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Web sites bring Panhandle history to life

November 25, 2000

Web sites bring Panhandle history to life



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Jim Surkamp is enabling the rest of the world to get a sampling of the rich history of the Eastern Panhandle.

That's important to Surkamp, because he believes the Panhandle is often overlooked in historical accounts.

"This area is full of untold stories. I've often told people this is the most historical rural area in the country," said Surkamp, a Shepherdstown resident who researches historical accounts of local people and events.

Surkamp has designed three new Web sites to tell the stories of three local historical figures: Martin Robinson Delany, a Charles Town abolitionist who was considered to be one of the greatest black thinkers of his time; Caroline "Danske" Dandridge, a prolific poet who lived in Shepherdstown; and Adam Stephen, the Revolutionary War figure who founded Martinsburg.

Surkamp spent months traveling the country, visiting colleges and institutes and combing through Web sites to gather information about the historical figures. He put the Web sites together using three grants totaling about $3,500 from the West Virginia Council for Humanities.

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Hundreds of pages of typed material, photographs and maps were used to create the extensive Web sites.

Martin Robinson Delany worked with other well-known abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass during the slavery era, but he sometimes alienated them with his thoughts about slavery.

Delany, who was born in Charles Town in 1812, believed there was no hope for blacks in the U.S., and he called for them to return to Africa, where he planned to establish a cotton industry that would undersell U.S. cotton producers.

Surkamp traveled to libraries and colleges in New Orleans, Cleveland and Washington, D.C. to collect the more than 30 writings and other material related to Delany that he has posted on the Web site (www.libraries.wvu.edu/delany/home.htm).

Caroline "Danske" Dandridge is a figure few people could learn about unless they drove to Duke University, which has 64 boxes of her writings.

Dandridge wrote poetry, more than 200 articles on gardening and four highly regarded history books, said Surkamp, who believes the writer would have been much more widely known if she lived in New York City.

Surkamp went to Duke to research Dandridge's papers and worked six months blending photographs of her life in Shepherdstown and more than 100 writings on the Web site (www.libraries.wvu.edu/dandridge/index2.htm).

Adam Stephen was a native of Scotland who worked closely with George Washington in the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.

The Web site for Stephen (www.libraries.wvu.edu/adamstephen/index.html) traces his wartime activity with maps, letters written by him and other data. Stephen wrote some of the letters to Washington. Surkamp said he gained access to them through the Library of Congress.

Although well-known locally, Stephen is generally overlooked, Surkamp said. He attributes that to Stephen's troubles in the military. He was outspoken and often considered a "loose cannon" because he did what he wanted on the battlefield.

A court martial was called for Stephen after he was blamed for "lousy generaling," Surkamp said.

"If you get a blemish on your record, history tends to forget you," Surkamp said.

Stephen studied to be a surgeon and worked as a farmer and businessman. He bought large pieces of land after arriving in America and built an attractive, two-story stone house at 309 E. John St. that is open for tours in Martinsburg.

Surkamp said he is attracted to researching local historical figures because he is fascinated with presenting the stories in new formats.

He believes a lot of compelling history stories are forgotten because there are "dull history teachers that have taken the fun out of it."

"I like bringing people in the past to life, like Lazarus. I like raising the dead," Surkamp said.

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