This is one of the most important aspects of revitalizing Crisfield, yet – in my opinion – receives far less attention than it deserves, and as stated previously, is part of the reason why I feel that all of the strategies in the past have failed – or have had little success. I’ve done an extensive amount of research on this, but to fully explain my findings would take far more time than I can spare at this time. However, I will provide a summary below.
Understanding Personalities & Relationships:
Two aspects that must be strongly considered are, one; a large portion of local residents are direct descendants of the first settlers who arrived in the 1660’s. This has created a unique mindset that possesses both good and bad traits. The second thing that must be understood is that the majority of locals know all of the other locals. Most people get along, but some have strong negative feelings for certain people; ranging from dislike to outright hatred. These relationships notwithstanding, during an emergency or tragedy, everyone comes together to help – even to aid those they consider bitter enemies.
Knowing which people get along and those who don’t is extremely important, but what’s equally important is knowing which people are influential and are listened to when they speak. Many of the people that I’m referring to may all not be directly involved throughout the revitalization process in a major way, but they should be approached, presented with the concept and asked to give their input.
The reason this is important is because, with any plan, there will be people who will criticize it – just for the sake of criticizing it. However, if the influential people that I’m referring to are brought on board at the outset, they’ll refute the baseless criticisms and be armed with the facts to do so. I know dozens of locals who should be initially recruited to obtain their support.
The Last Generation:
To get the greatest amount of public support from Crisfielders, it has to be presented in a personal way that illustrates the urgency of the situation. Everyone has to learn about, or be reminded of, their ancestors that made Crisfield the ‘seafood capital of the world.’
This current generation must be confronted with the fact that it was on our watch that the sun of Crisfield’s prosperity finally set – IF WE DON’T CHANGE THINGS. Attention needs to be given to how we revere the generations that came before us, and what Crisfield used to be, then the question has to be asked what will our descendants tell their children about us.
All of this will lead to the fact that if action isn’t soon taken, that Crisfield will see its ‘last generation,’ and the ‘Crisfielder’ will be no more.
There should be a professionally produced video that illustrates Crisfield’s rise and fall using historic pictures, interviews of local senior citizens who lived through the transition and footage of local youth who may not have a hometown in the future if we don’t act. These elements, enhanced with a soundtrack that uses vintage music in the beginning, transitioning to sorrowful then inspirational, and utilizing climactic music at the end, supported by a articulate narrator, will be extremely powerful.
Even though this is one of the few situations where this tactic is beneficial, the sole purpose of this video should be to entice a strong emotional response. If the video is effective – which I firmly believe it would be – the viewer should experience pride first, then sorrow, followed by guilt, then build the tone back up so it encourages people to get involved.
The Legacy Wall:
One element that should draw a significant amount of public support, and be an attraction as well, is something that I call the ‘Legacy Wall.’ This is a row(s) of interpretive signs, which could be similar to the historical signs that are currently located downtown, and provide a brief background on some of the families/individuals that have deep roots to Crisfield and/or lower Somerset County.
The way this could generate public support is by first creating a genealogical commission that issues a request for public-input, second announce the Legacy Wall project and third have people submit a surname to be considered for inclusion into the Legacy Wall. The proposed location of the Legacy Wall is addressed in a later section.
Certain criteria would have to be met for a name to be approved, such as; bloodline that dates back to pre-Revolutionary War, ancestor has a rags to riches story, ancestor exemplified kindness, ancestor was an outlaw or infamous character, community asset, etc. The genealogy commission would have final say on the contents of each family sign.
Just a partial list of surnames that would certainly meet the requirements are:
Adams – Bell – Bradshaw – Brittingham – Byrd – Coulbourne – Conner – Crockett – Cullen – Daugherty – Davis – Dryden – Dize – Ennis – Evans – Ford – Fountaine – Hall – Hill – Horsey – Holland – Howard – Insley – Johnson – Jones – Laird – Landon – Lankford – Lawson – Linton – Long – Maddox – Marshall – Matthews – McCready – Milbourne – Mister – Nelson – Parks – Pruitt – Purnell – Price – Riggin – Smith – Somers – Sterling – Stevenson – Swift – Tawes – Taylor – Thomas – Todd – Thompson – Tull – Tyler – Ward – Whittington – Wilson
The second criteria would be that each family must either pay for, or do the fundraising themselves. The Crisfield Tourism Industry (CTI), should have a website established that has the ability to accept online payments for anyone wishing to donate to any and all family signs that have been approved for inclusion in the Legacy Wall.
There can be marketing/fundraising campaigns launched on social media and promote it as a source of pride to have their ancestors included. In addition to generating public support, it will improve the visual appearance of the area proposed for the Legacy Wall, and likely be a significant traffic facilitator as well.
Many of the names that are found locally are also common across the country and hundreds of thousands of Americans are descended from Somerset’s original settlers. There is a substantial number of people who are extremely interested in their genealogies, and with advances in DNA technology, this number is steadily increasing – as are those who take trips to visit where their ancestors lived.
The location of the Legacy Wall is described in a later section, but this feature will generate local interest by asking the locals to research their own family history and provide input into what the family signs will contain.
It’s imperative that the local families of African descent, who have consisted of a large portion of the area’s population since the late 1600’s, be strongly represented as well. Incidentally, their criteria has to be different for inclusion. The recorded history of the locals of African descent, for the most part, only dates back to the 1860’s. There should be an interpretive sign exclusively explaining this. Therefore, instead of having an interpretive sign for an entire family, have them for certain individuals of African descent who have excelled in spite of discrimination – the number of which is substantial.
Just a few of the locals of African descent that would meet the requirements for inclusion into the Legacy Wall are:
➢ Jewett Family: This family has an extraordinary history. Two brothers; one named ‘Elijah’ and the other named ‘Preston,’ where both slaves until adulthood. Their father got permission from his slaveowner to work additional jobs after he completed his slave duties, and he saved all of the wages he earned. The Jewetts bought a farm, and when the Union Army began enlisting black soldiers, both Elijah and Preston joined the fight. After their service to the Country the two brothers returned to Crisfield, worked on their fathers farm and started their own families.
What’s important is they followed the example set by their father of working hard and saving their money to improve their quality of life – with the two brothers both farming and working the water – and they passed this work ethic down to their children as well.
In 1877 Elijah had a son and named him Frederick, growing up he did the same work as his family. At the age of 23, Fredrick travelled to St. Michaels and worked shucking oysters, and just 3 years after that he decided to go into business for himself.
Frederick returned to his hometown and secured a $500 loan from the Bank of Crisfield, took on a partner and the seafood business of Coubourne & Jewett was born. This company became the largest seafood packing house in St. Michaels and was located where the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is located today. Around 1910 Frederick Jewett devised a marketing ploy that changed the crabbing industry forever. His idea was to separate the types of crabmeat and labeling them, “backfin,” “special,” “regular,” “claw” and “lump.” To this day, over 115 years later, crabmeat is still sold this way.
➢ Capt. Edward Wilson: A man of substantial power and influence – in both commerce and politics. He was an oyster broker for the local black watermen who dealt directly with the large wholesalers ensuring that his clients were receiving equal payment for their oysters.
Wilson was also heavily involved in the Republican Party and if a politician wanted to secure the black vote, they had to get Capt. Wilson’s support first. Wilson was noted to be a fair gentleman, and when the oyster-pirates began dredging the rivers where only hand-tonging was legal, Wilson acted on behalf of both black and white oyster-tongers.
In 1897 President William McKinley appointed Capt. Wilson to a highly esteemed position at the U.S. Customs Office in Baltimore.
➢ Dr. Winter Barkley: He was highly respected by everyone throughout the community. He was active in the church, a fighter for civil-rights and was the area’s only black physician at the time of his death in 1946. His passing caused great sorrow for everyone, and a news report stated that his funeral was one of the largest that Crisfield ever had up to that point, which was attended by both white and blacks.
There are many other Locals of African descent who’s stories are equally fascinating.
Fallen Watermen Monument:
Hundreds upon hundreds of locals have lost their lives working the water, and countless graves in the area have headstones, but that persons remains aren’t there because they’re at the bottom of the Bay.
Then there are the wives who’s heart died when their husbands went down. A way of honoring them, and generate Local Support in the process, is erecting a large memorial statue made of bronze depicting a watermen at the wheel of their vessel, and a woman looking into the distance while making a quilt – which was a popular activity among local women when their husbands were out on the water. This would not only honor the memories of these people, but make the locals aware of just how rich our heritage is and it’s our responsibility to preserve it.
There are many possibilities for statues, this is just one idea. It may also be beneficial to have more than one monument.