Enfilade

Exhibition | Flags and Founding Documents

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on July 4, 2021

13-star flag featuring a ‘Great Star’ pattern, ca. 1800–25, one of the earliest American flags known to survive
(Jeff Bridgman, American Antiques)

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Now on view at the Museum of the American Revolution:

Flags and Founding Documents, 1776–Today
Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia, 11 June — 6 September 2021

The summer exhibition Flags and Founding Documents, 1776–Today showcases dozens of rare American flags alongside historic early state constitutions and the first printing of the proposed U.S. Constitution of 1787.

The flags—many of which have never been exhibited before—trace the evolution of the Stars and Stripes through the addition and subtraction of stars as new states joined the Union and the nation battled through the Civil War. The flags serve as a visual narrative of America’s national story. The flags are showcased alongside historic documents including early printings of more than 16 different state constitutions and the Choctaw Nation Constitution of 1838 to shed light on the triumphs and tensions that the United States faced as it expanded and worked toward creating a ‘more perfect Union’. By telling stories from the nation’s revolutionary roots to its continuing struggle over equal rights, Flags and Founding Documents, 1776–Today encourages visitors to consider their role in the ongoing effort to fulfill the promise of the American Revolution.

The collection of historic flags is on loan from Jeff R. Bridgman, a leading dealer of antique flags and political textiles. The documents are on loan from the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation following their presentation at the New-York Historical Society in the exhibition Colonists, Citizens, Constitutions: Creating the American Republic (February 2020 — Mary 2021), curated by Dr. James F. Hrdlicka.

James Hrdlicka, with Robert McD. Parker and a foreword by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Colonists, Citizens, Constitutions: Creating the American Republic (London: Scala Arts Publishers, 2020), 208 pages, ISBN: ‎978-1785512070, $45.

Commodore Collection Now Preserved in Maryland

’30 Dollars Reward’ broadside for a man named Amos, detail, 11 February 1793 (Chesterton, Maryland: Commodore Collection). The full document with more information is available here.

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From The Washington Post:

Michael E. Ruane, “A Maryland attic hid a priceless trove of Black history. Historians and activists saved it from auction,” The Washington Post (28 June 2021). Among the artifacts is an account of escape from enslavement that is among the oldest ever found.

The 200-year-old document was torn and wrinkled. It had stains here and there. And it was sitting on a plastic table in the storeroom of an auction house near the Chester River hamlet of Crumpton, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Historian Adam Goodheart had seen it before, but only in a blurry website photo. Now, here it was in a simple framed box—a wanted poster for “A Negro Man named Amos” who had fled from his enslaver in Queen Anne’s County.

It was chilling. There, on cheap rag paper, was the story of American slavery. Amos was “a smart fellow,” about 20, who might be headed for his mother in Philadelphia. But in 1793 he was the property of one William Price, who wanted him caught.

The poster, or ‘broadside’, was one of hundreds of rare documents discovered earlier this year in the attic of an old house on the Eastern Shore and saved from the auction block by a group of Washington College historians and local Black activists. And the reward poster turned out to be one of the oldest known, said Goodheart, director of the college’s Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience in Chestertown, Maryland . . . .

The full article is available here»

Receipt for the ‘hire’ of an enslaved man, 15 July 1776 (Chesterton, Maryland: Commodore Collection). More information is available here.

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From Sumner Hall:

Sumner Hall is proud to share with our supporters the successful effort to rescue and preserve a significant collection of local records.

“The Commodore Collection of original historical documents on the early experiences of African Americans in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties is a rare find,” according to Dr. Ruth Shoge, First Vice President of Sumner Hall. “The documents, which are intellectually enriching, also evoke an emotional response to the harsh reality of the lives of enslaved and freed Black people in 17th- and 18th-century America,” she continued. “It is very important to Sumner Hall that this collection has been given to us in perpetuity. The ownership of this collection is an honor and, in a special way, a homecoming for the memories of our ancestors. This collection supports our mission of promoting an understanding of the African American experience within the overall context of American history and culture.”

Thanks to the efforts of local Black residents and the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College, approximately 2,000 pages of documents were purchased from Dixon’s Crumpton Auction this spring. The collection, named after Washington College’s first local Black alumnus, Norris Commodore ’73, will belong to Sumner Hall but is being conserved and archived at the school’s Miller Library. Mr. Commodore, who has deep roots here, gave generously toward the acquisition cost and was joined by the Hedgelawn Foundation, the Kent Cultural Alliance and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The papers are being digitized as a part of the Chesapeake Heartland Project, and several can already be viewed online here.

President of Sumner Hall’s Board of Directors, Larry Wilson, says, “The Commodore Collection is a very meaningful record of African American life and survival. I believe that it is very important to know our history and to learn from the lives of our ancestors as we work together for equal rights, justice and freedom in this county and across the country. We look forward to having exhibits at Sumner Hall based on these materials soon.”

Congo Mango’s bond on behalf of Cato Daws, 31 July 1800. Mango (later known as Congo Mander), a free Black man, purchased Daws in order to grant his freedom (Chesterton, Maryland: Commodore Collection). As noted in the document description, “This small piece of paper opens a window into the life story of a man who was born in Africa, enslaved in Maryland, gained his freedom, and helped others become free. He gave rise to a Black family that can be traced to the present day.” More information is available here.

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Sumner Hall, located in historic Chestertown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, is one of two existing African American Grand Army of the Republic buildings still standing in the United States. Built circa 1908 and fully restored in 2014, it serves today as a museum, educational site, performance stage, social hall, and gallery. Sumner Hall is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, funded by donations and memberships.