Rock Solid

A Chop­tank River rock sym­bol­izes the link be­tween two sta­tions — and two ex­tremes — of the Un­der­ground Rail­road

Dorchester Star - - FRONT PAGE - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY [email protected]­pub.com

— It sym­bol­izes an­ces­tral roots and rock-solid con­nec­tions.

It rep­re­sents re­silience and an in­de­fati­ga­ble de­sire to breathe free.

But most of all, it rep­re­sents trans­for­ma­tion. A sim­ple river rock, an ebenezer of both op­pres­sion and vic­tory, now rests near the town that pro­vided sanc­tu­ary for Dorch­ester County na­tive Fran­cis Molock at the north­ern­most sta­tion of the Un­der­ground Rail­road.

For as long as hu­mans have oc­cu­pied the planet, they have em­ployed rocks and mon­u­ments built of stone to sig­nify free­dom,

mil­i­tary vic­to­ries, laws, bound­aries and a life to be re­mem­bered. From the an­cient Is­raelites’ “ebenezer” af­ter rout­ing the Philistines to Ply­mouth Rock to Mount Rush­more, cer­tain rocks are full of mean­ing.

De­scen­dants of Dorch­ester County slaves gath­ered in Canada to present a five­pound stone that, while small in size, rep­re­sents some­thing in­tan­gi­ble and much big­ger.

Ge­neal­o­gist and his­to­rian Elaine Palmer McGill from Ge­or­gia, along with her cousin Mar’Leta Jones from Vir­ginia, car­ried the rock from the Chop­tank River to Owen Sound, On­tario, Canada. Its ded­i­ca­tion was part of the town’s 156th Eman­ci­pa­tion Fes­ti­val, the long­est-run­ning gath­er­ing of its kind in North Amer­ica, Aug. 3 to 5.

The stone will serve “as a tan­gi­ble piece of home” and as a re­minder of the sac­ri­fices their an­ces­tors made to live as free men and women, McGill said.

The stone was ded­i­cated and pre­sented to sis­ters Sylvia Wil­son and Carolynn Wil­son, cu­ra­tors of the Sh­effield Park Black History and Cul­tural Mu­seum in nearby Clarks­burg, On­tario. The stone will be on per­ma­nent dis­play along with other items re­lated to for­mer slaves.

McGill will help the Wil­sons cre­ate a per­ma­nent dis­play so that de­scen­dants can “touch a piece of their an­ces­tral home and learn about Mary­land’s self-eman­ci­pated slaves and their to con­nec­tion to Canada and Owen Sound,” she said.

“This stone is merely a to­ken, ded­i­cated to all peo­ple who de­scended from slaves,” McGill said at the ded­i­ca­tion. “We en­cour­age you to touch it, con­nect with it, learn about its mean­ing and mes­sage, and to teach your chil­dren and their chil­dren about their an­ces­tors and the im­por­tance of ac­knowl­edg­ing and em­brac­ing their her­itage.”

Fol­low­ing the an­ces­tors’ break­fast on Satur­day, Aug. 4, McGill was one of the speak­ers at a for­mal cer­e­mony in Har­ri­son Park, where the Black History Cairn, built in 2004, was reded­i­cated. At­tend­ing the cer­e­mony were Molock’s great-grand­sons Ge­orge and Terry Hard­ing of Owen Sound.

Ac­cord­ing to the Owen Sound Tourism Of­fice, the fes­ti­val “cel­e­brates those who made the Un­der­ground Rail­road pos­si­ble — brav­ing a per­ilous jour­ney from slav­ery to free­dom —and com­mem­o­rates the Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth Eman­ci­pa­tion Act of Aug. 1, 1834, which abol­ished slav­ery in Canada. The fes­ti­val is held dur­ing the first week­end in Au­gust.”

Jones read a ci­ta­tion from the state of Mary­land to com­mem­o­rate the event. Gov. Larry Ho­gan said Mary­land cit­i­zens ex­pressed “ad­mi­ra­tion and sin­cere best wishes for the mem­o­rable ob­ser­vance.”

The fes­ti­val was “won­der­ful and well at­tended,” McGill said. She is re­lated to the un­cle of Fran­cis Ebenezer Molock (1835-1910), who set­tled in Owen Sound and built a life there with his wife, Tal­bot na­tive Mary Dou­glass, who es­caped slav­ery in Tal­bot County.

Jones is re­lated to Molock through his sis­ter “Emily Molock Mor­ris whose fam­ily, through her son Caleb, still lives in the Aireys area” near Cam­bridge, McGill said.

Molock, who was en­slaved by James Alexan­der Wad­dell of Vi­enna, es­caped in 1856 with four other men.

McGill said Molock prob­a­bly was hired out to work the corn har­vest on a plan­ta­tion at Ham­brooke Point near Great Marsh Park in Cam­bridge when he and his com­pan­ions es­caped bondage.

The Chop­tank River rock con­nects the cities of Cam­bridge and Owen Sound, a re­la­tion­ship ac­knowl­edged by Cam­bridge Mayor Vic­to­ria Jack­son-Stan­ley, who is­sued a procla­ma­tion stat­ing the cit­i­zens of Cam­bridge and Owen Sound would be “for­ever bonded” in cel­e­brat­ing the life and mis­sion of Dorch­ester na­tive and Un­der­ground Rail­road con­duc­tor Har­riet Ross Tub­man.

Be­cause a stone from Mary­land is em­bed­ded in the cairn, the Chop­tank stone will be fea­tured at the mu­seum. The cairn in­cludes stones from var­i­ous towns in Canada in­clud­ing Dres­den where Josiah Hen­son of “Un­cle Tom’s Cabin” fame set­tled and es­tab­lished a free black com­mu­nity, as well as from Mary­land and other states, the Caribbean and Africa. Each has a con­nec­tion to slav­ery or the abo­li­tion­ist move­ment.

The un­fin­ished walls and two win­dows of the cairn are mean­ing­ful, as well. They are sym­bolic of an un­fin­ished build­ing await­ing more stones from other states and coun­tries as­so­ci­ated with both slav­ery and free­dom.

The win­dows are rem­i­nis­cent of the “Lit­tle Zion Church,” the first black church built by es­caped slaves in Owen Sound. They are pat­terned af­ter the orig­i­nal win­dows dis­cov­ered in the base­ment of the cur­rent Bri­tish Methodist Epis­co­pal Church.

McGill, along with her mother Alma Perry “Blondie” Palmer, her sis­ters sis­ters Kathryn Shep­pard and An­gela John­son, and cousins Jackie Jones-McKnight and Venus Jones, waded out into the Chop­tank at Great Marsh Park and found a stone that seemed to be na­tive to the river. McGill’s mom “was born in Cam­bridge and has a huge fam­ily there,” McGill said.

“Many who ar­rived on the shores of Canada left from the Eastern Shore of Mary­land, a state known for bru­tal­ity and a thriv­ing slave trade through its two ma­jor ports, An­napo­lis, and Long (Wharf) in the city of Cam­bridge,” McGill said in her speech at the fes­ti­val.

“Through the heart of Cam­bridge runs a river, deep, wide and un­for­giv­ing,” McGill said. “It’s called the Chop­tank River, and it has end­less sto­ries to tell.”

“One story ... is of a group of five en­slaved AfricanAmer­i­can men who ... left be­hind fam­ily, friends and the only com­mu­nity they had ever known,” McGill said.

The men were Cyrus Mitchell, Joshua Handy, Charles Dut­ton, Ephraim Hud­son (Hod­son) and Fran­cis Molock.

Molock wanted sim­ply to cast off the yoke of slav­ery and ben­e­fit from his own la­bor, McGill said. He had planned to leave in spring 1856, ac­com­pa­nied by Har­riet Tub­man, but “Har­riet fell ill with pneu­mo­nia and could not make the trip. By fall, they could wait no longer and they left from Cam­bridge ... in Septem­ber, trav­el­ing at night on foot for some 100 miles,” keep­ing the river al­ways “over their left shoul­der.”

Mitchell and Molock con­tin­ued on to Canada, cross­ing from Ni­a­gara, N.Y., to free­dom in St. Catharines. Mitchell set­tled in Chatham, On­tario, while Molock con­tin­ued on to Owen Sound, where he found work in the shipping in­dus­try. Many of his de­scen­dants still live there.

In­ter­est­ingly, McGill has found no record of Molock us­ing the mid­dle name “Ebenezer” un­til he ar­rived in Canada.

To­day, the mod­est home Molock built in the 1870s at 242 11th St. West, and where he and Mary raised nine chil­dren, still stands, a stop on the Owen Sound His­toric Walk­ing Tour. It is a phys­i­cal re­minder of his eman­ci­pa­tion and new life as a free man.

So too is the Chop­tank River stone. It is a re­minder of home and a ter­ri­ble era, but also of a pri­mor­dial de­sire, built into the hu­man spirit, for free­dom.

To learn more about the Black History Cairn and the her­itage of eman­ci­pated slaves in Owen Sound, visit www.owen­sound tourism. ca/en/arts-and-cul­ture/ Black-History-Cairn.aspx.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Sis­ters Sylvia Wil­son and Carolynn Wil­son, left, cu­ra­tors of the Sh­effield Park Black History and Cul­tural Mu­seum in Clarks­burg, On­tario, ac­cept the Chop­tank River stone from Elaine Palmer McGill at the Owen Sound Eman­ci­pa­tion Fes­ti­val in On­tario, Canada.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHO­TOS

Fran­cis Ebenezer Molock es­caped slav­ery in Dorch­ester County and found free­dom in On­tario, Canada.

GOOGLE MAP

Slaves who man­aged to es­cape cap­ture in their quest for free­dom headed for Canada, cross­ing over at Ni­a­gara, lower right. Dorch­ester County na­tive Fran­cis Molock con­tin­ued north­west to Owen Sound (noted by the red pin) on Lake Huron, con­sid­ered the north­ern ter­mi­nus of the Un­der­ground Rail­road.

Elaine Palmer McGill, left, ded­i­cates the Chop­tank River stone held by her cousin Mar’leta Jones, as Cana­dian de­scen­dants of self-eman­ci­pated slave Fran­cis Molock look on. Owen Sound na­tives Ge­orge Hard­ing and Terry Hard­ing (seated) are Molock’s great-grand­sons.

This stone from Mary­land is part of the Black History Cairn in Owen Sound, On­tario.

Elaine Palmer McGill holds a wanted poster of­fer­ing a $300 dol­lar re­ward for the cap­ture of Fran­cis Molock, a slave “about 21 years” old, owned by James Wad­dell of Vi­enna. Molock, who es­caped in 1856, found free­dom in Canada and set­tled there.

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