts from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. One was a large wine-bottle fragment bearing a broken seal with the initial ‘M’. Michael Taney’s, perhaps? Several small features were excavated in the dependency, including an apparent line of postholes. Two of these postholes were situated approximately three feet apart, suggesting the presence of a door. The most notable artifact found was on the edge of one of these postholes. It is a James I silver shilling with a mint mark indicating it was made in 1604. Since the town was not established until sixty years after that, the coin had had a long journey and was likely to have been a treasured object. In “archeologist speak” it had been “curated” by its owner well beyond the date it was minted. Its placement in a posthole that may have held a doorpost suggests a deliberate act, possibly to bring good fortune to the building and its inhabitants.

Colonial bottle glass seal with an “M” mark, possibly for Michael Taney.

The artifacts and records of the second season are being analyzed now and we hope to learn more about the people who lived, worked, and traded in the Colonial port town. Calvert County proposes continuing work at the site and will use ground-penetrating radar (GPR) this spring to locate cellars, hearths, and other features that may be in imminent danger of erosion, and to investigate more of the site.

Curated 1604 James I silver shilling recovered from the base of a burned post at Calverton.

Introducing the MHT Library

By Lara Westwood, Librarian, Maryland Historical Trust

In honor of National Library Week, we are showcasing the library at the Maryland Historical Trust, an often overlooked resource for those seeking guidance on restoring and preserving historic properties, researching archeological sites, or simply interested in Maryland history, historic preservation, architectural history, and archeology. The library collection holds over 10,000 books, archeological reports, architectural drawings, as well as historical maps, oral histories, and over 100,000 photographic slides and negatives, which could benefit a wide variety of researchers.

The library at the Maryland Historical Trust.

Books in the library range in topic from prehistory, anthropology, and geology to biography, decorative arts, and modern architecture. The collection emphasizes studies of Maryland in county histories, genealogical works, and other resources, but is not limited in scope. The owner of a historic home, for example, may find catalogs advertising house kits and other building supplies, how-to manuals on repairing and preserving roofs and windows, and books on architectural styles useful. The wide selection of books on interior design, historic wall finishings, and house styles may appeal to students of architecture or historic preservation. Archeological research can be supplemented by books on Native American cultures, technology and theory, shipwrecks, and more. Dissertations, theses, and student papers by professors and university students on relevant themes have also been collected. New books are frequently added to the collection, including limited run, locally and self-published works. The library also maintains subscriptions to a numbered of local, national, and international professional and popular journals and periodicals, often not available in local public libraries.

A sampling a just a few of the thousands of titles in the collection.

Supplemental materials related to the nearly 50,0000 properties on the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (MIHP) are some of the most unique items in our collection. This includes historic structure reports, field and research reports, published works, architectural drawings, vertical files, and photographs. Historic structure reports are typically in-depth studies of single properties with recommendations for rehabilitation and conservation work. A wide variety of structures have been investigated including houses, government buildings, lighthouses, and churches, and these reports are often helpful sources for chain of title information, property history, and modern and historic photographs. Paint analysis reports may also interest researchers seeking information on period accurate paint colors, and work in dendrochronology could assist in dating wooden buildings, which are cataloged with field and research reports. The architectural drawing collection is another underutilized gem for researchers of architectural history. All counties are represented in the collection and includes many different types of structures from bridges and public buildings to palatial estate houses to barns and tenant houses. The vertical files also hold a wealth of materials, such as research notes, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and photographs, on various subjects, including MIHP properties, historical events, and cities and towns.

MHT has collected thousands of images to document historic properties, historic districts, and archaeological sites in Maryland. These slides, negatives, and photographs are maintained in the library and supplement the images available in the MIHP form. They primarily date from the 1960’s to present, but older photographs can sometimes be found. The architectural images in particular are of tremendous value in the study of Maryland’s history and development. Many of the buildings photographed are no longer extant or represent structures beyond the well known historic sites. In some cases, these are the only known photographs of a structure. The collection also provides examples of many architectural styles, building types, and design features.

An image of the Robert Llewellyn Wright House in Montgomery County, Maryland from the slide and negative collection.

The library also acts as a repository for the reports of archeological studies performed around the state. Compliance reports, artifact catalogs, other associated materials, and site surveys are available to researchers who meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Professional Qualification Standards for Archeology and their proxies. Members of the public can discover more about archaeological sites and artifacts discovered by exploring the Archeological Synthesis Project and Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory’s Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland.

Oral histories and maps round out the library’s rich collection. The oral histories capture the state’s cultural traditions through written transcripts and audio and video recordings. Themes include African-American communities in Baltimore County, tobacco in Calvert County, lighthouses across the state, and more. Nautical charts, topographic maps, and other historical maps of Maryland and the mid-Atlantic region are also available to researchers.  

The library’s collection is always expanding. While some collection material has yet to be cataloged, visiting the library catalog is the best way to start a search. More information on the library can be found in the user guide and on the library’s web page. The library is open to the public by appointment, Tuesday through Thursday. Librarian Lara Westwood can be contacted (lara.westwood@maryland.gov or 410-697-9546) to schedule library visits or assist with any research inquiries.

What’s “Magical” About Maryland Archeology?

By Sara Rivers Cofield, Curator of Federal Collections, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum

When a committee of archeologists selected “The Magic and Mystery of Maryland Archeology” as the theme for the 2019 Maryland Archeology Month, they were not thinking about Harry Potter or pulling a rabbit out of a top hat. “Magic” in anthropological terms, is anything people do to try to influence the supernatural. That includes personified supernatural forces like gods, ghosts, and ancestral spirits, and impersonal supernatural forces like luck. Usually when people try to influence the supernatural there is a clear end in mind and a ritualized procedure to follow. When you pick a penny up and say, “find a penny, pick it up, and all day long you’ll have good luck,” an anthropologist would classify that as a “magic” ritual.

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Archeologists Annette Cook and Alex Glass carefully excavate one quadrant of the kitchen cellar at Smith’s St. Leonard.

Archeology is a sub-discipline of anthropology in the U.S., so we use the anthropological definition of magic for select artifacts that were once considered objects of power. There is a joke of sorts in archeology that any artifact of unknown purpose must be “ritual,” which is really code for “I have no other explanation.” That joke was born out of legitimate criticism, but it has scared some people away from considering ritual and magic in archeology. The burden of proof that something is “magic” is very high. However, it is a disservice to our understanding of past belief systems if we fail to consider possible ritual and magic uses of artifacts, especially if the context calls for it.

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The Smith’s St. Leonard horseshoe was found in the fill of a kitchen cellar that contained debris from a remodeling episode associated with the brick hearth.

A perfect example is a well-worn horseshoe from Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum’s public archeology site, the Smith’s St. Leonard plantation, which was occupied ca. 1711-1754. The obvious default interpretation of a horseshoe is that it was for shoeing a horse, especially if the horseshoe is worn enough to show it was used. However, historical records indicate that it was rare to shoe horses in Maryland prior to the 1750s because the soft clay soils did not require it. Over 200 units have been excavated at the site, resulting in over 450 boxes of artifacts from the main house, a kitchen, a laundry, at least three slave quarter buildings, a store house, and a stable. Only one horseshoe was found, and it was not near the stable, but in a kitchen cellar that was filled with debris from a hearth remodeling episode.

Horseshoes have a long history as objects placed on thresholds, near hearths, or in ritual concealments to ward off evil or bring good luck. Furthermore, some of these beliefs hold that found horseshoes, such as those thrown from a hoof along a roadway, were the ones with power. For example, witches could not pass through a threshold guarded by an old horseshoe until they had traveled all the roads the horse had traveled, and by then it would be daylight. Thus, history and context suggest that the Smith’s St. Leonard horseshoe was a magical object that once protected the hearth.

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The Smith’s St. Leonard horseshoe after conservation treatment.

It is not always possible to determine whether an everyday object was put to a magical purpose, and that is where the “mystery” of the “Magic and Mystery” theme comes in. There are many finds that might be evidence of magic, but there is no way to know with certainty. It is still worthwhile to consider the possibility though because it calls for an understanding of how the people who used these artifacts viewed the world. Ultimately, having that knowledge of how people in the past thought and behaved is what archeology is all about.

Interested in participating in excavations at Smith’s St. Leonard? The 2019 Public Archaeology program runs from May 7 to June 29. For more information visit http://www.jefpat.org/publicarchaeology.html.

MHAA Helps Fund New Exhibit Highlighting the Life Story of Reverend Josiah Henson

By Ennis Barbery Smith, Assistant Administrator, Maryland Heritage Area Program

The Reverend Josiah Henson’s legacy is one of resilience. He and his family escaped slavery in Maryland in 1830, heading north and eventually settling in Ontario, Canada. Once there, he founded a community for escaped slaves called the Dawn Settlement. While I only recently learned about Henson’s accomplishments and his connection to Maryland, it’s clear to me that the story of his life is worth sharing far and wide.

In high school, I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. I remember that my teacher credited this book with helping raise awareness about the brutalities of slavery and laying the groundwork for anti-slavery sentiment, which would propel the United States into the American Civil War. This novel, published in 1852, told the story of an enslaved man referred to as Uncle Tom whose journey begins in Kentucky. Over the course of the plot, he travels down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

Informational panel on display at Josiah Henson Park in spring 2018. These more temporary exhibits will be replaced and greatly enhanced by the new exhibit and orientation film, partially funded by Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA).

As a high school student, I didn’t think to ask how Harriet Beecher Stowe—a white woman from Connecticut–knew about the brutalities of slavery. It turns out that she based many of the experiences she described in her famous novel on firsthand accounts by former slaves, including the autobiography of Josiah Henson, which was originally published in 1849.

Shirl Spicer (left), Museum Manager for Montgomery Parks, talks with (left to right) Janice Hayes-Williams of MHAA and Sarah Rogers, Executive Director of Heritage Montgomery.

Henson was born in Charles County, near Port Tobacco, and spent much of his childhood and early adulthood enslaved on the plantation of Isaac Riley in Montgomery County. The stories of enslavement that he shares in his dictated autobiography The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself are Maryland stories. His childhood was marked by the horrors that many enslaved people endured: violence, abuse, and family separation. As Henson shares in his narrative, Riley recognized him as very intelligent and delegated many responsibilities to him. Henson also became a reverend in the Methodist Episcopal Church. When he attempted to buy his freedom, Riley cheated him, and he feared being sold away from his family. This is where Henson’s story as a free man begins. He escaped slavery in Maryland, eventually settling in Canada with his family and establishing the Dawn Settlement.

Cassandra Michaud (left), Senior Archeologist for Montgomery Parks, shows MHAA representatives and Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) staff the archaeological excavation underway in spring 2018 at Josiah Henson Park, the site of the former Riley Plantation, where Henson was enslaved. MHAA representatives pictured include (left to right) Lee Towers and Janice Hayes-Williams. MHT staff pictured include Bernadette Pruitt (far right).

Today, Reverend Josiah Henson’s story of perseverance and courage is finally being etched into the Maryland landscape, and finding its way into the consciousness of Marylanders. The site in North Bethesda that used to be known as the Riley Plantation is now Josiah Henson Park, part of Montgomery Parks. In 2018, the Montgomery County Heritage Area expanded its boundaries, adding this site—and a host of others. As a result, the Montgomery County Parks Foundation applied for and was awarded a Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) matching grant to design and install new exhibits at Josiah Henson Park’s on-site Visitor Center, currently under construction. The exhibit will feature an introductory film, original illustrations, and artifacts excavated at the Riley Plantation site. Shirl Spicer, Museum Manager for Montgomery Parks, said she is excited for people to see the exhibit because the artifacts paired with dynamic, evocative illustrations will allow visitors to engage with Henson’s story in new ways.

Even before the park re-opens with its new and enhanced visitor center and exhibits, Shirl Spicer assured me that her organization is actively spreading the word about Reverend Josiah Henson in Montgomery County through outreach at community events and schools. Plus, a brand new in-depth Josiah Henson biography was written by Montgomery Parks’ senior historian, Jamie Ferguson Kuhns, and published in February 2019.

Fran Kline, Archaeology Program Volunteer for Montgomery Parks, answers questions about artifacts uncovered at Josiah Henson Park.

Knowing what I know now about Henson’s remarkable life and autobiography, it feels like an injustice that I had never heard the name Josiah Henson before the Montgomery County Heritage Area submitted their boundary amendment materials to MHAA last year. However, just over the past year, I’ve started noticing his name in press coverage. In addition to Henson’s own autobiography, interested readers can learn more about Henson’s story here, watch video content about his life here, and watch an interview with his descendant here. All these sources are no substitute for visiting Josiah Henson Park itself. The Park and the new exhibits, funded in part by MHAA, are slated to open to the public in 2020.

Suffrage Leader Augusta Chissell to Be Inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame

By Kacy Rohn, Planner, City of College Park and Heather Barrett, Administrator of Research and Survey, Maryland Historical Trust

On March 21st at the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis, Augusta T. Chissell will be inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, joining seven other notable women honored for their achievements and contributions to the State.

Maryland women suffragists played an important role in the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920. State suffrage leaders, including Augusta T. Chissell, developed a robust network of grassroots organizations across Maryland, greatly shaping the fight for women’s rights. While the work of these activists has largely been forgotten, this is particularly true for African American suffragists, who were excluded from prominent suffrage organizations and omitted from newspaper coverage and organizational records. Early twentieth-century African American suffragists’ work was particularly important at a time when Jim Crow laws sought to undermine hard-won civil rights.

Augusta T. Chissell

Augusta Chissell. Photo courtesy of Mark Young

Augusta Chissell was an important African American leader of the women’s suffrage movement in Baltimore City in the early twentieth century. Chissell had deep roots in Baltimore’s women’s clubs, which fostered leadership skills as they promoted causes including education, healthcare, and prohibition. She was an officer in Baltimore’s Progressive Women’s Suffrage Club and held a leadership position in the prominent Women’s Cooperative Civic League. Chissell, her neighbor Margaret Gregory Hawkins, and activist Estelle Young were part of a black middle class who lived and worked in neighborhoods now part of the Old West Baltimore Historic District. The close proximity of these organizations’ members, driven by residential segregation, made it convenient for them to hold meetings in their homes, and they often gathered at Chissell’s home on Druid Hill Avenue in Baltimore.

Augusta Chissell Home

Augusta T. Chissell’s home at 1534 Druid Hill Avenue in Baltimore

In the early twentieth century, the women’s suffrage movement began to secure the support of important state and national organizations. In 1914, the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC) endorsed women’s suffrage, and local clubs and associations moved quickly to draw further public support by holding mass meetings. The first public meeting of the Women’s Suffrage Club drew a large and enthusiastic crowd to Grace Presbyterian Church in December 1915, and in 1916, the NACWC brought their biennial national convention to Baltimore, where the suffrage movement was a major topic of discussion.

Chissells

Dr. Robert G. and Augusta T. Chissell with great nephew, Mark Young (ca. 1960)

Following passage of the 19th Amendment, Chissell authored “A Primer for Women Voters,” a recurring column in the Baltimore Afro-American that offered guidance to new African American women voters. She organized training sessions for women at the neighborhood Colored Young Women’s Christian Association (CYWCA) after women got the vote, and later served as the Chair of the Women’s Cooperative Civic League and as Vice President of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP. The Women’s Club used the CYWCA to hold weekly ‘Citizenship Meetings’ for new women voters and ongoing lectures on voting and civic responsibility.

Augusta T. Chissell’s legacy endures in her former home at 1534 Druid Hill Avenue, where she lived during her decades of civic activism, and in the former CYWCA building at 1200 Druid Hill Avenue, where the Women’s Suffrage Club began hosting public meetings in 1915. As the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment approaches, Marylanders should honor and celebrate strong women like Augusta Chissell, whose decades of civic activism laid the groundwork for so many of us.

Tomorrow’s event is sold out, but the Maryland Historical Trust will post photos of the induction ceremony on social media. To explore the story of women’s suffrage in Maryland, visit MHT’s storymap “Maryland Women’s Fight for the Vote.” 

Forgotten Forefathers of Maryland (Guest Blog)

By Steven X. Lee

The greatest story never told in Maryland is the history of her free early African American people. From the fixed focus of slavery radiates Maryland African American history as it is documented and presented. But Maryland, as a Colony and a State, was home to the largest free black population prior to the Civil War, whose stories are equally significant. Their impact was profound and integral in the making of Maryland, and the nation. Yet this remarkable dimension of Maryland’s history, of a people’s heritage, is largely omitted in the Maryland education and historical milieu.

The history of Maryland’s African Americans does not begin with slavery.  It begins with free and indentured black passengers on the Ark and Dove 1634 landing upon the Maryland shore.  There were at least three men of African descent in the passenger manifest: John Price, Mimus and Mathias deSousa, who, like so many of their free and indentured white brethren on those ships, freely chose to blaze life anew in the Colony. (Not until 1642 did the first slave-ships arrive, marking slavery’s introduction.)  Thus from inception, the population and story of Maryland African Americans begins with, and grows from, free people.

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Robert Bannaky Historical Marker, mounted on rock at the first intersection in the
Benjamin Banneker Historical Park, in Oella.

The contributions of Benjamin Banneker, first African American scientist, and the dedicated service of Jocko Graves, are icons often cited in the Early Maryland story. But these two Revolutionary War Era figures are typically presented as anomalies among a generally enslaved black population. In actuality there were thousands of free African American women and men across the state at that time. Benjamin Banneker’s parents, Robert and Mary Bannaky, themselves were pioneer members of a burgeoning community of free blacks that came to be known as Mount Gilboa in Baltimore County. The Hill in Easton and Scott’s Point in Chestertown are but two more of the many vibrant free black communities rooted in Early Maryland.

Boyd Rutherford

Bethel A.M.E. Church, The Hill, Easton. From this very pulpit Frederick Douglass once addressed the congregation of this historic black church. Here, Maryland Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford speaks from it on February 27th, 2016.

There have been historians who purposely sought to encourage a balanced view of the early Maryland African American experience.  There’s the work of historian Reverend George Bragg of Baltimore, who recorded the legacy of both free and enslaved African Americans in his 1914 book Men of Maryland (including accounts of women as well).  There were oral histories told by the late-20th/early-21th century griot, Jacqueline Lanier, who regularly infused accounts of Maryland’s free early African Americans throughout her storytelling and lectures. But, by and large, the conventional cast for early Maryland African American history has been one-dimensional, around the focal point of enslaved people.

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Cannon Street, Scott’s Point of Chestertown. From late 18th century onwards, many prominent free African Americans resided on this street, including the wealthy African American businessman, Thomas Cuff.

With the realization that there were multitudes of free African Americans residing in Revolutionary War Era Maryland, it defies reason to accept the conventional depiction of black people essentially as slaves with peripheral lives, during this momentous period. What truly were the lives, the roles, the contributions of free African Americans to the rise of Maryland and the United States of America?  Certainly this is one of the missing chapters in the greatest Maryland story never told.

The American Revolution was a time of heroic exploits and battles, exceptional sacrifice and camaraderie, of multi-cultural colonists bonding to forge our State and Union. But as I went from K through 12, not one of my Maryland schoolbooks taught that among those many valiant soldiers, were free Maryland African Americans serving in the Revolutionary War.

Jackie Lanier 1

Jacqueline Lanier (1947 – 2003) – Collector, storyteller and jazz historian WEAA radio host.

Maryland African Americans served at all levels of defense: in the civilian guard, state militia, and Continental Army. General George Washington and the governor came to remove all barriers to African American enlistment, calling upon those free and enslaved to help meet depleted troop quotas faced in the Continental Army and the Maryland Line.  In July of 1780, during the drive to raise troops in St. Mary’s County, Richard Barnes, son of Colonel Abraham Barnes, wrote in a correspondence to Maryland Governor Thomas Lee: “Our recruiting business in this County goes on much worse than I expected. … The greatest part of those that have enlisted are free Negroes & Mulattoes.” [1]

In one instance of Charles County, six “Mulatto” men, all appearing to be of the same family, registered. [2]  Charles, Francis, Henry, Leonard, Thomas and William were all ‘Proctors’ who enlisted at the same place and time.  That was a most substantial sacrifice for any family to give to a war.

Bragg-MenOfMD 1st.page+

“We have undertaken to present … in addition to the historical sketches given, some important data throwing light upon the history of “black slaves”, and “free blacks”, in Maryland…” 
 – Rev. George F. Bragg, excerpt from his book MEN OF MARYLAND, 1914

Of the services and sufferings of the colored soldiers of the Revolution, no attempt has, to our knowledge, been made to preserve a record.  Their history is not written; it lies upon the soil watered with their blood: who shall gather it?” [3]  These were the words of publisher, librarian and teacher, William Howard Day in 1852, when he addressed ‘The National Convention of the Colored Freemen’ held in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Sources vary in the total amount given for Maryland African American Revolutionary War soldiers. Estimates range from 1,200 to over 8,000 serving in battalions of the Continental Army, Maryland Line, as well as in the Maryland Flying Camp, which reportedly had at least six black servicemen in 1776.  The First Maryland Brigade had at least 60 African American troops serving that year. [4]

RevolutionaryWar Soldier (1) (1)It will take a concerted effort to truly restore the histories of Maryland’s unsung black soldiers, to unbury and compile the many scattered, overlooked vestiges of records, artifacts and stories.  It was thanks to a found 1828 newspaper obituary that the bravery and many battle exploits of Thomas Carney were recovered – a black Maryland Revolutionary War superhero, highlighted in a 1989 Maryland Historical Magazine article by William Calderhead. [5]

Free African Americans just as earnestly defended the new nation on the civilian front.  Early in the war General Washington proposed hiring free black wagoners from Maryland. [6] Equally integral and relevant was the role of free African American watermen, as the Chesapeake Bay was a vital transportation and strategic battlefront. Hence Maryland’s free black watermen were employed, where their maritime and boat-building skills, knowledge of the Bay and its islands, were invaluable.

So interwoven and extensive was the role of free African Americans in Revolutionary War Era Maryland, that it gives pause as to how/why have they been omitted in education and history.  It is the call of the ancestors, to recall to life the lost songs and stories of those who are indeed forgotten forefathers of our nation.  The history of Maryland is misunderstood and incomplete without them.

Steven X. Lee serves on the Maryland Commission of African American History and Culture and is the Program Director of The Heritage Museum. He also served as the Founding Director of the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum.

All photo credits are the author’s unless otherwise indicated.

References

[1]  Richard Barnes to Governor Lee, July 23,1780, Archives of Maryland XLV, 24  /  The Negro in the American Revolution, p. 56, Benjamin Quarles, 1961

[2]  Forgotten Patriots, Daughters of the American Revolution 2008

[3]  “Proceeding of the Convention of Colored Freemen”, Cincinnati Ohio,1852  /  The Black Phalanx, 21, Joseph T. Wilson, 1994

[4]  “Finding the Maryland 400”, the Maryland State Archives  /  Muster Rolls and other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online vol.18, and fold3.com

[5]  William L. Calderhead, MARYLAND HISTORICAI. MAGAZINE vol. 84, no. 4, WINTER 1989, 319-321

[6]  Headquarter to the Committee of Congress with the Army, Jan. 29, 1778, Fitzpatrick, ed., Writings of Washington, X, 401  /  The Negro in the American Revolution, p. 100, Benjamin Quarles, 1961