“From oysters to politics, Perkins made his mark” (Kent County News, March 10, 2011. Craig O’Donnell)

CHESTERTOWN — Oysters and ice cream might seem to be strange partners, but they were a big part of life here during much of the 1800s.

From oysters to politics, Perkins made his mark
An 1863 ad in the Kent News urges custormer to visit the Rising Sun Oyster Saloon. Courtesy image.

It was all due to one man, who built up a small empire around food and real estate. He was famous enough to have been mentioned, from time to time, in New York and Cleveland newspapers.

The man was William Perkins, an African American referred to in records of the time as a “colored freeman” who was among Maryland’s wealthiest black businessmen in the mid-1880s. In 1884, his holdings were estimated at $12,000, a big sum at the time.

His father was a waterman, Samuel Perkins. An 1828 newspaper ad touts Samuel’s “Masonic Hall Oyster Establishment – Best York River Oysters.”

William Perkins was born about 1820. By 1841, he ran his own ad for “OYSTERS!” served in a newly renovated “cellar under the Odd-Fellows’ Hall.”

Periodically in the 1840s and 50s, ads for “Oysters, Barbering, etc.” appeared under the name Samuel Perkins, where his son seems to have learned his trade. By 1856 father and son both had a reputation as restaurateurs.

Perkins was married, sometime after 1850, to Frances Ann “Fannie” Anderson. He was 49 in 1870’s census (her age varies from census to census, but she was a bit older). They had a 14-year-old son William.

By 1857, William Perkins opened an eatery under his own name and called it the Rising Sun, at Maple (then called Fish Street) and Cross streets. It was still open for business as late as 1891, but the ownership by then isn’t clear.

He clearly understood marketing. While the Kent News didn’t carry an ad of his in 1868, he got press anyway. On June 6, the paper reported “A SURPRISE – Printers, as well as preachers, are sometimes the subject of a surprise!

“This was the case a few days ago, when we received from the establishment of the well-known caterer, William Perkins, a basket well laden with ice-cream, strawberries and cake.

“On trial, we found the ice-cream to be the real article itself, the strawberries fresh and sweet, and the cake, of different varieties, most excellent.

“Our readers may imagine that we had a nice time of it; and of they should feel a revival of the latent appetite for these good things, just in season, it may be speedily gratified by walking around to ‘Bill’s’.”

Over the years, he got an unusual amount of press in the local papers, owned by white men who rarely said much about local African American affairs. Much of that was because he wasn’t afraid to step out, in the late 1860’s, as a political figure.

By 1884 the newspaper referred to him as “the great leader of the colored Republicans in Kent,” but noted “Bill has had a severe spell of sickness lately.” Editorial style in those days isn’t always direct. This could have meant he was ailing, or it could have meant that his businesses and investments weren’t doing well.

The national recession of 1882-85 caught him, and he had trouble repaying mortgages, loans and bills from his Baltimore ice supplier.

No wills were recorded in Kent records for Perkins and wife Frances. Apparently, after business reverses in the mid-1880s, he sank into poverty and left Chestertown for Baltimore. Frances can’t be traced.

On May 11, 1895, the Kent News copied a Baltimore Sun obituary:

“William Perkins, colored, aged seventy-five years, died Saturday at the Home for aged colored People, on Lee street, near Sharp.” (This is probably the Aged Men and Women’s Home for Colored People at 214-216 West Lee St, opened in 1870.)

“He was born in Kent co., where he resided the greater part of his life. He kept a restaurant in Chestertown many years and was well known to the people of the Eastern Shore. He served as delegate to State and county republican conventions, and during President [Benjamin] Harrison’s administration was appointed to a position in the custom-house [in Baltimore].”

Harrison was president from 1889-1893. The paper offered that Perkins favored James G. Blaine, a Republican U.S. senator and secretary of state, who was defeated for the nomination several times and lost the presidential race in 1884.

“For years he had a very wide reputation as an oyster cook. Indeed many people to-day declare that Bill Perkins could beat the world cooking oysters! He succeeded by industry and application to business in acquiring considerable property, but lost it all ‘in politics,’ and died very poor.”

And yet his final resting place remains unknown.

Between 1841 and 1895, Perkins worked hard for himself and for the local black community. It seems he touched every major African American social issue in his time.

As early as 1852, he was concerned with rights for African Americans. With his neighbor James A. Jones (a butcher, grocer, and tavern owner, called a “mulatto”) he went as a delegate to the 1852 Baltimore Convention. There they spoke in favor of an African homeland for freed slaves. They were appointed to its platform committee.

After emancipation in Maryland in 1864, Perkins became especially active in Radical Reconstruction politics in the late 1860s, and remained a stalwart Republican.

The elections of 1870 and 1872 pitted Perkins against Plummer and Usilton of the Kent News. But 25 years later the local obituary called him “one of the noted colored men of the land.

“Perkins was probably the most popular leader of his race in Maryland – certainly on this shore. … He was not an educated man – not having the opportunities of his race in the present time to this end – but he had by self application and study gained a sufficient ‘book learning’ to enable him to conduct a successful business and take a leading part in all the church and charity organizations of his race in Chestertown.”

It said the Janes’ Church congregation is “indebted for the substantial and really handsome church property now owned by that organization.”

That may refer to a $1,500 loan he took out from the Preachers’ Aid Society in 1877, secured by several lots. It is likely the loan went to build Zion Church, which was near today’s Wilmer Park. Eventually, when Perkins went bankrupt, the Preachers’ Aid Society took possession of his “Perkins’ Hall.”

Perkins Hall was a meeting room built in 1862. It was located on the “Foot of Cross Street,” now Philospher’s Terrace, near his house on the corner, near his 1858 ice house. The hall was used for entertainment and holiday gatherings. In the 1880s it was the starting point for the Decoration Day Parade, organized by Charles Sumner Post No. 25, G.A. R., for both white and African Americans.


“Perhaps we can learn from you,” Adam Goodheart of Washington College offers collaboration yet continues scholastic & intellectual disgrace, shame & betrayal of sacred lost history of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass on the Eastern Shore

Charles Willson Peale, American - Portrait of John and Elizabeth Lloyd Cadwalader and their Daughter Anne - Google Art Project.jpg
Elizabeth Lloyd, sister to the man who built Wye House Plantation, and John Cadwalader, largest singular subscriber to support formation of Washington College in 1782.

Over the past year and a half researching and uncovering the lost history of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass I have developed invaluable and lasting relationships, friendships and partnerships with individuals and institutions throughout the towns and necks of the Delmarva.

Concurrently, I have accumulated and cultivated an antagonistic relationship with condescending and duplicitous individuals and institutions who have demonstrated they are dishonorable, disgraceful, irresponsible and incapable of properly and respectfully uplifting the humanity of the history from creek shores to street corners for peasants and presidents equally.

When afforded opportunity to speak with President Barack Obama I will forthrightly share my counsel concerning his misguided endorsement of an undynamic duo of intellectual and scholastic cowards in Yale University’s David Blight and Washington College’s Adam Goodheart. The indignity and blasphemy uttered upon Dr. Douglass last year in Chestertown cannot be erased from the record.

In the interest of the public record I am sharing email correspondence from Prof. Goodheart that can be confirmed with the Washington College Archives.

We do not appreciate having to shame these folks as abject intellectual perjurers and thoughtless promoters and educators of false history and White Man Lies mythology.

As we are currently engaged in a similar ongoing correspondence with the University of Maryland – Eastern Shore we post this correspondence in an effort to inform and instruct local historians that these folks cannot and should not be trusted.

Condescending and duplicitous Prof. Adam Goodheart of Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland (Kent County) with President Barack Obama, a Presidential Douglassonian.

Prof. Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the Starr Center For The Study Of The American Experience at Washington College, has continued to perpetuate and teach false history. Our dear friend has been disloyal to the kindness I offered and his feigned and insincere return offer to confront and counter his condescending duplicitous scholastic untruths.

Coming up as yungsters on the back of late night 70 buses held by griots sharing oral histories about the riots following the assassination of Dr. King, me and mines were instructed to reserve no reverence for those who cannot understand history from the perspective of the throne seat.

Upon the return of United States Marshal Frederick Douglass to St. Michaels in June 1877 to the bedside of his former master forgiveness was offered. Douglass shared he hated the institution that had enslaved both he and his master to the same system more than his did his master as a man.

Man respect man. Historian respect historian. The university does not respect the community and in return the community holds no respect for the university.

Initiated and affiliated with Master Historian Honorable William Alston-El I was taught the importance of preserving, respecting, honoring and recognizing the uplift of fallen humanity with the astonishment of heart history can offer.

With apparent abundant resources and connections, if Prof. Goodheart wasn’t a product of the Ivory Towers he may be interested and able to assist formation of a Frederick Douglass Youth Football Classic between indigenous Douglassonian communities of Old Anacostia and the Eastern Shore led by respected young men of their communities who have taken up the sacred Douglassonian tradition of reach one teach one.

Both coaches and communities understand and manifest the history of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass day in and day out and have expressed support for the building of bridges between communities across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and old Eastern Branch Bridge.

We do think Prof. Goodheart cares but he is part of the system which has oppressed and denied acknowledgement of this lost history for generations.

Therefore let history and collaboration of communities come together what will.


Ana Steelers -- huddle up
Coach Tony of Old Anacostia

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Four (4) emails sent from Prof. Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the Starr Center For The Study Of The American Experience at Washington College to John Muller, author of Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C: The Lion of Anacostia [The History Press, 2012]  Winner of 2013 DC READS and Mark Twain in Washington, D.C.: The Adventures of a Capital Correspondent [The History Press, 2013].

  1. February 1, 2018: in response to LTE, “Douglass college ties extended far and wide” [(1 Feb, 2018. Star Democrat (Easton, Maryland. Talbot County)]
  2. January 30, 2018
  3. January 24, 2018 (1)
  4. January 24, 2018 (2)

— xx —

From: Adam Goodheart <agoodheart2@washcoll.edu>
Date: Thu, Feb 1, 2018 at 5:27 AM
Subject: Star-Democrat letter
To: John H. Muller <jmuller.washingtonsyndicate@gmail.com>

Dear John,

I appreciate your well-researched and thoughtful letter to the Star-Democrat in today’s issue. I was aware of most of the ties to higher education that you mention, but not the Wilberforce University honorary doctorate. I’ll research on this end, and after finding confirmation in the primary sources — which I assume I will — I’ll inform everyone involved with the Douglass bicentennial events at the College, so that the commemorations later this month and into the future will convey the full and accurate extent of Douglass’s academic laurels. (And of course I’ll inform everyone that the scholarly credit for this work goes to you.) Trust me, John — I and many others here are committed to giving him the full honor he deserves.

The breadth of your Douglass knowledge impresses me, and I’m glad that you decided to share your scholarship to correct the record. I think you can now rest assured that anyone else in the future who is researching Douglass and honorary degrees, or Douglass and higher education, will find your letter.

Your book on “the Lion of Anacostia,” which I have finished reading, indeed reminds me of the important work of the late Dickson Preston. I’m glad that yours has received such widespread recognition — more than Preston’s did at the time of his publication, I believe.

Wishing you well,

— xx —

From: Adam Goodheart <agoodheart2@washcoll.edu>
Date: Tue, Jan 30, 2018 at 8:44 AM
Subject: Re: Frederick Douglass and Honorary Degrees
To: John H. Muller <jmuller.washingtonsyndicate@gmail.com>

Dear John,

I was interested to read your points about the Lloyds and Cadwaladers, which I have also been aware of for a long time. One of my former students did a good bit of research on this topic 10 years ago, as have I. As you’re probably aware, the Lloyds’ papers are now in the Maryland Historical Society, donated by the family some years ago. As the bicentennial unfolds over the rest of 2018 and beyond, I would like to do more research there on these connections. Perhaps sometime you and I can discuss that.

I’ve been working on these topics — and to honor Douglass — for many years now, ever since arriving at Washington College in 2002. As a teacher, I’ve taken classes many times over the years to Wye House itself, and to Douglass’s birthplace near the border of Caroline and Talbot Counties. The Anthonys’ house and slave quarters are long gone, but one can still see the “Kentucky” ravine that Douglass recalled. For five years, until 2014, I also led programs through the Department of Education’s Teaching American history grants where I brought groups of Maryland public school teachers from across the state to those sites, Cedar Hill, Fells Point, and other Douglass places.

I raised money, and continue to raise money, for Frederick Douglass Fellowships that support the work of both students and outside scholars in African American history. 
In terms of the honorary degree and Washington College’s continuing efforts, yes, I will make sure that they include ample discussion of Douglass’s role as a leader in higher education. I frequently quote the various statements he made about how knowledge unfits a man to be a slave — among the most eloquent words I know about the value of learning, teaching, and scholarship. I am sure that [redacted] will address this with his own customary eloquence.

I’ve been reading your book with interest and in terms of higher education history, was especially intrigued by your discussion of Douglass’s role as a defender of O.O. Howard. My friend Daniel Sharfstein — whom you may also know — recently published a biography of Howard, so I was aware of the controversy, but not of Douglass’s participation.



William Alston-El - Frederick Douglass wheat paste on lower MLK
Master Historian Honorable William Alston-El (1947 – 2018)
Founder of Old Anacostia Douglassonians
Recruited out of the streets of SE Washington, D.C. and tradesman training programs at Lorton Reformatory by Dr. John Kinard to work for the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum.
William uplifted fallen humanity with lost history on street corners for generations.

— xx —

On Wed, Jan 24, 2018 at 11:32 AM

Adam Goodheart <agoodheart2@washcoll.edu> wrote:

Dear John,
People are doing their best here to honor Frederick Douglass in the region and community where he was born and spent much of his formative years. 

As you and I know very well, it’s a complicated relationship: he was enslaved here, yet also came to embrace/celebrate his Eastern Shore identity later in his life and perhaps even seek peace here. The local African American community — which can justly claim Douglass as one of their own, just as Anacostians can — is very excited and engaged about the bicentennial and planning events throughout the year, many of them in collaboration with Washington College.

“Exploiting” is not what is happening. People on the Eastern Shore want to finally give Frederick Douglass proper honor as one of their own — and as one of the very greatest of all Americans — and the bicentennial is a chance to start making that happen. 

Its a process that will not begin and end with the honorary degree event, nor even with 2018. Rather, there is widespread commitment to make this an ongoing movement, and one that will have repercussions in the present and future: not just by studying Douglass as a historical figure, but by working to heal racial divisions in our community, empowering and providing new resources to those whom the legacy of slavery continues to harm. It sounds like this is very much in keeping with your own, and your fellow Anacostians’, vision for Douglass. Perhaps we can learn from you.

Since you’ve read my book, you know that I take accuracy and scholarly integrity very seriously. That’s also how I approach my work as a public historian, such as my assistance to the local Hampton Roads community around Fort Monroe in their successful effort to have President Obama declare it a National Monument. It’s also the reason that I asked you about the honorary degrees when we met for the first time at the AHA, just two weeks ago: I wanted to make sure that we got this right, and I respected your obvious expertise.

So where are we now? There are some things I can do, and some things I can’t do:If Douglass did in fact receive other honorary degrees, I can ask our PR office to change that part of the release. However, you’ll appreciate as a historian that I can’t ask them to do that without hard evidence. At the AHA, you mentioned four institutions to me: Case Western, Tuskegee, Storer, and Hillsdale. My colleagues and I researched all four of them, including contacting the college archives at each one, and all said that while Douglass did visit, he did not receive honorary degrees. I also looked up original newspaper accounts of Douglass’s visits to those institutions, and none of the press coverage at the time mentioned honorary degrees, except for the one at Howard. And I searched all the large newspaper databases and biographies for any mention of other honorary degrees but did not find any.

John, I took our conversation at the AHA very seriously and I responded to it. I also spoke with David Blight, [redacted], and [redacted], all of whom said they were unaware of other Douglass honorary degrees beyond the one at Howard. I can’t go further without primary-source evidence that I as yet do not have.

If you have information to the contrary, I am very ready to listen. I’ve already let you know that. However, making threats and insisting on a speaking invitation before sharing your knowledge is simply not cool. When someone asks me for information that I might have about the Civil War, I don’t ask them to invite me to speak at their institution first, or to buy my book first. I simply share the information, if I have it. I believe that’s what scholars do: we seek knowledge and then we share it. That’s simply my job.

I can’t change the honorary degree event, rescind David Blight’s or [redacted]’s invitations, or add you to the program. Among many other reasons, it was all set up months ago, before you and I had ever met. (I just returned this month from a year-long writing sabbatical, and most of the planning was done without me in any case.) It will, however, be just one of many events in the months ahead — and many of the others are ones more under my direct authority.

My Starr Center colleagues and I have the authority to invite you to play a role in one or more of the many future Douglass events that will take place in the months ahead. But we can’t — or rather won’t — do so in response to threats of disruption and negative publicity. 

Frederick Douglass was a gentleman, scholar, and diplomat — a man of poise, tact, and generosity. He believed in agitating when agitation was necessary — but he also believed in cooperating, discussing, sharing, and indeed honoring others for making an effort even when he felt the effort wasn’t perfect. Can we all move forward in his spirit?



— xx —

From: Adam Goodheart <agoodheart2@washcoll.edu>
Date: Wed, Jan 24, 2018 at 10:28 AM
Subject: Re: Frederick Douglass and Honorary Degrees
To: John H. Muller <jmuller.washingtonsyndicate@gmail.com>

John, I don’t doubt you or your research. However, the historian’s job — as you know — is to seek primary sources rather than accept things on faith from another scholar, no matter how knowledgeable or prominent. 

That’s why after David Blight told me that he thought Douglass might have received an honorary degree at Tuskegee, I went and looked up the primary sources. I discovered that Douglass visited and spoke there but never received an honorary degree from Tuskegee. If I made an assertion about the Civil War to another scholar, I would similarly expect him/her to check the primary sources before making any alterations to their own scholarship.

I would be glad to talk by phone with you about the other interesting points that you raise, the additional scholarship we should be aware of, and how we can address them at Washington College as the bicentennial unfolds. We are all learning.