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  • rotbaron@aol.com
    From Hagerstown Herald-Mail today.... ANTIETAM START OF COUNTY S BLACK HISTORY TOUR SHARPSBURG - The bloodbath near Sharpsburg led to the Emancipation
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 30 5:20 PM
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      From Hagerstown Herald-Mail today....


      SHARPSBURG - The bloodbath near Sharpsburg led to the Emancipation
      Proclamation, and for many Civil War buffs, that's where the story of the Battle of
      Antietam ends.

      But don't try telling Dean Herrin that. He's taking it further by helping
      restore a 139-year-old wooden church that served in the postwar years as both
      worship center and school for the town's black residents, many of whom had been
      slaves. "Here, almost on the very battlefield, you have the beginnings after
      the war of a free African-American community," said Herrin, a National Park
      Service historian and co-founder of the Catoctin Center for Regional Studies in
      Frederick, Md. "It's just a wonderful symbol of what many people think the war
      was about."

      The building, Tolson's Chapel, is among 18 stops on a new guide to black
      heritage sites in mostly rural Washington County. The county's tourism office,
      like many of its counterparts across the mid-Atlantic and the South, sees black
      history as a magnet for groups and individuals representing one of tourism's
      fastest-growing market segments.

      Black tourists spend about $30.5 billion annually, according to the Travel
      Industry Association of America. It estimates black travel volume increased
      about 4 percent from 2000 to 2002, compared to 2 percent for overall travel. The
      tourism office in Washington County, with a black population of about 8
      percent, decided to promote local sites after the state published a guide to
      Maryland's black heritage attractions earlier this year. "I saw this and said, 'Wow,
      there's hardly anything in here about Washington County,'" said Tom Riford,
      president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

      The county is rich in such resources, starting with Antietam National
      Battlefield. More than 23,000 men were reported killed, wounded or missing there on
      Sept. 17, 1862, as Union and Confederate troops fought to a draw in the
      bloodiest one-day clash of the war. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's failure to push
      further north at that time gave President Abraham Lincoln the political
      strength to issue, five days later, the Emancipation Proclamation, an order to free
      slaves in the South at the start of the next year.

      Besides the battlefield and Tolson's Chapel, the pamphlet features the
      Doleman Black History Museum in Hagerstown and Fort Frederick State Park, once owned
      by a free black farmer, Nathan Williams, who supplied food to both the Union
      and the Confederate armies. Williams also helped slaves escape through
      Maryland, which narrows to less than three miles near Hancock. "Because Washington
      County was so narrow, escaping slaves often sought to cross through Maryland
      here en route to freedom in the North," Riford said.

      Maryland was a Union state, but it was a slave state, too, a fact reflected
      in slave auction blocks in Hagerstown and Sharpsburg. The brochure also tells
      the story of James W.C. Pennington, a slave held by Frisby Tilghman south of
      Hagerstown who escaped in 1827 and became an internationally known minister,
      teacher and abolitionist.

      Construction of Tolson's Chapel began in 1866, two years after Maryland
      abolished slavery. It was dedicated the following year as part of the Methodist
      denomination. Starting in 1868, it also served for 31 years as a schoolhouse
      under the auspices of the Freedmen's Bureau, a federal agency that established
      public schools for the children of former slaves and free blacks.

      Herrin said the timber building, now covered in red asbestos shingles, was
      among 18 or 19 that the Freedmen's Bureau helped establish in Frederick and
      Washington counties alone. Closed in 1995, it is one of just two such school
      buildings that Herrin said still stand in Maryland; the other is in Harford County.

      The Rev. Ralph Monroe, a retired United Methodist minister from Sharpsburg,
      recalls attending church in Tolson's Chapel as a boy. He was never pastor
      there, but Monroe, 80, has helped maintain the building and graveyard, which were
      acquired by the Save Historic Antietam Foundation in 2002. "I think it's good
      that the historical society wants to preserve it," Monroe said. "It is, in a
      sense, the preservation of black history."

      Posted by: Tom Shay

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