- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Descendants of the Africans who survived the arduous journey across the Atlantic Ocean known as the Middle Passage joined others in paying honor to their ancestors Monday at Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood, which was a key port for the slave trade.
Ann Chinn, chair of the board of the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project, said that Sotterley records indicate slave-trading ships likely docked in a cove just below where Monday’s ceremony took place.
“I think most people are not aware of it,” she said of the extent of slavery in the region. “It’s better to discuss it.”
The Middle Passage initiative held similar ceremonies earlier this year in Baltimore and Annapolis, and has others planned next year in Virginia, Florida and St. Croix. Eventually there will be 175 locations on four continents with markers to remember the slaves who survived the Middle Passage journey, as well as those who did not.
“What we would like to do is have the whole story told,” Chinn said. She wants people to understand that heritage, and learn how African-Americans survived slavery and how the nation overcame the horrific practice.
Chinn said as many as 2 million of the 12 million slaves transported across the Atlantic in deplorable conditions died during the journey.
“This was a principal port” on the Patuxent River, Chinn said. Large numbers of slaves were dropped off directly from the ships that sailed across the ocean at plantations like Sotterley.
Jeanne Pirtle, the education director at Sotterley, said the museum has unearthed much information, including many primary documents, about the slaves that lived on the plantation during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Sotterley’s owners for 165 years maintained their wealth and property through enslaved labor. An 1830s slave cabin still stands on the property today.
“Our ancestors have waited hundreds of years. They have been very patient,” Chinn said.
She acknowledged “the first and the forced,” referring to American Indians and African-Americans. “These are the two groups whose stories have not been told,” Chinn said.
Natalie Proctor said during a blessing of the Piscataway Indians that this was the first time she could speak about how her people felt about the slavery that was brought to “our land. I can only imagine our ancestors reached out to the African-American people to help,” Proctor said.
Chinn told the young people in the audience to learn and embrace their own history. “There’s no way you can separate African-American history from American history,” she said.
Nathaniel Scroggins, president of St. Mary’s County United Committee on African-American Contributions, said the crowd of 100 or so people was too small, and he encouraged everyone to come back to Sotterley next year with more friends and family for a marker dedication ceremony, another aspect of the Middle Passage initiative.
“There are certain things in history that cannot be allowed to repeat themselves,” Scroggins said.
Among those attending Monday’s ceremony was Agnes Kane Callum, who traced her own ancestory back to Sotterley plantation using a slave statistics book stored at the Maryland State Archives. Callum indexed the entire volume, making it more usable to others looking for their roots in Maryland.
“Someone, some people, are smiling down on us today,” Kelsey Bush, who serves on the Maryland Commission on African-American History and Culture, said of the warm, sunny weather Monday afternoon. “They may not be here, but they are present,” he said of those ancestors.
Children from the Chesapeake Public Charter School read the names of the nations of Africa during Monday’s ceremony, which also featured African rituals and libation, prayers from different faiths and a historical narrative about Sotterley.