4 black women who influenced Annapolis life


It's a slice of small-town Annapolis, history lesson and part of many residents' family trees, all at once.

"Four Women of Annapolis," a new living-history presentation coming to the Banneker-Douglass Museum this weekend, presents the city's history through African-American women whose lives span the years from the Revolutionary War to the 20th century.

The women picked by Janice Hayes-Williams and Joan Scurlock, co-writers and co-directors, left a mark on Annapolis.

One of them, Ellen Burley Smith, was matriarch of the family that sold land for the old Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church, now home of the museum. Another, Jane Bishop, was the great-grandmother of William Bishop, a founder of the Annapolis Emergency Hospital, now Anne Arundel Medical Center.

They owned land and ran businesses in the city well before the Civil War, lived side by side with their white counterparts and were prominent citizens. And together they paint a different picture of Maryland's capital.

"We're trying to present four African-American women who showed a side of Annapolis that a lot of people probably didn't know about," said Scurlock, an Annapolis resident. "They couldn't vote, but they could pretty much do whatever else they wanted to do."

The production features Scotti Preston performing all four roles: Moll, a slave at Charles Carroll house during the Revolutionary War; Bishop, whose 99 years in Annapolis included the early 1800s, when nearly half the city's population was black; Smith, a closet abolitionist before the Civil War who was arrested several times for encouraging slaves to run away; and Georgia Boston, spiritual adviser to John Snowden, who in 1919 became the last person hanged in Annapolis.

Although the stories are of African-Americans, they reveal aspects of slave owners and other whites who were part of their lives. The purpose is to make the presentation one of "multicultural history," Williams said.

"In order to bring you Ellen Burley Smith, I have to bring you the Worthington story," which is the family that owned Smith, a former slave, Williams said. "We're cobbling out this whole web of inter-relation in the city. A lot of descendants are still here."

Many of them, black and white, are expected at tomorrow's 7 p.m. opening performance, the writers say. Museum officials said nearly all 120 tickets for that night have been reserved. The other performance is at 7 p.m. Saturday.

"Annapolis has been just waiting for something that speaks to Annapolis," Scurlock said. "There's an awful lot of people in Annapolis who have been here for generations."

Williams and Scurlock said they came across the names of these women as they researched their genealogy. Scurlock researched Moll and Bishop, who she later discovered was her husband's grandmother four times removed.

Williams became interested in Smith through newspaper articles that showed her being arrested several times, but never convicted. Boston caught her attention as she researched Snowden's death as part of an effort to get the governor to grant a posthumous pardon. Boston was a spiritual attendant to Snowden, helping prepare him for death, taking his last statement and witnessing the execution.

Both writers said they hope the presentation will help change the way people see the history of Annapolis.

"It's given me a new significance to the stomping grounds where I grew up," said Preston, an Annapolis native. "It brings a new connection to my Annapolis."

Tickets are $12, with reduced prices for seniors and students. Reservations: 410-216-6180.

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