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 within minutes of the Inner Harbor. Familiar to some as “Mount Clare”, the 18th-century mansion of Charles Carroll Barrister, to others, “Carroll’s Hundred”, the original plantation landscape, it is located in SW Baltimore’s Carroll Park. 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 was re-examined by Logan and Seidel who interpreted it 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.
Based on this new interpretation, 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 understanding of “Mount Clare” as the home of a prominent, 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 important one immutably entwined with 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 slaves.
NPS explained that because the Carroll’s Hundred plantation represents the emerging, untold story of African American life in colonial Baltimore and the Chesapeake region, this rare history gives 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 Carrolls, 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 to begin implementation of its longstanding vision — the restoration of the plantation landscape as a Heritage Gateway Tourism Destination. Funding included a $100,000 state bond and a $35,000 prestigious Preserve America federal grant. Together with private matching donations the foundation was set to develop a historically and culturally accurate interpretation of the authentic plantation community. Funds were 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 planning effort in Carroll Park, and 4. the development of on-site public programs. A diverse Advisory Board of leading experts from Mount Vernon, Morgan University, Johns Hopkins, and George Washington University was assisting in the development of a multicultural interpretive plan through a major grant from the Maryland Humanities Council.
#MeToo. She Didn’t Ask Permission. In the spring of 2015, well aware of these plans, the City and Maryland Historical Trust officials suddenly accused the Foundation director of moving the site’s archaeological collection “without permission”. Indeed! The Foundation had curated the collection for the City at no cost since 1994, making substantial and costly conservation upgrades to it. When the school where it was housed abruptly closed and was without on-site security, the move to a safe, secure, climate-controlled facility had been imperative. It was the Foundation’ primary responsibility to protect it from the acute likelihood of damage or theft. To be very clear, our long-term license agreement with Baltimore City to steward the collection did not require any such “permission”. Rather, it required us to protect it.
Without meeting with us (in four years we had never succeeded in meeting directly with the Mayor) 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 undertake the state, federal, and privately funded restoration of this nationally significant African American historic landscape. Instead, City officials moved the artifact collection to the non-climate-controlled Baltimore City Archive where it remains. Thirty years of artifact conservation, research, and public education programs for young people, including two very successful summer YouthWorks programs, were stopped in their tracks — YouthWorks trainees supervised by a team of professional archaeologists had just completely labeled and archivally repackaged the entire 250-plus box artifact collection. They had recently begun the essential digitization of the collection when it was seized.
These and CPF’s other highly successful programs (one received a History Channel award) had been offered to young people in neighborhoods, including Sandtown-Winchester, where the Freddie Gray tragedy had just occurred. The questions that need to be asked are: 1. Why would the city and state capriciously break a 50-year agreement with an organization about to roll out an exciting new African American heritage program? 2. Why, … given the organization had garnered $250,000 in state, federal, and private funding? 3. Why, … since it was for an educational research facility promoting the understanding of African American heritage for young people and the general public? 4. Why, … as the site was to be the focal point of a new Heritage Gateway to Baltimore, and an economic development catalyst for one of the poorest areas in the City? 5. Why, … did not a single preservation organization in the state step up to help us? 6. Why??? did this project have to be stopped? We didn’t ask permission? Really? It raises many disturbing questions.
#MeToo/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.