Earth Day with Adaline

Wheatley House dedicated by Spocott Windmill Foundation

SPOCOTT — A wise, hard-working woman revisited Spocott on Earth Day.

George Radcliffe, a member of the Spocott Windmill Foundation, said Earth Day is celebrated as a tradition at the windmill site. Most of the buildings at the site are from the 19th Century, and were part of the Spocott property or nearby properties. Mr. Radcliffe is descended from the family that lived at Spocott, along the banks of the Little Choptank River.

“Spocott has been in our family since 1663,” Mr. Radcliffe said in the rain on Earth Day by the windmill. “My great-grandfather (John Anthony LeCompte Radcliffe) was a major ship builder from 1849 to the beginning of the Civil War.”

The windmill property, which is open to self-guided tours all year, was originally part of Spocott and was deeded to the foundation. On Earth Day, Mr. Radcliffe and the foundation dedicated the Adaline Wheatley House, which was moved to the property and was formerly named Miller’s Cottage. Adaline Wheatley was an influential freed black who lived from 1847 to 1929. She spent her entire life at Spocott. George Radcliffe’s grandfather, George L. Radcliffe, who was a U.S. senator and the youngest of 19 children, had fond memories of Mrs. Wheatley.

Dorchester Banner/Bob Zimberoff
Local historian Shirley Jackson played Adaline Wheatley during the Earth Day celebration at Spocott Windmill. She sits in the newly renamed Adaline Wheatley House.

“My grandfather, being the youngest of 19, you can imagine how little attention he got,” Mr. Radcliffe said. “He always referred to Adaline as a second mother. She really spent a lot of time with him. Even though she never learned how to read or write, she was a very wise woman.”

Mrs. Wheatley was the cook at Spocott. She married a freed slave and Civil War veteran, Columbus Wheatley. They raised seven children in the small, two-room cottage.

“She became the key figure at Spocott,” Mr. Radcliffe said. “She ended up being the house manager. She was a nurse. My grandfather was the youngest of 19 children, so by the time he came along, there were not only children, there were grandchildren. Spocott was always full. Adaline, according to my grandfather, never missed a meal, ever.”

In the mid-1920s, Mrs. Wheatley’s picture appeared on a nationally distributed pamphlet and cookbook published by the Delmarva Cooking Association, titled, “Epicurean Gems: A Rare Collection of Delectable Dishes Handed Down from The Earliest Colonial Days — Old Time Southern Cookery Which Has Made The Del-Mar-Va Eastern Shore Famous.”

Dorchester Banner/Bob Zimberoff
This cottage, which was home to Adaline Wheatley, her husband and their seven children, was dedicated as the Adaline Wheatley House during the rainy Earth Day celebration at Spocott Windmill.

According to a family story told by the late senator, Mrs. Wheatley may have influenced Maryland politics.

“The governor of Maryland was actually visiting Spocott, and the typical thing is that everyone would say hello to my great-grandmother and they’d immediately go to Adaline’s kitchen because she always had pies, and soups, and biscuits, things like that,” Mr. Radcliffe said. “So, the governor went out there and he didn’t come back, and he didn’t come back, and he didn’t come back.”

The boy that would become senator was sent to find the governor.

“He said he walked into the kitchen,” Mr. Radcliffe said. “It was an outdoor kitchen which they used in the summer, and there’s Adaline basically telling the governor how to run the state, and he’s sitting there taking notes. She was a very, very wise woman.”

On Earth Day, Shirley Jackson played the role of Mrs. Wheatley at the cottage. Ms. Jackson is a local historian who has made presentations at the Dorchester County Historical Society.

“She’s a wise woman herself,” George Radcliffe said of Ms. Jackson. “I can’t think of someone more appropriate to play Adaline than Shirley.”

Dorchester Banner/Bob Zimberoff
The rain didn’t stop people from turning out for the Earth Day celebration Saturday at Spocott Windmill.

George Radcliffe, Ms. Jackson and others are on a mission to find Mrs. Wheatley’s descendents. They’ve been searching for about a year.

”We have not found one descendent, which is tragic,” Mr. Radcliffe said. “That means there’s a whole bunch of kids out there somewhere who don’t realize they have this really amazing ancestor, and this house.”

If you are a descendant of Ms. Wheatley, or know of any of her descendents, email Mr. Radcliffe at radclifg@gmail.com.

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