Creighton re­mem­bered for Tub­man works

Dorchester Star - - REGIONAL - By DUSTIN HOLT dholt@ches­pub.com Fol­low Caro­line/ Dorch­ester Edi­tor Dustin Holt on Twit­ter @Dustin_ Star­Dem.

CAMBRIDGE — The late John Jef­fer­son Creighton has long been cred­ited for help­ing many au­thors and schol­ars write books about Har­riet Tub­man and the Un­der­ground Rail­road along with chron­i­cling African-Amer­i­can fam­ily trees in Dorch­ester County.

Eastern Shore com­mu­nity mem­bers, lo­cal schol­ars and fel­low his­to­ri­ans be­lieve Creighton’s works helped start the cre­ation of the new Har­riet Tub­man Un­der­ground Rail­road State Park and Vis­i­tor Cen­ter open­ing in Dorch­ester County this week­end.

The long­time Dorch­ester County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety mem­ber died May 26, 2015, af­ter bat­tling can­cer for three years. He was 73 years old.

The com­mu­nity hon­ored Creighton with a tree plant­ing cer­e­mony on Sept. 17, 2016, at the Har­riet Tub­man Memo­rial Gar­den Park in Cambridge.

He was born in Wilm­ing­ton, Del., on June 21, 1941, but con­sid­ered Dorch­ester County his home.

He was a lo­cal his­to­rian, poet, re­searcher and hu­man­i­tar­ian who played an in­stru­men­tal role in the na­tional, state and lo­cal ini­tia­tives re­gard­ing Har­riet Tub­man.

“John will al­ways be some­one spe­cial to our fam­ily,” said Tub­man-Ross fam­ily rep­re­sen­ta­tive Patricia Ross Tub­man dur­ing last year’s cer­e­mont. “He showed ev­ery­one how im­por­tant our fam­ily legacy is. Our fam­ily is ex­tremely grate­ful to John and his de­vo­tion in telling the story of our fam­ily.”

The theme for the tree plant­ing cer­e­mony was, “Let A Thou­sand Flow­ers Bloom,” which was one of Creighton’s mantras. The tree planted for Creighton was a pink Crepe Myrtle, and it was put into the ground by Pat Lewis, his sis­ter Suzanne Trice, John Trice and au­thor Bar­bara Lock­hart.

“He wanted to em­power the lo­cal peo­ple who lived in the seven com­mu­ni­ties in Dorch­ester and Caro­line coun­ties who might have had de­scen­dants who lived dur­ing the slav­ery era be­fore the Civil War,” said Lewis, who worked on many projects with Creighton. “He be­lieved they should be the val­ida­tors and the in­ter­preters of their his­to­ries. He made an in­deli­ble mark on African-Amer­i­can his­tory and on so many lives who lived and re­spected him.”

Har­riet Tub­man Or­ga­niza- tion Pres­i­dent Don­ald Pinder said he met Creighton about 10 years ago.

“His his­tor­i­cal facts about that era is one of the things that con­stantly re­minded me about how he felt about Dorch­ester County and this par­tic­u­lar re­gion where Har­riet Tub­man was born,” he said. “I ad­mire John Creighton for that.”

Cambridge Mayor Vic­to­ria Jack­son-Stan­ley said Creighton was a man of faith and pas­sion.

“You could tell just by talk­ing with him how pas­sion­ate he was with what he was do­ing,” she said. “He was in­grained in get­ting the Har­riet’s story out to, not just Cambridge or Dorch­ester County, but he wanted to be part of get­ting that mes­sage out to the world.

“It is very fit­ting, I think, that we plant a liv­ing sym­bol of his life here in this park for Har­riet,” she said. “We honor not just Har­riet, but a man who be­lieved in her his­tory, her legacy. We are plant­ing the tree, but he is plant­ing in us the mis­sion to carry forth the mis­sion of Har­riet Tub­man. Let his roots of his tree dig deep in us that we can grow in spirit as we move for­ward with the legacy and his­tory of Har­riet, John Creighton and Dorch­ester County.”

Creighton’s his­tor­i­cal re­search spanned out­side of Dorch­ester County into many parts of Mary­land in­clud­ing Caro­line County.

Caro­line County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety Pres­i­dent J.O.K. Walsh said Creighton al­ways saw the big pic­ture.

“The first time I ever met John was at the Har­riet Tub­man head­quar­ters, and I walked in and John stopped the meet­ing ask us where we were from,” Walsh said. “We said ‘Caro­line County.’ He turned the au­di­ence and said, ‘We have to re­mem­ber that Har­riet Tub­man is not just in Dorch­ester County. She didn’t care about town or county lines. There is very sig­nif­i­cant Har­riet Tub­man his­tory else­where.’”

“The sec­ond thing I saw at that meet­ing was John saw the Un­der­ground Rail­road, not sim­ply as a hand­ful of res­cuers, but rather the en­tire African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity was a part of these res­cues,” he said. “In or­der to un­der­stand the Un­der­ground Rail­road, you had to un­der­stand friend­ships. And most of all, you had to un­der­stand fam­ily. John un­der­stood that. That is why he spent all that time do­ing African-Amer­i­can ge­nealo­gies. John saw the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity as the cen­tral el­e­ment of the Un­der­ground Rail­road.”

Walsh said plant­ing a tree in Creighton’s mem­ory is ver y fit­ting.

“John was very much like a tree that pro­duced a very rare kind of fruit and that was fact-based knowl­edge,” he said. “John is the first one that chrono­log­i­cally that lists Har­riet Tub­man from myth and leg­end into a fact-based nar­ra­tive. We could not have the park. We could not have the vis­i­tors cen­ter. We could not have a lot of these sites pre­served if it wasn’t for John rec­og­niz­ing that par­tic­u­lar fact.

“He planted a lot of seeds all over the place,” he said. “Up in Caro­line County for in­stance, he was the first one to sug­gest to us that there were very sig­nif­i­cant con­nec­tions be­tween the Wil­liam Still fam­ily and Caro­line County. Wil­liam Still was the sec­re­tary for the Un­der­ground Rail­road up in Philadel­phia. He recorded 600 to 800 es­capes and then pub­lished them in a book.

“As a re­sult of that seed he planted, we will have the Wil­liam Still Fam­ily Vis­i­tors Cen­ter in Caro­line County,” he said. “A seed planted by John, has sprang up in Caro­line County. John was a very unique in­di­vid­ual, and we are really going to miss him.”

Au­thor and re­tired Sal­is­bury Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Dr. Clara Small would of­ten work with Creighton when they would be re­search­ing his­tory on the Eastern Shore. She said Creighton gave ev­ery­one a very im­por­tant gift dur­ing his life.

“Knowl­edge is power,” she said. “John gave that to all of us.”

PHOTO BY DUSTIN HOLT

A Crepe Myrtle tree, in honor of late his­to­rian John Creighton, graces the Har­riet Tub­man Memo­rial Gar­den Park in Cambridge dur­ing a memo­rial tree plant­ing cer­e­mony for him on Sept. 17.

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