Eddie Johnson president of the Museum Of Afro American Ethno History, Inc. speaking before the distinguish group the Women’s Auxilary of The Massachusettes society of the Son’s of the American Revolution about, an Afro American First and an historical moment, the “Parting Ways” project.
About Parting Ways
I’m not really a major history buff, nor do I consider myself anywhere even close to an expert regarding matters of historical significance. Still, I like history.
I like what I consider to be real history, not that sort of pseudo-history that one finds lurking in the “immersive interactive environments” of many museums and internet sites these days, where a screen projects images of what might have been and nothing is left for the imagination.
I like looking at artifacts and trying to figure out what might have been, all by myself.
Touching the past
I admit it, I am a bit of a luddite. I like getting out in the dirt, rummaging in old abandoned cellar holes, searching for bits and pieces of a past that seems to be eroding like the land. I like to find rusting bits of old automobiles in parts of the woods, a chimney that once belonged to a house standing in a clearing, or a gravestone so marred by time that its letters are no longer legible.
They each remind me of what life is about and how quickly it all passes. They each give an opportunity to think about my relationship with the world and also of how I may leave my own small mark.
So, when I found out about a unique historical site called Parting Ways, I had to take a look for myself.
Parting Ways will not be found in many textbooks. It is not yet a mecca for tourists from around the United States. It does not yet have a museum to celebrate its rich and unique history. The names of the men buried there do not yet ring many bells. In fact, it is barely marked, easily passed, and undeservedly unremembered.
The story of Parting Ways is a story of four men: Cato Howe, Quamony Quash, Plato Turner and Prince Goodwin.
All were American Patriots of African descent who enlisted and fought in the Revolutionary War. Upon their return, the men were granted land by the town of Plymouth upon which they and their descendants established one of the first free black settlements in the United States.
The families of these men and those of their descendants lived upon this land and established a thriving community. The land was broken up, bought and sold, and whittled away.
Some claim that the original land granted to the men consisted of thousands of acres. Now under thirty remain, and these have finally been granted some measure of protection as they were sold to the Parting Ways organization by the Town of Plymouth.
The fact that they were preserved at all is something of a miracle when one considers the general myopic attitude towards historical sites. When it is politically or economically advantageous to do so, it seems that many historical sites are literally buried and bulldozed to make way for a highway ramp providing easy access to “attractions” or a ideal location for yet another quickie mart and gas station combo.
The land of Parting Ways, containing the cellar holes of the original settlement and the burial plot of the four Patriots, is located on MA-80 (Plympton Road), between the intersections of Bishops Highway and Willowbend Boulevard, and the land straddles the border of Plymouth and Kingston.
At first glance it doesn’t appear to be very much. From the road, it’s easily missed and hardly visible. A small and metallic government-issued sign announces its presence in a whisper.
A small area of land has been cleared, containing both the burial plot and dirt parking area, and a recently erected sign explains the historical significance. The sign, I understand, was erected at the expense of a descendant of one of the men.
In what appears to be an afterthought, a small wooden monolith holds an official marker reading: “National Historical Landmark.” The marker was erected in the late seventies and then, it seems, promptly forgotten and left to fend for itself.
The burial plot is understated, containing five gravestones that appear to be nothing more than stone stubs barely projecting from the soil and grass upon which they sit. Four of the stones belong to the men previously mentioned. The other belongs to an unknown person, perhaps another soldier.
In the center of the grave markers is an additional stone upon which the names of the men have been carved. Around the plot is a small white fence and a row of ground level field stones. The rest of the site contains the heavily treed forest and a path used by hunters on ATVs, a desecration, in my opinion, of hallowed ground.
Parting Ways should be as well-known as Plimouth Plantation, for it too represents a unique cultural crossroad in our Nation’s history.
The four Revolutionary soldiers who settled at Parting Ways formed what came to be known as the New Guinea Settlement, a settlement that lasted and survived into the early twentieth century.
The site was “rediscovered” in 1975, and excavation of the site began, led by the late Dr. James Deetz, a world renowned archeologist and then professor of Anthropology at Brown University.
The findings of the digs revealed a uniquely American settlement that shared traits of both colonial and African cultures. In many ways, Parting Ways/ New Guinea Settlement was a uniquely American place, melding disparate cultures in order to create something new. Add to this the fact that the burial plot contains four soldiers who fought in the American Revolution and you have a very special place indeed.
read the entire article in the Nov/Dec edition of the South Coast Prime Times [page 28] by Kenneth Sutcliffe /October 23, 2012