After finding my way back into painting through the Blue Dog, I embarked on what I envisioned as several paintings telling the story of the Port Tobacco River. For almost a decade my wife, Sherie, and I had walked the length and breadth of the Port Tobacco Watershed sampling the water, counting macroinvertebrates, and accompanying environmental scientists documenting the River’s health. I wanted to step back to a time before the Port Tobacco River silted in from the poor farming practices associated with the rush to exploit the demand for tobacco. Port Tobacco was still a power in the Colonial geo-political landscape. I began reading the copies of Maryland Gazette that were available online. Almost immediately I stumbled across a notice in the August 16, 1759 edition advertising the arrival of 350 choice Gold Coast Slaves in Nanjemoy on board the True Blue. My first question: Did I know any of the descendants? No—the community stories of that time are lost. But I was soon drawn into the powerful story of the Slave Trade, and the True Blue proved to be a microcosm of the entire epoc. Three ships bore the name True Blue. All came from the burgeoning port of Liverpool and were connected by one entrepreneur, John Welch. Slave ships from Africa seldom ventured up the Potomac preferring to go to Annapolis and the ports in the Virginia Tidewater. What led John Welch and his partners to send this ship to the Gold Coast of Africa and then to Nanjemoy? It turned out to be a one-time venture to take advantage of a tax imposed by the colony of Virginia on slaves imported directly from Africa. This same law, however, exempted African slaves who originally landed in another Colony. The 350 “choice Gold Coast Slaves” advertised was actually 280 of which 242 slaves survived. This painting shows the True Blue anchored in Nanjemoy Creek on the night September 7, 1759. Many of the 242 would have already been sold and were coming to know enslavement as they walked to their new master’s properties. We know that 16 were eventually taken to Col William Preston’s Smithfield plantation in Blacksburg VA and 9 went to George Washington at Mount Vernon.
Oil on canvas 14x28 inches