[NARRATOR] There is a place of rural life and maritime heritage... [ELIZABETH WATSON] The whole Chesapeake experience shapes this landscape.
[NARRATOR] ...where past stories of a land and its people were thought lost to time... [JOHN SEIDEL] It's absolutely astonishing how much of it still exists.
[NARRATOR] ...and the present reveals a spirit of those whose lives depend upon the cultivated generosity of soil and sea... [ROBERT JOINER] It's amazing still to see the cycles of things.
[KRISTEN NICKERSON] Our family home is 300 years old believe it or not.
I represent the sixth generation of farmer, and we love it here.
[NARRATOR] Maryland's Kent County lies between the Sassafras and Chester Rivers on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
It's cultural landscape is a reflection of how people have managed and used its resources... [JOHN] People integrated into it, manipulated it, used it and shaped it.
[NARRATOR] ...and how that use, in turn, has shaped this land.
[ELIZABETH] It's really important to understand how this landscape evolved so that we can know how to think about it for the future.
[NARRATOR] In an era of bending nature to our will, Kent's lands and waterscapes still appear as they did to indigenous people, centuries ago.
Footprints of English settlements are being revealed.
And citizens are finding their stories from history nearly forgotten.
[DARIUS JOHNSON] I think it's important for us to remember the legacy that you know, we did have here.
That we still do have a stake here, and that we have be something, we can build on here.
[NARRATOR] This...is Kent County's Storied Landscape - from its first inhabitants to today.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ [ELIZABETH] There's different ways to think about how history is expressed in our landscape.
You know, what still remains?
How did the landscape change?
And so, we're really trying to think about what are the patterns in the landscape, how does the landscape tell us what things were like in the 17th or 18th or 19th century, what changed over that time, what can we still see.
[NARRATOR] If you look closely enough, there is plenty to find inside the rippling coastline of this region of the Chesapeake Bay.
Native American tribes cooking oysters by the shoreline.
English colonists creating villages.
African descendants building lives for themselves in small town America after centuries of slavery.
[NARRATOR] With the arrival of Nomadic people at the end of the last ice age, use of the land today known as Kent County evolved over thousands of years.
There has been agriculture, trade, and the harvesting of resources from Bay waters.
But a tapestry of stories about this vibrant landscape continues to emerge, not only from its current residents, but from the early inhabitants whose voices have long been silent.
[JOHN] If we really want to understand how this landscape changed and how people utilized it over time, we have to think a bit fluidly.
In many ways we're excited about what we don't know.
Because the very fact that this landscape has not been spoiled means that we have access to this deep history.
A well-preserved history that's waiting to be told.
[NARRATOR] It takes a trained eye to uncover this history.
John Seidel is a former Director of the Center for Environment and Society and Associate Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies at Washington College in Chestertown.
Now retired, his life's work has been the study of this landscape and the interaction with the people who settled here over time.
[JOHN] At about 3,000 years ago, there are shellfish, there are a whole series of other resources that humans on this landscape can utilize.
So, down in the wetlands, you can find wild rice.
You can find tuckahoe.
There are variety of wild plants that can be foraged for.
There are small mammals, game animals, birds.
[NARRATOR] About 800 BC, the indigenous people of the Eastern Shore began to cultivate the land.
They hunted in the woods, fished, and collected shellfish.
Their activities impacted the landscape, but when they departed, nature reclaimed the land.
[JOHN] I'm standing on top of a ridge here in the Western part of Kent County with the Bay behind me, and I've got a cove on the right that's full of water, and a wetlands over to the other side... And this ridge is nothing but oyster shell.
I don't know how deep it goes because we haven't dug deeply into it.
But the likelihood is that we've got perhaps 3,000 years' worth of harvesting and discard of oyster shells, right in this spot.
[JOHN] But when you look at them carefully, you can tell an awful lot about what happened in the past.
On this can see ribs or striations on it.
This oyster grew in a fairly shallow environment, it was exposed to sun, and people harvested it because it was easily accessible.
The other thing we're seeing mixed throughout these shells are stones and rock like this.
Now, this is reddish, it's been oxidized through heat, and it's also got thermal fracturing.
So, you know that tells us that they were heating up and processing these oysters right on this spot.
[NARRATOR] Along the Atlantic coast, it's rare to find significant tracts of land that reflect continuity of use over thousands of years.
And while, landscapes can speak to us, much of what we know of this place at the moment of European contact comes from the eye-witness accounts of an adventurous Englishman.
Captain John Smith first sailed into Chesapeake Bay in 1608 on a royal-chartered mission to discover the mythic Northwest Passage to the Orient and to look for gold.
It was on these waters that he documented the "cultural landscape" of the Chesapeake Bay with astonishing detail.
[JOHN] He kept very accurate notes, and he complied a map which is a remarkable record of the landscape, of the shorelines, and of the people who were on this landscape back in the early 1600s.
He met the Tockwhogh probably up on the Sassafras River in Kent County.
The Tockwhogh, the Osenes, were relatively small in number and very light on their footprint on the landscape.
They were farming.
They were harvesting shellfish.
[JOHN] And the Tockwhogh are at once intriguing and also very frustrating because John Smith gives us such vivid pictures of them.
And then, they...almost...vanish.
Occasionally, the name pops out, but by the mid-1600s... they are gone.
[ELIZABETH] I think John Smith would've looked at this landscape as a place where you could make a living.
What are the economics of it?
He saw these amazing trees.
Trees that you did not see in England at that point.
And he saw this beautiful land.
He visited tribes that were healthy and tall.
And he understood how rich this place was.
[NARRATOR] The natural productivity of its soils and its location on the Chesapeake Bay are central to Kent County's identity and historical significance.
This region of the Delmarva was among the first to experience the world-changing impact of early English settlements.
Enticed by Captain Smith's descriptions and mapping of the Chesapeake, colonists from England began arriving on the Eastern seaboard in the early 17th century.
[ELIZABETH] Okay, so this is the map that everybody on Chesapeake Bay knows.
So, this is where we're going to start... [NARRATOR] Robert McGinnis is a cultural landscape expert who has taken a closer look at Kent County's evolution through time.
[ROBERT MCGINNIS] So, this map, which is commonly understood to be the 1608 Captain John Smith map...is wonderful.
It's starts here at the ocean, Atlantic Ocean at Cape Charles and Cape Henry, and works all the way up to Chesapeake Bay.
And right up here...little squirrely river right there is the Sassafras River and that's where we are right now.
X marks the spot of an indigenous village right here.
[ROBERT M.] It gives us the one of the first really cartographic descriptions of what this landscape's about.
And because we know where he went, you have to think of it as a travel map, essentially, a lens or a viewport into time.
[NARRATOR] During his Assessment of Kent County's cultural landscapes, McGinnis compiled a fascinating new map that shows both the features of the landscape and the results of people living and working through the first centuries of the colonial era.
[ELIZABETH] When you were working on the cultural landscape analysis that got us this map, what are some of the big takeaways you've got from that?
[ROBERT M.] So, a great way to understand what's so significant about this county is to look at this map and you see the villages and towns in red, the historic road patterns in blue.
All those red dots are historic properties.
So, when you look at, here we are at Quaker Neck right here, all these blue roads are roads that survive today from the 19th century and some go into the 18th century, and even some into the 17th century.
And Quaker Neck Landing is a great example where this can take you all the way back to the original, not just exploration, but early British, colonial people coming here, trying to establish their plantations, their home sites.
And this has been in continuous use as a landing and as a village-- for hundreds of years.
This was the center, part of the center of the universe in the 1700s.
[NARRATOR] By the time of the Revolutionary War, agriculture on the Delmarva Peninsula had grown considerably, and remnants of the colonial era are still being uncovered today.
[JOHN] We're now on a site that's about two miles away from the shell midden.
And this is one of the earliest colonial sites that we've uncovered in Kent County.
So, a little bit less than a foot deep, we will dig away the plowed zone, the plow zone, and come down on undisturbed sub-soil, which is typically a much, much lighter color.
But right over here, where Chuck is working, it's much darker and it's charged with charcoal, oyster shell, brick dust and an incredible array of artifacts.
[JOHN] And what it tells us about this first settlement, the interaction of English colonists with indigenous people, and then the pattern of life that gets established here and moves off into the 1800s, 1900s.
Over here, we have an interesting selection of materials, which kind of takes us through time.
This pottery is from North Devon.
It's from England.
So, that's interesting because these are clearly being brought over here.
And they're mixed in with salt glazed stonewares, which these come from Germany.
We also have tin glaze.
It looks like Delft.
It come from either England, or it could come from the low country.
And mixed in with that incredibly are things that are Native American.
So, this polished and ground stone celt is clearly-- Native American.
It could have been gotten in trade.
There are a number of different stories that could attend this particular object.
And then...here, we've got this very, very small fragment which is just part of a glass bead.
So, these are beads which were made in Europe specifically for trade with North American Natives.
[JOHN] And there's a certain irony in the fact that these English people who were coming in and displacing Natives were using what was in fact a Native crop, tobacco.
Now, they didn't want to use the local version.
So, they had to bring it in from the Caribbean.
But when they brought that in from the Caribbean, it not only changed the economy, it fundamentally changed society.
In order to grow that labor-intensive crop, you need labor, you need bound labor.
And this is the advent then of the tragedy of slavery.
So, that not only do you have people being displaced here from their native homelands, you have people being uprooted in Africa and brought to this new place as a source of labor.
[NARRATOR] The Europeans sought freedom...fortune...and faith... Kent County found itself a player in the emergence of a new nation.
But the price was paid in lives by people brought in bondage from another continent.
[DARIUS] So for me, the value of history is it just really gives me a guide forward.
You know, it shows me the potential that I personally have when I think about what my ancestors have done, what they were able to accomplish, what they were able to overcome.
[NARRATOR] The year 1642 was a watershed: The peninsula was officially established as "Kent County," more than a century before Maryland became a state and the Colonies a country.
But also, that year, the first ship of enslaved Africans arrived in chains.
Kidnapped from West Africa, they set foot onto Maryland shores just 34 years after Captain Smith sailed up the Chesapeake Bay.
[NARRATOR] For over two centuries the enslaved labored in the fields with crops such as tobacco, wheat, and corn.
But in the decades leading up to the Civil War, the number of enslaved people here declined by half, and small communities of freed Blacks began to form.
Others escaped bondage through the Underground Railroad, as Henry Highland Garnet did as a child with his family in 1821.
Born in Kent County, he went on to become a prominent minister and abolitionist.
In 1865 he addressed the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery, becoming the first Black minister to do so.
[NARRATOR] After the Civil War, newly freed Black citizens purchased homes, formed churches, built schoolhouses, and raised families.
♪ ♪ [NARRATOR] The history books, however, are only as thorough and diverse as the people who write them.
Over the course of the past century the details of what happened in these African American communities felt lost, until a new project began at Washington College.
♪ ♪ [AIRLEE RINGOLD JOHNSON] The Chesapeake Heartland is a study of African American history.
Every county has its stories and we are documenting Kent County stories.
And as we move to the other counties, we will document their stories as well.
[JADA ARISTILDE] And the great thing is that community members get to be a part of the digitizing process.
So, they get to see where their images go.
They get to curate their own exhibits as well.
So, they choose which images they want to be digitized.
And then, they are able to tell their own story.
[CAROLYN BROOKS] It is the voice of the American African American community in Kent County.
I say it because our voices have been silent or silenced, so much in regard to the history and the foundation of the county.
And I think that this gives us an opportunity to tell our stories our own way.
♪ ♪ [DARIUS] Yeah, I did want to drive past here, if you were able to get this.
It's kind of more of a scenic route than a straight shot... [DARIUS] So, I mean, honestly, I spend my time when I drive through these days, just thinking about what was lost and how can we get that back in some way.
[NARRATOR] Darius Johnson is also on a mission.
A descendant of James Butler, a farmer, businessman, and founder of the village of Butlertown in Kent County, Darius has spent countless hours interviewing family members and exploring the land.
Butler, a free Black man, became the owner of 13 acres in 1820, and a trustee of the original church that once stood here.
[DARIUS] So right now, we're standing in the cemetery of the original church grounds.
So, a lot of their original Butlers are buried here.
The, some that we don't even know who are buried here, but we can only go by the headstones that we see.
So, he had 13 acres in the 1820s when other people like him were property themselves.
And he had the thought to actually begin subdividing his parcels off to each of his family members over time to when, you know, they could own land, they could build a family, they could build their livelihood.
You know, they could really make this a community of, you know, their values and their beliefs and what they felt was a strong, you know, way to live life together.
And a lot of family members still do own the land that was passed on to generations, which is very important.
[NARRATOR] Through photographs, cemeteries, buildings, and storytelling, a broader more inclusive narrative of this land's collective history continues to grow.
[DARIUS] I think it's important for us to remember the legacy that we did have here.
That we still do have a stake here.
That we have to be something we can build on here.
And you know, we shouldn't forget it because it is a piece of us.
[ELIZABETH] You can look at this landscape and imagine things about how this land evolved over time.
You think about transportation networks, you think about access to the water, you think about the fertility of the soil.
This landscape is all a response to the conditions that were here.
[NARRATOR] For millennia both the water and the land have given sustenance and provided pathways.
To further use these paths, a ship building industry began here in the 1700s, but the major leap forward came with the advent of the steamship.
The first in the bay-- named the "Chesapeake," arrived in Kent County from Baltimore in 1813.
For more than a hundred years, steamships were moving harvested goods from the Eastern shore to Western shore markets.
And the town of Rock Hall - with its easy access and harbor naturally protected from storms - became known as the rockfish capital of the world, where an estimated 80 percent of the residents worked in maritime jobs.
In addition to the transport of the county's harvest, people began to use these steamboats to travel to Eastern shore resorts at Betterton and Tolchester.
♪ ♪ The harvesting of the Chesapeake Bay that began centuries ago continues today, though the bounty of these waters is greatly diminished.
With their livelihoods at stake, the traditions of Kent watermen carry on.
Their pound net style of fishing harkens back to indigenous people years before them, and their love of the Bay is as evident as the early morning sunrise.
I've been doing this for the most part since about 76, 1976.
We set pound that's pretty much year-round.
And then, in the wintertime we're seine for bait fish, shad and live carp.
And the majority of it is live catfish to ship all over the place, from Canada to Georgia.
It's amazing still, to see the cycles of things.
It's a renewable resource.
The money is not the main reason we're there.
I mean, yeah, you got to make something to pay the bills to live here.
But, I could break down in the bay pretty much anywhere, and somebody is going to take me home, give me a supper, and you know, patch me up.
And yeah, you can't put a price on that kind of stuff.
[NARRATOR] Back on land, the rich soil of the region continues to provide a bountiful harvest.
Nearly, three quarters of the county is dedicated to agriculture, making it one Kent's top economic engines.
This area known as the Delmarva Peninsula earned the nickname "Breadbasket of the Revolution" by supplying wheat, flour, and corn to the Continental Army.
Behind that effort were the mills that dotted Kent's countryside, with over 100 built over the past four centuries.
They ground the wheat and corn, and powered saw mills in towns like Millington.
Though most mills may no longer function, subtle reminders of this heritage can still be found throughout the county.
[NARRATOR] In the second half of the 19th century, work began on the construction of the Kent County Railroad.
At first only 32 miles long and passing through Chestertown, this railway was later expanded, strengthening the connections from Kent to Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
Merchants in towns to the north like Galena added to the county's wealth and patterns on the land.
And as the 20th century progressed, families carried on the farming traditions of their forebears.
Tomatoes were grown and delivered by the boatload.
Grains were harvested, and crops such as asparagus were canned and sent to market.
[NARRATOR] Today, Chestertown's vibrant Farmer's Market displays some of the current offerings.
Vendors here sell local meat, seafood, fruit, and vegetables, while the annual County Fair provides agricultural education, community exhibits, and a livestock auction.
(background chatter) ♪ ♪ [NARRATOR] Kristen Nickerson and her brother Bill Langenfelder both feel connected to this land - it's agricultural past, and present.
[KRISTEN NICKERSON] My family began farming in the 1840s.
They came over from Germany, and I represent the sixth-generation farmer, and I believe we have a seventh-generation coming along.
[BILL LANGENFELDER] I started farming when I was old enough to walk.
Uh, I would be around the farm with my father doing or watching whatever he was doing.
[KRISTEN] This property is where my husband and I have raised our family.
Um, it has been a farm, I think forever.
Uh, the king of England had granted this property.
It was about a 900-acre tract to Colonel Henry Blay, and our house, which is 300 years old, is named the Blay house.
And we love it here.
The historic nature of the house and the open rolling farmland is just a beautiful place to raise our family.
[KRISTEN] We raise crops, um, primarily corn, soybeans, wheat, and barley.
And we also have a 650 sow farrow to finish hog operation.
And that's the main portion of my job is maintaining the swine operation from nursery to market.
[BILL] The climate in Maryland is ideal for farming, growing the crops that we grow and Kent County has very good soil.
Uh, I think it's some of the best on the shore.
[KRISTEN] Preserving the agricultural heritage in this county is very important to our family and I believe it's important to the entire ag community here as well.
[BILL] It's just a wonderful thing to carry on.
[ELIZABETH] So, most of us, we look at this landscape and we say, "Oh, it's beautiful."
Because we're humans, we respond to water, we respond to green, we respond to trees.
But today, what we're trying to do is understand this landscape.
What can we adapt, so that we can go forward?
[JOHN] Land owners have appreciated the unique attributes of this landscape.
They've appreciated these really important environments and have sought to protect them.
And that story is replicated throughout much of the county.
[CAROLYN] And these true stories can add to the history, the total history of Kent County and that people know that the contributions and, and the experiences that we've had in this county has helped shape this county.
[NARRATOR] Today, Kent County faces choices, it's future following ancient paths over land and water.
But through the centuries, survival has always been about understanding, and adaptation... [ELIZABETH] Historians understand the documents, but those of us who are working in the cultural landscape are still struggling to help people understand how you read these landscapes, what you can understand from them and how you take this kind of knowledge and move it into the future.
Kent County's Storied Landscape Place: Past and Present was produced in cooperation with the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance, with support from the following... For more information about Kent County's Storied Landscape, including links to landscape stories, maps, and additional interviews, visit... MPT.ORG/KentCounty.
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