Posts Tagged ‘history’

Celebrating History

July 11th, 2013

By Chris Ordiway, Naturalist Specialist

Photo of Alice Ferguson’s father, John Lowe, taken in 1905

It seems only fitting, during this month when we celebrate our Independence as a nation, to share with you one of our own connections to a military hero of years past. John T. Lowe (1838-1930), father of Alice Ferguson, was born in Liverpool, England. He moved to the United States and became a naturalized citizen in 1860 and joined the military the following year. He served in the Civil War and was injured during the First Battle of Bull Run (or the Battle of First Manassas if you fought for the Confederacy) and later transferred to the Navy as a 3rd Assistant Engineer.

His claims to fame during his military career include serving on at least 10 different ships, including his time as the engineer aboard the USS Bear during the Greely Relief Expedition to the Arctic. He was also instrumental in the Navy’s decision to accept the Holland submarine design based on his recommendations as an engineer. He was aboard the first trial of the Holland in 1898, which stayed submerged for 15 hours and fired a dummy round to prove that the craft was worthy of military service. He retired from the Navy in 1900 as a Captain but was promoted, retroactive to 1900, to Rear Admiral in 1911 for his continued service to the Navy even after retiring.

John Lowe N.17 Greely Exp

Greely Relief Expedition rescuers and rescued in Upernivik, Greenland, 1884

Although he was away a lot during his career Mr. Lowe was a family man that wanted to be at home with his wife and children. One story of note is that his ship returned to the League Island Yard in Philadelphia in the midst of a terrible blizzard. The crew hunkered down to wait out the storm but John was determined to see his family and have a hot cup of tea. He wrapped up in extra layers and walked through the storm for 7 miles, his wife had to steam the ice from his beard when he arrived home. A servant repeatedly cleared the sidewalk during the remainder of the night, when asked why he didn’t just wait until the storm was over he replied “Because the United States Government will be needing the walk clear soon.” Throughout the next day sailors came by to see the man “who walked home last night”.

Getting to Know Alice

February 5th, 2013

By Libby Campbell

Working in the setting of Alice Ferguson’s home is delightful for the atmosphere and view, however, peeking into the heart and mind of our namesake through her letters is on an entirely new level of pleasure and discovery. Visitors to the farmhouse get a glimpse of her personality through her self-portrait “Tired”, where she lounges on the sofa, turquoise T-strap sandals on her elevated feet, and favorite dog Caligula sprawled next to her on the rug. But it is in the letters that the quirky and unique Alice emerges. To her sister-in-law Eleanor she writes:

I am in deep disgrace at my doctors. I went this morning the usual Friday interveinous(sic) injection. As usual they put me on one of those high narrow cots that they wheel all over the place and gave the injection with orders not to move until they came back. In time the floor and walls stopped reeling, I began to feel almost normal, completely forgotten and a little bored. I discovered that if I laid still by humped my middle, the cot moved. I humped and the cot moved very pleasantly until all of the sudden the darned thing got up speed, rolled across the floor, overturned a metal chair and crashed in to the wall. The doctor and all the nurses came on a run and found me lying obediently still. I hadn’t done a thing but I slunk home with all possible speed.


That same year she writes about a frustration that seems to be as timely today to anyone dealing with government permits and processes:

I am so mad tonight I can’t think. To register a truck they sent you a 37 page pamphlet written in lawyers jargon. No one could understand it all and they finally implored people not to mail it as they had said you had to but to wait until today and take the stuff to a high school and get help in making out the application. I went this afternoon. The first thing they asked was how many trips the truck had made down into the farm fields in 1941, how many miles and what tonnage had been carried. How many trips away from the farm, with the load going and returning and how many trips specially for things. All that in 1941. Then you had to repeat it up to the present and estimate for a year in advance. I said I had no records for 41 and just couldn’t estimate. They refused to register the trucks and now I will have to travel all the way to Marlboro to appeal.


Alice, the gently raised debutante dived eagerly into running Hard Bargain Farm. This letter from the war time of 1942 shows how her farm animals were very distinct personalities to her:

My pigs have decided to join the allies. A sow gave me 14 babies last night and two more ladies due very soon. The hens have given up their strike and are doing 3 dozen a day. It is not good but a darned sight better than they have been doing. The cows are the sticking point now and there are three more weeks of drought ahead. I fixed up a warm loafing shed for them and now they do nothing but loaf and it is all we can do to get them out to take a walk. They refuse to drink enough water so they are getting a dose of salt in their food and the pesky critters still won’t drink. You are lucky to have a vegetable farm.


Alice’s letters and journals are a wonderful window on Southern Maryland rural life in the early 20th century. AFF’s Cultural Heritage staff and volunteers are greatly enjoying recreating the trials, triumphs and fun times of the Fergusons’ life here at Hard Bargain Farm.

History of Evening Chores

December 21st, 2012

By Ann Bodling, Children’s Garden Associate

It was drizzling as I headed down to the barnyard.  The sky was grey, dusk was early and most of the chickens had decided that staying indoors and dry, was preferable to being outdoors and wet. They didn’t seem to mind being closed in a tad earlier than usual.  Our laying flock includes Red Stars, Black Stars, White Rocks and Barred Rocks laying brown eggs in various hues, Leghorns laying white eggs and, Americanas laying lovely eggs of blues and greens. The chickens are housed in four coops built long ago, having sheltered literally dozens of generations of laying hens who have roamed the chicken yards, shaded by towering sycamore and sweet gum trees.  Like previous generations and the generations to come, our flocks roost on the old roosts and lay their eggs in the old nest boxes.

As is often the case on weekends, the farm was quiet and I was alone with the animals – a rich, sweet, peaceful aloneness in which everything felt exactly right, exactly as it ought to be.  As I made my way into the barnyard, the animals were waiting for me.  The watch-geese, I call them, have the loudest voices on the farm and sounded a raucous alarm that the evening routine was about to begin (someone has to do it, I suppose, and they have taken the responsibility to heart).  I gave the donkey his hay in the pasture, allowing the geese and I to scoot into their pen at the back of his stall. I closed them in and as they greedily gobbled their corn, I called to the turkey, already on his way to his own quarters. Eager for his own rations, he unhesitatingly marched into his pen and I latched the latch, leaving him happily pecking his way through dinner.

Turning my attention to the evening milking chores, I gathered the washing solution, washcloth and milk pail and headed in to Annie and Marmalade, already in place and munching blissfully on the fragrant hay. I breathed in deeply and smiled.  Though the world is filled with many wonderful scents, I don’t believe there are any finer than that of warm cows and good hay. I looked around the small old milking barn wondering how many cows had previously stood in the stalls that are now occupied by our cows, how many hands milked those cows, and how many gallons of milk had fallen  into shiny metal pails, just as I was doing and others will do after me.

Living and working on Hard Bargain Farm has allowed me to step into the history and the continuum of this place.  Wherever I look, be it barns or houses or the fields and woodlands, I am aware of those who have gone before, living their lives and taking their sustenance from this land. I am grateful to be a part of that continuum and for the opportunity to do the same.