Creighton remembered for Tubman works
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.”
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.