Carroll County's connection to Cuba began with sugar in 1800s

Carroll County's sugar connection with Cuba

On May 28, 1898, a local newspaper, the Democratic Advocate, printed a letter from Roy Powder in a section for "Bachman's Valley Items."

Powder, serving with the U.S. Army's 6th Cavalry, was waiting to be deployed to Cuba when he wrote to his sister, "Mrs. Wm. Stansbury," from Tampa, Florida:

"Dear Sister. I and our troops are still here. This is a very warm place, and is full of alligators, lizards, snakes and all kinds of reptiles. We had a fine time swimming our horses across Tampa Bay … sand is very deep; up to the knees of the horses in the streets… we are awaiting orders to move to Cuban soil most any moment..."

On Dec. 17, President Barack Obama quickly found himself knee-deep in alligators when he announced a dramatic new approach in United States foreign policy toward Cuba.

Curiously, Cuba is sprinkled liberally throughout our local history.

Cuba was probably first known in Carroll County for its large sugar trade with the United States throughout the 1800s. Sugar was a household staple — and later a valuable commodity in the early canning industry that got its start in the mid-1800s.

Even earlier, sugar was a critical ingredient in the corn liquor business, a valuable cash product in Carroll County since the days of the Seven Years War, 1754-63.

Ever since the adoption of the Monroe Doctrine in 1821, U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba and Latin America has been one clumsy failure after another — often involving our military, in which the native sons of Carroll County have proudly served.

On April 25, 1898, the United States declared war on Spain shortly after the mysterious destruction of the American battleship USS Maine on Feb. 15, 1898 in the harbor off Havana.

In Carroll County, the pro-war fervor reached Westminster when community leader "Mary B. Shellman portrayed Cuba with Denton Gehr as Uncle Sam and Georgia Buckingham as Columbia, to promote the cause of Cuba Libre (Free Cuba) in a play at the Westminster Odd Fellows Hall in 1898," according to published research by historian Jay Graybeal for the Historical Society of Carroll County.

The very first ground military action of the Spanish-American War occurred on June 10, 1898, when Marines were sent in to establish a base at Guantánamo Bay. It was on the second day of military operations that Carroll Countian Sgt. Charles Hampton Smith was one of five Marines killed.

According to Graybeal, Sgt. Smith was born near Smallwood, Carroll County on Jan. 15, 1867. "Sgt. Smith… was buried with full military honors in Deer Park Methodist Cemetery … More than 2,000 people attended the funeral."

Coming full circle to recent history; we will wait patiently, like Roy Powder, "awaiting orders to move to Cuban soil most any moment..."

Hopefully, this time, we will get it right.

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