Local History Groups :: Lead Systemic Change

A Statement from Montgomery History
June 4, 2020
Montgomery History expresses its sincere condolences to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless others in our country who have lost loved ones and suffered from systemic racism. As an organization we are committed to using local history to build safer, more welcoming communities. We believe understanding and coming to terms with our history, including acknowledging past and present injustices, will help us move forward and realize the full potential of all the people who call Montgomery County, Maryland home.
Exploring our shared history, and the assumptions embedded within it, exposes a painful truth: the ideology of white supremacy did not die with the abolition of slavery. It festered and assumed new forms: Jim Crow laws, white terror lynchings, “separate but equal” practices, mass incarceration of African American men, housing discrimination, voter suppression, and violence against people of color. We must acknowledge that institutions traditionally associated with cultural memory, such as ours, have contributed to and supported white supremacist narratives in the past. So while some of the institutional structures of racism have been partially mitigated by legal rules, the root problem persists.
Montgomery History will continue to forge a new, more inclusive narrative that celebrates diversity and provides a platform for all voices to be heard. We ask that you join with us by offering your guidance and vision. Share with us your stories, your ideas, and your aspirations. We invite you to participate in telling the story of Montgomery County so that meaningful change, informed by our collective past, will emerge from our grief and disillusionment. We are optimistic that history will look back at this point in time and see a community that chose a path to the future rooted in empathy, mutual respect, and dignity.
-The Montgomery History Family
Admitting bias is first step. Thank you Montgomery History!
Will all the other U.S. cities and counties named Montgomery step up?
I was raised in Montgomery County, Maryland named for General Richard Montgomery a Major General in the Continental Army who was killed in 1775 during the Battle of Quebec during the American Revolutionary War.  There were other earlier Battles of Quebec during the French and Indian Wars.  I had to review these facts quickly.  Thank you Wikipedia !
 Could Montgomery History host a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon open to the community? During “Wiki-Thons” groups and individuals create content and upload open source photographs to Wikipedia during an intensive seminar that enhances learning resources about a particular subject.  The history, communities, demography and diversity of Montgomery County, Maryland could be just such a subject. Volunteer mentors from the community who are Wikipedians assist the content producers.
About Diversity
There are many people living in Montgomery County – perhaps all Americans, truth be told – who represent an array of all the world’s indigenous gene pool. It has long been known that proving “racial difference” is a fog of nonsense by pseudo-scientists, mostly male, to perpetuate their social and economic position. Scientific racism endures, as this 2006 research analysis states, published by the  McGill Journal of Medicine.
So, ‘fess up, admit it, everybody has many types and ties to different blood, genes and intellect.  We inherit these traits and markers individually from our ancestors, not as a group. If you missed out on learning Biology or were prohibited by a church sect or cult from learning  the Science of Evolution here is a glossary of terms related to genetic evolution.
Change Concepts :: Concept Changes
I am wondering, has Montgomery Historical Society or any historical society ever prepared an exhibition with a theme examining how we are all “colored people” ?
That was the polite term used to define and segregate citizens of all ages when I attended the Montgomery County Public School System in the 1950s. And there were other terms, bullying pejoratives that are still in trade.
Can the various community groups dedicated to supporting local history and honest, transparent education come together and consider a suggestion:  Look into the historical association’s photo archives – and those of other local organizations.  Seek out personal archives and collections dedicated to honoring historical documentation. Discover an array of materials that highlight the concept that “Blue, Black, Purple, Yellow, Red and Brown People are Normal People” are “We the People”.
The June 4, 2020 Statement at the top of this posting was sent by email; I could not find it on the Montgomery History website.  As alluded to in the Statement, over the years, it is possible that intransigent curators and managers at the Montgomery Historical Society routinely ignored or did not actively search for images, oral history transcripts, artifacts and newspaper content that depict the normal day to day interaction of all kinds of local Montgomery County residents and visitors. Oh, except during Black History Month of course.
Or, they did, but few know about it.  Admitting past bias is not enough. Though it is encouraging that the message was crafted and distributed.
Controversy and Disruptive Innovation :: If not now, when?
Has Montgomery History already mounted such an exhibition, created videos or amassed such a truthful resource as I describe?  I admit, I have visited only once, in the late 1970s and saw the entrenched, staid focus on polite and white insular society. Has Montgomery History or the Maryland Historical Society ever offered an educational product or display exposing the rancid KKK and disguised fraternal supremacist groups that continue to exist in the county and state and country?
Has Montgomery History ever offered a program exposing the history of institution-based perpetuation of supremacy, which continues in these times?
When I participated in USG cybersecurity training and disruptive innovation simulations a decade ago, I learned that walking the perceived tightrope mindfully with a willingness to accept vilification, criticism and temporary failure during the process.  Discord with positive intentions can bring a group into creative change and social advancement. History Societies could lead honest and transparent public education.
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Port Tobacco, Maryland

Thomas Stone National Historic Site.
Thomas Stone National Historic Site.

Port Tobacco was not on the water when I visited.

Prior to the American Revolution, this Maryland hamlet barely an hour’s drive south-east of Washington, DC was the second largest seaport in the American colonies. Ships anchored to be loaded with barrels of tobacco bound for Europe and the rest of the world.  Port Tobacco was on the world map.

In recent decades the nearest water to Port Tobacco was a marshy stretch where archeologists are examining residue for shoe buckles, clay pipes and artifacts from the original settlers in this area, Algonquian-speaking tribal peoples.  Hardly enough water near Port Tobacco to support a kayak hull, let alone a blue water schooner.  But that’s changing, thanks to community involvement in river restoration efforts and the Port Tobacco River Conservancy

The Catholics arrived in 1658, the Episcopals next.  One hundred defined lots originally made up the town limits, but the port was growing each year.  By 1819 the community built the courthouse

Port Tobacco, Md. historic road side marker.
Port Tobacco, Md. historic road side marker.

, now a museum.  Inside, only one original furniture piece remains, the clerk’s oak desk.   The St. Charles Hotel could seat 200 for dinner.   Sales of enslaved people for Southern Maryland plantations took place on the auction block outside the courthouse.  Sixty business and homes were listed within the incorporated area.

Tobacco was the local currency.  For the European market, the leaves were packed in kegs and shipped to England.  Most of the merchants were Scottish sea farers.  Merchants offered credit to plantation owners and it was the merchant’s responsibility to get the tobacco to Europe and England, taking their pay from the proceeds.  Surely agents, scrupulous and not, handled the sales paperwork and letters of credit.

Back in the day, there were more enslaved people of color than whites of European ancestry in the region.  After the Revolutionary War, the circuit court system was left in disarray.  The circuit court met every three or four months and the arrival of the judicial entourage signaled the opening of a fair, the market and trade season when people gathered in town to witness trials and punishments.   That was public entertainment of the era — exhibitionists in the stocks, blasphemers pilloried.  Doubtless there were worse punishments wrought.

Two newspapers operated in the town, the Port Tobacco Times and the Times Crescent.  The Maryland Independent, a relative newcomer, remains.

Warehouse Landing Road marks the location of the largest tobacco barn in the area, where they grade tobacco grown in Charles County.  During the 1920s, there were swimming camps (called  bathing camps at the time)  for children all along the river.  In 1940, the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco formed to preserve and protect this landmark settlement.  Catslide House was renovated. In the 1960’s, archeology dig led by the Smithsonian Institution excavated artifacts now displayed in the museum.  Elaine Racey, a Courthouse guide, dropped hints about a local ghost  while Dorothy Barbour, a docent working in the gift shop, said that more artifacts might be available for display in the museum if  a private foundation could be persuaded to sponsor a

Port Tobacco Archeological Project. http://porttobaccoarcheologicalproject.blogspot.com
Port Tobacco Archeological Project. Image from http://porttobacco.blogspot.com 

fixed temperature display area.  Dr. Barbour owned Stagg Hall, one  of several historic manor houses in the area.

How did Port Tobacco lose its waterside supremacy?  Over the centuries, plantations from here to the Potomac River cleared the trees and plowed the fields for a mono-crop, poor soil management causes erosion which silted up the waterways. Even in the 21st century, storm water  runoff and erosion are primary culprits in the degradation of the Port Tobacco River Watershed and Maryland’s coastal wetland port.

Notable figures from this area include:

* Wat Bowie and Mosby’s Men

* Dr. Gustavus Brown, one of George Washington’s doctors, who hastened George Washington’s death with numerous bleedings

Olivia Floyd of Rose Hill, a spy for the Confederates during the American Civil War

John Hanson, President of the First Continental Congress

* Matthew Henson, co-discoverer of the North Pole, born near Nanjemoy, Md.

General Wm. Smallwood, a Revolutionary War leader

Thomas Stone, a signer of the Declaration of Independence

Alien Weeds

Patterson Clark shared his harvesting and art making processes at the Annual Meeting of the Audubon Naturalist Society last week at Woodend Sanctuary in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

I admire his dedication and inventiveness.  Take a look at his brilliant art made of weed pulp paper and essence of weed ink, plus a ferocious amount of creative energy.

In my own quest to help native plants, I  usually pull Lonicera japonica out of the trees or bushes it is choking and weave  the vines into baskets.

Lonicera japonica aka honeysuckle.

More information:

Urban Jungle column in Washington Post

Invasive  Plant Species in the Mid-Atlantic – National Park Service

Walks in Washington DC

Walking:: DC

Except for the stretch near Georgetown where the water is often low and the trash piles up, the C&O Canal on the Maryland side of the Potomac River is a splendid stretch.  You can walk nearly 200 miles without making a U-ey in this National Park.

The path along Great Falls Canal on the Virginia side of the Potomac isn’t as well known.  This canal was built on the instruction of George Washington and never completed.
Rock Creek Park, Seneca Creek Park, the WD&O trail, the trail from DC to Mount Vernon, the Anacostia Tributary Trails, Prince William Forest, Audubon Naturalist Sanctuaries, and the Capital Crescent Trail offer the urban hiker many choices.
Extend your range on segments of the Appalachian Trail, the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail in Virginia, the Rachel Carson Greenway and more. 

Though many of these trails are long enough for multi-day excursions with overnight stays in nearby inns, motels or camping.  Pick short segments suitable for half day and day hikes.