Curiosity of Cheltenham

Oh, I know, some will tell me, “Cheltenham is not on the Eastern Shore,” and/or, “Oh yes, it was a reform school for African American youth in Prince Georges County, changed names and ownership, and was fraught with controversy,” etc., etc.

Yes, I know it’s not on Delmarva, but for years its history has been a curiosity for me, ever since reading the article, “Stephen Long (1865-1921), The Man An Educator,” by Hammett Worthington-Smith, Class of 1939, Worcester High School, printed in 1994 by Salisbury University.

The story was about Stephen Long, supervisor for Colored Schools in Worcester County, who was murdered in 1921, in broad daylight, in Pocomoke, Maryland. It’s a fairly well-known tragic tale, but there were some nuances identified by Worthington-Smith. In his article, he wrote, “…Long had two orphans, from the Boys’ Village of Cheltenham, assigned to a [white] farm family removed from the farm family because the orphans were irregular in attendance in school.” The story goes that Long insisted that the black youth attend school as required, but the farmers were against wasting education on the youth who were needed in the fields, even though the youth were required to go to school.  Unhappy with Long’s insistence, the two farmers approached him as he walked by escorting his daughter from a near by fair. Long was stabbed to death in front of his daughter and neighbors.

Worthington-Smith admitted that this aspect of the story, of the two youth, was based on rumor, and that his attempts to verify this through the superintendent of Boys’ Village failed. Still, this story of two black youth having been brought to the Eastern Shore for exclusive use by two related white farmers was something I’ve not been able to get out of my mind, to the extent that every time I stumble over the Cheltenham name, I take notice.

I couldn’t verify Worthington-Smith’s assertion. But I did notice in the 1920 federal census for Worcester County, a few instances of youth, both black and white, listed as from some Baltimore House of Charity institution, in the households of white farmers with the same Pilchard surname accused of the murder of Stephen Long. Hmmm.

I’ve since read lots of articles written for decades about controversies related to Cheltenham, referred to as both a school and a prison. Plenty of articles about deplorable conditions, changes to administration, etc.  I even went so far as to take a peek at some old accounting documents of the institution found at the Maryland Historical Society. There were some suspicious entries that were vaguely referring to the loaning out of some of the youth, including some identified as orphans, but the information was not specific.

This was not exhaustive research, just sporadic interest.  I had also read from various sources about the beginnings of the facility.

What was long referred to as the Boys’ Village of Maryland began in the 1870s, established in 1870, according to the Maryland Historical Trust, as “one of the earliest and largest juvenile detention and reformation centers” when created as the “House of Reformation and Instruction for Colored Boys.”

The town of Cheltenham was named for the Bowie family’s plantation of the same name, according to the MHT. “In 1872, Enoch Pratt, a Baltimore business man and philanthropist, purchased a 1,200-acre tract in Cheltenham as a place to which delinquent African-American boys of Baltimore could be sent for rehabilitation.” The institution opened in January of 1873.

The MHT has an interesting bit of history, “The first superintendent, John Watts Horn, born 1834 in Dumfries, Scotland, was a Maryland veteran of the Civil War. Horn challenged the policy of placing African-American children in prison. He protested this policy fervently, and after retiring from the military with the rank of general, sought to seek the improvement of the condition of African-American youth.” My guess is he was unable to succeed substantially.

The MHT information is for the Boy’s Village of Maryland Cemetery, their Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties information can be found online.  The cemetery is small and identified as in two sections, with only three identifiable markers.  All three were teenagers who died in the late 1880s. I’ve not visited the location, but apparently this small cemetery is part of or associated with the large Cheltenham State Veterans Cemetery which can be seen from the highway.

Recently, as I have browsed historic newspapers online, I ran across a couple of news articles in the Salisbury Times in the early-to-mid- 20th century about a couple of African American teenage youth who were found convicted in Wicomico County on theft charges being sent to the Boys’ Village at Cheltenham. And in a 1939 report of the county treasurer, posted in the newspaper, expenditures included some funds directed to the Cheltenham facility as well as the Maryland Training School for Colored Girls.

What is the purpose of this post?  I am not entirely sure. It’s more a musing over the lesser-known aspects of misuse and abuse in our history.  The graphic shown here is from an editorial in the March 16, 2006, entitled, “Close Cheltenham.”  I felt compelled to include it.  Also shown, is one of the markers at the Boys’ Village of Maryland Cemetery from the 2009 MHT report.  There must be a point to my posting this; I just cannot wrap my brain around it yet.







….Linda Duyer


Posted in Cemeteries, Maryland, People, Schools

Jopling’s Churches

If you are ever doing research on churches of Somerset County, Maryland, you might want to hunt down Churches of Somerset County, Maryland published in 2000. The book does not go into a lot of history detail of the churches — it is mostly an inventory and an architectural view of many of the buildings — but there is some history in it as well. The work was done by the late Carol Jopling, who died from a massive stroke just as the book was being published.

I met Jopling during the 1990s when she was researching the book. To look at her, I never would have believed she was in her 80s. She was staying at the Washington Hotel in Princess Anne while she traveled around researching her book. We only had one chat but it was memorable as I was struck by her insightfulness. I directed her to a few people who might help her in researching certain African American churches in the county. In chatting I told her some of the history of Princess Anne, particularly its racial history. She nodded, saying that explained the disturbing conversations she had been hearing when having meals in the hotel restaurant.

Jopling was a retired researcher, teacher, anthropologist, and librarian. The obituary said that she was a former Roland Park and Chestertown resident and had been chief librarian of Tropical Research Institute in Balboa, Panama at the time of her retirement in 1984. She had worked as a social science reference librarian at the University of Maryland in College Park, and later worked at the Library of Congress. But she also worked in other capacities including as a social science bibliographer at the University of Massachusetts Library at Amherst. She also taught primitive art, American Indian art, pre-Columbian art and anthropology at various universities.

She was born Carol Farrington in Louisville, the daughter of a railroader, as her obituary described it. She was raised in California, received her bachelor’s degree in art history from Vassar College, her dual master’s in library science and anthropology from Catholic University, and her doctorate in anthropology from Amherst. I don’t know about all her publications, but one of them was a 1992 book Puerto Rican Houses in Sociohistorical Perspective.

Why do I include her here? Well, at the time I met her, I was impressed with the extra effort she took to document the African American churches, to be inclusive of all the churches. She was a good listener as well as a good storyteller about her work. I wish I’d had the chance to know her better.  After the book was published, I would drive around to find the churches she listed and mapped. Her work kept me busy.


Linda Duyer

Posted in Churches, Maryland, People

1807 Runaway at Snow Hill

The business of property can be stark as related to the property of slaves. Historians are familiar with the usual evidence of people as property during the period of slavery — estate inventories, ads in newspapers for the return of runaways, ads in newspapers of slave dealers buying and selling people. Sometimes the evidence can tell a story.

Below is a portion of the 1807 court record of Somerset County compensating slave owner Evan Willing, “the sum of one hundred pounds, for a negro slave who was drowned in consequence of his being pursued as a runaway.”

This unnamed slave managed to run away to as far as Snow Hill, Maryland, where he ran into the Pocomoke River to avoid apprehension and as a result, he drowned.  The record was located in the court records available Maryland Archives online. The business of slavery can tell a story in the early stark records.





Posted in Maryland, People

Salisbury’s Famous Activist: Mary Fair Burks

Perhaps Salisbury, Maryland, ought to find a new way to honor the late Dr. Mary Fair Burks. That force of nature graced this city; she apparently graced a lot of places.

A shout out to Bill Robinson of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore for his March 13, 2019 online article about the late Civil Rights worker Mary Fair Burks. Robinson, who works in Public Relations at UMES and a journalist from way back, doesn’t like to take the credit, but tough, he’s getting it here. Robinson’s article prompted me to take a closer look at someone I had never known.

Burks came to UMES, then called Maryland State College, in 1960, after having been pressured to resign from Alabama State College, in Montgomery due to her high profile Civil Rights activism during the bus boycott there (1955-56). Burks had been close friends with Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King and sought their assistance in finding work.  It is believed Martin Luther King successfully helped get Burks the position at UMES; he had spoken the year before at the school’s commencement and knew Maryland State President John Taylor Williams.

She was born in 1914 to Gustavus “Gus” Samuel and Ollie (née Williams) Fair. During the 1930s, she challenged the Jim Crow system of segregation by insisting on using white-only elevators, rest rooms, and other facilities in what she later called “my own private guerrilla warfare.”   She received her B.A. in English literature at Alabama State College and later her M.A. from the University of Michigan. She returned to teach first at a high school and then at the college. She married a high school principal, and she later earned her doctorate in education at Columbia University.

But the above does not begin to fully describe her education. She studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, Oxford University and St. Peter’s College in Oxford, England, Harvard University, Middlebury College, University of Indiana, University of California, and Tele Aviv, Nairobi, Tokyo and Yale universities. She received fellowships from Amherst College, Columbia University, and the University of Indiana. She obtained a wide range of grants. And she advanced her scholarly work by travels to Egypt, China, Japan, Israel, Africa, Greece, Russia, Italy, England, Switzerland, and Holland. Phew!

Notably, she created the Women’s Political Council which she led from 1946-50, and she described the council as “the outgrowth of scars I suffered as a result of racism.” Her work there laid the foundation for the bus boycott.

She published numerous literary works listed as 10 articles, 42 monographs, among others.  She contributed to the book titled Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers, 1941-1965, ed. Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline Anne Rouse, and Barbara Woods (1990), contributing the section, “Trailblazers: Women in the Montgomery Bus Boycott.”

She was a professor of English at UMES for 26 years before retiring in 1986. Upon arrival to the Eastern Shore, Burks quickly got involved with her community and lived in Salisbury. According to the obituary when she died in 1991, she had been a correspondent contributor to the Daily Times and was apparently outspoken in interviews.

In 1986, she contributed a lengthy and insightful article in the Daily Times, on the occasion of the first national holiday honoring the memory of Martin Luther King, writing about her earliest memories of King in his early days before becoming a minister at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where she had been a member. Wrote Dr. Burks, “Little did those of us who knew Martin Luther King, Jr. and worked with him dream that a young, 25-year-old unknown minister of a small unknown church in Montgomery would one day transform a nation and influence world opinion so that ‘We Will Overcome’ would become a second national anthem.”

As an example of her contributions to the Daily Times, is her column “Whimsically Yours.” In her 1987 article, she reviewed the book Hold On, Mr. President by Sam Donaldson, the White House correspondent for ABC. She noted, “After reading the book, I decided that Donaldson is a darn good reporter, but a lousy writer.” Later in the article she added, “I don’t mean I didn’t like the book. It just wasn’t worth the price,” though she conceded that he did shed light on the presidency and about television journalism.  The title of her article says it succinctly, “Hold On, Mr. Donaldson,” a funny rebuke to the book title.

In 1988, she was asked to join the National Advisory Board of the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta at the invitation of her longtime friend Coretta Scott King. A 1989 article in the Daily Times describes how she was one of three judges for a creative writing contest for seniors on “Why Maryland is Beautiful to Me.” The other judges were Betty Gardener and Mel Toadvine.

She was reportedly “active with and occasionally held office in the Wicomico Historical Society, the NAACP, the American Association of University Women, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc., Salisbury and Professional Women’s Club, National Council of Negro Women, Inc., the Links, Inc., and the Salisbury Wicomico Arts Council.” She was a member of Bethesda United Methodist Church and volunteered at the Peninsula General Hospital Medical Center. Her son, Dr. Nathaniel W. Burks, lived in San Diego.

The Eastern Shore and UMES were incredibly blessed to have known Dr. Burks. In a real sense, we can thank the Civil Rights movement and the Kings for her presence here. And we thank Alabama State College for forcing her out because of her activism; their loss and our gain.


Linda Duyer

Posted in Maryland, People

Salisbury’s Medusa

I have a philosophy that the present is just history in action.  When I first stared at this photo, printed in today’s Salisbury Independent, I had this odd feeling that I was watching history happening.  Not just because of the wild hair or her athletic abilities, but because of the determined look on Mekara Hanson’s face. Tracy Sahler, who works for Wicomico Public Schools, managed to capture history in motion, of the James M. Bennett High sophomore guard “in a moment that’s all motion and action as she spins around an opponent in the March 7 win over Chesapeake High that sent the Clippers to the Regional 3A final.”

I know nothing about Mekara, but I have a hunch this is not the last we will see of this young woman; it will be interesting to see what sort of history she weaves for us.


Linda Duyer

Posted in Maryland, People, Schools

The pillory and the whipping post

In Delaware, the pillory and whipping post were not exclusively for African Americans, but the use of this form of punishment was used in that state well into the 20th century.

The Delaware Archives provides this description.

“The whipping post and pillory have a long history in Delaware. Whipping was first sanctioned as a form of punishment in 1717. By the 1840s, there was some opposition to its use and many thought reforms were needed. The Legislature did revise the code and in 1852 there was a provision that no more than sixty lashes or more than one hour in the pillory would be executed for all sentences combined. The code also stated that whippings were to be well laid on the bare back and in public with the post and pillory near the jail of each county. The pillory was abolished in 1905, but the whipping post was law until 1972. The post was last used as a form of punishment in 1952” (Delaware State Archives, Enforcing the Law 2010).

The above photograph (c. 1900) is from Delaware Archives Online, showing a two-story pillory and whipping post located behind the New Castle County Courthouse. I included this information in my book Mob Law on Delmarva.

That book included a 1903 account from The Baltimore Sun detailing the use of this punishment in Wilmington, Delaware.

“Wilmington, Del., Sept. 26 – The most severe whippings ever known in Delaware since the whipping post was re-established were meted out to offenders at the New Castle County Workhouse this morning, when the lash was administered to 15 culprits for various crimes by Warden Meserve. Those whipped and their sentences were: Frank Ward, 10 lashes, 15 months’ imprisonment; Thomas Campbell, 10 lashes, 15 months; Theodore Walcott (colored), 10 lashes, 6 months; Edwards Filkins, 10 lashes, 15 months; George Clayton (colored), 10 lashes, 6 months; James Hunter (colored), 10 lashes, 1 month; Thomas Mullin, 40 lashes, 6 years; Henry Pitts (colored), 30 lashes, 1 hour in pillory, 10 years; Alfred Spencer, 40 lashes, 1 hour in pillory, 6 years; Charles Wallace, 10 lashes, 1 month; William Darsey (colored), 10 lashes, 1 hour in the pillory; George Compton, 10 lashes; Percy Coleman (colored), 10 lashes, 15 months.”

In that account, Henry Pitts did not get the most lashes, but he got more jail time than his competitor, Alfred Spencer. A review of records revealed that Pitts did not last long in the county workhouse (which was a prison), but died there few years later of tuberculosis.

When I first saw the above photo, I stared at it for the longest time.  I wondered what the men in the pillory must have been thinking as they did their time there and watching others being whipped below them, knowing their time was coming to be so whipped.  It was a chilling experience imagining this, made even more chilling by a photo of a practice that seemed much older.  I wondered how horrific this punishment was, also knowing that the infractions for which they were punished were relatively minor by today’s standards. I could not help but be inspired to write a poem, thinking of Henry Pitts.


Posted in Delaware, People

Salisbury’s Howard Birckhead

In 1983, Howard Hudson Birckhead, aged 91, died in Salisbury, Maryland. He was born in Rockawalkin to Levin and Mary Mame Birckhead.  Near the end of his life he was living on Tangier Street with his son and daughter-in-law, Earl and Jean Birckhead.

In 1977, he was interviewed by Dick Fleming for the Daily Times, when Fleming described him as an avid learner and reader with a thirst for knowledge. Fleming further described him as “something of a country philosopher,” that “he seems to keep the events of his own life in a calm perspective.”

Fleming also described Birckhead as “a retired lumber man, bootlegger, and hospital cook, among other things,” that Birckhead had worked as a cook at the hospital in Salisbury for 39 years before retiring.

But in his later years, Birckhead, with his distinctive long white beard, became best known for his companion, a dachshund named “Lucky.” Local photographer Walt Thurston was so taken by his friend and Lucky, that he would photograph the two in his studio. Thurston’s most notable photograph (and my personal favorite) was a stylish portrait composition of Birckhead at the dinner table, bowed in prayer over the daily bread, with Lucky looking on.

Birckhead said Lucky had been a gift after he retired, and that his new companion, “fills a void in my life.” He would describe Lucky as having human-like qualities. Fleming quoted Birckhead’s reflection on Lucky’s qualities, “She puzzles me, the way she thinks and remembers. It makes me believe in Darwin’s origin of life. Sometimes she seems more intelligent than human beings.”

Birckhead was quite a reader and he amassed quite a library. “I like to read about history, legal and medical books…anything that pertains to organized society. It’s worthwhile. It keeps you well-informed.” Birckhead reflected on the importance of learning, “If you have a good mind,” he said, “you get satisfaction out of living.” And he described learning from watching people, particularly by watching patients at the hospital where he worked. “I became close friends with them. You learn quicker that way — by talking heart to heart and mind to mind.”

His passion for reading came later in life, and he wished he’d read more earlier. That library of his was located in an abandoned rundown house with stacks and stacks of books. Perhaps there is a reason for Lucky’s human-like qualities. Perhaps Lucky was watching Birckhead, learning from the country philosopher.



Top photo provided by Linda Duyer from the Thurston Collection, second photo from Fleming’s 1977 article.

Posted in Maryland, People