A Brief Historical Saga —
For twenty-five years, the Carroll Park Foundation focused, laser-like, on educating the public and protecting the historical record of one of Baltimore’s most significant Revolutionary Period landmarks. The remnant of a 3,000-acre plantation, it is located in Carroll Park within minutes of the Inner Harbor. Today, it is familiar as Mount Clare to some and Carroll’s Hundred to others. In 1994, our understanding of the site changed dramatically, when two archaeologists working with CPF, George Logan and John Seidel, made an important discovery. An object excavated by an earlier team of archaeologists was re-examined by Logan and Seidel and interpreted as an African American cultural piece, most likely a sacred spiritual object — a large and striking quartz crystal, it is described in some detail on this website.
From that moment until a few years ago, CPF realigned its mission to focus on research, education, and preservation of the 1770s plantation landscape and its nationally significant, but neglected, African American cultural heritage. The quartz crystal shifted our attention from the traditional interpretation of “Mount Clare” as the home of an important and wealthy family of aristocratic Irish descent (Charles Carroll, Barrister, and Margaret Tilghman Carroll), their magnificent home, and their stunning and valuable possessions. The story of the Carrolls is a fascinating and immutably entwined piece of the historical fabric of Baltimore. It is, however, only one part of the story. Officials with the National Park Service explained to us that the nationally significant history of Carroll’s Hundred is tied to the diversity of its 1770s labor force, particularly its African American workers.
NPS explained that because the Carroll’s Hundred plantation represented the emerging, untold story of African American life in colonial Baltimore and the Chesapeake region, this rare history gave it special prominence. The story of the Carrolls is important, but that story, while interesting to Maryland, is less significant nationally. And, still, all agreed, the story of the Carroll’s, as well as every other group on the plantation was essential; no one group could be understood without the others. There was certainly a Native American presence on the plantation, also a part of the nationally important story. To date, much less has been recovered archaeologically that relates to Indian occupation of the site, but more investigation remains to be done.
Returning to the more recent past, in 2014, Carroll’s Hundred had raised $250,000 in grants that included state and federal funding to begin implementation of its longstanding vision — the restoration of the plantation landscape as a Heritage Gateway Tourism Destination devoted to presenting a historically and culturally accurate interpretation of ALL of Baltimore’s Pioneers. A diverse Advisory Board of leading experts guided the development of a multicultural interpretive plan through a major grant from the Maryland Humanities Council. The funding was to go for: 1. a state-of-the-art, off-site artifact conservation and education facility, 2. the archaeological investigation of the remains of an African American slave quarter, 3. a noted design firm to lead a stakeholder-involved heritage landscape planning effort in Carroll Park, and 4. the development of on-site public programs.
She Didn’t Ask Permission. Knowing this, City and State officials accused the Foundation director of moving the site’s archaeological collection “without permission”. Yes, we had moved the collection! To protect it! And, to be very clear, our long-term license agreement with Baltimore City to steward the collection did not require any such “permission”. Without meeting or asking the Foundation director about why the collection had been relocated, the Mayor’s Office seized it. It also stripped the Foundation of its 50-year license to restore what is a nationally significant African American historic landscape. The Foundation had curated the collection for the City at no cost since 1994. The move from a recently-abandoned school building to a safe, secure, climate-controlled facility had been imperative to protect it from the acute likelihood of damage or theft in a recently vacated and unguarded school building. Instead of this, City officials moved it to the non-climate-controlled Baltimore City Archive where it remains. Thirty years of artifact conservation and public education programs for young people, including two very successful summer YouthWorks programs, were stopped in their tracks, including the digitization of the collection that YouthWorks trainees had just started.
If this sounds incomprehensible, given that these programs and others were directed towards young people in neighborhoods surrounding Sandtown-Winchester, where the Freddie Gray tragedy occurred, it should. When city and state agencies capriciously break a 50-year agreement with an organization about to roll out an exciting new African American heritage program as the focal point of a new Heritage Gateway to Baltimore, it raises many disturbing questions.
Nevertheless, She Persisted! The Foundation has found these actions incomprehensible. They have prevented us from restoring what the National Park Service has referred to as Baltimore’s Monticello. They have prevented us from continuing to conserve and research its nationally important African American archaeological record — both through the collection and through site excavation. And, they have prevented us from offering cultural enrichment and job training to Baltimore City young people. Despite all of this, the Foundation is continuing to advocate and to educate the public about this extraordinary resource and its importance to the City of Baltimore by means of this website.