A special thanks to historian Mike Dixon for sharing a most unusual historic postcard of Princess Anne, Maryland. The caption etched into the photograph by the photographer is difficult to see but reads, “Looking for the negro, Princess Anne, Md.” Although not confirmed, the photo was most probably taken Wednesday, June 20, 1906, providing a view of crowds outside of the Somerset County courthouse on Prince William Street. And the negro they were looking for was most likely a young black adult named William Lee.
Lee, who had been arrested in Cape Charles, Virginia, as he fled south by hopping a train following an alleged crime in Somerset County, was taken first to Norfolk, Virginia. But Judge Page of Somerset County feared Lee would be lynched if arraigned and tried in Princess Anne. He knew first hand the real danger of this after the 1897 lynching of William Andrews outside of the old courthouse located at the same spot of today’s courthouse shown in this postcard. Wrote Brooks Miles Barnes in his 2006 book Gallows on the Marsh:
Before light on the appointed day, white men began to assemble in Princess Anne. They came on foot and on horseback, by bicycle and by carriage. The trains brought men from the Maryland counties of Somerset, Worcester, and Wicomico and from Delaware and Virginia. By mid-morning a crowd of at least 2,500 had gathered before the two-and-a-half story, red-brick courthouse at the corner of Main and Prince William streets. ….
When at 10.00 a.m. the bailiff unlocked the doors, 500 men rushed into the courtroom and as many more replaced them in the corridor. They jostled each other, invaded the space reserved for the members of the bar, and hoisted themselves onto windowsills. Those standing in the rear shouted, “Get down in front; we want to see, too!”
But the crowd was disappointed, as Lee never appeared. The hearing convened the jury, but the trial would be held in Baltimore. Wrote Barnes:
The spectators passed out of the courthouse and gathered in knots and clusters on the green and street corners. They were bitterly disappointed. They had expected Lee to have been present in court and they had expected to have lynched him. The men had come, wrote a reporter, “prepared to do business.”
Judge Page anticipated trouble, and another prisoner, Edward Watson (sometimes referred to as Edward Carver), who had been arrested for a crime and who narrowly avoided a lynching in Pocomoke and held in Princess Anne, was removed the day before the Lee arraignment and taken to the Salisbury jail for safekeeping. Barnes also wrote:
Throughout the day Princess Anne’s black citizens remained out of sight. Some of the hotel’s guests went without dinner when the black waiters failed to appear. The only person, black or white, who seemed to enjoy himself was the town photographer who took numerous views of the scenes around the courthouse.
Barnes referenced the June 21, 1906 edition of The Baltimore Sun, part of which is shown below.
So it seems the photographer had anticipated printing lynching postcards but instead had to settle for “Looking for the negro” postcards. I wonder if the photographer even knew the name of the young man who was given due process thanks to Judge Page (due process as dismal as it was for African Americans at that time), or if the photographer simply did not care to print it.
— Linda Duyer