Michael G. Shiner, Eloquent Enlightener

Michael G. Shiner (1805-1880) is a little-known writer with a large and lasting impact. His Diary, encompassing nearly 60 years of 19th century history, was acquired by the Library of Congress more than a quarter century after his death and remains there in various forms. It has the distinct viewpoint of a former enslaved person from Maryland living in DC before, during, and after the War of 1812, as well as the Civil War, and is especially noted for rare descriptions of the War of 1812 aftermath.

Read more about the writer here: https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/civil-war-in-america/biographies/michael-shiner.html. A Literary Guide to Washington, DC  by Kim Roberts (2018) also provides an excellent brief biography of Shiner, including an excerpt of his work that reveals an eloquent and heartfelt interpretation of DC events of his day, with insights still relevant two centuries later.

His Writing

Naval History and Heritage Command offers a detailed description and page images of Shiner’s Diary (1813-1869) here: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room.

The Place

Shiner learned to read and write through a church founded by people of color who worked at the Navy Yard in the early 1800s. The church evolved into today’s Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown DC at 1518 M Street, NW. It maintains its long tradition as a center for education and the expression of Black community faith today. Read about it here: https://www.metropolitaname.org.

Also see a description of its historical significance at https://www.nps.gov/places/metropolitan-african-methodist-episcopal-church.htm, which states: “Metropolitan A.M.E.’s parishioners included many African American leaders in Washington, D.C., like Frederick Douglass, Alethia Turner, and Bishop Daniel Turner… This organization was committed to educating African Americans. Educated, middle-class African Americans made up most of the Association’s membership. Meetings involved lively discussions and debates about racism, economic justice, and labor rights. The Association also hosted notable speakers and lecturers. They included Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, Booker T. Washington, and Mary Ann Shadd Cary.”

While the exact location of where Michael Shiner became literate seems unknown, the result is a direct testament to the legacy of this congregation.

This is the second stop on the DC Author Adventures Trail.