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 and Maryland’s most significant Revolutionary Period landmarks. Known as Mount Clare to some and Carroll’s Hundred to others, our understanding of the site changed dramatically in 1994, when archaeologists working with CPF, George Logan and John Seidel, made an important discovery. A dramatic paradigm shift ensued. An object excavated by an earlier team of archaeologists was re-examined and newly interpreted by our team as a piece with likely spiritual significance for African Americans as a sacred object. The object was a large and striking quartz crystal, which 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 promotion 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, all lovingly described by docents in the museum house. The story of the Carroll’s is a fascinating, immutably entwined piece of the historical fabric of Baltimore. The problem was that it was only one part of the story, and as officials with the National Park Service explained, not the nationally significant one!
NPS explained that because the Carroll’s Hundred plantation landscape represented the emerging, untold story of African American life in colonial Baltimore and the Chesapeake region, its unique and rare history gave it prominence on a national scale. Not that the Carroll story was not important, but that story, while interesting to Maryland, was not 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 one. 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, as well as state and federal funding to begin implementation of its longstanding vision — the development of the plantation landscape as a Heritage Gateway 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 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. Knowing this, City and State officials suddenly accused the Foundation of moving the site’s archaeological collection “without permission”. Yes, we had moved the collection. ….?? To be clear, our license agreement with Baltimore City did not require any such “permission”.
Refusing to meet or talk with the Foundation director about why she had moved the collection, the Mayor’s Office seized it and 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 an 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, We Persisted! Despite successfully preventing the Foundation from restoring what the National Park Service has referred to as Baltimore’s Monticello, and preventing us from continuing to conserve and research its nationally important African American archaeological record — resources both on site and in the collection, and preventing us from offering on-site cultural enrichment and job training to Baltimore City young people, we will continue to advocate and to educate the public about this extraordinary resource and its importance to the City of Baltimore by means of this website.