By Rachel Ravina, Staff Writer
(Nov. 29, 2019) History buffs and inquisitive minds can now find Cpl. Isaiah Fassett, of Berlin, on the Civil War Trail’s online interactive map.
Fassett’s marker, which is on 229 Branch St. in Berlin, was installed in 2004, and the sign was updated in 2018, according to Drew Gruber, executive director of Civil War Trails.
The website’s interactive map, which was launched in September 2019, showcases more than 1,200 historical designations, Gruber said.
“We’ve been interpreting lesser-known sites and stories for over 20 years, allowing visitors to stand in the footsteps of soldiers, citizens, and freedom seekers just like Fassett,” Gruber said.
Berlin resident Jane Briddell, whose husband, David, is one of Fassett’s descendants, said her family is grateful for the recognition in both the physical and digital worlds.
“It’s good because I think also David would say it’s good for an African-American to be recognized for his contribution that he’s made to the United States, really,” Briddell said.
Greg Purnell, Berlin resident and local historian, agreed.
“That marker, and these types of history show that these men were brave, and that they stood for what America stood for, and that they fought for that flag and that red white and blue,” Purnell said. “That red is their blood intermingled with all blood.”
Fassett was born on March 17, 1844 in Sinepuxent in Worcester County to Andrew Fassett and Mary Bratten, according to Volume One of Dr. Clara L. Small’s, “Compass Points – Profiles & Biographies of African Americans from the Delmarva Peninsula.” Fassett’s parents were slaves and owned by different slaveowners.
During the Civil War, Maryland had not recruited enough white soldiers, and two months after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was presented on Jan. 1, 1863, a law was passed that stated “all abled bodied male citizens” were eligible for recruitment, according to “Compass Points.”
According to Small, slaveowners could free their slaves so those newly freed men could enlist in the Union Army. Slaveowners were also paid $300.
Slaveowner Sarah Bruff freed four slaves, including Fassett, according to “Compass Points.” He was freed on Nov. 11, 1863 where he served in the Ninth Regiment Company “D” of the United States Colored Troops.
Purnell said he noticed similarities between that date and Veterans Day, which symbolizes the conclusion of a war that would not happen for another 55 years.
“If you note the date of Nov. 11, which is the 11th day, and the 11th month, and the 11th hour that the World War I ended, how appropriate that it would be that Isaiah was freed on that day and had his service to be decorated on that day even before World War I, Purnell said. “This was … greatly ironic these dates come back into the purview and here this slave, former slave, not fighting for his freedom, but fighting for the rights of others that’s just so important now as we forge our way through the future.”
Following his service in the Civil War, Fassett returned to Berlin, according to Small’s book. He wed Sallie Purnell in September 1867. The couple were married for 59 years and they had eight children.
Fassett worked as a carpenter and he was involved at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Berlin, where he devoted his time being a “class leader, steward and janitor” at the religious institution on Flower Street, according to “Compass Points.”
“Isaiah Fassett, ‘Uncle Zear,’ as he was affectionately known, often talked about his life as a soldier and was proud to have served in the Union Army,” Small said in her book.
Those who knew Fassett said that he attended Berlin’s Memorial Day Parade for many years.
Additionally, Fassett was one of 22 Maryland veterans to attend the 75th battle reunion in July 1938 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, according to “Compass Points.”
He died on June 24, 1946.
Purnell emphasized how it’s important for younger generations to learn about Fassett’s legacy.
“We need for our younger people as a source of pride for themselves a source of their own citizenry to know that we have been from the time that we’ve been on that land, we’ve fought for the right thing and that was what the United States stood for and what the constitution said for every man, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, even though it was declared that didn’t mean us because we were four-fifths of a citizen, four-fifths of a man,” Purnell said.
“Still people like Isaiah Fassett stood as a 100 percent man, not 100 percent colored man, but just a 100 percent American to fight for the American ideal,” Purnell continued.
To learn more about the Civil War Trail’s interactive map, visit civilwartrails.org/map.html.