(St. Mary’s City, Md) Feb. 2, 2017 – An anonymous gift to St. Mary’s College of Maryland will aid the College with educating students and the public on its relationship with slavery.
A couple who wish to remain anonymous donated shackles over the summer they discovered in a barn in the Chaptico, Md., area. The shackles will be one of several items on display Jan. 31 through Feb. 18 at the Boyden Gallery’s “Africa and the African Diaspora in Campus Collections” exhibition in recognition of Black History Month. President Tuajuanda C. Jordan officially opened the gallery during a reception Wednesday, Feb. 1.
During the receptions opening remarks, Dr. Jordan said, “When the shackles were brought to my office to see, I could not bring myself to touch them. That period of Black America’s history, although it can be colored with stories of resilience and strength, ingenuity and faith, is a dark period that became very real and personal when those shackles were unveiled to me.”
The exhibition features objects held in campus collections that are relevant to teaching and learning about Africa, the African Diaspora and African American history, culture and experience.
Julia King, professor of anthropology and Aldom-Plansoen Honors College Professor, said that preliminary research suggests “these iron foot or ankle shackles appear to date to the 19th century.” King is in the process of researching the farm where the shackles were found and the history of the use of enslaved laborers on it.
St. Mary’s College Archivist Kent Randell said it was very generous of the couple “to put the [shackles] in the public trust to be used for the educational and interpretive mission of the College.”
The shackles are not directly tied to the College; however, the College continues to collect information on the institution’s history, its records and the history of St. Mary’s County. The shackles may help to initiate a conversation, Randell said, of “confronting and reconciling the College’s relationship with slavery,” already begun by other colleges such as Georgetown University, Brown University, the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland.
“Our nation’s connections to slavery are difficult to grapple with, but history teaches us that every moment can be a learning experience. Although we cannot go back and change the past, we can use hard lessons from history to guide our collective path towards the future,” said Jordan.
“None of us living today are responsible for the fact of slavery, but we are responsible for trying to understand the structures we’ve inherited that are the legacy of slavery,” King said.
King said slavery was not uncommon in the St. Mary’s City landscape.
According to information from “All of Us Would Walk Together,” a digital exhibit about the 19th-century component of Historic St. Mary’s City, until 1864, most African Americans in St. Mary’s County were enslaved in some form or another. For those who were not, they labored and lived only one step removed from bondage.
The website, http://hsmcwalktogether.org, is made up of two primary components, an informative exhibit, and a blog that details the process of conducting historical archaeological research.
Randell said the College’s relationship with slavery is not found in its own documents due to a 1924 fire at Calvert Hall that destroyed the institution’s records. He said the Board of Trustees minutes that do exist from the slave era are from the years 1844 and 1845 and do not mention slavery.
Randell extensively researched outside sources including tax records and census data. He found a clear tie to the College’s relationship with slavery in the 1850 Census Schedule II. In that census, known as the slave census, Priscilla Greenwell, while acting as the Seminary’s steward, was listed as having six slaves.
Priscilla Greenwell was not a woman of means. Thus, Randell believes the slaves were listed as hers due to her title as steward but that the Seminary actually owned the six unnamed individuals. These six individuals, who most likely did domestic work such as laundry and preparing meals, are not mentioned in the 1849 St. Mary’s County Tax Assessment, because they were classified as property of the State of Maryland and therefore not taxed by the County in 1849, but still counted in the 1850 Federal Census.
Randell found through his research that at the close of the Civil War, the Seminary did not enjoin other former slave owners in being reimbursed for the loss of property (slaves) as a result of manumission and the Seminary is not mentioned in the 1864 Slave Census of St. Mary’s County, published by Agnes Kane Callum.
King said St. Mary’s College was established to commemorate the founding of Maryland and its history. By stepping up and joining the conversation “We’re just doing what we do.”
Understanding that the shackles are a painful object to view, King said it is an important piece of history that people should come and see. “One way we move toward a better understanding of all people is by confronting our past,” she said. “Only then can we move on.”
The exhibit is just one way the College is examining its relationship to slavery.
Jeffrey Lamar Coleman, associate professor of English at the College, said two new courses focusing on the subject matter are in development stages. For the fall, Adriana M. Brodsky, associate professor of history, is scheduled to teach a course on slavery in St. Mary’s County, while King and Iris Ford, associate professor of anthropology, would teach a seminar on slavery at the seminary, in the county, and in the greater region in spring 2018.
Coleman said a symposium, sponsored by the African and African Diaspora Studies program, focused on the subject matter is currently in the planning stages for the fall.
Upcoming events on campus include:
- “Africa and the African Diaspora in Campus Collections”
Now – Feb 18, Boyden Gallery
Gallery hours: Tuesday – Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, 11 a.m. to
4 p.m. The gallery is closed Sunday and Monday.
- An Evening to Honor the Legacy of Lucille Clifton
March 1, 7:30 – 9 p.m., Daugherty-Palmer Commons
This event features poetry readings and reflections to honor the legacy of Lucille Clifton, one of the most distinguished, decorated, and beloved poets of her time.
- The President’s Inaugural Lecture Series presents Walter Mosley
March 7, 8 – 9:30 p.m. Michael P. O’Brien Athletics & Recreation Center
Walter Mosley is the author of more than 40 critically acclaimed books, and the author of the well-known detective character Easy Rawlins.