Dock of the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 7
February 17-23, 2000
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In Annapolis, A Divided Church Unites

Henry Price, played by Firnest Williams, and Mrs. Price, Electra Holland, make plans for Annapolis’ first black Methodist church.

“I trust you’ll let my wife know where I’ll be for the next year or so,” sighs an already overworked Matthew Shorter to his cousin Henry Price in A Church Divides. Price has just convinced ace carpenter Shorter to build him a dream: Asbury United, the first black Methodist church in Annapolis.

And build it Shorter did.

Last Sunday, over 160 years later, Asbury United teamed with Calvary United Methodist to reenact near the very site the events that led to the churches’ 1838 split.

Janice Hayes-Williams, who wrote and directed A Church Divides, based the play on her own local research, including articles from newspapers of the time and actual petitions from colored preachers. In church records, as well, she found an “incredible amount of information.”

Calvary United, then called First Methodist Episcopal, restricted blacks to upper galleries reached by high steps outside the church. “Negroes were unhappy about being the last to receive communion, having to use the side door and not being able to preach,” says Hayes-Williams. So that they might worship with greater freedom and dignity, the church’s black congregation decided to build a separate church for themselves, on land donated by Reverend and Anne Wilkes Price, a cousin of Frederick Douglass.

In 1842, the new Asbury Methodist congregation had their very own church on inner West Street. But not, says Hayes-Williams, total freedom of worship. “It wasn’t until 1865 that blacks were allowed to give the holy sacraments of baptism, communion and marriage.”

Hayes-Williams set the play in five short acts, interspersed with singing by Firnest Williams as Henry Price, Louis Parker as the burly Matthew Shorter and the choirs of both Asbury and Calvary United Methodist churches in a thrilling finale. Narrating offstage, Reverend Mamie Williams gave the historical setting for each act.

“The whole cast just knocked me out,” says Hayes-Williams. “I am so overjoyed by how great everyone did.”

A Church Divides, Hayes-Williams’ debut as both playwright and director, turned out the whole town, it seemed, including Mayor Dean Johnson. Not bad for a beginner.

—Christy Grimes

For Oyster Partnership, a New Leader

Aside from dreading the visit of the occasional waterman, oysters aren’t up to much this time of year. But the Oyster Recovery Partnership works right through winter. As the ambitious non-profit prepares to plant 40 million baby oysters in Chesapeake Bay this year, they’ve brought aboard a new director.

“We want to put as many baby oysters into the Bay as possible,” says new Executive Director Charles S. Frentz. To an effort already heavy on scientists and watermen, the 48-year-old businessman and entrepreneur brings a broad business background, ranging from sporting events to corporate incentive programs, including start-ups, both profit and not-for-profit.

“We want to put the Partnership on a business basis, and I’ll be getting out into corporate world in hope of developing some relationships,” says Frentz.

Frentz replaces Robert Pfeiffer, who guided the organization through 1999.

The Partnership has been supported largely by grants and gifts. “Funding has been steadily increasing,” says Partnership Chair Mary Jo Garreis. “From $250,000, it doubled last year and will approach $700,000 this year.” That figure includes $450,000 in federal support won this year by Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

As its name suggests, the Oyster Recovery partnership gets its work done by cooperating with other Bay-loving organizations. Partners range from agencies like Department of Natural Resources or Army Corps of Engineers to high schools to the Naval Academy to the Annapolis Rotary, says Garreis.

In 1998, Bay Weekly dedicated its fifth birthday celebration to the Partnership, raising over $6,500 from advertisers, readers and friends to plant seed oysters in the South River.

The Partnership has set its sights high this millennial year, intending to plant half as many oysters in this single year as the 80,000 they’ve sowed in their five-year existence.

For oysters, who are creatures of temperature, hatching usually begins in May. Growth is most active in warm, summer months. Serious oyster planting comes with fall’s cooler weather, as there is less waterborne threat to the young bivalves. Oysters then grow on average an inch a year.

Volunteers and partners are always needed. Call Susanne Murphy at 410/269-5570 • [email protected].


Still Farming After All These Years

photo by Connie Darago
Parran Briscoe has followed in the footsteps of his parents, Cassandra and James, tending the family’s 1,146-acre farm.

A young man stands amidst the early morning fog, feet planted firmly in the soil, and inhales the familiar smell of fresh-tilled earth. Dressed to work, he contemplates the long ahead as have generations before him. He glances over the newly cultivated fields and smiles. His is a smile of pride at the work he’s done and the heritage he’s helping preserve.

Year by year, crop after crop, James and Cassandra Briscoe with sons Parran and Crofton struggle to beat the odds.

They are continuing the 366-year tradition of the family, operating the 1,146-acre grain, cattle, hay and tobacco farm known as The Cage in Calvert County. With brother John D. and wife Mary Briscoe, they also run the 852-acre grain and tobacco farm across the inlet known as Stonesby.

As you drive the Route 2/4 corridor south through a Calvert County now larded with development, it’s hard to imagine only two decades ago the rolling hills covered with blooming broad-leaf tobacco, waves of amber grain and tall tasseled corn.

“My brother and I equally inherited The Cage property,” says Cassandra Briscoe. “When he died, and his children before him, his share of the farm went to my children, who now do most of the actual farming.”

At the Maryland Agriculture Dinner in Glen Burnie, James and Cassandra, John D. and Mary Briscoe were inducted into the Governor’s Agriculture Hall of Fame.

“The Hall of Fame recognizes farms as an integral part of our society and farm families as active contributors to the well-being of their communities,” says Buddy Bowling, director of the Maryland Agriculture Committee.
“It was nice to be recognized,” says Cassandra Briscoe, “but the truth is it became confusing when the nominating committee lumped the two farms together.”

“The Cage,” she explains, “was my family farm tracing back to the mid 1600s through Beecham Parran. I married into the Briscoe heritage. James and John, brothers, are descendants of Dr. John Briscoe who arrived on the Ark and Dove in 1634. It’s two separate operations.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know tobacco has once again become rich since Maryland joined 46 other states, five territories and the District of Columbia in accepting the national tobacco settlement in 1998. Everyone has an opinion and a finger in the pie.

“The tobacco money isn’t going to the farmers,” says Cassandra Briscoe. “With bad publicity and the lack of labor, this may be the beginning of the end.”

“The truth is the soil here is only suited for tobacco and pine trees,” adds James Briscoe.

But the young Parran remains optimistic about the future of the family’s old tobacco farm.

“We raise hay, corn, straw and practice soil conservation and sensible fertilization. We’re converting some of the old tenant houses into rentals, and we have started a horse boarding stable to help offset costs,” says Parran. “The more you diversify, the better chance you have of surviving.”

Nor has his father given up: “We’re doing all we can to carry on. We’ve placed both farms under the Agriculture Preservation Law, which means the land can never be developed.”

Never is a long time. Proposed just last week, the new Maryland House Bill 162 would take another stab at farmers. If passed, it will further restrict passing along the land to children. A farmer with less than 100 acres won’t be able to create even one family lot. Making the preservation program more restrictive may force farmers to opt for development.

For now, however, the Briscoes are lucky. Another generation has stepped up, committing body and soul to the land.

—Connie Darago

Way Downstream …

In Virginia, they’re complaining about sprawl. But committees in the Senate and House defeated proposals last week to manage development by limiting home construction and charging developers impact fees …

In West Palm Beach, well-heeled Floridians are paying $300,000 to join the new Trump International Golf Club. There’s another class that’s enjoying the action: inmates at the county jail, which is situated just a 9-iron shot away from the third hole. To keep jailbirds from hooting at the women linksters, The Donald has ordered a row of Royal Palms planted …

Okinawa animal-rights advocates demanded that leaders attending an economic summit there this month denounce a popular local dish: cat stew. But local enthusiasts who don’t mind slaughtering stray cats say that not only does it taste good, it aids asthmatics …

In Maine, the Nature Conservancy already has raised $40 million to preserve land in its “For Maine Forever” campaign. Another $5 million and the conservationists will have enough to buy 185,000 acres along the St. John River as well as some coastal lands …

Our Creature Feature comes from Chesapeake Bay where, in the late spring, we can look forward to seeing mating horseshoe crabs lining our beaches like pith helmets.

In a move to preserve the vulnerable horseshoes — used for bait by conch and eel fishers — the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission last week approved a 25 percent reduction in harvest. Maryland wanted a 50 percent reduction, but Virginia carried the day by arguing its commercial fishery would be damaged.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly