Safeguarding American history in our backyard
Someone once said that Shepherdstown’s most significant contribution was when local men met at Morgan Spring, and marched from there to join up with George Washington, in what is today known as the Beeline March.
The comment was spoken in 2012, at a Fourth of July “wayside” dedication, placed in front of Town Hall, titled “Spirit of 1775 Beeline March to Cambridge.” A map on the wayside outlines the distinct, separate locations of both Morgan Spring and Morgan’s Grove Park. Morgan Spring is privately owned and difficult to reach, unlike Morgan’s Grove Park, which is easily accessed along Kearneysville Pike.
Besides the wayside in town, there is a second source of accurate information on a sign inside the main entrance to Morgan’s Grove Park. Erected by the Washington Heritage Trail commission, it says, “July 16, 1775 from Morgan Spring, near this park” and “in August 2003 the Men’s Club voted to name the spring (in the park) Boteler Spring, to distinguish it from Morgan Spring, lying to the east of the park.”
Over the past few years misinformation has been spread, with the intention of presenting a false narrative. This narrative seems to be focused on deleting Morgan Spring from history; even saying “Morgan Springs, now known as Morgan’s Grove Park,” and changing its name to Beasley Spring on Google Maps. Ignoring facts to forward a specific agenda is subverting local, regional and national history.
In fact, Morgan Spring and Morgan’s Grove Park are not only two different places, but are also the settings for two different historical events.
In 1988, the U.S. Army celebrated their anniversary with a large and colorful event in the park. They wanted to hold the celebration at Morgan Spring, but the Conservation Fund, who owned the springs, didn’t want a lot of people milling about the property. They did not want attention brought to the springs, and so the Army held the event in the park instead. The Army presented the Shepherdstown Men’s Club with a bronze plaque which says “near this site . . .”
Morgan’s Grove Park is where the Boteler family lived on their farm, which extended to present-day Ridge Road; in 1864 Alexander Boteler’s home, Fountain Rock, was burned by Union forces during the Civil War.
The property became home for the Morgan’s Grove Fair for a number of years, after the original fair buildings were relocated from across the road. The Morgan family had offered use of their heavily wooded land (hence, Morgan’s Grove) for the first fairs. The Morgan family never owned the land that has become the park. The name of the fair and of the park honors the Morgan family, many of whom still live in the area.
From 1962-1966 my parents, Dr. and Mrs. F.D. Suttenfield, owned the historic house, Falling Spring, including Morgan Spring and the Old Stone House, circa 1734-1750. I was majoring in art at Shepherd College at the time, and spent a lot of time at Morgan Spring sketching, drawing and making paintings of the area.
In the 1973 issue of the Magazine of the Jefferson County Historical Society is a reprint of Alexander Boteler’s 1860 story, “My Ride to the Barbecue.” The JCHS preface said, “The Morgan Spring property where the barbecue was held is now owned by Mr. and Mrs. John Beasley, who have recently restored the old stone house that was the early home of the Morgan family. The stone house and ‘mimic lake’ still look very much as they do in Boteler’s drawing. This is where Hugh Stephenson and his men gathered for their famous ‘Bee Line March’ to Boston in 1775.”
In 1988, Falling Spring/Morgan Grove/Falling Spring Complex was nominated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places; today, Falling Spring, the old stone house and Morgan Spring are all Jefferson County landmarks.
In 1999, the Morgan’s Grove Historic District was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. Several years earlier, that nomination was only going to be about Morgan’s Grove Park, but the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office said the park did not have enough history to qualify for a NR listing, without expanding the nomination to include lands and buildings associated with the Morgan family.
If the Shepherdstown Community Club and other people want to expand the park’s history accurately, they should include the August 25, 1864 Battle of Kearneysville. It is documented in the Atlas of the Official Records as #21 Sketch of Actions near Kearneysville and Shepherdstown. According to local historians, there were about 20,000 soldiers, calvary and cannon in the vicinity of the park from 1-3 p.m. At the time of writing the NR nominations, this battle was not known about.
I hope that anyone who reads this article will become as concerned as I am about the attempts of rewriting history.
The idea of renaming Morgan Spring is appalling and should be stopped, and the SCC, which owns Morgan’s Grove Park, should be diligent to safe guard American history.
Diana Suttenfield is a Shepherdstown-based artist. Her work, which has received a number of national awards, often portrays historic locations and nature. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.