Within the past year or so I’ve become more familiar with the waterways, wharves, churches, school houses, cemeteries, towns, cities, peoples, institutions and folklore of Maryland’s Eastern Shore as a street historian and Washington correspondent.
Although Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia was published by the History Press in 2012 and presented at such venerable national literary landmarks as Politics & Prose and the Library of Congress, along with features by the Washington Post, WYPR and C-SPAN’s BookTV, not a single institution nor individual from the Eastern Shore reached out in an interest to further a more scholastic, geographic and chononologic understanding of the Shore’s most famous and consequential native son.
At the commencement of the statewide Frederick Douglass Bicentennial last year I began a singular mission to uplift the lost history of Douglass on the Shore, as well as challenge the debilitating status quo that has suppressed and kept the fuller history lost and forgotten for generations.
Last year the Star Democrat published my “Letter To the Editor” (“Douglass college ties extended far and wide,” 1 Feb, 2018) demonstrating Washington College in Chestertown to be scholastically duplicitous and illiterate of its own history. In September of 2018, in collaboration with a well-respected community historian and the Harriet Tubman Museum and Education Center, more than 60 people attended the free presentation of “Lost History of Frederick Douglass in Cambridge.” The Star Democrat featured the lost history on its front page.
In February of this year more than seventy people attended a presentation of “Lost History of Frederick Douglass in Denton,” at the Caroline County Library. The Star Democrat wrote an advance story as well as highlighted the presentation and history on the front page of the weekly Times-Record, which exclusively covers Caroline County.
Gratitude and respect is in order for a number of public and private institutions, as well as private citizens and public administrators who have been receptive, helpful and supportive over the past two years.
Over the course of this year and the forthcoming year Eastern Shore Douglass-themed tours will be developed and a guide book to the lost history of Frederick Douglass on the Shore, which includes information on little to previously unknown visits and/or connections to the counties of Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Wicomico, will be produced and published.
Names and institutions needn’t be named and identified but a close record has been kept of those receiving public funds that have demonstrated an incapacity to respond to emails, take the initiative to reach out and/or in any measurable way collaborate to advance, uplift, uphold and preserve this lost history.
For those who can taste that salt water right now this memo is for you.
In Washingtonian lexicon “across the bridge” means East of the (Anacostia) River, as in the neighborhoods and areas of Washington City separated by the Old Eastern Branch of the Potomac. In Eastern Shore lexicon “across the bridge” means across the bridge that spans the Chesapeake Bay.
No matter the bridges that require crossing, the history will no longer be dumbed down, obscured and lost. The individuals and institutions that have been obstinate will not be pardoned.
The contemporary urgency of now to uplift the fallen and lost history and thusly defend indigenous Douglassonian communities from those who seek to poison, destroy and mislead is the same sentiment contained therein the article below from more than a century ago.
Old Anacostia Douglassonians
DEFENDING THE EASTERN SHORE.
A Chicago Paper’s Criticism of Fred. Douglass’s Birth-Place Refuted.
The Chicago News recently published the following letter from Mr. Lewis A. Leonard:
Permit me to call attention to the gross libel which you unintentionally perpetrated in the Morning News today on a most intelligent community by quoting about the locality which gave Frederick Douglass to the world. These are the objectionable lines:
“His mother was a black slave and he was born on a remote plantation lying on the banks of the Choptank river in Maryland, February, 1817, amid the laziest and muddiest of streams, surrounded by a white population of the lowest order and among slaves who in point of ignorance and indolence were fully in accord with their surroundings. It is a remarkable fact that there was one, and apparently only one, exception to the general laziness and ignorance of the black population in the midst of which he was born, and that one exception was his mother. She could read, though how she could have learned has every [sic] been a mystery to her son.”
The truth is that river is not a lazy, muddy stream, but one of the most beautiful bodies of pure salt water on the face of the globe. For scenic impressiveness, as well as for the richness and excellence of its salt-water products, the Tread Avon, that arm or the Choptank near which Fred. Douglass was born, stands unrivaled. The county of Talbot, where he first saw the light, is made up of people as intelligent, cultured and hospitable as can be found on the Atlantic coast from Labrador to the Gulf of Mexico. Instead of being ignorance, the county was the first in one in the United States to provide a good system of free education, and these schools were generally patronized that when Fred Douglass lived there I doubt if there was a white adult in the entire county who could not read and write. Few such communities were to be found fifty years ago. Since 1817 the county has maintained a system of public schools unexcelled by those of any section of the country. For more than fifty years a good education has been provided, entirely free of individual expense, even for a book or slate pencil.
There is not anywhere a community that has produced more brainy and prominent men than the area embraced in a circuit of fifty miles from the birthplace of the distinguished Afro-American.
At one time the mayors of both Chicago and St. Louis – Rice and Thomas – were natives of the county. And within the area indicated are the birthplaces of Lecompte, of Kansas, whose name was given to the famous constitution, and Judge Delahay, the first chief justice of that State. Hooper, the well-known Mormon delegate, came from the same locality, and while he was in Congress another ex-citizen (Pearce) was serving a term from a district under the very shadow of Bunker Hill. Not five miles from the old home of Douglass still, stands the house built and occupied by the ancestors of Henry Clay, and Philip Francis Thomas, who was President Buchanan’s Secretary of the Treasury, lived and died within a dozen miles in the opposite direction. Others worthy of note might be mentioned, among them William Wirt, Luther Martin, Bishop Emery, James Alfred Pearce, John Bozman Kerr, Secretaries Kirkwood and Creswell, of President Grant’s cabinet, while on the edge of the circle in one direction lived John M. Clayton, of national fame, and in the other the eminent lawyer and pure jurist, who has been so fouily abused, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.
This locality was also the home of the Davis family, which gave to the country more distinguished men than any other known to history. At one time there is a public life of the family of intellectual giants Jefferson Davis, President of the Southern Confederacy, Jefferson C. Davis, a major-general of the federal army; Judge David Davis, of the United States Supreme Court; Henry Winter Davis, the most conspicuous and able member of Congress on the Union side from the South, and Colonel Davis of Virginia, then in the Confederacy, and still living, and who is regarded as one of the ablest lawyers in West Virginia.
The community is almost entirely engaged in agriculture, but the people have been distinguished for their intellectual strength from colonial times up to the present day. Two members of General Washington’s staff, Gen. Tench Tilghman, aid de camp, and Dr. Elbert, surgeon-general, were from within ten miles of the Douglass home and their descendants are among the leading people of that locality today.
Nor is it true that “the negro slaves were densely ignorant, and Fred. Douglass’s mother stood as the one exception to the general laziness and ignorance.” The colored people had the fostering care of their white masters to an unusual degree. Colonel Stevens, of the county, a merchant prince in his day, freed all his slaves and made the largest donation to the American Colonization Society which is ever received, and the republic of Liberia was a hobby of this man till the day of his death. As a result of his efforts many intelligent colored people from Talbot went to Liberia, and one of them became president and another vice-president of that republic.
Judged by any accepted standard, estimated by the intelligence, industry and progressiveness or her sons who have gone abroad or those who have remained at home, this grand old county will always be found marching right along at the head of the procession of progress and civilization.
“Defending the Eastern Shore.” Baltimore Sun, 03 Sep, 1891. page 1.