“But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.” (Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 5-9)
My greatest takeaway from the time spent in Sacred Ground community is the understanding of identity.
As a child, I visited the nearby Hampton Mansion a number of times. Built over 230 years ago, just after the Revolutionary War by Captain Charles Ridgely, it was at one time the largest house in the United States.The splendor of the ornately decorated rooms, the majestic gardens still blooming with color centuries after their installation, and the stunning view of the land for miles from the marble floor of the main porch always filled me with wonder and awe.
It was not until several years ago, once I began to research the history of slavery in Maryland, that I returned to the grounds of Hampton and walked the area called the “farm”. This part of the property was home to many of the enslaved who labored at the estate, at times numbering about 300. Signs indicated that the still-standing cabins and other buildings were designed to replicate the appearance of a European village.
Looking down the expansive hill, at the distant quarters of the enslaved from the porch of the mansion, the area appears tranquil, even calm. This intentional exterior of course, hides horrors of all that must have occurred inside- violence, fear, brutality, trauma. The identity though, of a “farm” rather than a “slave quarters” somehow seems to humanize the inhumane. As of 2007, there have been no writings or possessions found belonging to any of the enslaved at Hampton. What little historical information does exist of the black residents at Hampton came largely from whites.
Also on the grounds is a small but formal family cemetery. A plaque in front of the entrance gate indicates the final resting place for some “treasured Chesapeake Bay Retrievers” of the Ridgelys, located a few yards to the left. The last sentence reads, “a slave cemetery is believed to have been in the general area, location uncertain”.
Since beginning the work of Sacred Ground, I walk the grounds of Hampton often.
Every single time, I try told hold space
For the untold stories, the incomplete histories,
The identities of those who were in the very same place,
But because of their race-
So much life was erased.
Hillary Zouck Shaffer
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Book of Common Prayer, pg. 823