All Our Stories
In observance of Black History Month, we’re publishing Tuckahoe, a cycle of poems which beckon us to learn more about Frederick Douglass’s life and times – and to Stand in the Place.
It’s a bit of a stretch to call Reliance a town. Officially, it’s an unincorporated community. It’s a place that straddles two states and three counties – Caroline and Dorchester counties in Maryland, and Sussex county in Delaware.
But in its heyday, Reliance was a place to be reckoned with — a hub of local commerce that served local farms and towns by storing and shipping goods between city and farm. Known as Johnson’s Crossroads, it was the starting point for the boundary that carved the new county of Caroline out of Dorchester County in 1774. And it was still making headlines a hundred years later.
Why was Johnson’s Crossroads (Reliance) so important in 1774? A contemporary map of Maryland (1794) offers clues.
You might not see them from the road. You have to stop and get out. Walk around for a closer look. Crypts floating to the surface.
This is St. Paul AME Church. It’s one of dozens of segregated black churches that organized in Caroline County and throughout the Eastern Shore of Maryland after 1865.
Caroline County sent six regimental, militia, and staff colonels to war against British imperial troops during 1776-1783:
Col. Peter Adams
Col. Matthew Driver
Col. Philip Feddiman
Col. Benson Stainton
Col. William Richardson
Col. William Whiteley
We know where they fought. But we know nearly nothing about the civilian life and final resting place of most of them – Adams, Feddiman, Driver, and Stainton.
The tombs of Richardson and Whiteley are in forgotten places. The rest are lost.
I visited the St. Paul’s AME Church a few weeks ago. The scene was incredible. Pulpit, piano, pews, and stained glass were still in place. I found hand-hewn sill timbers – evidence that the building was indeed built in the early 1800s, as noted by one source.
The roof is caving in. One of the newer headstones in the graveyard was deliberately toppled off its pediment. Within a generation, this old church building will die and disappear into the landscape like many others. The gravestones will remain hidden under tangled vines for a thousand years. Then they will disappear, too.
A historic marker at the end of the MD Route 328 bridge over Tuckahoe River commemorates Douglass and his birthplace. But the historic marker is 6 miles off. A local historian matched places named in Douglass’s autobiographies with local land records, newspapers, and other sources. He published his conclusion about the birthplace in a 1985 bio of Douglass.
We updated our map app that shows clues in the Search for Frederick Douglass’s Birthplace. See the full-size app here.
The Star-Democrat newspaper incorrectly reported that the location of Douglass’s birthplace is not precisely known. In fact, you can stand within 30 yards of the exact site of the cabin where Douglass was born, and where he was raised by his grandmother, Betsy Bailey.