Sotterley Ceremony Honors Enslaved Community
posted by Historic Sotterley, Inc.
In a ceremony of remembrance and reconciliation, members of the community and faith leaders gathered at Historic Sotterley in Hollywood Nov. 12 to honor Africans transported to the plantation’s shores during the harrowing 18th century slave trade journeys known as the Middle Passage.
A crowd of about 140 gathered on the hill below the mansion that slopes down to Sotterley Creek and the Patuxent River. They were welcomed by Janice Walthour, past president of the Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions (UCAC), and Kelsey Bush of the state of Maryland’s Commission on African-American History and Culture. Ann Chinn, executive director of the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project, explained its mission of identifying all Middle Passage ports – of which Sotterley is one – and placing memorial markers at 175 sites in the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe. Sotterley is slated to receive one of these markers, which will designate the Atlantic Ocean as a sacred burial ground of African ancestors.
“Owners of what was later to become known as Sotterley Plantation participated in the trans-Atlantic slave trade on the Patuxent River in the early 18th century. There is documentation of persons perishing during the passage and being thrown overboard,” Historic Sotterley said in a statement. “Some of those who survived the passage remained here, while others were shipped into Virginia. Sotterley’s owners maintained their wealth and property through enslaved labor for 165 years.”
The Nov. 12 ceremony was reverent, uplifting and emotional. An Asante drummer provided dramatic percussion throughout the event, which included a citation for Sotterley from Gov. Martin O’Malley. Faith leaders representing a host of belief systems, from Akan to Catholic to Quaker to Methodist to Native American, offered prayers and meditations. Speakers with academic and cultural expertise in African American history spoke passionately about the importance of learning and remembering. Natalie Proctor, representing the Piscataway people, spoke forcefully about the need to remember the atrocities the slaves suffered on land taken from the Native Americans by European settlers – a double insult to humanity. Nathaniel Scroggins, current UCAC president, urged each of those present to return for the eventual placement of the historic marker at Sotterley, “and bring 10 other people with you.”
Young people were invited to take one of 29 white carnations and walk to the shore to toss them into the water in remembrance of the known dead who perished aboard or shortly after disembarking from the “Generous Jenny,” the ship that brought them to Sotterley in 1720. Conditions on the ship were beyond inhumane and the suffering of the enslaved persons aboard was great. Children walked to the shore with the flowers, trailed by adults who poured water into the creek in a gesture of cleansing and healing. On a perfect, blessedly warm and sunny afternoon, as daylight waned, the flowers floated away.