A land of firsts was the basis of a feasibility study into establishing Southern Maryland as a national heritage site.
A draft version of the Southern Maryland National Heritage Area Feasibility Study was released on Nov. 17 by Destination Southern Maryland at the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Environmental Center at Hard Bargain Farm in Accokeek.
“We are a land of firsts” Lucille Walker, executive director of Destination Southern Maryland, said in her opening remarks at last week’s unveiling of the study.
The 139-page report is part of a process to establish Southern Maryland as a national heritage area as recognized by the National Park Service.
According to the National Park Service website, national heritage areas are places where historic, cultural and natural resources combine to form cohesive, nationally important landscapes.
The report also outlined a myriad of stories important to the tapestry of the early nation, telling the story of Mathias de Sousa, a fur trader and mariner who became the first person of African descent to be elected to what is now the Maryland General Assembly in 1641.
The report also highlighted Margaret Brent, who arrived from England in 1638 to escape persecution for her belief in Catholicism. According to the study, Brent was the first woman to practice law in the colonies and was the first woman in the country to petition for the right to vote.
Brent was memorialized by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Procession with the establishment of the “Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award” in 1991.
Freedom of religion, now an inalienable right protected by the First Amendment, was first codified in the area in 1649 with passage of “The Act Concerning Religion.”
While the law at the time was focused on Christianity, the law is remembered for having a provision protecting religious individuals from an infringement of their rights.
The study also recounted the customs and practices of the Piscataway people, who settled in the area centuries before the first European colonists.
The stories are outlined both in a historic overview and expanded upon in five different themes discussing everything from the state’s maritime culture to the spirit of progress in opening up more opportunities to women and minorities.
Carolyn Bracket, a heritage tourism and preservation planning specialist, said the themes were a way of organizing the myriad of stories that make up Maryland’s early history.
“They’re not really an end of themselves. They’re a tool to get you to the next step of, ‘Where do we want to share these stories? How do we tell them and how do we document that history?’” Bracket said.
The feasibility study is apart of a multilevel process to acknowledge the area, which was declared a state heritage area in 2004.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) have all sponsored bills (S.B. 825 and H.R. 2024) to acknowledge Southern Maryland as a national heritage area.
Approval of the feasibility study by the National Parks Service and Congress are required to designate a national heritage area.