Church artifacts afford glimpse of black history WEST COUNTY -- Crofton * Odenton * Fort Meade * Gambrills

December 01, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Simple old photographs and hastily scrawled ledger books at a Hanover church are offering an invaluable glimpse at black life 100 years ago, a time when the county kept few records of minorities.

The grainy black and white photographs show members of St. Mark United Methodist Church, on Dorsey Road, enjoying dances and picnics in Severna Park, where whites didn't go then because of the mosquitoes, according to Irene Hebron, the church historian.

In the yellowed pages of the ledgers are complete lists of St. Mark members from the earliest days, records of births and deaths, baptisms and marriages.

"The county kept very few records of black baptisms," Ms. Hebron said. "A lot of black births were never recorded."

And there are wash basins, old Bibles and copies of deeds. The collection has grown to include an oil lamp used by a parishioner before electricity came to the community.

Ms. Hebron, who also is the church's former secretary, had collected pieces of the 150-year history, but didn't start sorting it until February, when the parish celebrated its sesquicentennial.

Now, the walls of a former study and office are adorned with group pictures, plaques, awards and pamphlets that go back more than a century.

"This means that our church will be able to find its roots," said Ms. Hebron, who was baptized in the church and has worshiped there for 65 years. "We were a viable part of the community even though they can't find a reference to us in the history books."

Ms. Hebron knows how the church got started, but proving it is another matter. She has spent countless hours searching land records and deeds trying to come up with the evidence.

The church started in 1842, when black residents of nearby Harmans got permission to worship in a barn owned by Peter Gambrills. Two years later, Mr. Gambrills gave the parish land on nearby Ridge Road where members erected a log cabin church. There they stayed until moving to the present Hanover location in 1958.

Ms. Hebron said she recently found the name of Mr. Gambrills, who was black, in a county census book. That was a rare find, she said, because only landowners were listed at the time, and it was unusual for blacks to own land then.

"It is the first concrete evidence we have," Ms. Hebron said, adding that her search for documents will continue in Annapolis.

Other evidence is more anecdotal. Up to 1952, when Ms. Hebron was secretary, a woman named Mary Jackson sent annual tithes from her home in Mississippi.

"I never knew why," Ms. Hebron said. "Then in 1952 she died and I found out she was Mr. Gambrills' daughter."

There are many parishioners still living who have a strong link to the church's past. Tricey Warren, the trustee, can trace his roots back to the very beginning. Mr. Warren's brother brought many of the artifacts to the church. The trustee himself donated a wooden and metal clock that he estimates is at least 90 years old.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.