Writing About the Slave Era, “The Unwritten History” Discusses Slavery, Emancipation, USCT & More

A USCT Reenactor at the dedication of the Charles Sumner GAR Post in Chestertown.

A USCT Reenactor at the dedication of the Charles Sumner GAR Post in Chestertown.

While attending an excellent event hosted by the Kent County Arts Council to mark the reopening of the Charles Sumner GAR Post # 25, we listened to an informative and engaging talk by Dr. Clara Small. The retired Salisbury University professor sketched out the history of the post, the United States Colored Troops in Maryland, and life before the modern-era Civil Rights movement. As we listened to her remarks, we thought about a little title from the days of slavery in Cecil County, the “Unwritten History” by Bishop Levi J. Coppin.

The Bishop was born in Fredericktown, Maryland thirteen years before the Civil War started. His mother, Jane Lilly taught the youngster to read and write and at the age of 17 he began to study scriptures. After moving to Wilmington when he was 17, he joined the Bethel AME Church. In 1877, Levi became a minister, eventually becoming the 30th Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. During his life-time he also served as an editor, educator and missionary. Coppin University is named after his wife, Fanny Jackson Coppin. She was a noted educator.

The Bishop published his autobiography in 1919. “Intermingled with this ‘Unwritten History’ is the story of my life. . . Those who are found of reading novels about men who never lived, and things that never did and never will happen, may enjoy a change to something that is historic and real,” the foreword notes. Of the nine chapters the first five concentrate on Cecil and Kent counties and his life here. The fifth chapter is entitled “Farewell to Cecilton.” He passed away in 1924.

This book is a helpful, seldom used local source for anyone studying the antebellum and Civil War era on the Delmarva Peninsula. In the antebellum period many land owners in the lower part of the county relied on slave labor for harvesting crops and performing plantation work. This valuable title provides information on the families in the area, slavery, some insight on the Underground Railroad, the arrival of Union Troops in the town, news of Emancipation in lower Cecil, and life in general for African-Americans during the slavery era.

“Imagine the feeling of our people at the first sight of colored men in soldier’s uniform” the Bishop writes. “When the call was made, generally, many responded. When later on, a recruiting office opened in Cecilton by Lieutenant Brown, some of our boys who had joined the army were selected to come, now as soldiers, to their own home and induce others to enlist. Under shoulder arms, they would march through the little village, “as proud as Lucifer and without fear. While Lt. Brown and his men remained, many volunteered. Some slaves, whose masters still held them in bondage, came to the recruiting office, enlisted and placed themselves under the protection of the flag. When the colored soldier came, it left no doubt as to whether or not freedom had some.”

In another section he talks about news of the Emancipation Proclamation. “Father Jones was promptly on hand with Lincoln’s proclamation, but there was no one present with authority to say to the slave, “You are free, so all were in suspense . . . .”

Speaking of the Underground Railroad, he writes: “The talk of war, so absorbed the thought of the people, and controlled public sentiment that the colored people were no longer the sole objects of attention. The fact is, on one was buying slaves, for it began to look like they would be set free. This put the Georgia Trader out of business. The slaves were not watched so closely. Some masters boldly said if their slaves ran away, they would not try to find them. Under this influence of this changing sentiment quite a number made their escape, some going no farther than Pennsylvania, but even more going to New Jersey. But many concluded to stand still and see the salvation of God. . . “

This digitized e-book will help local and family history researchers investigating this era. It is available on the Internet Archive.

Tablet of Contents, the Unwritten history by Bishop Levi J. Coppin

Tablet of Contents, the Unwritten history by Bishop Levi J. Coppin

An Old Schoolhouse Served Warwick’s African-American Community

On a side street in Warwick stands a red brick building. This structure, the “Warwick Academy,” was built just before the Civil War swept over the nation, the exact year of erection being recorded in a date stone in the south gable, which reads: “Warwick Academy Institute built A.D. 1859.”

it served as the community’s schoolhouse for decades. During those days, the village on the Mason Dixon Line was a thriving crossroads community, located between Middleton, Delaware and Eastern Shore town. About 400 people lived there in 1880, a place that had abundant crops and fruits, according to the Maryland Directory of 1880. Once a new frame building with two-classrooms was erected by Levi Patterson on Main Street in 1890, the older facility was turned into an institution of learning for African-Americans living in the area of the state line.

At some point in the 20th century, it became a private residence.

Many of Cecil County’s rural communities once had small schools.  As late as 1928, there were forty-tw0 one room schools and seven were for African-Americans, according to the School Board annual report in 1965.

The modern two-room school was built in 1890, according to Ernest Howard's history of Cecil County Schools.

The modern two-room school was built in 1890, according to Ernest Howard’s history of Cecil County Schools.


The Warwick Academy once served as the town's African-American School.

The Warwick Academy once served as the town’s African-American School.

Chiefs Past and Present: 13th Commander Assumes Leadership Role in Elkton

Chief Donnelly.  Photo Credit:  Town of Elkton

Chief Donnelly. Photo Credit: Town of Elkton

ELKTON, June 6, 2014 — The Town of Elkton announced that the 13th officer to command the Elkton Police Department was appointed Chief of Police on June 6. The former second in command, Matthew J. Donnelly, assumed leadership of the force with 42-sworn personnel on that date, but he had been acting as the executive since July 2013, when Chief William Ryan, Jr. retired. Holding practically every job with the agency, he joined the department in October 1989.

As the leadership is handed over to a new commander to guide the department in the early 21st century, it’s a good time for a historical list, a register of the Chiefs who led the agency for over 100-years. The town has had some form of law enforcement since the 19th century, the officer being called a bailiff in those formative years. This official preserved the peace, took care of streets, impounded wild animals, collected taxes, carried messages for the council, and served as the lamplighter.

In 1908, George M. Potts was appointed to a two-year term as bailiff. Gradually during his time the essentials of a modern police department slowly emerged and the bailiff was regularly called Chief Potts by Elkton’s press corps. And in time the town started conferring that designtion on the officer, and he became the first person to answer to the title of chief.

After faithfully serving the municipality for 27-years, Chief Potts retired in 1935. Here is a list of the commanders.

1908 – 1935 . . . George M. Potts
1936 – 1938 . . . W. Coudon Reynolds
1945 – 1948 . . . W. Coudon Reynolds
1948 – 1962 . . . William H. White
1962 – 1980 . . . Thomas N. McIntire, Jr.
1981 – 1983 . . . Frederick Nebrauer
1984 – 1993 . . . Calvin Krammes
1993 – 1995 . . . J.D. Ervin
1995 – 1998 . . . Bruce Speck
1998 – 2000 . . .Charles Jagoe (Acting Chief)
2000 – 2003 . . . Daniel Mahan
2004 – 2005 . . . Richard Pounsberry, Jr.
2005 – 2013 . . . William E. Ryan, Sr.
2013 – 2014 . . . Matthew J. Donnelly (Acting Chief)
2014 – Pres . . . Matthew J. Donnelly

Acknowledgment: Assistance with this list provided by Michelle Henson, Town of Elkton Administration, and Tracy Holter, of EPD, Chief Donnelly’s secretary.

The Elkton Police Department acquired this patrol car, in the late 1920s. (L to R  Mayor Taylor McKenney, the night officer, and Chief Potts).  This was the first county or municipal police vehicle in Cecil.

The Elkton Police Department acquired this patrol car, in the late 1930s. (L to R Mayor Taylor McKenney, the night officer, and Chief Potts). This was the first county or municipal police vehicle in Cecil.


A Cecil History Short: Recalling Youthful Days Growing up in Elkton and the Family Business, the Howard Hotel.

The latest Cecil History Short has been released by The Historical Society of Cecil County, Evelyn V. (Vaggi) Scott, 80, talks about youthful days growing up in Elkton and the family business, the Howard Hotel. This is Part I. A conversation with Mrs. Scott will be released shortly in part II.

Marshall L. Purner Went From Big City Policing to Keeping the Peace in Cecil County

Marshall L. Purner examines a 1968 photo of the Elkton Police Department.

July 11, 2008 — North East, MD:  Marshall L. Purner, 81, North East, went from being a city cop to being the thin blue line on a one-man force in Cecil County.  “I got interested in law enforcement while I was in the army so I joined the Louisville Kentucky Police Department when I was discharged from the Army,” he explained.

That 1,500 member agency was in the lead in professionalizing police work, “so I attended an academy before hitting the street.  They brought instructors in from the Southern Police Institute to train us in the latest law enforcement techniques such as fingerprinting, scientific investigation, reporting writing, and law.  In addition we had physical and firearms instruction.”

After three years of chasing crooks and keeping peace in the city, the rookie who had become adept at urban policing, traded that work for his version of Mayberry, his hometown of North East, population 1,600.  There he signed on as the Chief of Police for what was a sleepy beat when compared to his rookie years in the city of nearly 400,000 people.

“When I started as chief in North East on May 2, 1957, at 10:00 a.m., I was paid $62 for a sixty hour week.  The town also gave me $3.00 a week to use my own vehicle to patrol and answer calls. I did a lot of foot beat work on Main Street. I wasn’t going to burn up my weekly gas allotment, when it cost .25-cents a gallon.  I worked out of one desk drawer in the town hall, a building that was built as a town lockup in the late 1800s.  If I needed back-up I had to get to a telephone since I didn’t have a radio to call the state police.  The town finally got me a police car in 1963.”

“After riding a two-man squad car in the city, with specialized divisions for handling the problems that came up and plenty of back-up, I had a lot of gearing down to do since I was the entire police department.  To start with it was my hometown so I knew everybody in those days.  I responded to calls, made traffic stops, moved the kids along, kept drunks off the street, and occasionally handled a Saturday night fight.  But sometimes I responded to calls that required something more than a quick response of an officer to settle things down.  In a large force, I’d hand those types of things off to the detectives or other divisions such as vice, juvenile or traffic.”

The chief, after some nine years of checking meters and door knobs, chasing speeders, and keeping order in barrooms at night in that one-man agency, decided to join a larger six-man department in Cecil County.  “In 1966 I was hired on as a patrolman in Elkton by Chief Thomas N. McIntire. Jr.  I was behind the wheel of a patrol car on the midnight shift, usually.  Generally an additional officer patrolled in another vehicle, so at least two of us were available to answer calls and back each other up on barroom fights and things like that.”

Purner recalls one of his humorous stories.  “One December evening I received a radio call from dispatch that someone had stolen items from a car at the Bowling Alley.  When I arrived, a witness told me he’d seen a man a man in a Santa Claus outfit running from the parking lot carrying something.  Well I had ID on my suspect so I put out a be on the lookout broadcast for this red-suited gentleman.  With all Cecil County prowl cars on the road that night on the lookout, I soon found out that it was one of my fellow officers, Joseph Zurolo, who was playing Santa for a group kids at the Bowling Alley.  Of course,  he had nothing to do with the incident.  The real perpetrator was never caught.”

Over the next couple of decades the Elkton department grew to 25 personnel and Purner watched as trained officers became a requirement and computers allowed small town officers to instantly check on suspects.  “Back in the 1950s, once they handed a man his badge, nightstick, gun and handcuffs, they’d say go out and do the job.  About the only training they got was whatever older officers or a state troopers could share.  That was about it, except for large cities and state police agencies.  In the 1970s mandatory training requirements were put in place and eventually officers had to complete training before starting on the job.”

Although he was involved in small town policing for most of his career his time spanned important eras, such as the urban tensions of the 1960s and the professionalization of the criminal justice system.  Right in the middle of the Cold War, he guarded a section of the Pennsylvania railroad, making sure Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s train passed safely through Cecil County in September 1959.  When Bobby Kennedy’s Funeral Train made its slow way across the top of the Chesapeake, he again provided security, keeping the route crowded with people clear.

Marshall retired in June 1989.  Photo Credit:  Wilmington News Journal, July 27, 1989

Marshall retired in June 1989. Photo Credit: Wilmington News Journal, July 27, 1989

In 1989, after 23 years with the county seat’s force, the 61-year-old decided it was time to sit back and let others maintain the peace.  “On my last day on the job, I was detailed to work with an FBI-agent staking out a local motel.  On my way home after work, I had a heart attack and had to rush to the Veteran’s Administration Hospital.”

Purner is enjoying retirement these days as he devotes time to collecting decoys, playing the guitar and banjo with various groups, and stays active in community activities.

Additional Biographical Notes About Marshall L. Purner

Marshall enlisted in the army in 1946, where as an MP he worked with German police during the allied occupation and his outfit provided security at the Nuremberg Trials.   At the end of the infantryman’s tour, he was based in Louisville, Kentucky where he was a member of color guard escorting dead soldiers from the Korean War.

With his military experience, the law enforcement bug had bit him so when he was discharged he got a got a job on a big city force, Louisville, KY.   During the stint on the 1,500-member force, he graduated from the department’s academy, but after three years he was ready to return to his hometown.  Back home, he was hired on as the Chief of Police in North East, population 1,600, literally serving as the thin blue line on the one-man force.

Back on the Shore, having a local lawman graduate from an academy was something of a rarity in rural Maryland for new hires were typically given a stick, a badge and gun and told to hit the road.   He started in North East on May 2, 1957 at 10 a.m. and became a patrolman in Elkton February 21, 1966.  He retired in 1989.

The police force, commanded by Chief Thomas N. McIntire, Jr. stands in front of headquarters in 1968.  Office Purner is in the 2nd row, 4th from left.  Photo Credit:  Veasey

The police force, commanded by Chief Thomas N. McIntire, Jr. stands in front of headquarters in 1968. Office Purner is in the 2nd row, 4th from left. Photo Credit: Perry Veasey



Lee Wing, Elkton’s First Asian Resident, Opens Chinese Laundry

The other day, a post on the Delmar Dustpan about “the Chinese on Lower Delmarva in 1900” caught my attention.  As I read the informative article, I remembered an old Elkton businessman from the 1960s talking about meeting the first Chinese resident of Elkton as a youngster, when a laundry opened here.  The recollection of that long ago conversation about earlier times and the recent piece about the newly arrived immigrants in Delmar, caused me to do a little digging into the subject here.

Born in China about 1874, Lee Hok Wing immigrated to the United States in the 1880s or 1890s, according to www.ancestry.com.  He came to Cecil County in 1892, starting a new life here washing clothing for townspeople.  The Cecil Democrat reported in November of that year that “Tong Ben opened his Chinese laundry in the Parker building on E. Main Street,” an area that is opposite the current county courthouse.

Lee had a business partner, Lee Yeun (or Lee Yawn) working with him in 1900, according to the decennial census.  His World War I draft registration card notes that he was born on August 20, 1873, and at the time of registration he had married Francis Wing, who also lived with him.   Francis died in Sept. 1925, and the couple didn’t have children, according to her obituary.

In the 2nd half of the 19th century some 300,000 Chinese came to America.  Many arrived, searching for gold in California, but they also worked at laying of track and service jobs.  They did work that was traditionally women’s work in the U.S. and in time a few of them ended up in Cecil County and elsewhere on the Delmarva Peninsula.  Many of these individuals, isolated and far from the Chinese communities in large cities, started working in small town laundries, establishing them in places all over the nation.

The businesses were small — the work being done by hand to a large degree, requiring only the most basic equipment, such as an ironing board.  In the bustling little establishments, soiled clothing was washed in large kettles of boiling war, strung out to dry, and ironed, probably using cast irons that required heating on the stove.  This type of enterprise didn’t require much capital, just the willingness to work long, hard hours.

Dressed differently, adhering to different customs, and facing the stereotypes of the time, the Chinese laundryman surely stood out on the rural Eastern Shore.  Their language and command of English must have been so very exotic here at the turn of the 20th century.

When he and his partner came to Elkton, they “wore queues (a braid of hair worn hanging down behind),” wrote F. Rodney Frazer in Parts of Elkton as I Remember it In 1918.  “If you felt like a good chase, yell in the door ‘Ching Ching Chinaman Eats Dead Rats,” and he would after you with an iron in his hand.  Wang soon cut off his queue.  His partner did not stay long,” Frazer wrote.

Automation changed things as the 20th century moved along, and the first commercial, local laundry to compete with Lee was Mac’s Laundry on W. High Street.  It was established by Howard McGlintock in 1935, according to Frazer.  “Laundry was collected and delivered and they employed men and women.”

Chinese laundries continued until the late 1940s, when home washing machines, dryers, Laundromats, and new fabrics reduced demand.  The changing technology had its impact too, as new steam technology was believed to more effective and the hand laundry usually had to charge more to cover operating costs.  Whatever the case, the laundryman’s business dwindled, little by little.

Local people patronized Lee’s laundry and it continued until near the time of his death.  He passed away on July 26, 1949 at the age of 75, the burial taking place at the Elkton Cemetery.  There were no survivors, and his wife had predeceased him.  He apparently had no children.

Over time, Cecil County saw waves of people from many different countries leave their old country and settle in neighborhoods here, seeking out new lives.  Those included Irish, Italians, Greeks, Ukrainian, Spanish, Asian, Jewish, and more.  They all have a story waiting to be documented, as these new settlers came to new homes in the northeastern corner of Maryland for a range of reasons, struggling to master a new language, and familiarize themselves with a new culture and ways of living.  To some large degree, the history of the settlement of these groups hasn’t been examined and is a subject that deserves attention locally.

This is a list of Chinese in Cecil County as found on Ancestry’s 1900 U.S. Decennial Census.

Joseph Lea, Chesapeake, Cecil, Maryland; DOB Jan 1855; POB: China; head of household; laundryman

Lee Hoke Wing  Elkton, Cecil, Maryland, DOB; POB China; head of household;

Lee Yeun, Elkton, Cecil, Maryland, DOB: POB China; partner

Author’s Note:  It is unclear as to whether Tong Ben, the man identified by local newspapers as starting the enterprise in Elkton, changed his name to Lee Wing or was perhaps an earlier resident.  But by 1900, the census is showing Lee Wing as the operator of the business.

author’s note: genealogical research provided by Jo Ann Gardner.

A few decades into the 20th century, the E. Main St. hangs in front of Lee Wing Laundry.  This location is opposite the present day county courthouse.  Source:  Historical Society of Cecil County.

A few decades into the 20th century, the E. Main St. hangs in front of Lee Wing Laundry. This location is opposite the present day county courthouse. Source: Historical Society of Cecil County.

Part of the 1902 Sanborn Map of Elkton, showing the Chinese Laundry on E. Main ST.  Source:  Enoch Pratt Library

Part of the 1902 Sanborn Map of Elkton, showing the Chinese Laundry on E. Main ST. Source: Enoch Pratt Library

In the Middle of Spring, it’s Cecil County Tourism & History Month

Cecil has many destination spots and lots of history to share with visitors to our corner of Maryland, and each year the county tourism office showcases our natural and heritage resources by observing May as “tourism and history month.”   To spread the word about all that we have to offer and show appreciation for our past, as the season for travel gets underway, there are little yellow signs along roadways and streets.  Reminding  every one of what we have to offer in this historic county, one of those signs caught our attention while out  at the county administration building on this beautiful Monday in the middle of May.

Cecil County Tourism and History Month.

Cecil County Tourism and History Month.