Posts Tagged Harpers Ferry
Did Frederick (Bailey) Douglass know Henry Van Meter, who saw Washington and served in the War of 1812?
As an intellectually curious child in tow with his grandmother travelling colonial dirt roads of the Tuckahoe the attention of Frederick Bailey was attuned to the history, customs and culture of his community.
Raised in his grandparents cabin, Isaac Bailey served as the first male father figure for a young Frederick. Throughout his life and across his public career, Douglass acknowledged and recognized the contributions of his elder forefathers.
Accustomed and acclimated to the company of Black American Patriots of the Revolutionary War and the Black Defenders of Baltimore, Frederick (Bailey) Douglass stepped forged and formed onto the national and international stage precipitously and deliberately influenced by men whose stories of sacrifices and contributions to the founding of this country history have mostly been forgotten today.
Frederick (Bailey) Douglass made sure America never forgot the contributions of these Black American Patriots while he had a say about it.
In February 1871, under the editorial guidance of Douglass, the New National Era ran an obituary for Henry Van Meter, “a Black Hero of the Revolution.”
A minor celebrity in his own time, due features in Harper’s Weekly and Benson J. Lossing’s Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812, Henry Van Meter was reportedly 110 years old or thereabouts when he passed in Bangor, Maine following the Civil War.
In a footnote to Lossing’s brief feature on Van Meter, there is this interesting note:
Henry remembered seeing Washington many times.
He was discontented, and wished to leave, notwithstanding his master was kind. He wished Henry to marry one of his slave girls, and raise children for him, offering, if he would do so, to order in his will that he should be made a free man at his death. “I didn’t like the gals,” said Henry, “and didn’t want to ‘wait for dead men’s shoes.’
So master sold me to a man near Lexington, in Kentucky, and there was only one log house in that town when I went there.” He was soon sold to one of those vile men engaged in the slave-trading business, who treated him shamefully. Henry mounted one of his master’s horses one night, and fled to the Kentucky River, where he turned him loose, and told him to go home if he had a mind to, as he didn’t wish to steal him. Some benevolent white people helped him on to the Ohio, and at Cincinnati, then a collection of houses around Fort Washington, he took the name of Van Meter, borne by some of the family of his kind master of the Shenandoah Valley.
Henry became a servant of an officer in St. Clair’s army, and served in the company, in the Northwest, with that commander and General Wayne. After the peace in 1795, he was living in Chillicothe, and came East with some Englishmen with horses, by way of Wheeling, to Philadelphia.
In the latter city some Quakers sent him to school, and he learned to read and write. When the war broke out he shipped as a common sailor in the privateer Lawrence, having previously been to Europe several times in the same capacity, and when cast into Dartmoor he held a prize ticket which was worth, when he got home, one thousand dollars. He let a captain have it as security for sixteen dollars. The man died of yellow fever in the South, and Henry never recovered his ticket.
Prior to the Civil War, Maine was an active state for the anti-slavery movement, as well as other reform efforts. Some notable citizens of Maine whom Douglass knew and/or worked closely with include, but not limited to, General Oliver Otis Howard, Secretary of State James G. Blaine and the politically influential Fessenden family.
While in bereavement over the death of Anna Murray Douglass, Frederick spent time in the summer of 1883 in the resort community of Poland Spring, Maine. (You’ve likely had a bottle of water bearing its namesake.)
The decision of Douglass to run an obituary for Henry Van Meter is a deliberate recognition of the tradition and history of Black American Patriots who served and saved this country throughout its founding decades.
Video: “Lost History of Harpers Ferry, Storer College & J. R. Clifford of Martinsburg, West Virginia”
In continuing our close review of videos with Ranger John Rudy, an interpretative trainer at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, we are continuously astounded by Ranger Rudy’s repetitious flights of fancy that are either 1) not based on any facts or scholarship or 2) a simplistic misrepresentation of local and regional history, confounded by a distortion to appeal to insular and exclusive “schmexicography.”
The latest example I’d like to point out is Ranger Rudy’s seeming insinuation that a female student at Storer College faced potential risk of “lynching” for writing a letter to the college president in 1931, the same year of the last documented lynching to occur in the state.
I have specifically focused my attention on a February 2017 tour of Harpers Ferry Ranger Rudy provided students of Shepherd University from nearby Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
From 45:15 – 45:45 Ranger Rudy says:
“Think about the gumption it takes to write that letter.
This is your boss. This is your white boss. In what amounts to Apartheid West Virginia where segregation is understood as de facto law.
In a country where black women are being lynched across the South for much less than this she writes this letter.”
Why is this so troubling and egregious?
The lack of Ranger Rudy’s understanding and familiarity of the historicity and historiography regarding lynchings as concerns West Virginia and the immediate region is inexcusable for someone whose primary job is to interpret, communicate and share history with the public. Ranger Rudy’s presentation of history is imaginative; depicting Harpers Ferry and Storer College as an isolated and confining place void of newspapers and/or newspaper coverage where the violence, or the threat of it, was apparently awaiting anyone who dare challenged “Apartheid West Virginia.”
As the Equal Justice Initiative has compiled a map of documented and known lynchings across the United States, it should be noted that within the immediate region of Harpers Ferry there was 1 known lynching to occur in Berkeley County (West Virginia), 1 in Frederick County (Virginia), 3 in Loudoun County (Virginia), 1 in Allegany County (Maryland) and 3 in Frederick County (Maryland). Extra judicial killings within the area of Harpers Ferry were not a frequent occurrence but did occur.
That context is nowhere in Range Rudy’s flight of fancy nor a detailed or specific, even if brief, background on lynch law in West Virginia.
It may be helpful for Ranger Rudy to review an essay, “Lynching in West Virginia” by Adrienne Beasley on a website maintained by Marshal University. In this essay, Beasley chronicles the efforts by local, county, statewide and federal elected officials from West Virginia to actively prevent and/or stop the occurrence of lynchings, as well as strengthen local, state and federal laws against lynchings.
The NAACP branch located in Charleston formally applied for charter on June 4, 1918, was approved for charter by Committee on June 21, 1918 and was granted Executive Authority on July 6, 1918.
The branch received official charter with such expedience due to the efforts of Pastor Mordecai W. Johnson [ed note: later the first African American President of Howard University] of the First Baptist Church of Charleston. From his position within the Charleston branch of the NAACP, Pastor Johnson led a campaign of letter writing and telegrams to President Wilson in an effort to enlist the aid of the highest public office in the land against continued racial violence. Communications to President Wilson included letters from the Governor of the State of West Virginia, two Justices of the West Virginia State Supreme Court and other influential citizens, both black and white.
Examples of communications secured by Pastor Johnson relative to the NAACP’s efforts in West Virginia against the continuation of mob violence and lynching include the following:
Honorable Davis Elkins, Senator from WV, US Senate, Washington, D.C.
I heartily endorse resolution now pending in Judiciary Committee for nation-wide Congressional Investigation of lynching and mob violence. I earnestly urge that you will give all your strength in its support.
Honorable L.S. Echols, Representative 6th WV District, House of Representatives, Washington, D.C.
The time is ripe for Congress to investigate mob violence. I urge you to support the passage of the resolution proposing this.
Howard Sutherland, Senator from WV, United States Senate, Washington, D.C.
It is most urgently necessary that Senator Curtis’ resolution for a nation-wide Congressional investigation of mob violence shall be purported favorably from the Judiciary Committee and that it pass with the Senate’s approval at the earliest moment. I respectfully urge that you will give the resolution your hearty support.
If we do not demand from the National Park Service better history and its telling than these pre-packaged flights of fancy told from the ahistorical white gaze perspective is the best they have. That Ranger Rudy trains other Rangers in interpretation is shameful, reprehensible and disgraceful beyond the description of language.
The historical issue of “lynching” — in its violent manifestations and local, state and national response – is one I have written on occasion for the Washington Informer and penned a Letter to the Editor, March 4, 2020 “Moonshing but no lynching” to the Cumberland Time-News.
What has Ranger Rudy written?
For these reasons, and several others, I would be complicit for not demonstrating the disgraceful perversions and limitations of Ranger Rudy’s grasp of rudimentary history of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and Storer College.
The entire National Park Service should be ashamed, but surely they are not.
Interpretative Ranger John Rudy of Harpers Ferry demonstrates irresponsible lack of historic understanding & interpretation of Storer College
As a Douglassonian research historian I’ve taken the self-initiative to review the 2011 report by the Organization of American Historians “Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service” and a 2016 journal article in Public Historian, “Pulling from Outside, Pushing from Inside: Imperiled Promise and Change in the National Park Service.”
With these publications as my guidance for interpretation I reviewed several videos of Park Ranger / Interpretive Trainer John Rudy of Harpers Ferry National Historic Park regarding his interpretation of the history of Harpers Ferry, specifically the history of Storer College.
I have specifically focused my attention on a February 2017 tour of Harpers Ferry Ranger Rudy provided students of Shepherd University from nearby Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
To specifically cite Ranger Rudy’s frequent enthusiastic, yet inaccurate, bursts and flights of fancy, jumbled “schmexicography” and overall simplistic and incomplete grasp of a rudimentary historic and scholastic understanding of Storer College and the respective local and regional history could consume a lifetime. It is all nothing less than embarrassing and shameful that Ranger Rudy is responsible for training other Park Rangers around the country in interpretation let alone having the responsibility, or even singular opportunity, of communicating an interpretation directly to the public.
Ranger Rudy is a personal shining example and manifestation of the 2011 report, Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service.
I have heard some bad history from Rangers over the years but Ranger Rudy is the worst Ranger I have ever heard. And that explains it.
Possibly the worst interpretative Ranger in the National Park Service system is responsible for training Rangers around the country in interpretation. It is poetic in its patheticness.
The interpretation of the National Park Service is and has been largely a disgrace. The public knows this. The report says so. Not a disgrace in the emotion, fervor and narrative of the interpretation but in the scholastic and historic fidelity. Without history you have no interpretation.
NPS largely has no clue that it has no clue. Ranger Rudy has no clue that he has no clue. Ranger Rudy’s infinite interpretative flights of enthusiastic fancy make up not for his completely disgraceful and shameful thread-bareness of history and citations.
Let us go to the tape …
“And that’s where she is in the fall of 1931, leafing through the Black newspaper.
Now there isn’t a large enough Black population in Jefferson County to support a Black newspaper for this area.
In fact, there’s not even a large enough population in West Virginia, or Maryland, or Virginia, or Pennsylvania, alone. (lots of hand motions)
So Baltimore creates the Baltimore Afro-American. (hands clasped together)
It’s the local Black paper in Baltimore but covers (face grimace) everything (hand extended forward and back) out here to the West!
Everything! Up to the north; (pushs an open palm forward) up to the northern border of Pennsylvania!
Everything (hand extended sideways) down into the Carolinas (another face grimace)!
The Mid-Atlantic is covered by this paper and this is her news source.
This entire string of simplistic statements by Ranger John Rudy is:
- either selectively misleading and dangerously false in error
- or deliberately misleading and dangerously false in intent: therefore egregiously malicious in its lack of scholastic fidelity and blasphemous to the interpretation of not only Harpers Ferry National Historic Park but the entire National Park Service.
No words nor language can overstate nor describe how disgraceful, reprehensible, dishonorable, dismissive and historically irresponsible Ranger Rudy’s history, or lack thereof, and interpretation, or lack thereof, in fact is.
Ranger Rudy simply has no facts. With no facts, Ranger Rudy has no interpretation.
As a note, the Baltimore Afro was – by most accounts – established when John H. Murphy bought out a church-based city paper, with money from his wife Martha E. Howard from Unity, Maryland in Montgomery County, in a merger effort to launch the Baltimore Afro in 1892.
“So Baltimore creates the Baltimore Afro-American.” – Ranger Rudy
This simplistic statement speaks for its simplistic self. According to my interpretation of Ranger Rudy’s statement:
- the municipality of Baltimore was responsible for the creation of the paper
- for some unknown reason(s)
- by unknown persons
- in an unknown year
To clarify and edify Ranger Rudy’s flight of fancy, we will deal with Ranger Rudy’s comments with, first, 1892 as a reference point, and, secondly, 1931 as a reference point to demonstrate the inherent and abject ignorance of his entire statement contained on the video from 41:40 – 42:26.
As one last note, for geographers, Baltimore is roughly 70 miles from Harpers Ferry while Washington City is roughly 65 miles away.
In 1892 travel to each city was facilitated by the railroads with the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Lockpost 60.7 and Lock House 33 just across the Potomac from Harpers Ferry on the Maryland side. This is of note due the more common and public travel and distribution routes in which journalists and newspapers delivers would take to and from Harpers Ferry during this era.
From the end of the American Civil War until 1892, throughout West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania communities supported their own interconnected Black newspapers. These states and the communities supported their papers “alone,” – as Ranger Rudy says, “alone,” having absolute no meaning or in reference to anything at all.
By 1892, there had been previously established and/or were active Black press newspapers published out of:
- (1) Jefferson County, West Virginia
- (2) Berkeley County, West Virginia
- (3) Kanawha County, West Virginia
- (4) Montgomery County, West Virginia
- (5) Washington City
- (6) Richmond, Virginia
- (7) Norfolk, Virginia
- (8) Petersburg, Virginia
- (9) Roanoke, Virginia
- (10) Staunton, Virginia
- (11) Alexandria, Virginia
- (12) Lynchburg, Virginia
- (13) Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
- (14) Philadelphia
- (15) Kent County, Maryland
- (16) Somerset and Dorchester County, Maryland (same editor)
* Several of these papers were published and/or edited by:
- 1) former students and/or graduates of Storer
- 2) faculty of Storer
- 3) members of Storer’s board
In 1931, there were Black press newspapers published out of:
- (1) Keystone, West Virginia (McDowell County)
- (2) Pittsburgh
- (3) Philadelphia
- (4) Washington City
- (5) Richmond
- (6) Norfolk
- (7) Staunton
- (8) Newport News
- (9) elsewhere within the states mentioned in Ranger Rudy’s flight of fancy.
In quick conclusion, the representative historic narrative and telling of Storer College as maintained by the National Park Service is either an egregious oversight and shortcoming of its own historians, interpreters, consultants and Superintendents across decades or a deliberate effort to mislead, obscure and/or ignore the consequential citations of our heritage and legacy of one of the most sacred sites in collective American history across generations for all peoples and nationalities.
Either reason serves as no explanation nor reason for the lies and false history to continue into the future.
Enjoy a new walking tour experience through the historic streets of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and its principal attractions.
Learn more about the enduring relationship and friendship of John Brown and Frederick Douglass, John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in 1859 and the subsequent visits Douglass made to Harpers Ferry during his service to Storer College, West Virginia’s first historically Black college.
Learn about the lost history of the connections of Frederick Douglass in Harpers Ferry and some of the groundbreaking achievements of graduates of Storer whom Douglass worked alongside within the region and nationally.
Tour will start at the 1894 B&O train station and conclude at Anthony Hall on the former campus of Storer College, where Douglass served as a board member.
- Tour will be limited in size; please sign up to confirm attendance.
- Tour will be offered on a donation basis.
- Tour will encourage all proper public health protocols.
- Photography is encouraged; will be visiting several historic sites and panoramic views.
- Hike includes off-road walking, stairs and considerable hills. Total walk is nearly 3 – 4 miles. Please bring liquids and make appropriate accommodations to the weather conditions.
- Tour will be rain or shine.
- Harpers Ferry is open for business and following the tour your local patronage is encouraged.
This walking tour is offered by an independent internationally known street historian; NOT affiliated with Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
** Directions and Parking information ** -> https://www.nps.gov/hafe/planyourvisit/directions.htm
** Plan your visit ** -> https://www.nps.gov/hafe/planyourvisit/index.htm
** West Virginia Tourism – Harpers Ferry **-> https://wvtourism.com/harpers-ferry-national-park/
John Muller, author of Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia (2012) and Mark Twain in Washington, D.C.: The Adventures of a Capital Correspondent (2013) is currently at work on a book about the lost history of Frederick Douglass on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Muller has presented widely throughout the DC-Baltimore metropolitan area at venues including the Library of Congress, Newseum, Politics and Prose, American Library in Paris and local universities. As well, in the past two years he has presented on the “Lost History” of Frederick Douglass in Baltimore, Cambridge, Centreville, Cumberland, Denton, Easton, Frederick, Frostburg, Hagerstown, Salisbury, St. Michaels and other local cities and towns throughout the state of Maryland.
Muller has been featured on C-SPAN’s BookTV and C-SPAN’s American History TV, as well as in the pages of the Star Democrat and the airwaves of WDVM (Hagerstown) NBC4 (Washington), WPFW, WAMU, WYPR and Delmarva Public Radio.