New Book Highlights the African-American Town of Sugarland

by MCS Staff
New Book Highlights the African-American Town of Sugarland


A new book that highlights upcounty history debuted this fall: I Have Started for Canaan: The Story of the African American Town of Sugarland.


Located five miles outside Poolesville, the town of Sugarland was founded immediately after emancipation by freed slaves from the surrounding community.


At its height, Sugarland boasted a church, a schoolhouse, a store, a post office, and a practice hall for the town band, and more than 40 families owned approximately 200 acres of land between them.


Today the historic 1894 church still stands, and the legacy of Sugarland is overseen by the nonprofit Sugarland Ethno-History Project, which is run entirely by descendants of Sugarland founders.


Nearly 150 years in the making, I Have Started for Canaan tells the story of Sugarland from emancipation to the present day.


The book draws on a wide range of primary sources, including church registers, land records, military documents, family trees, artifacts, oral histories, and photographs.


As far as we’ve been able to determine, the book is the first full-length history of a Reconstruction-era African American town not just in Montgomery County, but anywhere in Maryland.


The book production team consisted of Gwendora Hebron Reese, the president of the Sugarland Ethno-History Project; vice president Suzanne Johnson; and writer Jeff Sypeck.


Gwen and Suzanne are direct descendants of Sugarland founders, and between them they’ve spent decades collecting, preserving, and researching Sugarland history.


In early 2019, when they decided to turn their vast collection into a book to share the Sugarland story with the world, they invited Sypeck to join them.


Author Jeff Sypeck is not a Sugarland descendant or African American, but does have a background in writing about history, and tells us he was honored to help bring their years of work the last mile of the way.


The book sells for $20, and all proceeds go to the Sugarland Ethno-History Project for upkeep of their historic property and future maintenance, construction, and educational projects.


The book is being sold by the Montgomery Countryside Alliance online during the pandemic, and copies can be ordered at their website:

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