Part 4 – Uncovering History (continued)

 Cultural heritage” doesn’t consist of money or property but of values and traditions. It implies a shared bond, our belonging to a community.

In 2015 I needed a studio that was walkable from the ferry terminal to prepare for the installation of Welcoming the Stranger: building understanding through community based art at the Maine Jewish Museum.

The museum is located in the historic India Street corridor. This neighborhood has served as a commercial maritime center for Portland since the 1700s. I walked along the streets that had witnessed the arrival of refugees for centuries. City of Portland Maine. Maine.

Much of what I know about early African American history in Maine, I learned from the stone markers that comprise the Portland Freedom Trail.Freedom trail marker

Each marker is capped with brass plates commemorating significant events, persons and places in the history of the African American community – after Maine was admitted to the Union – leading up to the Civil War.

Every day, on my way from the ferry, I read another marker. Little did I realize I was also on the path taken by ‘refugees from slavery’ on the Underground Railroad.

Portland became a northern hub of the Underground Railroad because it was so easy to get to by rail and sea. People who helped African-Americans escape used railroad terminology as a code to describe their activities. People who moved the refugees were called conductors. The buildings that sheltered them were stations and the people who fed and clothed them until they were ready to move on were stationmasters.

One morning, as I crossed Newbury Street – the site of one of the oldest synagogues in Portland – I noticed construction fencing surrounding the location of the former Abyssinian Church and Meeting House.

By the early 19th century, Portland (Maine) had a small, vital African American population. Black Mainers were raising families and running small businesses. Many worked in maritime trades as sailors, longshoremen and fishermen. As the country was roiled by the question of slavery, African Americans in Maine became leaders in the anti-slavery movement, founding and leading local organizations.

The Portland Abyssinian Meetinghouse is the 3rd oldest African American Meetinghouse in the United States. It was built (1828 – 33) by members of the African American community. The meeting house housed a school for Black children, church suppers, concerts and religious services. Frederick Douglas and William Lloyd Garrison both spoke from the Abyssinian’s pulpit.

After the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act providing for the seizure and return of runaway slaves, members of the Abyssinian Meetinghouse organized escape routes for fugitives to England and Canada.

Although the 1866 Great Portland Fire destroyed the surrounding neighborhood, church members protected the meeting house by putting wet blankets on the roof. Thereby, not only saving its history, but preserving a cultural heritage of community, education, and freedom.

The fencing serves to protect what remains and to indicate future restoration – of not only the building – but of the African American community’s place in the history of Portland.

Digging Things Up

In 2020, Maine celebrated its Bicentennial.bicentennial plate

In 1820, as a result of the Missouri Compromise, Maine was admitted into the Union as a free state and Missouri as a slave state. Implicit in this event was the assumption that Maine was not involved in the slave trade.

Dr. Kate McMahon writes about the “complicity and connections of economies” that emerged in her research of the history of free African Americans in Maine. By 1820 she maintains Maine shipping vessels were still the predominant ships engaged in the illegal slave trade. The citizens of New England have been blind to the notion that “ their illustrious maritime traditions are deeply rooted in slavery.”

The economic forces that kept the institution of slavery alive were based on the triangular trade. Africans were captured, enslaved and transported through the Middle Passage, the route taken from Africa to the New World – North America, South America and the Caribbean. Slaves worked on plantations to refine sugar into molasses which was shipped to New England and distilled into rum. The rum was sent to Africa and traded for slaves.

…Salted cod was a cheap food source that kept well in the warmer climates of Cuba, South America and the Caribbean. Maine ship owners supplied salted cod to feed the slaves in exchange for barrels of molasses. Ship captains would sell the molasses to one of Portland’s seven rum distilleries.


In her presentation with Thomas Zeigler at the Maine Historical Society entitled Freedom’s Woods: The African American Community of Peterborough in Warren, Maine , McMahon describes her “archeological” approach to ‘unearthing’ the history of the largest African American settlement in Maine – known as Peterborough.

In her 10 year quest to solve the mystery of Peterborough, she reviewed receipts, tax records, census data, deeds, probate birth/death/marriage certificates, wills, newspaper microfiche, legislation, interviews, ship logs. (I believe I may have found a kindred spirit researcher.)

In 1775 Amos Peters, an African American slave, won his freedom by enlisting and serving in the Continental Army. At the end of the Revolutionary War, he was given 150 acres of land on South Pond near Warren, Maine by General Henry Knox.  (The reason behind the ‘gift’ remains a mystery.)

St._George_River_and_Main_Street,_Warren,_MaineSometime around 1782, Sarah (Peters) was brought to Warren as a slave. After slavery was outlawed in Massachusetts, Sarah successfully sued for her freedom and married Amos Peters. The Town of Peterborough was established.

By 1823, descendants of Amos and Sarah Peters constructed a school for African American children. It was the first school district in Maine designated for “colored people.”  The construction was paid from monies earned from the sale of an ‘excess of alewives.’


The economic decline after the civil war, loss of shipyards, westward expansion, as well as the collapse of alewife fisheries, probably contributed to the disappearance of the town itself.

By 1910 – the school closed due to the lack of students.

All that physically remains of the Town of Peterborough is a sign at the entrance to the cemetery, a cellar hole (possibly belonging to that of the school) and unmarked headstones.


There are no headstones for Amos and Sarah Peters.

The African American Town of Peterborough was established on land that once belonged to the Wabanaki. It was located 11 miles from Waldeboro – the current home of the Mednoka Heritage Seed Program – and only 10 miles from the Passamaquoddy middens.

Within this small triangle of land situated along mid-coast Maine, there are ‘remains’  of cultural heritages. Some we may wish to embrace. Some we may wish to erase.

  • Some of exclusion, betrayal, denial, appropriation.
  • Some of inclusion, truth, belonging, community.

Culture and its heritage reflect and shape values, beliefs, and aspirations, thereby defining a people’s national identity. ’The ‘Ethics of Cultural Heritage’ is a treatise on the complexities of the concepts underlying cultural heritage.

But in some ways it is simple:

      • Are we willing to listen to each other?
      • Are we willing to revise our beliefs?
      • Are we willing to re-examine our histories – personal and collective?
      • Do we want our cultural heritage to echo the underpinnings of the residents of Peterborough?

McMahon writes:

“I think what was most interesting about their (Peters) relationship is that they fostered the sentiment of freedom, of this love of liberty, of this notion of pursuing justice for themselves and for their families and this community.”

Part 4 – Uncovering History

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

There are specific tastes that I associate with the arrival of summer in Maine:

    • A perfectly ripe strawberry,
    • A warm juicy peach,
    • A handful of native blueberries,
    • And an ear (or 2) of just picked butter and sugar sweet corn.

Maybe it is a failure of expectation or a failure of memory but these tastes  seem to no longer exist.

Maybe what I should have been longing for is – an apple. apple.jpg

On Memorial Day the fragrance of lilacs envelops Peaks Island. By Indigenous People’s Day, the all-encompassing smell is of apple cider vinegar. Gnarled trees dot the landscape of the island. Like cemetery grave markers, they indicate locations of former orchards. Some are hidden by invasive bittersweet or native hops winding their way around trunks and branches.

In the autumn, ‘windfalls’ – apples blown down from a tree by the wind – carpet the island. They provide a steady source of food for the deer and the turkeys.  The neighborhood list-serve encourages anyone who wants apples to ‘come and take ‘em’ – as many as you want. There are de-facto apple ‘gleaners’ who gather specific windfalls to use in their favorite recipes.

Apples ground

Growing up in New England, we celebrated Johnny Appleseed Day in September. I read the story of Johnny Appleseed, the barefoot wanderer, who wore a pot on his head and planted apple trees across America. Many of us learned of his exploits watching a 1948 Disney feature, Melody Time,

In reality, John Chapman aka Johnny Appleseed was a shrewd businessman in the 1800’s who established orchards along the path of the westward expansion.

Starting in 1792, anyone willing to form a permanent homestead on the wilderness beyond Ohio’s first permanent settlement would be granted 100 acres of land. To prove their homesteads to be permanent, settlers were required to plant 50 apple trees and 20 peach trees in three years.

Chapman realized he could do the difficult work of planting and cultivating these orchards. He would sell them when the homesteaders arrived, and then head to more undeveloped land.

Although most of us are unable to identify a specific apple variety, a taste test determines whether it should be eaten raw, made into a pie, a crumble, apple cake, applesauce or even apple cider – sometimes even hard cider.


Almost  all apples grown during the early years of this country and westward expansion were turned into hard cider. Up until Prohibition, an apple grown in America was far less likely to be eaten than to wind up in a barrel of cider. In rural areas cider took the place of not only wine and beer but of coffee and tea, juice, and even water.  Michael Pollan in The Botany of Desire

There are 7,500 varieties of apples in existence throughout the world —2,500 of which are grown in the United States. The Maine Heritage Orchard is a ten acre preservation educational orchard located at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) in Unity, Maine. The orchard is currently home to 300 varieties of apples and pears traditionally grown in Maine dating back as far as 1630.

MOGFA offers an apple identification service or you can conduct your own research using John Bunker’s book: Apples and the Art of Detection: Tracking Down, Identifying and Preserving Rare Apples .


John also advises on how to make a perfect apple pie.

Throughout the 2020 summer, census takers counted Peaks Island residents. However, no one has conducted a census of island apple species.


At least, not yet.

Seeds of Heritage

Recently, I attended a friend’s family reunion. As each guest departed, they received 2 peach tree saplings of a rare, native heirloom –  an Indian White Freestone Peach. The species, once prolific in Maine, has all but disappeared.Peach trees

Each sapling was grown from seed by the students of the Medomak Valley Heirloom Seed Project in Waldoboro. It is probably the largest high school heirloom seed bank in the United States.

Medomak is Abenaki (Wabanaki) for “place (river) of many alewives”.

Alewives and other sea run fish have been critical to the economy and the ecology of the State of Maine and its peoples. Alewives are anadromous fish that spend the majority of their life at sea but return to freshwater to spawn.

Maine fishermen once boasted: “You could cross a river on the backs of the fish.” When the rivers were dammed to provide hydropower and electricity, the alewives almost disappeared. The removal of dams in Maine has resulted in the return of the alewives and a rebirth of rivers.

Historically, Maine towns frequently designated the taxes gained from the sale of alewives to fund schools.


A friend has been saving open-pollinated heirloom varieties of veggies and flowers for many years and now shares them with others via Etsy. She believes every seed has a story – a history.

She gave me a “spotted” bean known as Jacob’s Cattle bean or Appaloosa bean to grow in the community garden in Maine. Jacob cattle beans

This bean is a Prince Edward Island heirloom. Legend has it that it was a gift from Maine’s Passamaquoddy Indians to Joseph Clark, the first white child born in Lubec, Maine.

Lubec is the easternmost community in the U.S. and vies with Acadia National Park for the title of the first place to see the sunrise.

Known collectively as the Wabanaki Nation – People of the Dawnland – the four Maine Indian tribes are the Maliseet, Micmac, Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribes.

WabanakiMapThe Passamaquoddy Tribe hunted, fished, and gathered food along the coast for more than 12,000 years. Shell middens are evidence of their encampments. They represent the cultural heritage of these peoples and millennia of coastal interaction.


midden signIn the 1880’s middens were removed from the Whaleback Shell Midden in Damariscotta for use as chicken feed and fertilizer. ‘Monuments’ that commemorate a community, its people, and its traditions were destroyed.


Seeds of Reconciliation

In 2012, the Maine State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission was instituted by the State of Maine.  A Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an official body tasked with discovering and revealing past wrongdoing by a government. The Commission was to examine the impact of the removal of Native children from their families and their subsequent placement in foster care by the State of Maine child welfare system in the 1970’s. Revealing the history of government abuse and its impact on the lives of the survivors was a step toward reconciliation. It was hoped that the process would promote healing and system reform.

The multi-year process is documented in the film Dawnland. Listening to the testimonies and heartfelt stories, I realized how a truth and reconciliation process requires the willingness to examine the impact of our actions – both as individuals – as well as a society. 


Seeds of Redemption

The Museum of Women and the Arts in Washington D.C. opened its doors in 1987. Coincidentally, in 1987 I attended my first art history class. It was the beginning of my journey as an artist. The required texts were H.W. Janson’s History of Art first edition.


Throughout the semester, slide after slide depicting images of works created by male artists – predominantly of Western descent. I wondered why there seemed to be no artworks created by women.

At about the same time, the women artists in the New York art world were asking that same question.

In 1985, a group of artists formed the activist art group Guerrilla Girls, in response to a Museum of Modern Art exhibition of 169 artists with only 13 women and eight artists of color included. The anonymous group—composed mostly of artists using aliases borrowed from famous women artists, wearing gorilla masks to hide their identities—was hellbent on delivering institutional critique to the masses through striking advertisements that poked fun at the art world establishment while also calling out its deeply entrenched sexism and racism.

During lectures, the Gorilla Girls “awarded” bananas to individuals and institutions that did not promote work by women artists.



 “Cultural heritage” doesn’t consist of money or property, but of values and traditions. It implies a shared bond, our belonging to a community.

For the past 30 years, the themes in my artwork often emerge from little known historical facts reflected in current events – personal as well as societal.

I research primary sources: diaries, recorded interviews, newspaper accounts, government documents, – knowing full well that everything was not documented and everything documented was not representative of all views.

I struggle knowing that everything I learned in preparation and later represented in the works themselves, were only partial  truths – an interpretation of the ‘facts.’

My recent work titled Aletheia –  commemorates the  search for “the disappeared”  that takes place annually throughout Mexico.

05Aleteia tags (1)

Aletheia is a Greek word meaning an “unclosedness;” “the state of not being hidden;” “the state of being evident.”

 How do we determine the ‘actual’ facts and take them from being hidden to a state of being evident?

Cultural heritage doesn’t consist of money or property, but of values and traditions. It implies a shared bond, our belonging to a community.

How do we learn about histories that have been overlooked, misrepresented, denied, removed, appropriated?

How do we create a community of shared values and traditions?


To Be Continued: Part 4 – Uncovering History