The Washington Post 

February 02, 1995, Thursday, Final Edition 

SECTION: Weekly - Maryland; Pg. M03   

HEADLINE: Negro Mountain Keeps Name; Support for Identity Prompts Board to Deny Sign Change  

   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 demonstrated."  

   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 Shore."  

   However, Nemesis said that he was not afraid, that he would go with Cresap and fight alongside him, "but," he said, "Nemesis will not come back."  

   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 Negro?  

   "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 pejorative names.  

   "We entertain proposals and hold hearings," he said, "and we were able to determine that it [the name Negro Mountain] had been used historically."  

   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.