Monday, December 26, 2016

Histories Mysteries - A Lighthearted View of the Pilgrims Progress in Coltons Point

St. Clements Island Lighthouse - Pilgrims Rest Stop

Many of you may remember this classic work of literature by English author John Bunyan first published in 1678. He was in jail when he wrote it in 1675 for participating in religious services outside the auspices of the Church of England, the only allowable religion at the time. Well we decided to track the Pilgrims Progress here in Coltons Point as it was the first stop over of religious outcasts from England just 40 years before John Bunyan was imprisoned and were it not for the Calvert family back in England many of our ancestors might have been in jail with Bunyan.

In 1632 George Calvert, who had been King James I of England’s principal Secretary of State at a time when the conflict between Catholic Europe and Protestant England was most serious, was granted a charter to what is now the State of Maryland. After George’s death in 1633 his son Cecil inherited his charter and determining that his brother, Leonard Calvert was the family member most expendable, sent Lenny to lead the expedition to America and establish a settlement around religious freedom. November 23, 1633 about 150 pilgrims got in two ships, the Ark and the Dove, and set out on a treacherous four month winter journey to America.

On March 25, 1634 the ships landed at Clements Island a stones throw from Coltons Point and between 150 and 300 people got off the boat, went to the bathroom, and started negotiating with the Yaocomico natives on shore for a permanent settlement. March 25 is now known as Maryland Day, the day the Catholics came to America and the holiday is celebrated everywhere but right here where it happened. Maybe we could fix that.

So the natives finally agreed they could have St. Mary’s City downstream for a settlement, there was no reason to mess up the Island or the Point with a new development, a position that remains pretty much true today. Just two years later, in 1636 and in spite of the fact he didn’t really own it Lord Baltimore went and gave the Island and Point to Thomas Gerard with the grant showing the Island was 400 acres.

Today the Island has 40 acres. It has been 380 years (1636-2016) since the first measurement of the Island in 1636 and over that time 360 acres have disappeared into the waters. Nearly an acre a year for 370 years have vanished meaning in the year 2046 the island will be gone completely and join the legends of the sea such as Atlantis.

A comprehensive history of the Island and Point should be done and a lot of partial histories have been written and could form the basis for the definitive story. Until then I’m going to add my version of an incomprehensible history to the collection.

So Lord Baltimore gave this disappearing Island to Gerard and in 1669 the Blackistone family took it over and kept it for 162 years. After that other families, possibly a beer company and a tobacco company and who knows who else claimed ownership.

During the American Revolution the Island was headquarters for the British troops. Oops, wrong side. Thirty years later during the war of 1812 it again was occupied by the British troops.

In 1853 a lighthouse was built on Clements Island for $5,000, and it survived for over 100 years before it mysteriously burnt down in 1956.

I believe in 1865 John Wilkes Booth came to the Point after shooting President Lincoln, during the missing week after the assassination, where he was supposed to catch a British ship and flee to England. Maybe the weather was bad, or for some other reason he went back and crossed into Virginia on his way to a much larger port. There is one heck of a story here along with the question, what did the English have to do with Lincoln’s death.

By 1883 the original St. Clements Manor House, built in 1636, was a hotel and beer garden in Coltons Point and became so popular it attracted ferry boat loads of tourists from Baltimore and Washington. Three weekly steamers came down to Coltons Point for the dances that were held at the old Blackistone Hotel Pavilion.

The origin of the Coltons Point name is an unverified local legend as is so much of the history surrounding the Point. R. Johnson Colton, the first Pointer Postmaster, is said to have won the acreage in a poker game in the 1800s. John Colton, vice president of government affairs for the Maryland Forests Association and R. Johnson Colton's great-grandson said it's possible. "I come from a family of card players," he said. A generation later, his grandfather supposedly won a house in nearby Clements the same way.

In the meantime in 1919 the Island was sold to the US government – used for training and weapons testing during the 1940’s, and by the 1960’s the State of Maryland took control of it.

Back in the Point by 1933 Coltons Point was known as Kopel’s Point and the manor house/hotel was now the Kopel’s Point Hotel, a time few local townspeople seem willing to talk much about. Two hurricanes the next few years pretty much destroyed the hotel by the early 1950's and it was never rebuilt. King Bob and the Ink Spot might finally be willing to talk about this time in their family history that is shrouded in mystery.

Just across the Potomac from Coltons Point in Westmoreland County Virginia three rather important historical figures were born and raised, George Washington, James Madison and Robert E. Lee. We would do well to take a little credit for them.

In the 1960’s a group of childhood friends, some descendants of the original settlers, some might even have been the original settlers, formed The Optimist Club of the Seventh District and at the urging of Father John J. Madigan started the Blessing of the Fleet Festival. That brings us up to date.

Like I mentioned there have been a few decent articles written about various parts of the history of Clements Island and Coltons Point. None tells the whole story. We would like to appeal to the public to help fill in the missing gaps in our history. If you have boring details and family histories give them to the St. Mary’s Historical Society. If you have scandalous stories, myths, rumors or information provocative in nature give them to the Coltons Point Times. We only want the fun stuff.

Consider that Jamestown was first settled in 1607 but disappeared in time. Fact is none of the early settlements in the colonies including Jamestown, Williamsburg, Middle Plantation, St. Mary’s City, etc. survived so who knows, Coltons Point could claim a spot in history right up there with Williamsburg, Busch Gardens and all the other famous historical sites.

No comments: