By Renée S. Gordon
ABOVE PHOTO: Fort Henry.
Baltimore’s story really begins with the founding of the first colony in Maryland in 1634. King Charles I granted a charter to Sir George Calvert, the Baron of Baltimore in 1632. He died the same year and under the auspices of his eldest son Cecil his second son Leonard set out with two ships, the Ark and Dove, from England’s Isle of Wight with a group to establish a colony. They landed on St. Clements Island and founded St. Mary’s City. Prior to disembarking the settlers Leonard Calvert met with the Werowance, Native American Chieftains, of the indigenous tribe, the Yoacomoco, and obtained land in return for trade goods, trading rights and protection from area tribes. www.mdisfun.org
Jesuit missionaries were among the group of original settlers and they brought with them nine indentured servants. Father Andrew White brought Mathias de Sousa, of African and Portuguese heritage, the first documented Maryland permanent resident of African descent. Francisco, a second black indenture, may have arrived soon after. Mathias fulfilled a 4-year indenture and then, as a free man, went on to become a sailor, ship captain and fur trader. He later resided in St. John’s where he was the first black to vote and was a representative in the Maryland Assembly in 1641. He disappears from written history in 1643.
The first blacks in Maryland were indentures, serving a fixed term, but in 1664, a law was enacted that stated that transportation to Maryland automatically rendered a black person a slave in “durante vita,” during their lifetime. By 1715, there were 9,530 blacks in the colony, in 1800, there were 105,655 slaves and 19,587 freedmen, and in 1860, there were 87,189 enslaved and 83,942 free blacks.
Officially Baltimore was established on July 30, 1729, when it became apparent that a port city was needed, and named in honor of Lord Baltimore, the first British proprietor of the colony. The harbor, on the Chesapeake Bay, area was swampy and was not settled by local Piscataway Indians but was instead used as a ceremonial and religious place with a burial ground to the south. The city would become the largest and most cosmopolitan in the state, an important trade center between the north and the south and a pivotal player in every major event in US history from the colonial era to the present.
The historic sites in and around Baltimore are a unique collection of locations and displays that interpret the story of the United States as a whole and the history that is unique to the state. Each state has a biography and there is no better place to learn Maryland’s than Greater Baltimore.
Hampton National Historic Site (NHS) is a 43-acre jewel that is not to be missed. The grounds, once 25,000-acres, currently encompass the 1790 Georgian mansion, slave quarters, Lower House, icehouse, overseer’s house and several dependencies. Hampton’s mansion was once the largest private home in the nation with up to 350 slaves, one of the largest plantations in the state. The estate was owned by seven generations of Ridgely’s, 95% of it remains original and there are approximately 45,000 antiques and artifacts. It was declared a NHS in 1948, the first to be preserved because of its architectural significance.
Mansion tours are outstanding and begin in the visitors’ center with a brief orientation video. All the furnishings befit individuals of their stature but several pieces manage to stand out even more. Not to be missed are the Rococo drawing room, the Prussian blue dining room, the original china and the original oven in the kitchen.
Special tours are regularly scheduled that highlight the African American Experience. Expert Park Ranger, Angela Roberts-Burton, leads these 90-minute tours in the person of Nancy Davis, a woman freed in 1858 who left and returned to serve the family until her death. Visitors are presented with a multicultural view of life on Hampton Plantation as well as historical anecdotes and personal stories about those who lived there. She ends the tour with visitors viewing an inventory of Christmas gifts given to the slaves for several years by Eliza Ridgely. Some slaves received “gifts” and some, because of behavior, none. Henry is listed as being a recipient of their largesse for several years and then suddenly beside his name is simply written, “gone.” This is easily one of the best historic tours in the country.
Entrance to Hampton NHS is free. The African American Experience tour is scheduled for the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of each month. On Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 2 PM Dr. Raymond Dobard, Howard University Professor and co-author of “Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad,” will be speaking at the site. Information on the Experience and other activities may be obtained from Ms. Roberts-Burton at 410-823-1309 X 208 or 251.
Grounds’ tours include the surrounding gardens and Lower House, slave quarters and overseer’s house about a 1/4 –mile away. The gardens, excavated using enslaved labor, at the time was the largest earth-moving project in the US. The Lower House was the original residence on the property and was, without subsequent additions, built by the first owners in the early 1700s. A portion of the house was used later by one of several overseers. The slave experience is interpreted here through text and artifacts. Guided tours are 30-minutes in length. www.nps.gov/hamp
Harborplace is considered the focal point of Baltimore tourism and from this colonnaded walkway visitors can access attractions, land and water cruises, accommodations, restaurants and shopping opportunities. Harborplace officially opened on July 2, 1980 and on August 8, 1981 the first major site, the Baltimore National Aquarium, opened. www.aqua.org
Currently the city is offering a Winter Harbor Pass that provides discounted admission to five attractions over four days. www.baltimore.org/harborpass
My favorite attraction in the Inner Harbor is the 1854 USS Constellation, the oldest US warship still afloat, the last all-sail warship built by the US Navy and one of the Historic Ships in Baltimore. It functioned as the flagship of the USN African Squadron from 1859-61, patrolling the mouth of the Congo River in search of slave ships bound for the Western Hemisphere and intercepting them. During her time she successfully captured three slavers and released their cargoes. Visitors can climb aboard and experience life aboard a civil war era vessel. www.historicships.org
There is no place in the country more associated with the War of 1812 than Baltimore and during this, the war’s bicentennial year, they will be commemorating it with a series of events and special tours. “Star-Spangled 200” will launch on June 13, 2012 with an international parade of ships. After a week of activities the ships sail out but the fun continues. www.starspangledbaltimore.com
During the War of 1812, the British referred to Baltimore as a “nest of pirates” because the city had been strongly anti-British from the time the US declared war on June 18, 1812. As a trade hub and city filled with sailors, America’s stated reasons, to maintain “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights,” struck home. Baltimore schooners were responsible for approximately one-third of the British merchant ships captured and Baltimore’s shipbuilders constructed vessels for the US Navy. Black sailors are estimated to have made up 25% of the US Navy forces and on privateers the number rose as high as 50%.
The British felt they had more than just cause to launch an attack against the city on September 12, 1814. In order to secure a victory, the British had to first take Fort McHenry and the attack began at dawn on September 13th. The shelling lasted for 25 hours and resulted in 4 patriot deaths. While the battle raged Francis Scott Key watched “the bombs bursting in air” from a flag-of-truce ship in the harbor. At battles’ end, the “flag was still there.” Key immediately wrote down, on an envelope, the poem that would become our National Anthem.
Fort McHenry is a restored five-pointed, star-shaped brick fort that guarded the Baltimore harbor. Tours begin in the Visitor and Education Center with an orientation film and state-of-the-art exhibits. Exterior tours are self-guided but throughout the fort you will encounter authentically clad interpreters. The fort flies the flag 365-days a year and is one of a very limited number of sites with permission to do so. www.nps.gov/fomc
Seamstress Mary Young Pickersgill and her daughter Caroline handcrafted the flag in 1813 that so impressed Key. You can see a 30-ft. by 42-ft. replica, with 15 stars and 15 stripes, and tour her home a short walk from the harbor. The Star Spangled Banner Flag House, built in 1793, has been lovingly restored and furnished with Federal-era antiques, documents and memorabilia. www.flaghouse.org
The city offers all levels of accommodations from B&Bs to trendy boutique hotels but if you are looking for an affordable family option with exemplary service the Holiday Inn Inner Harbor-Downtown fits all the criteria. Located a few blocks from the harbor it has great views and a good restaurant. www.holidayinn.com
Baltimore is one of the easiest destinations to reach from Philadelphia and the round trip requires a single tank of gas. It never fails to be exciting. www.baltimore.org
I wish you smooth travels!
Montgomery County Maryland is celebrating Black History Month with a series of events and activities that are designed to be family-oriented and affordable. They include guided walks, exhibits, a jazz festival and a Gospel Train to Freedom. MoCo is comprised of Bethesda, Gaithersburg, Germantown, Rockville and Silver Spring. Check out all the happenings online. www.visitmontgomery.com/news