02, 1995, Thursday, Final Edition
SECTION: Weekly - Maryland; Pg. M03
Mountain Keeps Name; Support for Identity Prompts Board to Deny Sign
Drive west on U.S. Route 40 and travel through Hagerstown, Hancock,
Cumberland and Frostburg, and you're sure to see, near Keysers Ridge, a large
roadside sign that might surprise you. It reads:
ELEVATION 3075 FT.
The wording of the sign has surprised so many motorists and travelers
that the U.S. Board on Geographic Names held a hearing last summer to change the
name to Black Hero Mountain. A Pennsylvania man who objected to the name Negro
proposed changing it. But enough people testified in support of Negro Mountain,
including officials from Maryland and Pennsylvania, private citizens and
historians such as Marguerite Doleman, of Hagerstown, that the board refused to
act, and the old name was retained.
As Edward Papenfuse, Maryland's state archivist, has pointed out, the
name Negro Mountain "reflects an 18th century sensitivity to the important
contribution African Americans made that is rarely so publicly
The mountain is part of a 30-mile ridge that runs diagonally from
northeast to southwest through Somerset County in Pennsylvania into Maryland's
Garrett County. It includes Mount Davis, which, at 3,213 feet, is the highest
point in Pennsylvania. Maryland's highest spot is Backbone Mountain, 3,360 feet,
at the southern tip of Garrett County.
Negro Mountain is a memorial to a brave man who knew that he was going to
die and in dying wrote a gallant chapter in Colonial Maryland history.
The mountain got its name more than 200 years ago in honor of Nemesis, a
large black man, according to "MARYLAND-A Guide to the Old Line
State," edited by Papenfuse. Nemesis was the servant of Col. Thomas Cresap,
who was well known on the pre-Revolutionary frontier, which separated the
colonies of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania from wilder country to the west.
Although the Maryland guide gives the year as 1774, Will H. Lowdermilk's
"History of Cumberland" sets the date at 1758. But the essential facts
are the same. America was still subject to Britain's King George III, but along
the edges of the mid-Atlantic colonies, American Indians under pressure from the
western migration of settlers, resisted, and a battle ensued.
Cresap, with his sons, Michael and Daniel, (another son, Thomas, had been
slain by Indians earlier that year) and a company of volunteers, set off from
Oldtown, near Cumberland, to waylay their opponents. The Indians were out to
avenge the Ohio River massacre of the family of their chief, Logan. The massacre
had been attributed, erroneously, to Cresap and had led to a general border
uprising by the Indians.
As they began the trip, Nemesis remarked that something told him he would
not return. Cresap offered to leave him behind, according to Hulbert Footner,
who gives an account of the story in "Maryland Main and the Eastern
However, Nemesis said that he was not afraid, that he would go with
Cresap and fight alongside him, "but," he said, "Nemesis will not
About 25 miles west of Cumberland, the expedition was attacked on the
mountain, and, in a running fight, Cresap's party killed an Indian. The Indians
evened the score by killing Nemesis, who was fighting alongside Cresap.
Because of the bravery of Nemesis, Doleman, who opened a black history
museum in her home in Hagerstown in 1975, said that she is delighted the name
Negro Mountain has been retained.
"You know, when I was a young girl I used to see that name, Negro
Mountain, when I was driving up there with my daddy," Doleman said.
"It bothered me somewhat, but then it raised the question in my mind: What
"If it had been named Nemesis Mountain, I probably wouldn't have
questioned it," she said. Now 74 years old, Doleman, who two years ago was
elected to the Black Memorabilia Hall of Fame, gives talks to elementary school
children in Washington County schools about black history and sometimes the
mountain. "I even got to Washington and Baltimore," she said.
"And those children are up with it; they ask all kinds of questions.
As for Negro Mountain, Doleman said it was important to keep the name so
others would learn about Nemesis. "Why lose your history?"
In agreement with this philosophy, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names
retained the name. The board, in Reston, is an advisory council to the
Department of the Interior. It receives some 300 to 400 proposals a year to
change the names of natural features, such as mountains, rivers and lakes.
"We don't initiate name changes," said executive secretary
Roger L. Payne, "except, of course, in the case of derogatory, obscene or
"We entertain proposals and hold hearings," he said, "and
we were able to determine that it [the name Negro Mountain] had been used
And so Negro Mountain lives on, as it has for more than 200 years. It is not everyone, black or white, who is honored with a monument more than 3,000 feet high.