What's New with the Chesapeake Watershed CESU

Shepherd professors to study lives of blacks in 19th century

Originally Published by and Reposted from Herald-Mail Media

By: Valerie Bonk

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Sharing the stories of those who no longer can is the goal for three professors starting work on a new project at Shepherd University that brings the narratives of those enslaved to life through a partnership with the National Park Service and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.

The one-year $56,749 contract will focus on the African-American experience at Ferry Hill, Blackford House and the Bridgeport community.

“What we hope to do is to retrieve these stories and, through our research, we hope that the C&O national park will feature these stories more heavily within their interpretation,” said Benjamin Bankhurst, assistant professor of history at Shepherd University. “The national park itself has made leaps and bounds to do that, and we hope to be a part of that process.”

This is the first contract for Shepherd since the university became a member of the Chesapeake Watershed Association regional segment of a Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit under the park service.

The professors, along with paid interns at Shepherd, will develop a historic-structures report for Blackford House, a small stone house that dates to the early 19th century on Canal Road near Lock 38 in the Bridgeport community, as well as a historic-resource study supplemental report for Ferry Hill Plantation in Sharpsburg, which sits on top of the hill overlooking the river.

“Even though our research is tied to this one specific place — Ferry Hill and the Blackford House — the story is so much larger,” Bankhurst said. “This is a story of enslavement and emancipation. This is a story that focuses on industrialization, the Potomac River Valley, and it’s a very human story of the lived experiences of previously overlooked groups.”

The three professors, with the help of students, will have to sift through park-service archives, as well as hit the library to find and gather the regional information.

They also will conduct research at the University of Virginia, Virginia Historical Society and Library of Virginia.

James Broomall, director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War in Shepherdstown, said those places have repositories that go back to the 18th and 19th century, and include family-estate records.

“The big issue with a project of this sort is that these are nonliterate people,” he said. “Recovering the lives of the enslaved is often difficult and, in many instances, is done through the lens of white audiences, so you’re dealing with a biased archival record to begin with. From there, you have to figure out creative ways to enliven that narrative and recapture a history that’s often lost.”

The original article  can be found here.