As a part of Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, Middlesex County is bordered to the north and south by the Rappahannock and Piankatank Rivers, and to the east by the Chesapeake Bay. The earliest record of the County is from explorer John Smith’s journal in 1608, when he and his crew ran aground near the mouth of the Rappahannock River by the town currently known as Deltaville. Smith was excited by the large amount of fish in the area and began spearing them, only to be stung in the arm by a cow-nosed stingray. The injury was so painful that Smith’s men prepared a grave for him, but a doctor in his crew successfully treated the wound and Smith survived. “We called the Isle Stingray Isle after the name of the fish,” the explorer wrote, and the name survives 400 years later as “Stingray Point”.
Middlesex’s geography continued to play an important role in the County’s development and culture, creating opportunities in the crabbing, oystering, and ship-building industries, while safeguarding the county from the destruction of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars (our courthouse still holds it’s original records from 1679). It’s geographic isolation, and the effects of several large hurricanes that destroyed it’s shoreline and farmland in the 1930s, slowed the County’s development over the 20th century, while preserving a distinct regional identity.
Although the county is rich with stories from the Tidewater, efforts to collect oral histories have been done sporadically in print form through local newspaper The Southside Sentinel, and several books available through the Middlesex County Historical Society’s website.
The Middlesex County Oral History Project (MCOHP) is an effort to create an online archive of user-contributed oral histories in audio, video, and text formats.
Following in the footsteps of regionally focused oral history archives such as Philaplace in Philadelphia, the Maria Rogers Oral History Program in Boulder, and Old Dominion University’s Tidewater Voices project , MCOHP will serve as a resource for historians, linguists, educators, and most importantly, Middlesex County residents.
The site will be hosted by Omeka, an established content management system for many small cultural institutions. Residents will be able to upload oral histories, transcripts, and photographs through the website, and Museum staff will process the digital files with Dublin Core description and local tags such as names, places, and subjects mentioned in the history. Digital files and metadata will be preserved and stored using Omeka’s cloud-based server, and the Museum will keep additional copies of all material on their local server.
The Museum will work with Middlesex High School teachers to create lesson plans for the site that meet Virginia’s Department of Education Standards of Learning, and will provide user-friendly documentation for recording oral histories, such as a sample permissions agreements, interview questions, and suggested recording formats. Several workshops have been planned with the Deltaville and Urbanna Public Libraries to promote the site and educate the public on responsible oral-history creation.
As submitted histories increase, the MCOHP may organize them into topic or town-based collections. Select histories will be used in conjunction with Museum exhibits, mobile tours, and as content for the Museum’s blog. In the future, the Project would like to move it’s website and collections to a locally based server for increased administrative and creative control.
The Middlesex County Museum and Historical Society hope that this archive will promote Middlesex County as a research destination. We also hope it will become a source of pride for our community members as it facilitates a deeper understanding of our home, and creates connections amongst residents as they explore the variety of voices that make-up our County’s identity.