I did not choose the Black tidewater tradition of the Chesapeake, it was instilled within me at birth.
My father’s lineage hails from the shipbuilding tradition of Talbot County, Maryland, which is home to the first free Black community in the United States of America, the only American town founded by United States Colored Troops and the birthplace of Frederick Douglass. The renowned artwork of Ruth Starr Rose presents many portraits of my ancestors that formed the Copperville community where she developed her progressive perspectives.
Surrounded by the Wye, Miles, Tred Avon and Choptank Rivers, my paternal grandmother, born of indigenous ancestry, and my paternal grandfather, a local farmer, inherited a near spiritual appreciation for the natural world and its bounty.
These teachings, that shunned wastefulness in the consumption of God’s creations, and emphasized a duty to live a life in with nature were deeply rooted in each of their four sons, one of which being my father. My mother’s lineage is wedded to the sprawling rural, maritime center of Kent County, MD. For generations, this half of my family has immersed themselves in the distinguished African Methodist Episcopal Church fellowship on the Delmarva peninsula and the livelihoods afforded atop the Sassafras and Chester Rivers. An African American museum, run by and featuring my maternal lineage, rests on Worton Point and details the nuances of Black tidewater life on the Upper Shore.
My family as a whole has found sustenance from Chesapeake Bay tributaries for over ten generations. With such legacy comes a humbling responsibility to preserve the traditions of free Black citizenship on the Maryland Eastern Shore and protect the spirit that would touch so many lives from the Atlantic to the Pacific; my latest contribution is this succinct study of the origins of the MD Eastern Shore’s most prized polities and how they continue to evolve over time.
In this four part series, I explore three planes of the Black tidewater tradition of the Chesapeake: what people produce with their hands, how communities establish what they value and which spiritual connection to physical space and place make them whole. Part one is a case study of the Curtis brothers of Oxford, MD. Part two details the predominant civic and interest groups and how their political agendas interact with one another. Part three places the beginnings of the African Methodist Episcopal Church under a microscope in hopes to uncover its influence in maritime communities throughout the Delmarva peninsula. These three chapters are distinct, yet also reinforce one another to introduce an ever-changing era of American citizenship to the sacred political tools of interdependence and liberty.
Part one will continue in October. Additional video provided by Tom Miller.
Jaelon Terrele Moaney is a native of Talbot County and graduated from Williams College with a degree in political science in the spring of 2019. He currently works for the Democratic National Committee and became a Spy writer in August of this year.