Contextualization in Talbot County, Md.

By DJ Rippert

The Talbot Boys. As the debate over contextualizing history rages in Virginia there is an example of historical contextualization from Easton, Md., the issue started, as they often do, with a Confederate statue. In this case the issue surrounds “The Talbot Boys” statue which has stood at the entrance to the Talbot County Courthouse since 1916. As described by The Smithsonian, “A young soldier stands with a C.S.A. flag on his left side, holding it with both hands. The flag curls behind him, covering his back. He wears a broad-rimmed hat and an open shirt. The youth is meant to represent youthful courage and enthusiasm as portrayed in Longfellow’s poem “Excelsior.” The statue is mounted atop an inscribed pedestal, which is atop a base with plaques. A brass box containing the names of contributors was placed in the base.”

Honest observers would naturally ask several questions. First, why a Confederate statue in Maryland? Maryland was a slaveholding border state during the Civil War and never seceded. Maryland’s Eastern Shore was a hotbed of Confederate sympathy in the Old Line State but for every Talbot County boy who fought for the Confederacy two fought for the Union. There is no statue honoring Union soldiers from Talbot County at the Courthouse. Second question —  why erect the statue in 1916 … 51 years after the end of the Civil War?

There are two answers to that question. One holds that by 1916 the last of the Talbot Boys who fought for the Confederacy (and whose names are listed on the statue’s pedestal) were dying off. The statue was intended to honor their memory. This answer would be more compelling if a similar statue to Talbot’s Union veterans had been simultaneously erected. The other answer is that the statue was an edifice erected as part of an ugly trend toward segregation and Jim Crow. In many ways, Maryland’s Eastern Shore is far more southern than northern. It has derisively been called the Mississippi of Maryland. Racial prejudice was sadly common in the area. Black men were lynched on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Race riots raged in the small city of Cambridge in 1963 and 1967. It’s not hard to imagine the Talbot Boys statue as more of a warning to African-Americans than a memorial to the Confederate soldiers.

Fredrick Douglass and the other side of the story. Maryland’s Eastern Shore was also the home to early abolitionists, especially among the Quakers who settled there. A neighborhood called “The Hill” in the town of Easton bears witness to the other side of the Eastern Shore’s racial history. “It’s the oldest free black, African American neighborhood in the country that has been continuously inhabited and still in existence,” said Dale Green, an assistant professor in the Department of Architecture at Morgan State University. “In 1790, there were 410 free persons of color who lived on what we know as the Hill,” Green said — roughly twice the number who lived in Baltimore. Harriett Tubman was born in Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore and ran her famous Underground Railroad through the area freeing slaves and transporting them north. Fredrick Douglass, the escaped slave, statesman and famous orator, was born in Cordova in Talbot County, same county as the Talbot Boys.

Contextualization. In 2002 a plan was hatched to build a statue honoring Talbot-native Fredrick Douglass. After some toe stubbing around finances the money was raised. The question of where to place the statue stirred a debate. Some veterans groups insisted that the statue be placed somewhere other than at the courthouse because that location was reserved for military honorees (there is also a Vietnam veterans memorial there). Others people disagreed citing the fact that Douglass had once been jailed in the old courthouse on that site after temporarily escaping slavery. The council voted. The statue was going to be at the courthouse. Today, as one enters the courthouse the statue of The Talbot Boys is on the left and the statue of Fredrick Douglass is on the right. So, that ended the controversy … right? Hardly. There are still calls to remove the Talbot Boys statue with the town council voting just last month to keep it at the courthouse. It seems that this particular example of contextualization only goes so far.

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55 responses to “Contextualization in Talbot County, Md.

  1. Few did more than Douglass to recruit Black Americans to fight for the Union, and he was a double Blue Star father, with two sons who served in the famed 54th Massachusetts. The movie Glory fails to mention that, but one son was soon sidelined with illness (more common than battle wounds those days.) I think placing his memorial there on the courthouse lawn is a wonderful idea. That is also my idea of context.

    Later in life Douglass was surprisingly forgiving of the family that had owned him, and went out of his way to seek them out for reconciliation. But then, in truth, they were probably relatives.

    My recollection is that the company that made all those cookie-cutter soldier memorials had both Reb and Yank versions. The Yankees just didn’t spend their money that way.

  2. Years ago, I visited a good friend who lived in Southern Maryland. The family was in a political campaign and I watched. On race issues it was very rough.

    • I’ve been going to Southern Maryland since the 1970s. The South starts at Waldorf. Want to play illegal slots? They’re in the back. Want to meet some nice girls? They’re in the back too. Need some ‘shine? Got a Mason jar right here.

      Nowadays the overt racial issues seem to have abated.

      Friday nights we’d be out to Buck’s
      Parking lot full of old pickup trucks
      Underage kids out back drinkin’
      The smell of homegrown, bluegrass pickin’

      I haven’t been out to Buck’s in quite a while. It might be worth a trip down to Princess Anne to see how things look today.

  3. I think if the memorial had anything to do with the United Daughters of the Confederacy during Jim Crow – it’s probably is not loved.

    Steve’s mention of illness reminded me of this:

    “The Civil War was the deadliest war ever fought by American soldiers with losses totaling more than 600,000 young men. The Civil War soldier’s chances of surviving the war were about one in
    four. However, more than twice a many soldiers died of disease than were actually killed in battle.

    However, diseases such as measles, typhoid fever and pneumonia contracted in camps killed 224,480 northern soldiers and 164,000 southern soldiers. Younger men and boys were much more
    susceptible to disease than older soldiers. ”

  4. I find it it tiresome that some people feel there is some sort of sell by date when it comes to Confederate Monuments.

    A) As if the mob cares when they were erected when they are vandalizing them.
    B) World War II memorial on the Mall opened 2004– 59 years after war ended
    C) Washington Monument completed in 1884– 85 years after his death
    D) Jefferson Memorial completed 1943- statue erected 1947– 121 years after his death.

    • Eisenhower’s was just dedicated. That’s 50+ years since he died, longer since his WWII victory and term in office.

      • And if hundreds or thousands of statues of WWII heroes were being erected at this time it would be trend comparable to what happened below the Mason-Dixon from 1900 to 1920.

        Data is not the plural of anecdote.

    • As I said in my article, there are two answers to the question of why the status was erected in 1916.

      Your examples are unconvincing. Three massive efforts in the federal district. Now compare to thousands of Confederate statues erected in practically every city and town south of the Mason-Dixon between 1900 and 1920. There was another smaller peak in the 1950-1960.

      Plessy v Furgeson and Brown v the board of education

      Here’s a graphic:

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        If you read Timothy Sedore’s book “Illustrated Guide to the Confederate Monuments of Virginia” you will find that women were the driving force and fundraisers for most of the monuments in the Old Dominion.

        • This is most important point made on this entire thread. It’s great context, and proves much of current history to be grossly misleading, stereotyping, and cherry picking, distorting much history on subject at hand.

      • I would also point out that “data” and “opinion” are not synonyms

        Also, the actual existence of statues and memorials around the nation is . . . anecdote?

    • Yeah. Tiresome. But they are starting to really stink.

      It’s a freeze-or-use-by date.

  5. Except that most of the Confederate memorials coincided with renewed white supremacy after Reconstruction. Why not read “The Strange Career of Jim Crow.”

    • Good book. The Bible of the civil rights movement. I met C. Vann Woodward in college. “Origins of the New South” by Woodward is underappreciated.

  6. I have an old videotape that highlights the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans. One section of the tape contains an interview with black members of the UCV at a convention. Wouldn’t that short-circuit a few woke minds? The NYT would probably opine that I should destroy my tape.

  7. Contextualization is a very important subject, the one essential element to good and reliable history. But done properly, Contextualization is extremely complex, time consuming, and demanding. It requires very high level of time, commitment, learning and talent. A wonderful example of Contextualization of this subject matter done right is found below in this lengthy of interview of the great scholar William B. Allen, entitled Slavery and Liberation, Defying the Power of Legree’s Ghosts.


    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      Contextualization has a shelf life. In 25 years every one of the contextualized signs will be outdated due to changes in the values of society. I think Americans are smart enough to figure it out for themselves today and tomorrow.

      • Or Contextualization will last as long as people read, changing the past understanding of history in the minds of intelligent, thoughtful people forever, the kind of serious works of history done by people such as William B. Allen.

        In contrast, what changes on the whim of fashion is propaganda, fancy and fantasy, a kind of porn that is written to sell history for money alone or for ideology and politics to ignorant and/or vulnerable minds, particularly those of youth seeking identity and righteousness.

        Another illustration of great Contextualization that will last forever is most all of works of Bernard Bailyn (such as The Ideological origins of the American Revolution, and the Barbarous Years, the Peopling of North America).

        Many of the works of Harry V. Jaffa, and Allan G. Guelzo also meet (indeed set) these high standards of scholarship, as opposed today’s trash and hash. I also have high hopes to the soon to be released new book Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times, by David S Reynolds. Hopefully it too is a tonic to today’s trash and hash.

  8. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Professor Timothy Sedore wrote “The Illustrated Guide to Virginia’s Monuments”. He marked every monument in the state and dug up the details on the erection of the monuments. Excellent resource. I have been in contact with the professor and I asked him to consider a 2nd edition to mark what has happened to each of the monuments. Important work and he has agreed to do it after the dust settles.

  9. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    My favorite Confederate Marylander is Colonel Snowden Andrews. One of Stonewall Jackson’s artillery leaders. At the Battle of Cedar Mountain, Andrews was disemboweled by a shell fragment. The surgeon gave him one chance in a hundred of survival. Andrews replied “I’ll take my one chance then.” They stuffed his gizzards with straw and sewed him up. Lived until 1903. Noted post war architect. Designed Weston State Hospital in West “by god stole from” Virginia.

    • Colonel Andrews was clearly much luckier than Lt. Alonzo Cushing, Battery A, 4th United States Artillery. On the other hand, President Obama awarded Cushing the Medal of Honor in 2014.

      • My namesake pictured to the right captured Cushing’s guns and lived until 1919. When I was in college I knew old timers in Chatham Virginia who as children heard the stories of Pickett’s charge from this veteran of the 53rd Virginia.

    • Colonel Andrews was clearly much luckier than Lt. Alonzo Cushing, Battery A, 4th United States Artillery. On the other hand, President Obama awarded Cushing the Medal of Honor in 2014.

    • Is he the “fistulated” man? There was a civil war soldier whose abdominal wound never closed became a study subject of many doctors of the time. He too lived quite awile.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Colonel Andrews was reassigned due to his wounds as the Confederate envoy to Germany. He had a silver plate mounted over his abdominal scars and it was ornately inscribed with the story of the wound. Andrews bared his wounds and silver plate to the leaders of the German government. They were so impressed that Andrews was able to secure a loan of money from the Germans.

  10. There is one Confederate War Dead monument in Maryland that should always remain — at Point Lookout. Too bad there isn’t a complimentary one at Andersonville; the closest thing being a momument erected there by Minnesota or Wisconsin, but not a “Union” one. The rest, North and South, can go.

  11. I don’t care. The history is fascinating. If I could again talk with my grandfather, the old Klucker that he was, now I’d ask all the questions I had not asked about his grandfather and other relatives who took up arms for Virginia. And that gentleman, Newton Shufflebarger, spent the final winter of the war exactly there, Point Lookout.

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      I feel the same way Mr. Haner. The problem with our grandparents generation was they wouldn’t tell you anything unless you asked. And I wasn’t aware enough as a younger man to ask the right questions.

    • I spent my youth launching boats into the Chesapeake Bay from Point Lookout Park. Spent time visiting and researching the Civil War prisoner or war camp. I was told an interesting “fact”. The death rate for the 50,000 prisoners at Point Lookout was 4,000 or 8%. That was approximately 1/2 the death rate for soldiers who were in the field with their respective armies. I never figured out if that were true or not.

      • more soldiers died from disease than bullets in the civil war.

        ” The Civil War soldier’s chances of surviving the war were about one in four. However, more than twice a many soldiers died of disease than were actually killed in battle. … However, diseases such as measles, typhoid fever and pneumonia contracted in camps killed 224,480 northern soldiers and 164,000 southern soldiers.”

      • Probably true. The civilian death rate for those building tanks, planes and ships was nearly that of a soldier in WWII.

        Never look at death rates. It will change your perspective on things like skydiving, or being a gardener versus a cop. “He has such a dangerous job that we should give him the benefit of the doubt in the use of force!” “Yes, he had to use the Ortho.”

        • Didn’t one of the drummers for “Spinal Tap” die in a bizarre gardening accident that authorities determined was best left unexplained?

          • The group that did “Rosanna”. I think he wrote the song about Rosanna Arquett(sp.). An unrequited love.

            He was spraying his roses and had an allergic reaction. From what I recall hearing, he was dead before he hit the ground.

            Something like that.

  12. The “problem” with History is that it can also suffer from the same problem as news reporting and that is – someone writes it according to their priorities. Even a team can choose what to focus on, what to say, and what to not say.

    One history book is the product of a person(s) who choose what to report about events in the past – and what not to.

    Public memorials can be the same.

    Textbooks in schools have suffered from this same problem.

    So when we say “add context” – what that might really mean is that the complete story was not told or even worse a story different from what really happend was told.

    Now. I don’t think I ever heard anyone say that when school textbooks said that “happy slaves” or whatever – that, later, we needed to add “context”. Have we ever used the concept of “context” for school textbooks? When we completely remove the pages about happy slaves, is that “adding context”?

    Maybe it’s me , but seems like this idea of “adding context” – has largely surfaced over the uproar over the statues AND it’s being offered as a compromise to taking down the statues all together.

    If the memorial in question is perceived to be an overt and enduring symbol of white supremacy, does adding “context” really fix it?

    It may be received by some as ” yeah, we’re NOT going to remove the offending stuff, we’re just gonna put some other stuff up that is for you”, but the white supremacy stuff remains”.

    • Sophistry. Pure sophistry. I have two-three shelves of books on that period of American history, and can now add the Douglass bio to the “read” pile. That is plenty of context. Anybody who stops with the textbooks is an idiot. Granted, lots of them….I’m far more worried about the kids who never get to 11th or 12th grade to be subjected to those textbooks.

      • There is plenty of context. But it’s hard to provide an adequate measure of understanding in any given textbook. One small example. Henrico County twice voted not to secede. Once before the attack on Ft Sumpter and once after. Even in the Richmond area there was debate as to the path to follow.

    • My youngest of five sons is now a high school freshman. I’ve read all of their history books as they went through middle and high school. There was never a mention of happy slaves or anything of the kind. I also remember my history classes at Groveton HS in the 1970s. No mention of happy slaves or the Lost Cause or anything like that then.

      I’m not sure when the last textbooks to describe happy slaves were used in Virginia but I suspect it was long ago.

      • People are in denial about this. And the timeline is really not that important. We have right now, millions of living people who had that in the textbooks they read and yet we still deny it for what it was – not something that needed “context” – but far worse.

        You can’t fix things like depicting “happy slaves” or memorials to white supremacy with “context”.

        ” Jan. 18, 2016, 12:28 PM EST / Updated Jan. 18, 2016, 12:35 PM EST
        By Shamar Walters and Elisha Fieldstadt
        Scholastic Publishing says it will stop distribution of a children’s picture book that received wide criticism for depicting President George Washington’s slaves as jovial workers.

        The publisher announced Sunday that “A Birthday Cake for George Washington,” released on Jan. 5, was being pulled from shelves, and all returns of the book would be accepted.

        “We believe that, without more historical background on the evils of slavery than this book for younger children can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn,” Scholastic said in a statement. “We do not believe this title meets the standards of appropriate presentation of information to younger children, despite the positive intentions and beliefs of the author, editor, and illustrator.”

        • Of course the timeline matters. Nobody questions whether there was racism in Virginia. It’s a matter of historical record. The question is whether Virginia still suffers from systemic racism as has been claimed by some. Talking about long lost textbooks doesn’t answer that question.

          As for your example – it makes my point. I can imagine a drawing of George Washington’s birthday party. Everybody is smiling, even the slaves. The intent is to show a happy birthday party not routinely happy slaves. But the picture is subject to potential misinterpretation so the book is pulled and returns are accepted with full refund. It sounds to me like “the system” worked to stop even a possible hint of inappropriate presentation of information.

          • Well if the timeline DOES matter then your comment that this has not been a problem for a long time is obviously wrong.

            When you have stuff like this in textbooks that kids are taught and you claim it’s not an example of systemic racism – I don’t know what would.

            The point here is that this has been going on – in the textbooks for a long time and has only recently really stopped. That leaves millions of people still living who were taught that lie.

            All this talk now about “indoctrinating” kids with “woke” – how many complained about the “happy slave” stuff? Certaintly not the ones who right now today say it has not been taught for a “long time”.

            People who hold racist views, just deny it. Nothing new here. If they deny racism, no surprise they deny systemic racism either.

            (and no, I’m NOT really accusing you of that) but I am making a tough comment that might sting.

            You’re the guy, BTW, who condemns the “Plantation Elite”… so it’s a bit inexplicable to me that you now deny/dissavow what the real Plantation Elite has done for decades.

        • Positively disgusting.

          I think you should contact the mixed-race female author and the black female illustrator of that book and castigate them for writing such racist tripe.

      • “I’m not sure when the last textbooks to describe happy slaves were used in Virginia but I suspect it was long ago.”

        According to an article accompanying the photos of the Virginia History book in question, it was published in 1959 (coincidentally the year after schools closed rather than integrate) and used in the 4th grade until the mid-70s.

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