Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Legacy of Lynching on the Eastern Shore

Sherrilyn Ifill, a professor at the University of Maryland and the author of On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century, held an open discussion of lynching’s legacy on the Eastern Shore at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Chestertown, last week. While facilitating the conversation on the long silence that followed these grim incidents, the Civil Rights attorney pointed out that that these terrible crimes did not bypass Kent County. The time flew by all too quickly during this insightful evening as many interesting points were made, including the fact that no one seemed to know about the cases in Kent. As I drove back to Elkton, I had plenty of time to think about the evening. The title is a valuable account of a violent period and the research was first-class. But as I drove on I began thinking about the discussion, particularly about the silence and the fact that the crowd that filled the sanctuary was unaware of the Kent County tragedies. The same would apply in Cecil County I believe for there were cases here so I thought we should at least get these tragedies into the historical record.

  • On the evening of July 29, 1872, three African-American men were brought before the Magistrate Bell in Warwick on the charge of firing a dwelling near Sassafras. During the hearing, it was ordered that John Jones, Robert T. Handy and a young person named Thomas were to be committed to the Cecil County Jail for further investigation. Special Constable Merritt put the three men in his carriage (two were manacled and one was riding free) for the trip to the county seat. As they passed through a woods near Pivot Bridge (outside Chesapeake City), a group of men “in disguise” surrounded the carriage and took the prisoners. Hours later, when Sheriff Thomas and Deputy White arrived from Elkton, they found one of the men “strung up by a rope around his neck to the limb of a hickory tree,” according to the Delawarean. No trace of the other two men was found.
  • In September 1861, a young African-American named Frederick was charged with rape. After an investigation in Cecilton, the Cecil Democrat, reported that he was “taken to a tree in the vicinity of the act and hung.”

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Passenger Service Discontinued on the Octoraro Line

Regular passenger service for stations on the Maryland part of the Octoraro line became a thing of the past when "Gilligan's Train," which had been an institution for more than half a century, was taken off the road on April 13, 1935. On that Saturday evening, Conductor T. S. Wilson eased the Oxford-Baltimore Express past the quiet lonely Rowlandsville station a little after 5 p.m. for the last time. (The photo of the Rowlandsville Station is from the first decade of the 20th century.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sharing Stories of The Octoraro Branch Railroad

Last Saturday about 20 people came to the Rising Sun Library to participate in a discussion about the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Octoraro Branch. Old photographs, timetables, maps and newspaper clippings were used to initiate a discussion of the line through Rising Sun, Liberty Grove, and Rowlandsville. Several audience members shared their knowledge, some of them drawing on the things they had heard from earlier generations of residents, stories of using the train for trips to the city or for moving into the area. Others enthusiastically shared their enjoyment in strolling through this particularly scenic part of Cecil County and discussed the possibility of a rails-to-trails route. Jack Hill, a biologist and railroad enthusiast, came down from Pennsylvania to share some of his knowledge. Jack has been investigating the history of the line for a few years and he is presently writing a book on the old Philadelphia and Baltimore Central Railroad with the tentative title of Out of the Ashes – the Octoraro Branch. We’ll look forward to hosting a book signing for this valuable title and hearing Jack’s talk on his research when it rolls of the press. We’ll blog on this a little more on this later.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Society Aids in Production of Emergency Management DVD

The Cecil County Department of Emergency Services recently released an interactive emergency preparedness DVD, which “teaches people how to prepare for disasters.” The production, focusing specifically on the county, also contains a 10-minute video examining the history of some of the area’s major emergencies and the development of disaster management. The Historical Society assisted in the development of this important public safety product by preparing the script and by making the resources of our research library available. As the archives for the County, we are pleased to support local government initiatives such as this. We also congratulate the agency on its professionally done production, which will be of great value to citizens. For a copy, contact the Department of Emergency Services.