I don’t spend a lot of time on the historic side of campus by Kent, Calvert, and Anne Arundel halls. As an English major, I’m relegated most often to the dark halls of Monty, but when I do have class on the side of our campus closest to the water, I usually have a lot of time to think. Mostly because of the long walk.
One of the things I’ve found myself thinking about most often on those trudges towards Anne Arundel is this one sign.
As many know, the old Anne Arundel academic building was demolished in 2013, and the project to replace it took nearly a decade of planning and $34 million. From the time when talks about the project first began to the hall’s reopening in 2016, three different Presidents of the College had taken leadership (O’Brien, Urgo, Jordan).
Thought went into every inch of this project, especially its connection to the history of its land. Anne Arundel South is home to a portion of the Historic St. Mary’s City Museum (HSMC). The quote which students and visitors see when they first approach the hall is from the journal of Father Andrew White, a Catholic priest who fled to America to escape religious persecution and was one of the first founders of colonial St. Mary’s City. White’s group of settlers made a treaty with the Yaocomaco people for the land here, with its “delicate springs.”
I don’t see a problem in recognizing the colonial history of this area, or the history of St. Mary’s City as a place of religious freedom. White was an impassioned missionary; he studied the languages of the Piscataway people of Southern Maryland, and his writings are some of the most-referenced primary sources on colonial Maryland and its native peoples. (These studies were done partially out of an attempt to translate Catholic prayers and preach his faith, later baptizing Kittamaquund, head chieftain of the Piscataway.) White was later brought back to England, escaped a death sentence for his preaching, and lived out the rest of his life there.
White is an important part of the history of St. Mary’s City, especially here on the bank of the river, where settlers first arrived.
But so are the indigenous peoples who lived here before they came.
What I do see a problem with, and what is a problem that many historic sites throughout the U.S. are reckoning with today, is the unequal footing on which this history is displayed.
Representatives of the Piscataway-Conoy Tribe of Maryland, descendants of some of the people that White wrote about, were invited to tour the Anne Arundel Hall construction site when it was being built, and to its dedication ceremony in October of 2016; archaeological exploration uncovered remnants of pre-colonial history on this spot.
This area is marked all over with references to the indigenous peoples that once lived and still do live here—the road outside Queen Anne Hall is named Yaocomaco Drive; Historic St. Mary’s City features a recreation of a Yaocomaco Indian hamlet that the public can tour and interact with.
But most of the time, recognition of this history seems like an afterthought, a brief mention, an “also-ran.” Even with these reminders scattered all over St. Mary’s County and the College, you would be hard pressed to find a student or local person who could name even the tribes that once called this area home. Indigenous history has been eclipsed almost entirely by the weight of its colonial counterpart.
As I walk along Point Lookout Road, and take in the view, and feel the breeze off the water, I get stuck on this sign, and its message. When students and passersby walk along this road, they learn the name of a colonizer, and not the name of the colonized. “Delicate springs,” it says, “which are our best drink”—a line about the natural power of the waters here, an element that has become perhaps the best-known feature of St. Mary’s College of Maryland. But it is a line that comes detached from its most important contexts.
We can, and need to find, ways to recognize our history in its whole. It is understandable that we might honor the words of the first settlers that came here; but our recognition of the other people that lived and live here needs to be made at least as centerstage.