The last two weeks has been a very busy time at the Museum with two major events.
August 2nd, a visit from the freshman orientation class of Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore.
Frederick Douglass High School is an inner city school in Baltimore that had the dubious distinction of being identified as a failing high school in an HBO documentary in 2008. Three years ago Dr. Antonio Hurt took charge as Principal with the goal of turning the school around toward its glory period in the early 20th century as a superior African American High School with many famous graduates. One of the tools in this revitalization was to establish Frederick Douglass as a role model for the incoming students. August 2, 2013 was the second yearly visit by 53 students and teachers for a lesson on the life of Frederick as a slave in St. Michaels. A joint group from St. Michaels Museum and Union United Methodist Church modified our Frederick Douglass Waking tour to have docents at several Douglass sites tell inspirational stories of Frederick’s troubles and increasing determination to escape slavery and help to do away with slavery in the US. Many of these kids had never been to the Eastern Shore and some knew only the inner city. Yet their teachers had them well prepared and they were eager to learn. The day was topped off with ice cream and then lunch at the Crab Claw. The docents involved were all pleased to have helped in this project and hopefully a few of the children may have been inspired to look higher in their goals for life.
August 10th, the Bicentennial Celebration of the Battle of St. Michaels.
St. Michaels Museum was a center of activity in St. Mary’s Square where all the various militia re-enactors were centered. Outside the museum, we were surrounded by British marines and sailors in colorful period costumes. Their tents pitched on our grounds. Nearby Beth Hanson from the Historical Society of Talbot County conducted games for children, songs and dancers in period clothing. Groups of American militia in costume paraded on the square and shot their rifles in military order periodically. The Woman's Club had an art exhibit indoors.
The museum saw 300-400 visitors with overflow crowds at times. Visitors to the museum were a mixture of local full-time residents, part-time residents, out of town Marylanders and out of state visitors eager to share in the fun and learn about our museum and the town's history. Several new residents were excited to discover our museum and learn about their new homes and the town. In addition 47 visitors took advantage of our docent led walking tour “St. Michaels During the War of 1812” which was given three times during the afternoon. On these tours even local natives usually learn a few new things. For this town sponsored event, In keeping with the spirit of our Museum as “the Town's Museum,” admission and tours were given free of charge.
Building and Site Upgrades
This is has been a very active year for upgrades to our buildings and site. Our handicap ramp has been finished and was officially opened by the entrance to the museum by David Seymour in his wheelchair. The new porch has already been used as a stage for presentations especially on the 4th of July. Soon our main entrance will be shifted to the Teetotem Building.
Using funds from a Town grant we are in the process of implementing a new landscape plan designed by Roger Galvin using native plantings. Work on preparing the beds will begin soon with plantings in the Fall. Already you can see that the very large magnolia tree that has caused damage to the Teetotem Building has been removed.
In 1813, St. Michaels was a chartered town with a town plan. It was chartered by the state legislature in 1805, only eight years before. The town plan was originally laid out by English factor James Braddock in 1778 and the plan was enlarged when the town was resurveyed during the application for a town charter. St. Michaels Population in 1813 was around 300 and there were 60 buildings. It had grown significantly due to the thriving ship building industry in town and nearby shipyards outside of town. For example in 1783 there were only 15 town lots, nine houses and three shops taxed in the 1783 federal Tax assessment.
By 1807, the town was governed by five commissioners appointed by the General Assembly in Annapolis. There was a small group of comfortable merchants and shipyard owners. There was also a large middle class of skilled boat carpenters and other artisans serving the boat industry. There were two blacksmith shops, a brick kiln, a grain mill and several stores. In 1813, there were six shipyards in town and several located outside of town on Broad Creek, Church Neck and Solitude Creek to mention a few.
In 1813, the pubic center of the town was St. Mary’s Square. In 1805 a market house was built in the square. Also on the square was the small brick, Methodist Episcopal Church, Sardis Chapel built in 1782. This was the first Methodist church built in Talbot County. The second church in town was the oldest, Christ Protestant Episcopal Church. Its location was between what is now Talbot Street and Church Cove Park. There was a church at this site as early as the 1670’s. The location near the water was to enable people to come to church by water, the easiest method of transportation. The third church was in the process of being completed in the summer of 1813. At this time Christ Church did not have a resident minster. During the uneasy weeks before the Battle of St. Michaels, militia drilled on the Square and during the crucial period the soldiers were quartered in the two churches. At the time of the Battle, Brigadier General Perry Benson made the square his headquarters.
At this time, there were no public schools in St. Michaels or for that matter anywhere in Maryland. In 1807 there was a short-lived private school. There was a post office in town, established in 1802. A young doctor, Dr. John Barnett lived in town on Water Street in 1805 and 1806.(Journal of Dr. John Barnett of St. Michaels, 1805-1806)
Transportation was primarily by water, with sailing packets that sailed on a weekly schedule. Roads in Talbot County were scarce and primitive. St. Michaels residents Captain Robert Dodson (1762-1824) , owner and builder of sailing vessels, his son William Dodson (1786-1833) and Impey Dawson (died 1814), owner of a busy boatyard at the end of Mulberry Street, were captains of sailing packets that sailed from St. Michaels to Baltimore and other towns on the bay. It wasn’t until 1839 that there was an established steamboat route between St. Michaels and Baltimore.
By 1813, the farms outside of town had undergone a major shift in produce. Tobacco was no longer the major crop that it was in the 18th century. Farmers concentrated on wheat, corn and raising sheep and cattle. The intensive labor needed for tobacco growing on large farms or plantations was no longer necessary and slaves were beginning to be sold down south. Slave dealers in Baltimore and elsewhere began coming to the eastern shore to buy slaves. This trend escalated in the 1820s and 1830s.
Politics in St. Michaels during this 1813 period saw town citizens and town leaders supported President Madison. The town’s majority supported the Republican/Democratic party of Jefferson and Madison. They supported the war party strongly at the outbreak of the war in June 1812 to the end of the war.
Sardis Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church built in 1782 on St. Mary’s Square. This was the first Methodist Church built in Talbot County.
Christ Protestant Episcopal Church. Its location was between what is now Talbot Street and Church Cove Park. This was the third church on this site. There was a church at this site as early as the 1670’s.
Docent Led Walking Tours – Learn about your town and treat your visitors to one of our docent led walking tours on: 1) the “St Michaels Historic Waterfront” or 2) the life of young Frederick Douglass as a slave in St Michaels and Talbot County. Tours are given by appointment for groups of 5 or more.
Volunteer Activities – Become a volunteer and help with the variety of activities that are critical to the Museum. Meet new friends and participate in educational and social activities throughout the season.