The following is a commentary submitted by Stephen Hunter. While Mr. Hunter is referring to Talbot County, Maryland, his observations are salient and apropos of our own history of the Eastern Shore, as well as all of Virginia.
Talbot County, Maryland has the most unique history in the United States when it comes to the civil war era. Yes, it is by far the most unique, period. And, it is long overdue for us to market our incredibly unique national treasure.
When I watched a local attorney, Ms. Lynne Mielke, speak to the Talbot County council about the Talbot Boys statue during a recent meeting, it became quite obvious that none of us are focused on the right issue. During her well-crafted presentation about the uniqueness of the Talbot Boys, she spoke of Culp’s Hill in the civil war battle of Gettysburg.
If you do not know what Culp’s Hill is, please look it up. It is one of the many important parts of our local history from that era. During council comments at the end of that meeting, Mr. Pack addressed many issues. When he talked about the Talbot Boys monument, he spoke to Ms. Mielke and told her that he appreciated her recounting the story of Culp’s Hill.
As Mr. Pack did so he made a very innocent, yet very important comment. “I had actually forgotten about that story”.
These were citizens of Talbot County fighting to KILL one another at the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863 and they are forgotten. Let that sink in. They were killing each other. Yet, we forgot them.
I do not fault Mr. Pack for forgetting the story. That is not my point. But, I do fault the many generations our local leadership – including the present one – who have not embraced our local history and made an effort to tell these important stories. They should be at the forefront of our Talbot County marketing identity – not hidden from view.
Our incredibly rich history is a true national treasure. These stories should be told over and over again, and never forgotten. Let’s be pragmatic. We own our history and it is very valuable. As a marketer, I can tell you it does not get any better than this if you care about the future financial well-being of Talbot County that depends greatly on tourist revenue.
Look at the history of Harriet Tubman and what Dorchester County has done with it in the past few years. Our Talbot history is far more unique than theirs. It needs to be utilized to benefit our county starting now.Here are just a few of the parts or our history – and there is so much more. – We had two groups of Talbot residents fighting each other on opposite sides in the battle of Gettysburg… How did that happen?….- There were plantations throughout the county… Where were they?… Who owned them?… There were more than just the Lloyds and Wye House…- The oldest free black neighborhood in the United States was located in downtown Easton just a few miles away from plantations… How did that happen in the 1790’s???… Who were the 400 people located on the hill?… Who are their descendants?- The slave market was a few blocks away from that neighborhood… How could all of this happen at the same time??… Do we know more about that market?… Tell it all…- Frederick Douglass’ rise from Talbot County slavery… Give all the details… A statue is not enough… Read his writings and encourage everyone to do so!…- Admiral Frank Buchannan and others of note on the Talbot Boys statue… Who are they?… Why are they on the monument?… Why were their lives significant?…- How and why was the Talbot Boys statue was placed there?… That story is a different than 99% of all monuments from that era… – The pistol whipping of Judge Richard Bennet Carmichael at the Talbot County courthouse, his arrest, his release 6 months later having never being charged with a crime… Why?… How?… – Unionville and its soldiers!.. Who were they?… Who are their descendants still here in Unionville?…- The Cowgills – the owners of the Lombardy plantation… How and why did they end up helping those black soldiers settle the area after the war?… What a story that is!…-
Imagine adding a complimentary statue of a Unionville soldier next to the Talbot Boys and telling the whole story of all of our civil war veterans… That is a powerful story that can garner national news coverage… Why are we not doing it???… Yes, it takes effort – not talk…The list goes on and on.
Yet there has been no concerted effort to tell the whole story of our role in that period in history. WHY??? Shame on all of us in Talbot County. For those who say, “history should be in a museum”, our history should be right in your face.
We don’t need a museum. It should be displayed prominently in public view. All of it. It is time for us to embrace what we have and come together united as one Talbot County to tell our story – THE WHOLE STORY – and not just parts that fit political narratives.
We need to tell the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. It’s all there to tell. A Frederick Douglass statue does nothing. A Talbot Boys statue does nothing. There is so much more that needs to be done and the time to start working on this marketing project is now before it is too late. For those who have a hard time seeing the big picture, let me remind you that there is not one soul who can testify to anything about the intent of the men whose names are on the Talbot Boys monument.
None of us knew them. None of us were there. And while we can pontificate and say they were traitors, racists, supporters of slavery, etc – that is not the whole story. It is far from it. If our whole story had been told starting several generations ago, you would understand that statement is a fact.
Today, we could have been showing the world why we did not remove our Talbot Boys statue as part of our history and why we the citizens of Talbot County have come together, united, to tell our whole story. Instead, we have no united leadership. We have no efforts to unite our citizens. We have nothing.
All we have is a diatribe of local social media posts with $5 opinions that are absolutely worthless. Our history is very marketable and extremely valuable to our county – more so than waterfront restaurants. Speaking of restaurants, imagine how many people would be eating in downtown Easton this weekend if we would have built our historical reputation over the last 50 years using all of the incredible tools we have. We damn sure would not be wasting time right now trying to make something out of nothing with a promenade. We would have plenty of traffic. In closing, I want to address Mr. Pete Lesher.
I invite you to reconsider your position and be the leader of the effort to tell our local history using the incredible tools we have to do the job, including the Talbot Boys. You are more than qualified to help sort it all out. I would be happy to join you in forming a group whose goal is to put Talbot County at the forefront of our nation’s conscience using our very unique history. Let us be the beacon to show how to overcome our differences.
I also ask that you reconsider the following statement you made last night before the vote on whether or not to remove the Talbot Boy statue. “Our failure to act to remove this monument from the courthouse square, in our failure to do so, Talbot county increasingly puts its tourist economy at risk along with our legendary reputation for hospitality.” That is far from the truth today. It will be even further from the truth tomorrow if we all work together to share our rich unique history in our efforts to market the county.
In order to get Talbot County to a new and better place, it is going to take leadership without bias. It is going to take leadership with purpose. Choose to lead in that manner and all will follow. Just as the men who fought the civil war eventually united to move in a new direction, it is time for all of us in Talbot County to do the same.
We have the tools we need to generate more interest in Talbot County than ever before. More importantly, everything we have can unite our county and make us proud. It takes vision. It takes leadership. It can be done.