Middle Passage Port Marker Ceremony

If the Atlantic were to dry up, it would reveal a scattered pathway of human bones, African bones, marking the various routes of the Middle Passage. ~ John Henrik Clark, historian

In total, 12 million slaves survived the transatlantic voyage from Africa to America, while 2 million died during the crossing. A minimum of 538 enslaved people sailed into Oxford to be sold into slavery at various locations throughout the Eastern Shore and beyond. Nearly 100 more died during their passage to Oxford. Twenty-nine times, a ship entered the port of Oxford to deliver enslaved Africans starting in the year 1696 and ending in 1772.

The gathering on July 4 at The Water’s Edge Museum in Oxford was part celebration and part remembrance as the crowd honored the African ancestors who were forcibly enslaved and transported from Africa to Oxford. The museum’s event unveiled a Middle Passage Port Marker 249 years to the day that the last known Intra-American slave ship docked in this once major maritime tobacco seaport during the colonial period.

This commemorative marker will be stationed near the ferry dock to recognize that Oxford is a documented Middle Passage port.
Photograph courtesy of Joe Andrucyk.

These enslaved Africans who arrived in Oxford, and subsequently their descendants, became the backbone of the Eastern Shore’s agricultural and maritime industries, with an emphasis on oystering and ship building. These individuals were honored at the July 4 ceremony that included inspirational music, statements from the First Lady of Maryland, Maryland Secretary of State, and many others.

Founder of The Water’s Edge Museum Barbara Paca (far right) discusses the artwork of Ruth Starr Rose with Maryland First Lady Yumi Hogan (left), Maryland Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith, Secretary of the Maryland Department Natural Resources Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, photographer Joe Andrucyk, and Maryland Senator Adelaide C. Eckardt.

While Oxford is the only United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)-documented Middle Passage stop on Maryland’s and Virginia’s Eastern Shores and Delaware, until now, there has been no signage commemorating that fact. Working with The Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project, The Water’s Edge Museum strived to honor those Founding Black Families of Maryland with this important signage.

Chief Wolf Mother (left) and Rosalie Turpin-Belcher attended the July 4 ceremony at the Water’s Edge Museum in Oxford.

Many of the guest speakers made heartfelt comments about the work being done to honor these Africans, including The Honorable Yumi Hogan and Maryland Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith. John conveyed that he is in awe of these founding black families in part because of their remarkable achievements despite their daily struggles.

John Wobensmith said of the founding black families, “Quite simply, there would be no America as we know it today without their essential role as the builders and sustainers of our country.” The Maryland state seal reminds John of these builders and sustainers. “I’m reminded that it was not only the resilience but the ingenuity and the adaptability of the people of African descent who brought their unique culture and skills to these shores. We are here today to honor and celebrate [them].”

First Lady of Maryland Yumi Hogan (left) greeted guests at the ceremony and dedication while Barbara Paca looked on. Photograph courtesy of Joe Andrucyk.

Various governor and state citations were presented to acknowledge the middle passage marker and honor the descendants. A few of the highlights from the afternoon included Rosalie Turpin-Belcher’s presentation to the museum of a slave pass handed down from her father, author and professor Waters E. Turpin. Another highlight was the request from various officials to the Native American community to post the Middle Passage marker in Oxford. Accepting the sacred request was Chief Wolf Mother of the Nause-Waiwash Band of Native Americans. The marker was blessed in prayer by Chief Wolf Mother by asking The Great Spirit to bless the ancestors, the marker and the land it sits on and to help guide the community on educating the next generation.

Ann C. Cobb, Executive Director of the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project, said, “It is long overdue that we acknowledge their [ancestors] sacrifices and commemorate their lives. They are with us all the time. They walk with us, they talk to us, they hold our hands and whisper in our ears. With this ceremony and dedication, we open the door and ask them to join us today. These ancestors are our angels, our saints. They’ve been waiting a very long time. The Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project applauds the Town of Oxford for its commitment to truth telling, to justice, to healing as we work to become one nation…an inclusive nation that fulfills its promise of liberty, equality and justice for all.”

The afternoon was bookended by music led by Salisbury University Professor John Wesley Wright. John not only sang a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace” for the crowd, but he led a meditation, prayer, African Libation Ceremony, and flower tribute with South Africa’s Counsellor Thilivhali Ratshitanga and First Secretary Mpho Oliphant.

Without question, these ancestors, or angels as Ann Cobb called them, could hear John Wesley Wright leading the audience in a traditional work song “Hammer, Ring.” The music floated on the light breeze over Oxford to round out the afternoon’s special ceremony.

For more information about The Water’s Edge Museum, visit www.watersedgemuseum.org.

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Allison Rogers



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