One of Dorchester County’s most iconic landmarks, the Spocott Windmill, rises alongside Route 343, which starts as Washington Street in Cambridge, becoming Hudson Street heading West into the Neck District.
The grandson of the man who, at age 95, undertook rebuilding the historic structure, disclosed that and many more stories in a newly published book detailing the incredible, indelible life of one of Dorchester County’s most dedicated office holders and civic contributors.
Call Me Cousin George, A Personal Look at the Life of Senator George L. Radcliffe, by George M. Radcliffe Jr.–the senator’s only living grandson–was at first intended as a keepsake for the great grandchildren who had never gotten a chance to hear his stories around the family dining room table at the Spocott Farm as he had.
But the project soon took on a life of its own, befitting the larger than life accomplishments of its subject.
Going through his grandfather’s treasure trove of voluminous correspondence, journals, and photographs turned into a ten year labor of love, providing a springboard to an outsized journey of learning about the man, the world he emerged from, and the historic times he became actively engaged in helping transform.
When the manuscript was finally presented to Salt Water Media in Berlin, MD, the impressed editors advised George M., Jr. that what he’d prepared contained a story holding great interest for a much wider audience than the family memoir he’d initially set out to create.
Prefaced with a well informed overview of a life spanning nearly a century (1877-1974), the chapters marking his expansive experiences and contributions are told in a series of highly readable essays detailing the nooks and crannies comprising the landscape of his life, clearly delineating a modest man of character, good will, and determination that saw him overcome the odds, from frail health as a youngster to surviving a violent robbery at age 90.
Throughout, the story is sprinkled with famous names–Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson, just to name a few.
But, in keeping with the grounded, down-to-earth values of Radcliffe’s persona, these are not necessarily the most memorable figures, not by a long shot.
Instead, the reader relishes learning about picturesque personalities populating his inner circle. Among these was lifelong chauffeur and companion, Dorchester waterman John Swain Foxwell (Radcliffe never took up driving, yet commuted between Baltimore, Washington, and Dorchester County regularly, sometimes almost daily.)
Also, free African American woman Adaline Morris Wheatley, known as “Aunt Adaline” was the homestead’s cook, manager, and guiding light, whose picture held a singular place of honor in the Spocott homestead’s dining room.
Radcliffe’s Senate terms, 1935 to 1947, are noteworthy in overlapped with the Great Depression and World War II. But his overall contributions extend even beyond the consequence of his times.
For instance, his friendship with FDR, long before he became president, inspired Radcliffe to become an early and ongoing leader dedicated to fundraising and fighting the scourge of infantile paralysis, also known as polio, culminating in the March of Dimes.
Visitors to Long Wharf Park can view a plaque commemorating FDR’s trip up the Choptank River via the Presidential Yacht Sequoia, to help dedicate the new bridge connecting Dorchester and Talbot counties, whose construction came about through Radcliffe’s efforts.
A voracious reader and student of history from his earliest days, raised within a strong boat building community, Radcliffe realized long before many others how vital it was for the U.S. to build up and maintain an ongoing seafaring force. His insight and efforts have been credited with what turned out to be the crucial beefing up of the Merchant Marine during the late 1930s, prior to U.S. official entry into World War II.
Though a Democrat, Radcliffe, true to his rural roots, resisted being pulled into ultra progressive stances that clashed with his firm centrist and fiscally conservative views. Yet, in 1945, Radcliffe remarkably rose on the Senate floor to offer A Proposed Constitutional Amendment Providing Equal Rights for Women and Men.
Studying at Johns Hopkins, where then Professor Woodrow Wilson was an advisor, Radcliffe’s Ph.D. dissertation explored the pivotal role played by Governor Thomas Holliday Hicks, who also lived in Dorchester County, in keeping Maryland from seceding during the Civil War.
The dueling loyalties which served as a backdrop to the War were reflected within his own family history. His Baltimore born mother, Mary McKim Marriott “Daisy” Radcliffe, had strong family ties to the Confederacy, while his father, John Anthony LeCompte Radcliffe, rooted at Dorchester’s ancestral Spocott Farm, left behind indications, including the tantalizing clue relating to his son’s middle name, that he had abolitionist leanings, according to his great grandson.
An inherent interest in and ability to pull on the state’s many historical threads without becoming entangled in messy controversies laid the foundation for Radcliffe’s successful revitalization of the Maryland Historical Society in the 1950s, bringing branches to every county, expanding its staff and Baltimore headquarters, and initiating outreach to schools.
At an age when retirement usually entailed a slowing down from an active life, an ongoing drive to preserve the cherished historical legacy inherited from his parents here in Dorchester county inspired him to embark on a project long promised to his mother, another, to himself.
The first was the creation of the Grace Church Foundation, which involved the restoring and relocating the derelict original church building, a Taylor’s Island outpost of Trinity Episcopal Church in Woolford.
The next involved hiring Mister Jim Richardson, legendary Dorchester boatbuilder, whose shipyard was across the street from the property, to tackle the prospect of authentically reconstructing, with no blueprints, the English windmill constructed by Radcliffe’s father in the 1860’s and destroyed by a heavy winter storm when he was 11. Believing from the outset that he’d find a way to somehow rebuild it, Radcliffe had managed to salvage original stone from its foundation. Despite the passage of 80 years, he kept the dream alive and saw it through. Over his objections, the structure was named in his honor, with a wooden sign bearing the title George L.
Radcliffe’s son, George M., and his only surviving son, George M., Jr, continued their patriarch’s legacy of service to community with a view to make life better for generations to come; George M. was a long time trustee of Washington College in Chesterton, George M., Jr. taught public school science for over 30 years. After retiring he essentially continued that pursuit, guiding the Maryland Ornithology Society’s junior birding program, the Audubon Society’s Dorchester County vital citizen science bird atlas count, and presiding over the Spocott Windmill and Village Foundation, which holds an open house twice a year.
Echoing his grandfather’s characteristic modesty and penchant for quietly doing good ( with no wish for reward other than that), George M., Jr. maintained that the story rightly should have been told by his late brother Bill, a local newspaper reporter, had survived an untimely death in an auto crash (along with his sister). Another sister also died at a young age.
Though unsure of his ability, he took up what he felt was a sacred duty to share his grandfather’s story with the next generation and followed it through to completion. In so doing, he also kept his spirit alive.
Call Me Cousin George: A Personal Look at the Life of Sen. George L. Radcliffe, by George M. Radcliffe, Jr, Salt Water Media, Berlin MD, 2021 (www.saltwatermedia.com)