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Calvert County has a rich tradition of generations of African-American family history. A strong handful of surnames whose family trees date back hundreds of years have remained in the county that was once home to most of Maryland’s black population.

On Tuesday, Feb. 25, members from six prominent founding black families of Calvert County joined together at the Calvert Library Prince Frederick to share stories, discover more about their own family history and even meet a few family members of their own.

For the same reasons, meeting rooms 1, 2 and 3 were filled with Calvert County descendants, locally and from far away, in hopes to find out some clues to connect the dots in their family lines.

Pamela and Michael Johnson, Martha Foote-Mackall, Francine Hutchins Clark, Ronald Clark and Shawn Harrod, natives of Calvert County with family trees that span decades, spoke of their ancestry and answered questions.

By the end of the Civil War, Maryland was second only to Virginia in the number of enslaved Africans, said Nellie Pharr-Maletta, a professor at the College of Southern Maryland, who presented information she has gathered for the past three years about the county’s black heritage. Southern Maryland, Pharr-Maletta said, was home to more than 50 percent of the state’s enslaved Africans, about 3.9 million. Currently, blacks make up about 14 percent of the county’s population. Some of the founding family names include Parran, Mason, Brooks, Rice, Foote, Johnson, Gray, Egans and Gantt.

Though the Calvert County Courthouse burned down in the 1800s and many family documents were lost, land records and deeds that had to be filed in Baltimore and Annapolis for tax purposes are a great way to get access to family records, Pharr-Maletta said.

“My goal is to quickly cover your story … an untold story, a forgotten story, a hidden story … it’s a story of free families, of enslaved families and slave owners,” Pharr-Maletta said addressing the audience. “The story of folks living right in this room.”

With the goal of building “a more understanding community in Southern Maryland,” according to Robyn Truslow, public relations coordinator of Calvert Library, the program worked with the Mac Scholars of Calvert High School, who interviewed the panel.

The Minority Achievement Committiee, or MAC Scholars, is a mentoring group of young black men whose goal “is to close the achievement gap for African-Americans and other races through academics and mentorship,” said Robert White, 18, a senior at Calvert High School.

“It was good for us to be able to have the opportunity to interview the panel because it gave us a sense of history that took place in the county and educate us about things we didn’t know … I think it was a great learning process and great opportunity,” Terry Jones Jr., 18, said.

The students asked the panel a range of questions from how their ancestors ended up in the county, to what encouraged them to look into their own family history and what their family’s past occupations were.

“My family were either slaves or indentured servants to the Tongue family in Lusby,” Ronald Clark, who is a member of the Clark, Johnson and Foote families, said.

“Looking at the panel here, I think I’m related to everybody on the panel,” Clark said laughing.

Francine Hutchins-Clark said a lot of her family’s history is shared at family reunions. Through research at the Library of Congress, Clark said her brother, John, found the 1940 census with her great-great-great grandfather, John Hutchins, an oysterman, whom Clark believed was free because of his occupation.

“Through the years as we have more reunions, we have more information available,” Clark said.

“We’re all one big happy family,” Michael Johnson said, explaining how many of the families are somehow connected.

“It shows how we’re all interlocked,” Shawn Harrod, a third generation entrepreneur, said. “There are going to be obstacles in life, and my family has had them … but we’ve always persevered.”

snewman@somdnews.com