Tuesday, July 5, 2011

An Ancestor is Calling to Me

Yesterday, as the nation celebrated the 235th anniversary of our country's declaration of independence, I made it a point to remind myself of one of my ancestors whose life for several months was devoid of independence.

Isaac Green Mask, my 4th-great-grandfather, was a Confederate political prisoner from October 17, 1861 to January 10, 1862. Charged with treason, he ultimately ended up at Fort Warren on Georges Island, in the harbor just outside of the city of Boston. He was treated well there, but until January 1862, he did not know what his fate would be. A death sentence? Imprisonment until the war was over? A transfer to another prison? Or a release back into society and with his family?

Two years ago, I had visited Fort Warren for the first time to get a sense of where my ancestor was imprisoned. What was his life possibly like? It was a fascinating trip, and it sparked all kinds of questions in my mind. I began a search to find out what brought about his arrest and how he had come to be ultimately released. It's a personal journey still in the works, but I know much more than I did in July 2009.

On my second trip, just yesterday, I was enthusiastic about seeing the new Visitor's Center, which had just been built on the island in the summer of 2010. In 2009, I had e-mailed scanned copies of letters that Isaac wrote from Fort Warren to his family (and following his release, letters he received from an acquaintance still imprisoned there), to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. It was my hope they would choose to utilize those letters for their Visitor's Center, as I would liked to have seen Isaac's letters made available to the public - in essence, making him much more famous than he ever would have imagined. Alas, his letters were not used for the Visitor's Center exhibits.

But I gained further knowledge at the Visitor's Center about the daily lives of the political prisoners. And on one of the informational plaques in the center, I saw an image that captivated me - an image of a page taken from a "yearbook" style photo album of Confederate prisoners. Credit for the image pointed to the Department of Conservation and Recreation Archives. Last night, I sent an e-mail to the DCR and asked if that photo album is available for viewing. I look forward to the response and hope I can take a look at that album.

What if Isaac Green Mask's photograph is in that album? This would be monumental, as I have no images of him. None. I don't even have a clear idea of what he looked like. Perhaps I will, though.

Regardless, I am now determined, more than ever, to write a book about Isaac. His political imprisonment is just one significant event in his life of which I have knowledge. What a story he has to tell - and if not from him or anyone else - it must be told through me. Isaac is calling to me, and I aspire to pass forth his story to the world one day. I have much to research, and it starts with a desire to find a photograph of him.

I can only hope.