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.