Tuesday, March 5, 2024

The book has become a best seller

 Twelve years after publication, From Slave Ship to Harvard was listed on Amazon today as a "best seller." I don't exactly know how Amazon reached that conclusion, but I'll take it.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Prospective readers, here is the introduction to the book

     Fordham University Press has the introduction to the book online here if you want a fuller account of what the book is about.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

More on Polly's grave

      When I was working on my book, a man who lived around Yarrowsburg told me that when he was a boy, he was shown two plain stones that stood upright in a field near Yarrowsburg Road. One was Polly's grave; the other was her son's grave according to what he remembered.  So one Saturday, he and I went to look for them. He showed up in big boots and heavy denim jeans with two shovels.  I wore shorts. We spent two hours whacking at the thorny vines along the road with the shovels.  All I had to show for it were some badly scarred legs.  

      I've marked the location on this view from Google Earth.  I've also marked where I was told Polly's house was.  Just north of the abandoned school house.  It's gone now of course.  If she was buried on her property, as The Blue Hills of Maryland said, an unreliable source, then her grave could not have been where we searched.  

      Highway 67 runs up the right side of the image.  This is Pleasant Valley.  Elk Ridge is on the left.  Harpers Ferry is off the image at the bottom left.  The Kennedy Farm, where John Brown and his men stayed for months before the October 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry is marked. In the 19th century, a road went from Yarrowsburg over Elk Ridge and down past the Kennedy Farm.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Yarrow's neighborhood

     Related to the two, somewhat morbid posts about graves, I want to mention my research about Yarrow's neighborhood. As said in earlier posts, it was in the Beatty and Hawkins Addition, which was platted in 1760. The image below is taken from that plat.

     Beatty and Hawkins included in the addition three double lots for churches. Just as any good real estate developer would have done in those days, they thought the lots would sell better if buyers knew a church was nearby. Beatty and Hawkins weren't going to build those churches, but they did provide for them. The three were the Lutherans, the Church of England (Episcopal), and Calvinists (Presbyterians).  Bear in mind that Georgetown proper was south and east of the Beatty and Hawkins Addition.  The Addition was outside the city limits of Georgetown proper.

     The Church of England lot (in yellow on Fifth/Q Street) lay vacant until 1876 when the first houses were built there. The Episcopal congregation built St. John's on O Street instead.  When a schism developed about 1817, part of the congregation broke away to form today's Christ Church on the east side of High Street/Wisconsin.  The Lutheran double lot, not shown on the map, was where the Lutheran Church is today on Wisconsin.

      The Presbyterian Church and graveyard was on Bridge/M Street and Market/32nd Street.  But around 1800, the Presbyterians bought land in the Beatty and Hawkins Addition adjacent to where the plat set aside a double lot for them (in yellow).  They then converted most of that block into what has been called the Old Presbyterian Burying Ground (in yellow).  That became the principal cemetery in Georgetown until Oak Hill was developed around 1850. However, towards the end of the 19th century as the Beatty and Hawkins Addition was finally being filled in with houses, the city of Washington supposedly moved all the bodies to other places. Even before then, many families had moved their ancestors remains elsewhere.

     But in addition, bodies have been found along the north side of Q Street including in the Church of England lot. A newspaper reported the first set of human remains being found there in 1867.  Since then, an estimated 40 sets of remains have been found, some as recently as 2020.  There is no record that this was a recognized cemetery, but obviously people were being buried there.

     Legally, human remains in the Church of England lot would seem protected by an 1828 ruling of the United States Supreme Court. In that case, the Lutheran congregation sued to prevent Beatty's heirs from reclaiming the lot set aside for them.  The Court noted the the Lutherans had built a crude church on the lot and that both Lutherans and others had buried people on the land. Once these things had been done, the lot became dedicated to religious purposes. This precedent suggests that any human remains found on the Church of England lot may enjoy some kind of protection. And conceivably, Yarrow Mamout's remains lie there if they have not already been removed or disintegrated.  


Thursday, June 22, 2023

Polly Yarrow's grave

      Polly Yarrow (Mary Turner Yarrow) was the wife of Yarrow's son Aquilla and, hence, Yarrow's daughter-in-law.  She was born in 1796 in Montgomery County, Maryland, by my research, and died in 1885.  From Slave Ship to Harvard details the research.  That research also gave the reasons for believing that Polly was the great, great aunt of Robert Turner Ford, who went to Harvard. 

      My conclusions are buttressed by this page from The Blue Hills of Maryland, History Along the Appalachian Trail on South Mountain and the Catoctins by Paula Mary Strain, published by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club in 1993.

     I didn't come across this until after my book was published.  The fact that she was called "Aunt" Polly tends to confirm my conclusion that she was the aunt of Simon Turner, who was Robert Ford's grandfather.  I found similar honorifics in use among the congregation at Mount Moriah Church in Yarrowsburg.  

     I had been told the story about Polly allegedly cutting off her toe because she thought it was a black snake but dismissed that as a racist joke and did not include it in the book.

     I do know where her cabin was.  However, Robert Bowers of Yarrowsburg told me that when he was a boy, someone pointed out several plain stones about a half mile north along Yarrowsburg Road. One was said to be Polly's grave, the other the grave of a son.  We spent several hours whacking down bramble bushes but turned up nothing except terribly scarred legs from the thorns.

     Ms. Strain's book credits her story about Yarrowsburg to E Russell Hicks, Our Washington county heritage,  Hagerstown Board of Education 1974.  I contacted the board of education but was unable to locate the publication. I doubt it had any more on the story especially since it probably came from the same people that I talked to in Yarrowsburg.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Yarrow's grave

       Yarrow's obituary in the Gettysburg Compiler was surely written by Charles Willson Peale because the facts match his diary entries about Yarrow.  

    The obituary says Yarrow "was interred in the corner of his garden, the spot where he usually resorted to pray." How Peale would have known this is a mystery. There is no evidence that he was in Georgetown at the time. Someone in Georgetown, such as his in-laws Joseph Brewer and William Marbury who had originally told him about Yarrow, must have written him.
     The archaeological work in 2015 assumed the "garden" was on his property, and so a great deal of the archaeology focused on trying to find the grave and his remains. However, the obituary doesn't say the garden was on Yarrow's lot. A friend who had lived in England pointed out that the English don't necessarily use the word garden the way we do today.  But of course the question is, what did Peale mean by garden. He had lived in England.  At the time of Yarrow's death in 1823, Peale was living on his farm at Belfield outside Philadelphia.  He had a 24-acre "garden" there.  It had vegetables and ornamentals.  It was a place of repose and retreat for him.  It even had a gazebo where he could sit and think.  He painted this landscape of it.
     This raises the obvious possibility that the garden where Yarrow resorted to pray had reminded Peale of his own garden at Belfield.  But where would that garden be in Georgetown?  Yarrow's lot was just 35' X 150'.  It couldn't be on his property.  One answer is that Yarrow's garden was right next to his lot. Yarrow's lot was in the Beatty and Hawkins Addition to Georgetown. The plat for the addition reserved a double lot directly southeast of Yarrow's for the Church of England.  The two lots shared a corner, but the Church of England lot was four times the size of Yarrow's. What is more, human remains have been found on the Church of England lot in recent times.  Was it a cemetery?  
    Once the American colonies declared independence from England in 1776, their legislatures, including that of Maryland, in which Georgetown then lay, separated themselves from the Church of England, and the Episcopal Church took its place.  In theory then, the Church of England double lot belonged to the Episcopal congregation in Georgetown, which was formed in 1794.  
    William Deakins, Jr., a member of the church's vestry, proposed building the congregation's church on the double lot, but this was rejected.  The vestry voted to build its church, St. John's, on O Street instead, probably because it was closer to the main part of Georgetown.  The fact Deakins owned a number of lots in the then-new Beatty and Hawkins Addition may have contributed to his desire to locate St. John's there.  At his death in 1798, his son Francis must have inherited at least some of his father's lots, for Francis is the one who deeded Yarrow his lot in 1800.
      The point of this is that in 1819, when Peale painted Yarrow, Yarrow must have excused himself from the sitting to go outside and pray. Peale saw Yarrow go to the Church of England lot to pray.  It was vacant then and perhaps landscaped.  Given the fact that bodies have been found on that property in recent years (in fact human remains have been turning up all along Q Street for almost 160 years), it seems likely that Yarrow was not buried on his property but rather on the Church of England lot.  It appears to have been a de facto burying ground. It is still a mystery though since houses were built on the church's lot beginning in 1876. That said, I have asked Muslim friends what Islam says about praying in graveyards.  They say that it is clear that one should not pray around a grave unless there is something between you and the grave, but they point out that Yarrow might not have learned this before being taken out of Africa at age sixteen. Yarrow's lot is marked in red on the excerpt from the Beatty and Hawkins plat below and the Church of England lot is highlighted in yellow.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Reporting on Yarrow's property in Georgetown

     I recently realized that this blog has older posts, from 2015, about the archaeological work on Yarrow's lot in Georgetown, but nothing about the results. So this and the next post will get into that subject.

     The archaeological work lasted about five months.  Almost the entire lot was excavated.  Part was done by hand and the dirt filtered through screens.  The rest was done with a backhoe. In addition, the entire lot was examined with ground-penetrating radar.  

      Nothing earth-shaking was found.  The 19th century frame house that had stood there was not the house Yarrow lived in.  Worse, it was in such disrepair that the city razed it, apparently leaving the debris in what had been the basement and then simply covering it with dirt. Thus, the ground-penetrating radar was of no aide for the street part of the lot, and no hand excavation was done there. The previous owner had put a swimming pool behind the house and on the west side of the lot.  No archaeology was done in that area either. All the hand digging was in the back of the lot.  This was complicated by the fact that when the pool was dug, the spoil was dumped on the back half of the lot. So most of the effort was put into digging through the spoil in order to get down to the ground level of when Yarrow lived there.

      The artifacts that were recovered were bagged and reviewed later. Although the artifacts included fragments of plates and cups, a doorknob, buttons, clay smoking pipes, and such, none could be definitely attributed to Yarrow.  For example, a fragment of a dish might be dated to between 1770 and 1850 based on when that particular design was manufactured, but there is no way to know if it was Yarrow's or a later owner's. Indeed, even something dated to 1810, when Yarrow owned the lot, might not have been Yarrow's because a later owner might have brought it on the land.

      Later, however, someone who was not involved in the archaeology was able to tell me more about the lot.  This individual was a map expert.  He carefully examined the so-called Boschke map of Washington, which appears in an earlier post, and reached several interesting conclusions.  First, he said that the buildings shown on that map vary in their dimensions, and he, therefore, believes the shapes of the building on Yarrow's lot, a square, represents the shape of his house. Since log cabins are square, he concluded Yarrow's house was made of logs.  Second, he noted the house is shown precisely on the street (now Dent Place) and not set back from the street as houses in Georgetown are today.  He suggested that even as late as 1859, when the map was drawn, the road by Yarrow's probably wasn't a "street" as we think of it.  Finally, he opined that Yarrow's lot sloped downward towards the river. His house, therefore, sat on relatively level ground right on the street, but the back of the 35' X 150' lot was rather steep.  The slope of the land was apparent from the dig.

     I also learned, after the book was published, that Yarrow had a "log house." This fact comes from an 1836 newspaper announcement that his lot, the eastern half of Lot 217, would be sold for taxes.  The announcement said a log house was on the land.  It also said the land belonged to "Yarrow's heirs." Since Yarrow died in 1823 and his son Aquilla died in 1832, it seems likely that Aquilla had been paying taxes on the land, but that stopped at his death. I found no other facts to fill in the narrative.  However, my guess is that Yarrow's heirs at least included his niece Nancy Hillman who sued in 1840 to recover on his loan.  But perhaps the term Yarrow's heirs also meant his sister and a wife, but we don't know.

     This is a picture I took of a reproduction of a circa 1770 log house in McLean, Virginia.  It is simply a log cabin with siding covered with pitch to keep out rain and wind.

     Note the location of the window.  The photograph below was taken inside the house looking to the the window and fireplace.  Notice how the light from the window strikes the back wall, which was whitewashed to make the house lighter. If you look at Peale's portrait of Yarrow, below, you can see that Peale may have posed Yarrow in a chair by a window. The light comes in from Yarrow's right, lights up his face, and strikes the wall behind him just as this photograph suggests.