Chestertown, MD — Everybody likes the idea of finding treasures in the attic—but when the attic is in an old plantation that was first acquired by the current owners' ancestors in 1669, such treasures can amount to a historian's dream come true. And in the case of Poplar Grove, it was the Attic Discovery Heard 'Round the World.
During the summer of 2008, Washington College's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and the Maryland State Archives delved into 300 years of family papers stored for generations at Poplar Grove, the historic estate of the Emorys in Queen Anne's County, Md. The story drew broad public attention and international media coverage, including an in-depth report on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered." Now, the public can learn the inside story of this amazing find in "The Poplar Grove Project: A Tale of Historical Discovery," a presentation at Washington College's Casey Academic Center Forum on Monday, November 24, at 7:30 p.m.
Members of the Poplar Grove research team will describe the many remarkable fragments of the past that the farms' attics, outbuildings, and servants' quarters yielded. In addition to many thousands of pages of family letters, the Poplar Grove discovery unearthed political correspondence, newspapers and broadsides, military records and much more.
One letter describes ex-President Monroe's visit to West Point in 1828 (the old man jumped in alarm every time the cannons saluted him). There are letters about politics in the Jackson administration (one written from the floor of the Senate describing near-brawl between Thomas Hart Benton and another senator, as described by John C. Calhoun), an antislavery petition signed by dozens of Queen Anne's County citizens in the 1830s; original manuscript poems (including a very X-rated one about a young man sneaking into a girl's bed on a winter night in about 1810), a detailed description of buying a slave in Philadelphia in 1779, documents about the aftermath of the Nat Turner Rebellion, land records dating back to the 1660s, important Civil War documents, and many other treasures. Together, they reveal the story of a remarkable family whose history intertwines with America's.
Thanks to a team of student researchers, the documents have now been conserved and placed on deposit at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, where they are accessible to researchers. The students also scanned many of the papers to make them accessible online, through a popular blog site (polargroveproject.blogspot.com) as well as the Archives' website.
The Poplar Grove Project was directed by Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse, State Archivist of Maryland, and Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the C.V. Starr Center. The student team included Washington College undergraduates James Schelberg '11 and Jeremy Rothwell '09, as well as Olivia Wood, a student at Rhodes College who is an Emory descendant. The team supervisor was Washington College alumnus Albin Kowalewski '07, now a graduate student at the University of Tennessee. The entire team will be onhand for next Monday's event, showing images of the Poplar Grove discoveries and even a few of the original documents themselves, which will be brought from Annapolis for the occasion. Many members of the Emory family will also be onhand to join in the discussion.
"The Poplar Grove Project: A Tale of Historical Discovery" is jointly presented by the C.V. Starr Center, the Maryland State Archives and the Queen Anne's County Historical Society. Admission is free and open to the public. For more information, call 410/810-7161.
About the C.V. Starr Center
The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience explores our nation's history—and particularly the legacy of its Founding era—in innovative ways. Through educational programs, scholarship and public outreach, and especially by supporting and fostering the art of written history, the Starr Center seeks to bridge the divide between past and present, and between the academic world and the public at large. From its base in the circa-1746 Custom House along Chestertown's colonial waterfront, the Center also serves as a portal onto a world of opportunities for Washington College students. Its guiding principle is that now more than ever, a wider understanding of our shared past is fundamental to the continuing success of America's democratic experiment. For more information on the Center, visithttp://starrcenter.washcoll.edu.
November 11, 2008