The Library of Congress, its digital strategy, and crowdsourcing

Screenshot of the homepage of the Library of Congress’s Crowd program

In late October, I asked the Preservation Directorate of the Library of Congress (LOC), about what they decide to digitize and if they have a process similar to NARA (National Archives and Records Administration, called National Archives in the rest of this article), with their own digitization priorities including working with external partners. After thanking me for my interest in the LOC’s preservation work, Jon Sweitzer-Lamme of the Preservation Directorate responded by saying:

The Library’s digital strategy is available here: https://www.loc.gov/digital-strategy. Our prioritization is driven by demand, such as demand for our presidential papers collections like the newly released Theodore Roosevelt Papers (https://www.loc.gov/item/prn-18-132/), and preservation needs, especially if an item can’t be served to researchers anymore due to its condition. We have excellent in-house digitization capabilities and also utilize external contractors and partners to digitize our content.

Generally, that does answer my question, but unfortunately the answer from LOC did not come soon enough for a class assignment I had where I asked reference questions in the same vein of different institutions (AskUsNow!, Maryland State Archives, and UMD Archives). I’ll post that on Academia.edu likely later this month.

This also shows the site is made possible with a partnership via Amazon’s SES [Simple Email Service], a worrying infiltration of public institutions with those from the corporate world. Even so, the Crowd program runs on open source software, so that is a positive.
Most exciting of all is not the digital strategy, but LOC’s new “crowd” program, which is a bit like the citizen archivist initiative of the National Archives which I have participated a bit with in the past. While there are only five campaigns to transcribe, review, or tag information currently, but it is only in its beta stage, so this will likely be expanded in the future, without a doubt. This could become something of linked open data at its finest, not only connecting people with content, but bringing them further into the process to make the usage of records more collaborative for all, going beyond past efforts. In the coming days, I will test out the site and let the rest of you know on this blog what it is like. They even tied in the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address to this program.

With that, this new program fulfills the digital strategy of LOC (without a doubt different than the one in 2000), which states that their mission is to “engage, inspire, and inform the Congress and the American people with a universal and enduring source of knowledge and creativity,” with initiatives such as this one trying to ensure that “all Americans are connected to the Library of Congress.” This is also connected to their strategic plan which has four major goals: expanding access, enhancing services, optimizing resources, and measuring results. As for the digital strategy it also notes the role of digital technology in fulfilling the mission of this institution, while also “throwing open the treasure chest, connecting, and investing in our future.” This strategy is also forward-thinking, stating that:

The Library’s content, programs, and expertise are national treasures…We will make that content available and accessible to more people, work carefully to respect the expectations of the Congress and the rights of creators, and support the use of our content in software-enabled research, art, exploration, and learning The Library will continue to build a universal and enduring source of knowledge and creativity…We will expedite the availability of newly acquired or created content to the web and on-site access systems…We will explore creative solutions to reduce the barriers to material while respecting the rights of creators, the desires of our donors, and our other legal and ethical responsibilities…We will continue to enable computational use of our content and metadata…The Library offers an incredible wealth of content, programs, and services to Congress and the American people. We strive to connect with more users by making those services and content accessible for all…Many of the Library’s digital users come directly to our websites to discover content. To expose even more people to the Library’s content and services, we will bring digital content to users by making more of our material available in other websites and apps that they are already using…We will continue to participate in professional organizations and cooperatives that expand our perspectives and enable us to share our experiences. Additionally, developing partners in industry can allow us to connect the Library with new areas of expertise and resources…We will cultivate an innovation culture by empowering our staff, who have expertise in a wide range of subject areas, including the work of Congress, United States copyright law, American and foreign law, and our collections..Our plans for the future must entail preserving and protecting our collections and content…While we plan for our future, we are also paying close attention to innovations and trends that will present future challenges and opportunities. Newer tools, such as augmented and virtual reality, computer vision, natural language processing, and machine learning, are already transforming how we live and work.

Screenshot of the opening section of LOC’s digital strategy

There aren’t many other articles on this subject [1], from a quick online search, but all of the ones I found are relatively positive, although some are more critical than others. Roll Call, in their article on the subject, described how the digital strategy is “digital forward,” advocated strongly by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden (who heads LOC, and formerly the Pratt Library in Baltimore), and Kate Zwaard, the Director of Digital Strategy. Most interesting in this article was not that Accenture, a huge contractor, won a contract “to build the long-planned new data center” for LOC, or that the plan includes “employing user-centered design to invite digital and physical visitors to explore more offerings” but that the organization has been stuck in the past, trying to shed this past, because it has “a computing system built in the 1970s to static processes for staff.” Having a 21st century computing system is important for LOC, which holds over 167 million items in its collections which sit on “approximately 838 miles of bookshelves,” making it the “largest library in the world.”

FedScoop also wrote about the digital strategy, noting that the “The Library of Congress…is interested in exploring what artificial intelligence and similar technologies can do for its mission,” saying this focus on digital aspects is not “out of the blue” as LOC launched labs.loc.gov, “a home for digital experiments…last year…[and] it…recently began experimenting with geographic information systems mapping as a way to explore collections online.” Both are positive aspects, to say the least.

Finally, there is Cory Doctrow of Boing Boing, which often has short articles with little content other than the document(s) they are quoting from. Regardless, Doctrow describes how the digital strategy supports “data-driven research with giant bulk-downloadable corpuses of materials and metadata…crowdsourc[ing] the acquisition of new materials…[and] preserv[ing] digital assets with the same assiduousness that the Library has shown with its physical collection for centuries,” among other aspects. He interestingly notes how the LOC has an “outsized role” in the current digital era because it contains the Copyright Office, which is “patient zero in the epidemic of terrible internet law that reaches into every corner of our lives.” This clashes with the fact that Carl Hayden, the Librarian of Congress “is the most freedom-friendly, internet-friendly, access-friendly leader in the Library’s history, replacing unfit leaders who were brought down in grotesque corruption scandals” even though her leadership has fallen short, in Doctrow’s view, because “the Copyright Office is still a creature of Big Content, and it has direct oversight over your ability to modify, repair, sell, and use all of your digital property.” Still, he argues that

…this digital strategy is a very bright light, but it shines in a dark and menacing cave. I love the Library — I love its work, its collections, its diligent and thoughtful staff, its magnificent building. But for all that, the Library has become a locus of terrible policy that runs directly counter to its mission. The contradiction between the Library’s mission and its real role in policy has never been more clear than it is in this wonderful document. [2]

That brings me to the end of this article. What are your thoughts on this new digital strategy of LOC and its new Crowd program?


Notes

[1] Through a further search I found a snippet from the report on infodocket, dh+lib blog of the ALA, Digital Journal,

[2] James Tanner of Genealogy’s Star makes a similar point, but says that LOC is not “certainly not the leader in the number and value of their online offerings” since the “the recent history of the Library of Congress is far from promising” with the closure of the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room in 2013, and the “inherent contradiction in the current efforts of the Library of Congress due to the fact that they are also the agency responsible for the controversial access policies inherent in the United States Copyright Law because the Copyright Office is an integral part of the Library.” This means, as Tanner argues,due to “Congressional action, use and access to many valuable research materials have been overwhelmingly restricted” while adding that
“policies and budgetary constraints at both the Library of Congress and the National Archives have severely limited the number and availability of digitized records from both institutions. It would be a huge change if this present plan includes real changes in the number and availability to access items in both institutions collections.” Still, he is optimistic, saying that “it will be interesting to see what will happen, although I do not expect any significant changes during what is left of my lifetime,” although he says that the Internet Archive “may become the largest library in the world considering its growth during the past few months and years assuming they catch up with the National Library of Australia.”

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A novel idea: a library on wheels to serve the homeless?

Since the 1980s, the homeless population in the United States has expanded due to Reagan administration policy which deinstitutionalized those deemed mentally ill, coupled with a breakdown of marriages, stagnant wages, spread of illegal drugs in cities, increased poverty, and expensive housing, all putting strain on public services. In the city of Baltimore, the main library, the Enoch Pratt Free Library (herein called the Pratt Library) has a mobile jobs center, book mobile, and other services that help the homeless. However, their policies of no loitering, having offensive body odor, sleeping, lying down or appearance of sleeping on library premises, undoubtedly lead to conflict with those who are homeless, a population which does not have means of other individuals and may have mental illnesses. Homeless people are sometimes restricted by existing library systems, even though libraries are becoming pseudo-homeless shelters since libraries provide necessary services for these unique library patrons. [1] While the exact number of homeless Baltimoreans is not known, possibly numbering in the thousands or tens of thousands, 90% of whom are either Black, White, or Latino, who could be assisted by library services. [2] This blogpost, which was part of a submission which was unceremoniously rejected today by the board of In the Library with the Lead Pipe, focuses on the idea of a library on wheels, without a fixed location, that serves homeless Baltimoreans. It is my hope that this post will either inspire individuals to create an institution like the one posed in the scenario or to improve their public libraries to be more accommodating to the homeless populations in their respective cities.

A library without a physical location has been rarely been realized beyond the efforts of the Quaker Mobile Library in London, Street Books in Portland, Words on Wheels in Texas, Endita Kelley and her Book Bike in Los Angeles, a floating library in Norway, the Bibliomotocarro in Italy, Dashdondog Jamba and his library on a camel’s back, to name a few apart from mobile bookstores like the Book Barge, or bookmobiles of different types, with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions even creating guidelines for “mobile libraries.” Sharlee Glenn wrote about the latter in her recent nonfiction picture book, Library on Wheels: Mary Lemist Titcomb and America’s First Bookmobile, which focused on Mary Titcomb, a librarian who created the first bookmobile in the U.S. Let us suppose there is an institution called the Baltimorean Homeless Library, or BHL for short, which allows homeless individuals access to information, like usual patrons of library, and use other resources. It would have no physical building, but have bookmobiles, colorfully painted by kids in Baltimore City schools, displaying their name, website, and other contact information, let us suppose. This institution would hand out cards with food, legal assistance, shelter, employment, and welfare information like the Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL) system. It would also, in conjunction, not charge fees for their service like the Pratt Library, would allow homeless individuals to use shelter addresses as their permanent addresses, and some members would give informational talks at Pratt Library branches, universities, and at other public institutions. With such resources at their fingertips, homeless patrons would be able to effectively participate in the U.S. society, including creating their own books, which would be added to the collection of such an institution. This library on wheels would, furthermore, go to where homeless people are living, whether in Baltimore’s varied shelters, tent cities, or wherever, having social workers, job counselors, and licensed practitioners on staff to serve their needs, including helping the homeless get more permanent places to stay, be that a home or a rented space. In order to accomplish this objective it would work with the Behavioral Health System of Baltimore, the BCPL system, Housing Our Neighbors, Homeless People’s Action Network, Youth Empowered Society (YES), St. Vincent De Paul of Baltimore, Archdiocese of Baltimore, Baltimore Outreach Services, Health Care for the Homeless, the Baltimore Station, United Way of Central Maryland, the Interagency Council on Homelessness in Maryland, The Journey Home, and the Baltimore City Government, including the Mayor’s Office of Human Services and the Baltimore City Health Department.

What has been outlined so far is only part of this scenario, as what would be needed is a collection development policy for the institution itself, which would serve as a way of developing the collection of such an institution. This policy, let us say, would be modeled after Goddard College’s collection development policy for the Eliot D. Pratt Library, and would be periodically reviewed and revised every two years, with input from all staff members, in order to make sure it is in tune with current trends and developments. Furthermore, this policy would support information needs of the homeless Baltimoreans by working with advocacy groups and governmental institutions, and making sure that selected materials led to social growth and information enrichment. Since such an institution would not have the resources of the Pratt Library, printed books, newspapers, and other publications would be the mainstay of its collections, but would have a few e-readers. Additionally, in order to encompass the whole swath of the homeless population, most of the materials of such an institution would be in English, but some would be in Spanish, and others would be specifically for those who visually impaired. In addition to these aspects, materials would be selected by the staff of such an institution, allowing recommendations from the served population, and weeding out any materials deemed unnecessary, ensuring that selected resources have high quality in their factual, artistic, or literary style. At the same time, the collections of this institution, let us say, would have a wide diversity of expressions and views, including the religious texts of all the world’s religions, some of which may be controversial to either users or staff, even when not every idea or representation within the collection is endorsed, and any items published by hate groups listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) not be stocked as part of our collection or any other content deemed hateful after consulting with advocates, and other institutions. Any materials that would be damaged by bugs, by mold, or smell smoky would not be brought into the collections of such an institution, and any challenges to materials would undergo a specific procedure.

Without getting into the specifics of this institution too much, it is worth noting what its organizational structure, based on the organizational structure of the Pratt Library let us say, would look like. It include a chief coordinator, individuals concerned with public relations and institutional enrichment, and four departments: administration, patron services, collection development, and external relations to serve its homeless patrons. Let us also suppose that this institution is a public non-profit since its startup money came from a Mighty Cause crowdfunding campaign, with those who give money to an ongoing campaign getting perks for their investment in this effort, including hats, t-shirts, and tote bags. Let us also say that this institution would follow all applicable SEC (Security and Exchange Commission) regulations and federal laws, including the JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act, which specifically mentions crowdfunding. In the case of this scenario let is suppose that in 2017, $100,000 would be raised from crowdfunding, and $50,000 in projected 2018 costs. Once the transaction fees from crowdfunding, rewards to crowdfunders, crowdfunding plan, and all elements of library operations were considered, the general fund would only be $67,812 in 2017 and $26,124 in projected 2018 costs.

With this scenario roughly outlined, I hope it has given another perspective to this topic which was not deemed “academic” enough for those In the Library with the Lead Pipe. I had hoped to publish there, but that isn’t going to happen, unfortunately.

P.S. The original article I wrote and sent to them in early October, minus the unnecessary beginning section, which I have uploaded to academia.edu for your consideration. They claimed this wasn’t academic enough, saying I hadn’t dug into the “literature on the homeless/diverse users and libraries” and that it “reads like a paper for a lib school class,” adding that at the time it was “not a journal article in its current form, even though it may be an interesting way of approaching the issue…I would suggest that the author rework the material and ideas, do deeper scholarly research on the topic.” I did rework it, and they STILL rejected it, which annoyed me.


Notes

[1] For varied perspectives on this topic, please see the Annoyed Librarian in 2015, “Libraries Don’t Need the Homeless,” a webpage about the Kansas City Public Library’s efforts, the I Love Libraries website, and a librarian writing about the homeless, along with articles in AP, Book Riot, Capital News Service, Delaware State News, Detroit Free Press, Fox2, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Reuters, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Salon, Sioux City Journal, South Seattle Emerald, The Guardian(second article here), and Washington Post (second article here, third article here).

[2] For more information, please see Colin Campbell’s Baltimore Sun articles in 2013 (“As Winter Approaches, Baltimore Struggles to Deal with How to House Homeless”) and 2016 (“Youth Homelessness in Baltimore Higher than Previously Thought”), Linda Loubert’s “Mapping Urban Inequalities and Analyzing Homelessness with GIS” in 2010 and a 2016 article in Afro titled “Baltimore’s Homeless Population Continues to Grow.”))

[3] For more on this topic, specifically on crowdfunding, please see “9 Things You Need to Consider for Your Crowdfunding Budget”; “7 Crowdfunding Tips Proven To Raise Funding”;  “Top 10 crowdfunding sites for fundraising”; “Top 20 crowdfunding platforms”; “The Real Cost of a Crowdfunding Campaign (And How to Budget Correctly)”; “6 Step Low Budget Guide to Getting Crowdfunding Backers”; “How Much Does Crowdfunding Really Cost?”; “Benefits and Drawbacks of Crowdfunding”; “How to Set Up A Crowdfunding Campaign”; “How to Choose a Crowdfunder”; “What Is Crowdfunding?”; “Crowdfunding 101: Writing a Budget”; “Crowdfunding Campaigns Come With a Growing Price Tag”; “What is Crowdfunding and how does it benefit the economy”; “The Basics of Crowdfunding”; “How to Set a Budget for Your Crowdfunding Campaign”; “What is crowdfunding?,” along with the small entity compliance guide of the SEC, appropriate SEC regulations as noted here and here, a SEC press release on crowdfunding rules, and specific parts of the Code of Federal Regulations which mention crowdfunding.

UMD, the tornado warning, and the privatization of weather prediction

Front of the Diamondback in 2001. Courtesy of the UMD Archives.

On September 17th, sirens rang across the UMD College Park campus, with the issuing of a tornado warning by University of Maryland Police Department (UMPD) through an email alert and some students, like myself, being herded to the bottom of buildings like the Hornbake Library, as a result. As it would turn out, this warning was issued based on information from a private weather company, Accuweather. This led to stories in the Baltimore Sun, ABC 7, and Patch, coupled with comments from the UMD community, varied meteorologists and reporters. The rationale behind the UMPD issuing this tornado warning is understandable. In 2001, there was a tornado on campus which killed two female students, and seven years ago there was a similar case to what is happening now. While recognizing this history,  one question which arises: should UMD be relying on a private company to issue weather alerts?

While it is good to rely on multiple sources of information it is a step too far to choose a private source over a public source. As the UMPD stated in a press release on September 17th, “in the interest of public safety, the University of Maryland Police Department contracts with AccuWeather to receive real-time information on storm paths approaching the footprint of our campus community,” which sounds like UMD is outsourcing its weather warnings to a private company. Some may say that such a state of affairs is fine because Accuweather may have better information. While meteorology is not a perfect science, Accuweather is concerned about its bottom line and its shareholders, while public institutions like NWS are accountable and answerable to the public, but an institution like Accuweather is not in the slightest.

The company has engaged in despicable practices in the past. This includes putting out a false tsunami warning earlier this year, then blaming the NWS for “giving them” the information, and slamming the NWS three years before that for not covering a tornado which hit Moore, Oklahoma, even though they didn’t cover the tornado either! They also continue to employ predictive analysis, which includes long-day predictions of 45-90 days which are broadly inaccurate. The company also has violated people’s privacy, by their mobile app storing and sharing a user’s location even when they opted out, something that the company claims it has fixed after such privacy concerns.

There is a more nefarious element to Accuweather and other private weather companies: they are part of an effort to privatize weather prediction in the United States. In 2005, then-Representative Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania, proposed a bill which would have prohibited “federal meteorologists from competing with companies…which offer their own forecasts through paid services and free ad-supported Web sites.” While this effective privatization of weather prediction failed, the bill’s goal is something that private weather companies want.

Accuweather’s CEO, Barry Myers, brother of company’s founder (Joel), is a problematic figure. Putting aside that he is a lawyer by trade, he (and the company itself) said that Hurricane Florence wasn’t that bad, despite the fact that 44 people have died, along with the death of 3.4 million poultry and over 5,000 hogs in North Carolina alone. Myers is a big political contributor, not only to Republicans, like Mitt Romney, but to Democrats like Hillary Clinton.

In October 2017, the current U.S. president nominated Myers to head NOAA, at a time that his administration proposed “cutting the NOAA budget by 17 percent. Currently, Myers’ nomination is pending before the U.S. Senate, meaning that privatization of weather prediction will be up for a vote in this legislative body.

As a first step, the campus community and other concerned citizens should push UMPD to cancel their contract with Accuweather to receive “real-time information on storm paths” and push it to use information from public institutions like NWS to issue weather warnings or gain information on the paths of storms. The flagship educational institution of Maryland should be doing all it can to keep the campus community safe, using information from public institutions, rather than private ones.

This was originally slated to be published in the Diamondback but they never responded to me, and then I sent it to the Baltimore Sun on October 3rd as an op-ed with Tricia Bishop, the Deputy Editorial Page Editor, telling me “Thank you for the submission, but we’re going to respectfully decline to run it.” As such, it has been published here. Due to those denials, it likely will not reach the audience I originally intended, but I’m not completely sure what to do about that. I delayed the publishing of this article in hopes that my letter to the editor is published.

Baltimore region needs transit not transit phobia

Southbound train at Lutherville station, August 2014, courtesy of Wikimedia

Note: Below is a recent letter I wrote, which was published in the Baltimore Sun, online and in print. The bolded phrase, which is bracketed in the text below, is one I should have added before sending in the piece, but did not realize the error until after the letter was published. Oops. Some phrasing and such was changed when it was finally published, as I originally called Sandra German, Mrs. German due to her marriage noted in the letter, but the Sun changed this to Ms. Since this was published it has been shared on Facebook and by those in the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, some of whom I have been communicating with. In sum, Baltimore is my city, so I can’t just stay silent and I refuse to stay silent.

Recently, Greater Fern-Glen Community Association President Sandra German wrote a screed against the light rail (“Why Glen Burnie is opposed to light rail,” Aug. 2). As a user of the light rail and buses in the Baltimore area, Ms. German’s commentary deeply concerns me. The public transit system in the Baltimore area shouldn’t be cut back further, but rather should be expanded.

In 1965, as a recent article by D.W. Rowlands on the web site Greater Greater Washington noted (“Baltimore once had an elevated streetcar along Guilford Avenue,” July 31), Baltimore received money from the federal government to study a regional rapid transit system. Three years later, the city released a report proposing a “71-mile system with six branches radiating from downtown.” If the system had been built, Baltimore’s subway system would be comparable to the Washington, D.C. Metro. In 1971, rather than approving a complete transit system, a 28-mile initial plan was proposed, consisting of two lines which would later become the Baltimore Metro subway route (opened in 1983) and light rail line (opened in 1992). Sadly, the southern branch of the subway was cut due to opposition from Anne Arundel County residents. In this sense, the commentary by Ms. German is in keeping with historical mores!

As for what Ms. German had to say, it is not fair to paint the light rail’s users as a bunch of criminals. The majority of those who use the service are well-natured individuals going to and from their jobs, those going to sports games, tourists, or those going to the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, to name a few reasons. The point of a mass transit system is that everyone can use it, including some who are seen, rightly or wrongly, as unsavory types. [1]

The same applies to the bus system. Recently, Baltimore County Council members David Marks and Cathy Bevins have said that the bus service stop at The Avenue in White Marsh should be closed at 11 p.m. because of “large crowds of youth in the evening on the weekends,” claiming the youth are disruptive, uncontrollable and harming their own safety, after a recent fight at the White Marsh Mall (“Baltimore County council members urge MTA to reduce bus service to White Marsh Mall area after fight,” Aug. 8). For those who use such mass transit, especially those who are transit-dependent, it is not right to stigmatize them because doing so makes it clear there is a “race issue” at play rather than a concern about public safety, despite what Ms. Bevins told The Sun.

Eliminating the Glen Burnie stop of the light rail [2] would be another blow at the inadequate public transit system of Baltimore. Apart from having a better-run light rail or a Red Line in Baltimore, which is advocated by many, including the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, there needs to be a full-throated mass transit system for Baltimore. Already, the SmarTrip Card is part of the WMATA system, so why not have a physical connection [other than the MARC train*] between Baltimore and D.C. by rail? Additionally, Annapolis should be connected to Baltimore, possibly by extending the light rail beyond Glen Burnie, in order to further tie the state together. Having a complete and working mass transit system for the Baltimore area, rather than one outranked by those of Miami, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco, D.C., Chicago, Boston, and New York, is vital.

It is time that Baltimore live up to its motto still inscribed on many city benches (“The Greatest City in America”) by creating a world-class transit system, building upon the existing and inadequate transit system to make something that will benefit the people of the Baltimore area.

Burkely Hermann, Towson


Notes

[1] On ipetition is a petition (strongly pushed) to close the Cromwell and Ferndale Light Rail Stations started by none other than Ms. German. Currently 395 people have signed it. Some even say the Linthicum station should be closed too! Hilarously are the comments on the community association’s Facebook page that it is “horribly unprofessional and clearly not in support of any type of “community”…this person clearly has no idea what they’re talking about. Whoever is representing this association is the kind of person who ruins communities, not builds them up for the good of the people living there” and another saying “Horrible site run by a nasty racist woman. Not accurate about the area at all.” There are some positive comments of course, but many negative ones. The organization, with the page run by Ms. German herself as it seems from some of the comments, takes a clear anti-immigrant stand, saying that “I think it’s time to secure the boarders, build the wall, and make sure these kids are given back to their parents” and talking about the “illegals” (undocumented immigrants). They also oppose affordable housing, watches for what they see as crime (like this post), and praised those in the Sun who did not call her racist, reprinting her screed, which was also published in the Gazette in a shorter version. She is clearly preparing for some sort of fight, possibly even in court, apparently, angry at efforts to keep the light rail open, even threatening the Baltimore Sun with newspaper cancellations if her letter was published. She thanked the Maryland Gazette for covering a protest of the association opposing the light rail, which she claims is “unaccountable.” I have a strong sense she supports the current U.S. president.

[2] Its officially called the “Glen Burnie (Cromwell)” stop of the Light Rail, or Cromwell Station. It is in Glen Burnie, despite one of the comments which said it isn’t…

Lisa Oakley and the saga of John Plant

On June 26, I received a voicemail message from Lisa Oakley, a family eldercare coach in California, about her Maryland ancestor, John Plant, a member of the Maryland 400. [1] This blog aims to address her email, adding new information to John Plant’s story. I begin by using content from existing blogposts: “The post-war lives of Maryland’s revolutionary soldiers“; ““Ready to march Southward”: The story of the Maryland Extra Regiment”; “The story of the Extra Regiment’s ordinary soldiers: From McCay to Patton“;  and ““…the new Regiment now raising”: Continuing the story of the Extra Regiment.” All copyrighted material used falls under the fair use exception to U.S. copyright law as it is used for educational purposes here.

John Plant was a Charles County man who had fought in the Maryland Line, specifically part of Captain John Hoskins Stone’s First Company of the First Maryland Regiment, enlisting in Port Tobacco, Maryland. In 1781, as an experienced soldier, he served as an ensign, then lieutenant in the new Maryland Extra Regiment. He likely resigned in January 1782 as he could not retain this rank in the new unit. Still he returned as a “supernumerary” to Annapolis, beginning to receive payments after his military service eventually resulting in a pension years later.

After the war, he lived in Charles County, becoming a “well-off small farmer and slaveowner who owned two horses, one cattle, and one enslaved black child.” On June 15, 1788 he married an eighteen-year-old woman named Mary Ann Davis, with some recalling his military service in later years.Later on, Plant and Mary lived in Washington, D.C., which was then a “largely rural and sparsely populated area which had thriving ports at Georgetown and Alexanders, in addition to the federal town of Washington City, which had about 8,200 inhabitants,” with slavemasters and over 7,900 enslaved blacks being an important part of society. Plant died in DC on November 14, 1808. Many years after his death, his widow, Mary, tried to get John’s pension payments but had trouble doing so, leading her to almost be “deprived of a pension.”

What new information does Ms. Oakley add to this story? Well, John Plant’s bio managed by the Maryland State Archives, which I originally wrote back in 2016, reflects some changes, but not all. She says that he went to Prince William County, Virginia after the war as a “tenant farmer,” with a witness to his will being a “tavern owner just to the south side of the Occoquan River.” The will she attached is transcribed below, which was  tough due to the quality of the image she sent of the will (likely because it was taken on a cell phone). However, by  happenstance, someone else had transcribed this already (which I stumbled upon), so I’ll reprint their transcription, with bolding being my  emphasis:

JOHN PLANT Will

Prince William County Will Book I, pg. 3414 [sic, 414?]

10 Nov 1808; proved 5 Dec 1808

In the name of God Amen I JOHN PLANT of County of Prince William and State of Virginia being sick and weak in body but of perfect mind and memory knowing it is appointed for all men once to die do make and ordain this my last will and testament that is to say principally and first of all I give and recommend my soul into the hand of Almighty God that gave it and my body I recommend to the Earth to buried in decent Christian bureal at the discretion of my Executrix nothing doubting but at the general resurrection I shall receive the same again by the mighty power of God and as touching such worldly estate wharewith it has pleased God to bless me in this life.  I devise and dispose of the same in the following manner and form.  First I give and bequeath to MARY PLANT my loving wife al my estate real and personal for and during her life and at her death to be equally divided between my two daughters GRAYSON and SARAH to them and their heirs forever.  I constitute my loving wife MARY PLANT my sole Exetrix of this my last will and testament.  In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this tenth day of November in the year 1808.

JOHN PLANT {seal}

Witness

ZACH WARD

DAVID JOHNSTON

At a Court held for Prince William County Decemr. 5th 1808

This last will and testament of JOHN PLANT decd was presented to the Court by MARY PLANT the Executrix therein named who made oath to the same according to law and being proved by the oaths of ZACHARIAH WARD and DAVID JOHNSTON is ordered to be recorded and the said Executrix having performed what is usual in such cases certificate is granted her for obtaining a probate thereof in due form.

Teste

J.WILLIAMS  Ct. Cur.

I tried to look for another version of this on Family Search and Ancestry, but was sadly unsuccessful.We do know from this that he died between November 10 and December 5th. According to his pension, we know he died on November 14. Finding his cemetery may be extremely hard, as there are no results for the name Plant in Prince William County, Virginia and Find A Grave lists 279 cemeteries in that county! We know that Prince William County sits right on the Potomac and is 36 miles away from the heart of D.C. Still, possible candidates  for where he could be buried includes Woodbridge, Sudley Springs, or elsewhere. Yet, the family narrative, noted at the end of this post claims he is buried in Charles County, Maryland. But no results come up for Plant in that county either. Some sources seemed to say he had land in the county.I looked at MDLandRec to see if I could find anything. I found a listing for Horatio Plant in 1814, interestingly enough:

He is listed on Liber 213, no. 10, p. 519

I looked further, finding a James Plant in 1755 (Liber A, no. 1 1/2, p. 345) and 1757 (Liber G, no. 3, pp 129, 157). On the next page there were no listings for any individuals with the Plant surname at all! Looking at it in another indice gave me the same exact result:

Should be IB, not JB

I tried to look for Liber A, no. 1 1/2, p. 345 but no results came up. The link to it in the Guide to Government Records did not work when I tried it. I looked at pages 129 and 157 of Liber G, no.  3. It shows James Plant owning a piece of land called St. Michaels, which was 100 acres in 1757. Other records that year show Plant buying even more land, related to the Saint Michaels tract, from Richard Coffer. The next set of records are in 1814. Its between George Bradley Stewart of D.C., Horatio Plant and his wife Mary Cassandra Plant of Montgomery County, MD, Mary Eleanor Stewart of Montgomery County, MD, and William Dement of Charles County, MD. George, Horatio, Mary, and Mary paid William Dement $500 for a tract of land called South Hampton which is between tracts owned by John Thurman Stoddert (later a congressmember who would introduce Mary Ann’s pension claim), and Mary  Truman Fendall. And that’s it!

I checked on Plats to see if there was anything on Saint Michaels. It turns out there was an entry, but it was back in 1664. But, it doesn’t seem to be on Plats. I did find South Hampton however. It was unpatented in 1799. There is a long history, with the specifics of the land. The land itself is basically a set of rectangles and squares, nothing to write home about:

Courtesy of plats.net

The family trees on Ancestry aren’t very reliable on this subject, claiming that John was born in England in 1755,  with debate on whether he died in  Charles, Maryland or Prince William County, Virginia, USA. I seem to think that he died in the latter place. [2] The one Ancestry user, Adam Perry, writes that “John lived for a time in Northern Virginia in Prince William County based upon his will and my ability to locate one of the witnesses to the will.” Both of these trees cite the U.S., Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970 database, which is notoriously unreliable, having no source for their information put reprints, some pages from his  pension:

Through Ancestry’s Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files database, I  was able to find the whole pension, which I have uploaded as a PDF onto this website (I eliminated the pages with little or no content, as they are irrelevant).

But, saying he lived in Washington, D.C., as my old bio said, was not totally wrong, as it says now: “By 1808, the family had settled in Prince William County, Virginia, not far from Washington, DC.” [3] This connects to the fact that 6 months before he died (in November 1808), ” he apprenticed his sons Nathaniel and John to business people in DC.” The records are shown below:

In her third point, she writes that “John Plant had a sister Sarah Ann Plant Stewart Jones” with her obituary she was “able to determine that she attended St. Ignatius Parish prior to moving to DC in 1795. It states that she was born in Charles County.” That record, from page 3 of the National Journal on September 26, 1829, is shown below:

On her fourth point, she says that “Mary Ann Davis, [as] 2nd wife to John Plant,” living out “the rest of her life in DC with her youngest daughter Sarah Ann Plant Hay and son in law.” She adds that Mary Ann died in 1841 with a “burial location is the now- abandoned St. Patricks Church cemetery in DC” (as also evidenced by the Find A Grave she put up) with “notes written up by Agnes Plant who was the great-granddaughter of John Plant of Revolutionary War.” Mary’s obit is shown below, and after it is from the notes written by Agnes Plant.

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Interestingly, we find (abstracted from John’s pension) that “William Stewart, age about 62, deposes that when he was about 12 years old, he recollects hearing of the marriage of the said Mary Ann and John Plant in Charles County, Maryland that the said John Plant was his mother’s brother and this deponent lived near them.” This being the case, it means that William is a grandson of John, with William’s mother being a sibling of John. William’s mother is Sarah, who was talked about earlier in this post.


Notes

[1] In 2017, she had emailed me in saying that she believed that “Horatio Plant d. 1840 (son of Ann Shepard) was also the son of John Plant. I believe that Ann was his first wife and may have died in childbirth,” going onto say that “Ann is the sister of the famous Francis Shepard, their family has been written about at Port Tobacco and the property there that was handed down from their father John Shepard”  and that she has “a copy of John Plant’s Will, however, he only names his two daughters Grace and Sarah.” She was, at the time, looking for anything that named “Horatio Plant, or have some advice to give on finding it.” Later that year, she appreciated my transfer of John Plant’s virtual grave to her, and said that connecting to Owen Lourie helped, adding that “both Horatio, and John Plants other known son Nathaniel were in the same regiment for the war of 1812. Nathaniel is the one who took/picked up the pension paperwork for May Ann Davis.”

[3] The last paragraphs of the bio now read: “Plant settled in Charles County after his military service, at least for a few years. He was a modest farmer, who probably did not own any land, although he did have one slave. On June 5, 1788, he married Mary Ann Davis (b. ca. 1770) in Charles County. They had four children together: Grace (sometimes called Grayson), Sarah, John, and Nathaniel. [5] By 1808, the family had settled in Prince William County, Virginia, not far from Washington, DC. Plant apprenticed his sons to masters in the city that spring. John was indentured to William Worthington, a cabinetmaker, and Nathaniel to a cordwainer, or shoemaker, in Georgetown. Only six months later, in November or December, John Plant died. In 1835, Mary Ann applied for a Federal veteran’s pension as the widow of a Revolutionary War soldier, and she eventually was awarded $95 per year. She died in 1841. [6]” I posted  the older version on academia.edu.

Michael Marshall’s correction and the story of Moses Orme

Page 1 of deed between William Murdoch and Moses Orme in July 1778, via MDLANDREC

Recently, a man named Michael “Mike” Marshall, who is a transcriber/abstracter, and evidently the owner) for a website called Early Colonial Settlers of Southern Maryland and Virginia’s Northern Neck Counties commented on my blog, saying

RE: [4] Deed between William Murdoch and Moses Ouno, Montgomery County Court, Land Records,July 13, 1778, Liber A, p. 195, 196 [MSA CE 148-1]. Courtesy of mdlandrec.net. Not sure how pages of Liber D, 166 and 167 [MSA CE 148-4] relate to this topic as one source suggests.

=== Moses Ouno is Moses Orme
Montgomery County Land Records, 1777-1781; Liber A1, Page 195. Jul 30, 1778 from William Murdoch of Prince George’s County, merchant, to Moses Orme of M, planter, for 492 £ 12 shillings and 6 pence, a tract of land called Shawfield, being part of a tract of land called Discovery, bounded by John Coffee’s land, Samuel Blackmore’s land, containing and now laid out for about 281-1/2 acres. Signed – Will:m Murdoch. Wit – Chrisr Lowndes, Rd Henderson. This deed was ack. by William Murdoch in Prince George’s County. John Read Magruder, Clk, Prince George’s County, certified that sd Christopher Lowndes and Richard Henderson, Gentlemen, were JPs for sd County. Recorded Nov 10, 1778.

I responded by saying that I may have read the name wrong, then looked back at the deed itself, showing, yes, the name is Moses Orme, not Moses Ouno as I had written in a previous post. In that previous post, focusing on the life of Benjamin Murdoch, a captain within the Extra Regiment of Maryland, I was referring to that fact that in Benjamin “later settled some of his deeds in Montgomery County in the Orphans Court with his relatives there reportedly,” hinting that the William Murdoch who “bought a part of a tract named Discovery from Moses Ouno” was related to Benjamin because he would buy this land “in later years.”

Page 2 of Deed between William Murdoch and Moses Orme, via MDLANDREC

The question that comes out of this is obvious: who is Moses Orme? Marshall’s website lists three men named Moses Orme. The first was born on Oct 31, 1755 in Prince George’s County, MD, and dying in November 1827 in Lewis County, Kentucky, and is likely related to another (his father?)who was born in 1693 in Prince George’s County, and had his probate on December 17, 1772 in the same country. While the first one could be him, he had no abstracted wills in Montgomery County. The last Moses Orme does: he was born about 1730 in St. John’s Parish, Prince George’s County and had his probate in Rockville, Montgomery County Feb 12, 1782.

Abstracts on Orme’s page, show that he had three sons (James, Moses, and Samuel Taylor), a wife named Priscilla (Verlinda seems to be his first spouse), eight daughters (Mary, Ursula, Verlinder, Rebecca, Harriet, Eleanor, Priscilla, and Charlotte). It also notes that when he wrote his will in 1772, he owned 100 acres, stock, and had at least eight enslaved Blacks, if not more (possibly four more), along with varying farm animals.He began such a lifestyle by buying, for “30 pounds sterling” a “portion of the two said tracts containing by approximation 50-1/2 acres” in 1761. By 1774, he gained more land through marriage. After his death, his son Moses, “sold by these presents part of a tract called “Taylorton” alias “Taylor’s Rest” and containing 51 ¾ acres” which had been bought by his father in 1761. This Moses may the same one living in Annapolis by the 1830s.

Nothing else is currently known about this man except what is written by Florence Bayly DeWitt Howard for the Montgomery County Historical Society  in 1994 (uploaded here), also noting the history of  the Orme  family in the area:

William Murdock Junior in 1778 conveyed Shawfield, “281.5 acres,” to Moses Orme for 492 pounds 12 shillings 6 pence and in his will of 1782, Moses Orme gave “Shawfields known by the name Discovery” to his wife, Priscilla (Taylor) Orme during her widowhood, and after her death to his son James Orme. Priscilla Orme was left with three sons, one married daughter and seven younger daughters, a large family. It is not known exactly when the Ormes moved onto the tract Shawfield but Moses Orme is listed in the 1777 Montgomery County tax list in Rock Creek Hundred with four taxables. The early owners of Discovery were residents of present-day Prince George’s County and had patented and purchased it as an investment, expecting that the land would increase in value as settlers moved into the area, which it did…In 1787 William Murdock Junior, who by this time was a merchant in London, executed a deed to Priscilla Orme and her son James, which stated that Moses Orme in his lifetime contracted to purchase 281.5 acres, part of the tracts “divided between brothers William and Benjamin Murdock by virtue of a judgment in partition…all that part of said land so willed to him by his father William Murdock which was assigned to him upon the execution of the partition aforesaid.” Priscilla and James Orme had paid 500 pounds for the land and it was conveyed to them…Shawfield, the western half of the northern section of Beall and Edmonstons Discovery, was still the home of the Ormes at the time of the 1793 county tax assessment. Priscilla Orme was listed with 285 acres of Shawfield and eight slaves. By 1810, the land was assessed to her son, James Orme. James made his will in 1829, several years before his death in 1832, leaving Shawfield to his wife Rebecca during her lifetime and after her death to their three sons, Jeremiah, William and Patrick Addison Orme. He instructed his children to free his slaves when the female slaves reached the age of 30 and the male slaves at age 35. Rebecca Orme must have died by June 11, 1841, when William Orme and his wife Anna Maria Orme of Washington, D.C., Jeremiah Orme of George Town, D.C., and Patrick A. Orme and his wife Anna R. Orme of Baltimore sold the land. They conveyed, for $2800,their 281.5 acres of Shawfield to Edward Stubbs…Although the conveyance from the sons of James Orme to Stubbs did not mention it, in 1827 James had sold one acre of Discovery, just inside its north line, to William Beckett for $30, the deed stating that the land was commonly called “The Old Cabbin” and was “in the tenure of said William Beckett.”…Many families have lived on this land that was once Beall and Edmonstons Discovery: three generations of Ormes, four generations of Stubbs, and so many other families. Today the land belongs to the residents of Montgomery County and is visited by people from far and near. It has become our treasure and part of our heritage, to be cared for and enjoyed and passed on to future generations

We know from other sources that the Orme family lived in Montgomery country. We also know that Moses Orme, on the pauper list in 1783, came a “well-known, financially stable” family, and was living “in the Lower Newfoundland district.”

That is all that is known, but it adds a little more to Maryland history.

Writing for the Maryland State Archives

From May to November 2016, I worked at the Maryland State Archives as a researcher on the Finding the Maryland 400 Project. While there I wrote a number of blogposts, which are as follows:

    1. Col. Gaither: Seven years on Georgia’s frontier (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu). I expanded upon that blogpost in my post on this blog titled “From the Revolutionary War to the 1790s: the Creek Nation in the Southern Gulf Region
    2. Col. Barton Lucas: more than a military man (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    3. Sickened Marylanders and the Philadelphia Bettering House (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    4. Persecuted in Revolutionary Baltimore: The Sufferings of Quakers (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    5. A “little groggy”: the deputy sheriff of Baltimore and his “bowl of toddy” (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    6. The political climate of Baltimore in 1776 (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    7. A “dull place” on the Patapsco: Baltimore and the Marr Brothers (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    8. “Flecking the hedges with red”: Palmer’s Ballad on the Maryland 400 (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    9. “The misfortune which ensued”: The defeat at Germantown (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    10. A Short Fight on Hobkirk’s Hill: Surprise, Blame, and Defeat (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    11. British “masters of the field” : The disaster at Brandywine (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)

Many of these posts were noted in a SAR report

I also wrote 91 biographies of Revolutionary Marylanders. They were on the following individuals:

  1. Hezekiah Foard (bio re-posted on this blog and academia.edu)
  2. Barton Lucas (bio re-posted on this blog and academia.edu)
  3. John Mitchell (bio re-posted on this blog and academia.edu)
  4. John Sears (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  5. Henry Mitchel (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  6. William Dawson (bio re-posted on academia.edu and Find A Grave)
  7. John Lowry (full text of bio re-posted on academia.edu since previous bio was not archived) [since been been changed by current researcher Natalie Miller, current changed version here]
  8. John Neal (bio re-posted on academia.edu and Find A Grave), and his wife Margaret, adapted from that.
  9. John Hardman (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  10. John Plant (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  11. George Lashley (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  12. Andrew Meloan (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  13. Robert Ratliff (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  14. William Marr (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  15. Solomon Slocum (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  16. Henry Chew Gaither (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  17. Samuel Goslin (bio re-posted on Find A Grave)
  18. Josias Miller (bio re-posted on Find A Grave)
  19. Matthew Murry (bio re-posted on Find A Grave)
  20. Michael Nowland (bio re-posted on Find A Grave)
  21. Ezekiel Pearce (bio re-posted on Find A Grave)
  22. Benjamin Ford
  23. Charles Smith
  24. John McGlaughlin
  25. Neal Dearmond
  26. Thomas Donolan
  27. Richard Doyle
  28. John Gorden
  29. William Grimes
  30. Thomas Hamilton
  31. John Haney
  32. Thomas Holland
  33. William Martin
  34. James Matthews
  35. William McGlaughlin
  36. Thomas McGuire
  37. Edward McKinzie
  38. Joseph Mongomery
  39. Charles Pritchard
  40. James Reed
  41. Patrick Reed
  42. Samuel Thomas
  43. Joseph Dixon
  44. Edward Ford
  45. Alexander McConaughey
  46. James Murphey
  47. John Harris
  48. Isaac Buttrim
  49. John Callenan
  50. Christian Castler
  51. Richard Cheaney
  52. Samuel Elliott
  53. James Garner
  54. Godfrey Gash
  55. William Hammond
  56. Philip Harley
  57. James Hogg
  58. George Horner
  59. Thomas Hunter
  60. Nicholas Marr
  61. James Marr
  62. John McCoy
  63. Alexander McMunn
  64. James Mutton
  65. Mathew Neeley
  66. William Nevitt
  67. John Reed
  68. Thomas Reed
  69. William Rogers
  70. Charles Turner
  71. Thomas McLanhlan
  72. Thomas Stern
  73. John Read
  74. John Redman
  75. Richard Goldin
  76. Edward Marr
  77. Thomas Certain
  78. Patrick McCann
  79. James McHendricks
  80. John Marr
  81. John Porter
  82. Richard Pursel
  83. Benjamin Quimby
  84. William Stibbings
  85. William Thompson
  86. Barnet Turner
  87. Stephen Videto
  88. William Wright
  89. William Holmes (since been revised/fixed up by current researcher Natalie Miller)
  90. Samuel Jones
  91. Robert Harvey

The Society of John Gaither Descendants praised my work on the Henry Chew Gaither biography, writing

“It is timely during our celebration of our nation’s independence, that SJGD member Sue Gaither Vanzant alerted us to an updated and expanded biography of Revolutionary War Captain, Colonel Henry Chew Gaither. The biography and an excellent account of Colonel Gaither’s life written by Burkely Herman[n] is located on the Maryland State Archives site dedicated to the Maryland 400. Mr. Herman[n] is a 2016 Maryland Society of the Sons of American Revolution Research Fellow. The blog and biography provide valuable insight into the times in which Colonel Gaither lived and his service to our country…Society member, Sue Vanzant, through her own research, played an important role in expanding the biography of Colonel Gaither [which I wrote].

I used the information of varied Marylanders to write two following blogposts:

My series on the Extra Regiment, which are listed below, also sprung from my work at the Maryland State Archives:

I also wrote “From Alexander McMunn to Hezekiah Foard: Maryland soldiers in Cecil County after the revolutionary war” which I put up on academia.edu, which was based on the bios of Alexander McMunn and Hezekiah Foard.

My other posts on this blog were somewhat inspired by the work I did at the Maryland State Archives but not directly connected to the work I did there:

Then the most recent two posts are basically about genealogy, inspired by what I wrote on Packed With Packards:

That’s all of what I have wrote and put together.


I also re-posted bios of the Archives’ project on Find A Grave, which I didn’t write, but posted in hopes of ancestors finding them:

  1. Peter Brown
  2. Edward Blacklock
  3. William Chaplin
  4. Thomas Connor
  5. Elisha Everit
  6. Jacob Holland
  7. Philip Jenkins
  8. Henry Leek
  9. Elizabeth Cox
  10. Margaret McCane
  11. Monica Kennedy
  12. John McClain
  13. John McClain (other)
  14. Mark McPherson
  15. James Mitchell
  16. James Murphy
  17. David Plunket
  18. Patrick Nowland
  19. Francis Osborn
  20. Nathan Peak
  21. Daniel Rankins
  22. Basil Ridgely
  23. Robert Sapp