By Ally Lanasa, Staff Writer
(July 9, 2020) The Calvin B. Taylor House Museum on North Main Street in Berlin reopened to the public last Wednesday with a new exhibit about Cpl. Isaiah Fassett.
“The new Isaiah Fassett exhibit has several pieces to it,” said Melissa Reid, president of the Calvin B. Taylor House Museum. “There’s some text of his early life, his Civil War experience and then his later life. We also have photographs of Isaiah Fassett, we have a map showing the area where he was born, we have a map that shows some of the battles that he was in during the Civil War.”
Fassett was born on March 17, 1844 in Sinepuxent in Worcester County, according to Dr. Clara L. Small’s “Compass Points – Profiles & Biographies of African Americans from the Delmarva Peninsula.”
His parents, Andrew Fassett and Mary Bratten, were slaves and owned by different slaveowners.
Fassett was freed on Nov. 11, 1863 to serve in the Ninth Infantry Regiment of the United States Colored Troops and soon became a private in Company D for three years.
The exhibit also includes a copy of his manumission documents.
“Because Isaiah Fassett was a slave, his owner was paid $300 to have him go fight for the Union Army,” Reid said.
According to Small’s book, Fassett returned to Berlin after his service in the Civil War.
He married Sallie Purnell in September 1867. The couple had eight children.
Fassett went on to work as carpenter, and became involved at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church at 405 Flower Street.
Fassett died on June 24, 1946 at 102 years old.
The Fassett exhibit is the first exhibit at the museum to feature a narration aspect.
“It adds a whole different dimension to Isaiah Fassett’s story because you’re hearing someone tell it as opposed to reading it off of a paper.”
Local historian and Berlin resident Gregory Purnell lent his voice to the narration.
Purnell researches Worcester County and Berlin history, especially from the view of African-Americans.
“When you grow up in the community, there are names that always kind of stick out,” Purnell said. “I was born in ’49, Comrade Fassett died in ’46. But he was a local hero. You always heard about his name. There was a little lane it was called Fassett Lane. The house that he had lived … I used to catch the bus for school right in front of the house.”
Purnell said people in town had records about Fassett being a Civil War veteran, but he was not in the history books.
“He was a man of integrity. [He] stood head and shoulders above all the others because he was a veteran and … a veteran in African-American community was a special person because we were not allowed to be in the veteran service,” Purnell said.
“Uncle Zear,” as Fassett was affectionately known, was one of the originators of the Memorial Day parades in Berlin, Purnell added.
“Mr. Fassett was just one of those characters that you try to learn as much as possible about, and being a veteran myself, then it made it more intriguing to me,” Purnell said.
Reid asked Purnell to record scripts for the exhibit upon the recommendation of fellow resident, Jane Briddell.
“Originally, when we were putting this exhibit together, we had reached out to Rev. David Briddell and his wife, Jane Briddell. Rev. Bridell is a descendent of Isaiah Fassett, and he had written a book [called ‘Men of Color to Arms!’], which is about the African-American Civil troops from the Eastern Shore. He and Dr. Clara L. Small wrote a book about it.”
The Briddells allowed Reid to copy some documents from their collection.
“Then, we were talking about how we were hoping to sort of enliven this exhibit in a way that adds to it in a way that the museum has not really done before in other exhibits we’ve had.”
Reid said the Briddells and Purnell were “invaluable for this exhibit.”
Purnell expressed his gratitude to the museum board for including Fassett, as the museum begins to be more inclusive in its representation of history.
“Being a part of the transition of this museum is a source of pride for me personally, but I believe the entire community will be uplifted to the 21st Century with these inclusions,” Purnell said.
Reid added that the museum hopes to have an expansive exhibit next year of more African-American soldiers in the Civil War that are from Worcester County and specifically the Berlin area.
The museum also plans to include narration in future exhibits.
“A QR code reader is really how you access the narration, and we have set up a YouTube channel where we have been putting all the virtual tours we were doing while the museum was closed during quarantine,” Reid said. “We have two parts right now of that exhibit that you can access through a QR code. Those videos are housed on our YouTube Channel.”
Now that the museum has reopened to the public, the virtual tours will be discontinued.
In-person tours are scheduled on the half hour. Visitors can schedule a tour by calling ahead or sign-up on the sheet on the front porch table.
Only one group is permitted at a time, and the group must consist of family members or guests who arrived together.
With two docents in the building, the groups are limited to 8 to 10 people.
“We have you come in the front door and go out the side door,” Reid said.
The tours end in the Harrison room, which can be closed off to keep groups separate.
Tours cost $5.
In addition, the gift shop is open and stocked with museum and Peach Festival T-shirts, books about local history and homemade peach preserves.
The Taylor House Museum is also still accepting contributions to its covid archives.
“If anyone wants to bring something, they’re welcome to leave it on the side porch,” Reid said. “We have a green bench on our side porch. If anyone wants to leave it there, then we will make sure that we house it in a safe way. For several days, we’ll probably put it in a box.”
The Taylor House Museum is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“We need to thank the community, because in spite of everything we’re going through, we still have had some of our major sponsors come through this year,” Reid said. “We’re so happy about that, and we’re hoping that people, now that they see some of the new exhibits … will see the importance of having our local museum in town. We just encourage people to follow us on Facebook. We encourage you to check out our website. We absolutely would love for anyone to become a member to help us through this.”
For more information, visit taylorhousemuseum.org or call 410-641-1019.