Friday, January 29, 2010


Maryland's Contribution to Not Getting Burned at the Stake, and to the Origins of the U. S. Constitution's First Amendment
© Russ Barnes 2010. Photo and text.

ST. MARY’S CITY, Maryland, January 30, 2010. "Do you remember the European background out of which the early settlers came to Maryland shores?" asks Pete Himmelheber, my guide and historian of the St. Mary's County Historical Society.  
"Back in Europe, people got burned at the stake for what they believed.  It was different here in Maryland.”

Why was it different?
Maryland's history of religious tolerance becomes clear to anyone who visits St. Mary’s, Calvert, or Charles County, Maryland.  Himmelheber and others host heritage tours in this unique region.

The implications of this special Maryland area are contemporary given what we know, unfortunately, about religious conflict round the world.
“Tours of this region reveal beauty and soul.  And they also show our American heritage of religious freedom founded, largely, because of the way the state of Maryland started out,” Himmelheber tells me.
"In those days, kings persecuted whole other religious sects to preserve their own power and treasure" he explains.  Great numbers of those seeking to escape this religious persecution fled from Europe on two ships, The Ark and The Dove, and became the first settlers of what is now Historic St. Mary's City.

Given the intensity of the catastrophic religious conflicts in our contemporary  world, and their effects upon us all -- everybody -- the implications of what was achieved early on in Maryland state, three centuries ago, bear great significance.

As you will later come to understand, the achievement was "no piece of cake." So with that in mind, let's continue the story of how religious freedom evolved and continues, to evolve, in Maryland.

Soon after the The Ark and The Dove landed, other ships began landing at such places as St. Clement's Island.  “The settlers all came from different sects -- Anglicans, Puritans, Catholics, Quakers.  So the whole kettle of fish started all over again right here on the shores of the Potomac, Patuxent, and the Chesapeake.  Close by St. Mary’s City," says Himmelheber.
Himmelheber is a superb guide to these religious sites.  We pass through forests, fields, streams, and marshes of the region.  "See that steeple over there off to the left?" he points as we pass through Morganza in St. Mary's County.  "That's St. Joseph's Church. Roman Catholic.  When it was first built -- before 1700 -- it was deep down in that very valley, right over there.  Now, why do you think anyone would build a church in a valley rather than on top of a hill?" 
"They wanted to hide the church?" I queried. 
"Right you are!" Himmelheber affirms.  "You see, Lord Baltimore, who was Catholic, received a royal charter from Charles I in 1632 for the proprietary colony of Maryland.  Baltimore was personally committed to, and promoted what he called 'freedom of conscience.'  His hope was to establish tolerance within the Maryland colony as a way of protecting Catholics from the persecution they experienced in England." As it turned out, his work did more than even that.
We explore the Sir Christopher Wren-inspired Christ Episcopal Church in Chaptico; the Brick Chapel, built by the Jesuits in 1667, closed by Royal decree in 1704, and now under reconstruction.  Our itinerary includes visits to religious sites in all three Southern Maryland Counties: Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary's.  The list here is abbreviated (see links below). 
We go on to visit Trinity Episcopal Church (pictured above) one of the first churches in the American republic, overlooking a bluff fast by the St. Mary's River, then travel a brief distance down the road to the town of Ridge to see its "chapel of ease," St. Mary's Chapel.  "A chapel of ease (sometimes "chapel-of-ease') is a church building other than the parish church, built within the bounds of a parish for the attendance of those who cannot reach the parish church conveniently."

Want to follow this Southern Maryland story?  Check in next week for next installment.

Some of the places we visit:  We next explore St. Andrews Church in California not far from Sotterly Plantation; Our Lady Star of the Sea at Solomons Island, the oldest Catholic Church in Calvert County; the Mount Carmel Monastery at La Plata, the first monastery for women in the U.S.; St. Ignatius Church and Thomas Manor House high upon a hill at Chapel Point, Port Tobacco; and Christ Church, Port Tobacco Parish, at La Plata which, in 1904, was dismantled stone by stone in Port Tobacco and moved from there by ox cart to La Plata. 

You will see some peaceful looking places.  And you will experience some high drama.
[To be continued.  Check in next week for more of the story about religious freedom germinating in Southern Maryland]


St. Mary's County Maryland Historical Society,

Calvert County Maryland Visitor Guide,

Charles County Maryland Economic Development & Tourism,
St. Mary's College,

Wednesday, January 13, 2010



By © Russ Barnes

Years ago I was an executive for the Delta Queen Steamboat Company.  We operated paddlewheel steamboat cruises on the Mississippi River system throughout heartland America.  One of my colleagues, Dr. Don Deming of Newport, Kentucky once said to me, “We don’t sail to Paris.  We sail to Caruthersville, Missouri."

So this post is going to be a "looking back" travel story.

Days on the Mississippi conjure up the presence of Mark Twain.  Of Huck and Jim floating down the river on a raft.  Huckleberry Finn is one of the monumental pieces in the world of travel literature -- in the class of such greats as Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels.

One morning recently I woke up and read an astounding article in the New York Times by David Brooks and what he calls “the White Messiah fable” -- a provocative review of James Cameron's film, Avatar.

Brooks’ makes the point that there is a hackneyed plot in American film and fiction in which the white hero, as he ventures into the wilderness in search of fame and futune, encounters the poor, but spiritually superior, pure, and attractive, “natives."  He finds himself enamored of these people, and begins to disparage his own corrupt technological society. He soon emerges as "the white messiah" -- leading the native peoples, as Brooks points out, "on a righteous crusade against his own rotten civilization."

Aspects of this fable: The top dog must be white.  The simple, natural man must be admired.  Fictionally.  But the superior one rules in reality.  And it is a tricky superiority based on sentimentality and a false, flawed concern for the simple, indigenous native.

I understand this complex situation in several ways.  One time is when I was in first grade in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.  I was a member of a Cub Scout pack. Catherine, our pack leader, said we were going to go out and help the poor.  We arrived with cans of food at shacks out in the country.  One was made of cardboard.  Among the numerous children in one shack we visited, shockingly to me, was my one of my classmates in the first grade.  We gave the food like nice little boys.

A few days later, back at school, we were lining up at the water fountain.  There was my classmate -- the one to whose family we cubs had given food.  I offered to let him take my place in line in front of me.  I will never forget the look on his face as he declined the privilege.  He refused to be seen as a victim.  I’ll never forget his rebuke to me and his unforgettable dignity.

Civil War times.  Abolitionists in the North rally to stamp out slavery in the South.

Along comes Mark Twain from Missouri -- living and socializing in New England.  And so you get a book, Huckleberry Finn.  The two protagonists, Jim and Huck, travel.  Down river toward Cairo, Illinois, where the Ohio meets the Mississippi, the gateway, in those days, to freedom.

This is not a transcendental type of story.  It's down and dirty.

There, you find, in the story, you have an Afro-American man, Jim.  He is not idealized.  He is as real as any of us.  No matter where we come from, from wherever we started out.  Jim is superstitious, sometimes wrongheaded, and often in error.  Like all of us.  But he is also human and warm as Huck finds out.  Like all of us.

Huck is the white orphan son of an alcoholic father and a mother long-gone.  He is no crusader.  He feels guilty about helping a “nigger” come from slavery and find his freedom.  But his honestly warm and real human feeling for the man, Jim -- a feeling Huck gets back by a considerable amount -- earned for Mark Twain the title, in one critic’s famous phrase, “the Lincoln of our literature.”

No condescension either way.  Huck’s heart response to Jim was to no victim, but to a real human being.  Like Huck "to his own self." 

-- David Brooks, "The Messiah Complex," New York Times, January 10, 2010;
-- Nori Muster, for information on steamboats and the Mississippi;
-- Quick outline of Huckleberry Finn characters at,pageNum-459.html.

Monday, January 11, 2010



By (c) Joe Heidlemeier

My friend called me up Thursday. "Joe, it's gonna freeze, and I need help on the ranch. Can you come?"  Of course. My friend is 76, and we have been "podners" for over 30 years. Friday it's 20 degrees and I prepare to leave my warm house for the trip to Goliad. Old truck "Silver" idles in the driveway, waiting for another road trip. Full of all our things. Tools. Nails, screws, wire, and rope. My old rifle. Good whiskey for the cold evenings.

Friday is cold and gloomy. We check all the buildings, shutting off water, and getting ready for the next day. We are going to the other ranch to repair some hunting blinds for a February hunt sold to a group from Florida. Friday night is freezing. I'm staying in the old camp-house, sleeping on the couch. I have an electric heater and an old wool blanket that was my father's. Sleep with my clothes on. I can see my breath in the house.

Saturday morning we gather our things and drive a few miles to the other ranch. Takes about four hours to put everything in place. Cold. Windy. We get back to camp, and JoRae has eggs, biscuits, bacon and gravy ready. We have whiskey in our coffee. The rest of the day we spend putting out feed for the wildlife and checking equipment. That evening we have hot beans, rice and sausage.

Cold and tired, we go to sleep again.

Sunday is even colder. I get up at first light, make coffee, and feed the feral cats who gather at the door.  My friend shows up shortly and we make the rounds, breaking water in the troughs so the cattle can get a drink. We get back to the little house and JoRae again has breakfast ready.

We eat, plan our next adventure, and I go back out to my faithful Silver for the ride home. Halfway out of the ranch, gravel crunching under Silver's big tires, I stop, get out in the still frosty air, and say “Goodbye” to my beloved brush.

Still Loco Joe after all these years.


I was writing a kind of book in my head on the way back to Austin. Thinking about what I have done.  What I will do. The miracle of this weekend.  Me spending time with my 76 year old friend, and us acting the same as we were 30 years ago.

I'm young again.

Driving the old Ford, trying to figure out what my cold, tired self is going to make for dinner for my sweet wife this evening.

Going back again Friday. I wouldn't trade what I have done in my life for anything. I have trouble paying the bills, but I am rich.

Oh, dinner?  That’ll be wild boar tenderloin, beans, and salad. How Texas is that?


Years ago, I stopped in a barbecue place somewhere around Junction. I was guiding on a ranch in Sonora and was on my way home. The truck next to mine looked like it had never been cleaned out, and the guy who got out was grizzled and worn. My truck was neatly organized, and I had on my nice Camo that we guides were supposed to wear. I wondered -- where is this guy from? Now I know. He was what I was going to become. Now I know what all his piles of stuff were for. I have a first aid kit that would serve well in a small war. Spare everything. The other guides started calling my truck, Silver, "The Wal-Mart truck" because I carried so much stuff.

Wish I could see that guy again. Now I know he was a guide, and either on his way home, or to another ranch.

Now I am that guy.

NOTE:  The guest writer is Joe Heidlemeier.  He is an outdoorsman, a guide to hunting and the Texas wilderness, and assistant to the facilities manager for Trinity Episcopal School in Austin, Texas.  He lives with his “bride,” Karen Alexander, and their wonder-pup, Buddy, in Austin.  Joe often uses a phrase sometimes found in these posts: “Life is good in the brush.TM”  Joe owns the trademark to that phrase.  He also owns the copyright to the photo in this post.  Joe may be reached at and also on Facebook. -- RB