We Are Still Here
Echoes from Past Generations
by Anne Dowling Grulich for the Maryland Heritage Project
How easily one travels the brick pathways of this idyllic campus on the site of Maryland’s colonial capital cradled in the curve of a river. But what about the emotional toll exacted when navigating the landscapes of our past? We have quite a lot of history to live up to beneath our feet.
Over the years, archaeological work on the north side of St. Mary’s College campus has revealed the presence of four earlier settlements in the area of the new Parris N. Glendening Hall. Native Americans lived here for thousands of years. European colonists founded St. Mary’s City in 1634; Africans arrived shortly thereafter. And Slovakians settled here in the early 1900s. The College expanded to the north campus in the 1960s. Today, the evidence of our past is found not only in our museums, but in the faces and names of descendants living nearby.
The College’s newest HeritageScape exhibit at the new Glendening Hall weaves former governor Parris N. Glendening’s legacy into the College’s history, and connects our past with our future. The faces in the panel above portray the four earlier settlements in this area, Native Americans, European colonists, African Americans, and Slovakians.
Pottery sherds and stone tools are the material evidence of the Piscataway Indians’ early tenure here. Today, more than half of Maryland’s Indians live near Baltimore and Washington, but about 8,000 members of the Piscataway Indian Tribe still live in Southern Maryland. Waldorf is home to the American Indian Cultural Center, located off Route 301 on the lands of a former Cold War-era Nike missile site and Vietnam-era satellite site. Maurice Eagle Shadow Proctor, a member of the Cedarville band of Piscataway Indians, talked with me about the Cultural Center, and about the past and future of his people. In the cool dark of the museum, a sense of timelessness pervades; he speaks with a quiet intensity. Last summer, Proctor greeted ‘John Smith’ at the Patuxent Encounters reenactment on the banks of the Patuxent River at Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum. The moment of contact with Smith’s 1612 shallop was transforming for him – as if the centuries had indeed telescoped into the present. The Piscataway are still here, he reminded me, even if they are still not officially recognized by the state. They are still carrying the traditions and the ethos of the first peoples as 21st-century citizens of Southern Maryland. As the indigenous people of the nation’s capital, the Piscataway carry a priestly authority. They still gather at important sites, including our local streams and rivers, to pray for their people and this nation. As one of seventeen First Nations delegations, they recently prayed at the extermination camps in Poland, and in Israel they met with Ariel Sharon.
The legacy of slavery on our landscape is no less complex than that of Native Americans. Agnes Kane Callum, whose family has centuries-long roots in St. Mary’s County, has pieced together her family tree from oral histories, court documents, and census counts. Callum, now of Baltimore, exposes the convoluted nature of the slave system when she relates the history of the Butler branch of her family in the Park Hall area next to campus. Surnames like Butler, Fenwick, Gough, and Jordan that appear in Callum’s genealogy continue to appear in our local phone books over the years and may have connections to names in our College directories as well.
Callum tells us that Eleanor Butler came from Ireland to St. Mary’s City with Lord Baltimore around 1681. She later married Lord Baltimore’s slave, Charles. Their children became enslaved. Eleanor’s descendants eventually sued for their freedom and won it. Clement Butler worked as a free black man in Great Mills during the 1820s and purchased land in Park Hall. His son, John Henry, added to these lands. Although John Henry was free, his wife was not. So, John Henry’s daughter, Lucy, was born a slave in June 1858 on Glen Mary Plantation in Park Hall. In 1864, when slavery was outlawed in Maryland, 12 Butlers were emancipated at Lewis Cornelius Comb’s Glen Mary Plantation. The census of that year also indicates that eight Butlers were freed from Dr. John Brome’s plantation adjacent to the College.
In 1844, when St. Mary’s Female Seminary was being constructed, the Brome plantation enslaved about 30 people. John Brome claimed 59 slaves in 1864. Archaeological evidence suggests that at one point this workforce lived amid the plantation fields along present-day Mattapany Road on the College’s north campus. There were also two slave quarters which stood adjacent to the Brome Howard House in the center of Historic St. Mary’s City that survived into the 20th century. As late as the 1950s, Emma Hall lived in one of these cabins while she worked at the College. She had moved into the cabin as a little girl while her father worked for Spence Howard. Emancipation was a long, slow process.
In 1910, the National Slovak Society purchased the former Brome and Howard lands. Jenny Owens Sivak, who has worked at St. Mary’s College for eight years, married into a local Slovakian family and brought her own Native American, German, and Norwegian heritage into the mix. The Sivaks were one of 25 Slavic families who bought land from the Slovak Society’s 2,813-acre parcel. They have been farming it for a century now. Jenny and Bruce grew up working tobacco side-by-side on their family farms, and they were married in 1983. The farms have switched from tobacco to vegetables, and Bruce’s brother now sells the produce from the Sivak’s roadside stand south of Lexington Park.
Jenny doesn’t remember hearing stories about the Slovakian store, meeting hall, school house, and church that once stood along Mattapany Road. But she does remember the 2006 burial in the Slovakian cemetery that’s still part of our north campus landscape. Bodnars, Horaks, Klobusickys, and members of the Demko family rest there. These Slovakian immigrants persevered despite the difficulties posed by differences in language, religion, and politics at the turn of the last century. Their descendants remain a vibrant part of this area. Just notice the names on the mailboxes you pass.
In his speech the day Glendening Hall was dedicated, Governor Glendening alluded to Alfred J. Cobban’s essay, “In Search of Humanity.” Cobban believed that as individuals and as a society, we must constantly ask ourselves what ought to be. Living up to, living with, and living in your history is exhilarating. “We are still here,” the four faces on the hall’s exhibit panel reassure us. They challenge each of us to consider our own role on this landscape.