My walk begins a few years ago, on a foggy night.

I’m going down Queen Street in Chestertown, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

An old colonial town on the Chester River,  where I’m attending Washington College.




It’s pretty late, nearly midnight, on my nightly walk around town.

Down an all-too-familiar route — the town is small and only the historic district is worth seeing, so I know the path by heart.

I stop to admire #116 on the corner of Queen and High Streets.

My favorite dream home, in a town full of stunningly gorgeous historic homes.

Along the tiny harbor, a row of brick Georgians, some on the National Register, from the days when this was a British port of entry.


Widehall LOC


Right by the water sits “Widehall”(owned in the past by governors, senators, and judges).

A wonderful scent mixing with the salt water smells, from flowering shrubs in its walled garden.

Next door, is the old Custom House, home at times to British tax collectors and redcoats.

And then to a leader of the Sons of Liberty.  Who traded in slaves.

I wind through the old streets, move quietly down the back alley by the courthouse, and past the old historical society building.

I walk quickly, by Eastern Shore standards.

It is a foggy night, there is a moon up there somewhere in the clouds, and I reach my favorite street.





My footsteps echo against the pavement, I hear each step very clearly.

The dim hum of traffic on Washington Avenue heading toward the bridge fades away.

I vaguely recall checking my phone to see the time, just as it reached midnight.






I do not subscribe to a belief in ghosts or spirits, but at that particular witching hour, I am quite convinced that for the minute and a half it took me to reach the end of the street, I stepped back in time.

Walking swiftly through a swirling fog, in the warm, humid, late-spring air of Maryland, the noise of the cars was silenced, and I heard what sounded like horse hooves clopping behind me.

I turned and looked, but there was nothing, just fog and the same old houses I’d been admiring each night for years.

I continued walking, and mid-stride, I again heard the sound of horse hooves striking cobbles, and maybe a sound like a cane clacking against the brick pavers.


107 Water St


By the time I reached Queen Street where it becomes wider and busier, as it meets High Street, I returned to the present.

I was aware suddenly of the steady stream of sound of cars going over the bridge across the river.

But, I was sure that, only a moment ago, I had not heard any cars, nor did I recall that that the temperature had just been this humid and breezy.

I had walked into a patch of warmth, silent of the sounds of the modern era, and, upon reflection, were the street lights really that dim, or did they just not appear a moment ago?

I’ve read about “marine inversion layers” and other weather phenomena, that refract sound waves, and all that.

None of those meteorological books mention horse hooves.





Midnight in Paris may be a more romantic vision, but a late-night stroll in Chestertown is apparently magical. There is something in that town’s old district that lulls you into feeling at home, wanting to linger longer. You find yourself drawn to it, walking it’s streets every night, researching the old homes that you secretly wish you could step into, if only for a minute.

Walking back from this neighborhood, I realized how I was a bit sad to be walking around in what was clearly modern times, passing the seedy Royal Farms and the beat-up gas station, where girls always worried about getting hassled.

This modern era wasn’t the town I loved.

As I reflect on it, that particular corner, Queen and High Street, really is “magical.”  Never did I feel stressed once I walked down past it, and life seemed slower. The pace of the town was muted on that street at night.  My favorite, familiar houses seemed so inviting.

On another night, after a day filled with lectures and talking, walking late with a friend who appreciated silence and the old houses as much as I did, I think I was again aware of a shift in time, although this second time the shift felt less dramatic.

The old Imperial Hotel, ritzy, too pricey for me to pay too many visits, also seemed to slow down time, and its bar exudes the 1920’s, the perfect place for a Sidecar or Gin Rickey.  Memorable for having my first and best Bloody Mary there.  It felt like the Twenties:  the music, spiffy clientele, seersucker suits, the whispered conversations. This may be partially due to the amount of vodka in the Bloody Mary (and I may have had more than one, because they were so good),  but I distinctly remember feeling this way even before I took my first sip. It is of no great surprise that this copacetic joint sits on the corner of Queen and High.

I digress; before soaking up atmosphere and alcohol at the Imperial Hotel, I was walking.

Farther along High Street, near Philosopher’s Terrace, it’s not fun at night.  Or ever.  It smells of diesel.  Local unwashed and resentful denizens hang out by the low-rent housing on the corner, shouting and gesticulating toward you, as you go by at night.  Then you pass the frat boys, lounging about their dilapidated off-campus houses for a stretch, until you reach the college. That night, the night I heard horses, late though it was, the magic was starting to wear off as the noise of cars, the shouts of local hooligans, and the music and drunken sounds of a frat party drowned out my midnight reverie.

Turning down another street to escape back into the silent night.   Walking up to my dorm, an old brick pile from the 1800’s, I once again felt the warm glow of walking through a quiet time, though I knew I was in my own era, as a Volvo slowly glided past, and the glow of an iPhone illuminated a silhouette smoking a cigarette. I looked down, and my magical encounter had ended, but it renewed my enthusiasm for that little town at the edge of the River Chester.



my home for senior year.



Chestertown History, Colonial History, Uncategorized

A Walk Through Colonial America, Part II ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ A Foggy Night in Chestertown, Maryland 1706

Chestertown History, History

The Sultana. The beautiful ship. Sailing on the…great blue wet thing.

305303_2229965861985_5310767_n Voyage
The sun rises over the Bay.  Vibrant hues of pink and red intensify, and I watch as the nation’s largest and most storied bay is illuminated, wave by wave, in resplendent colors.

You have to get a bit poetic, and delve into your vocabulary, for settings like this.

That morning, one of the major tributaries of this great bay was already buzzing with life in the pre-dawn hours.

I was awakened just before the sun began to clamber up into the sky, the dark stillness of night transforming into a subtle blue, though barely illuminated.

Like walking through a house in the dimness, save for the reflected light from a room far down the hallway.

Amidst all this beauty and poetry,  jolted awake on deck when a radio blares out the new draft picks for the Baltimore Orioles and an outboard motor starts roaring, both belonging to a fishing boat racing by.

11665373_1164026036956292_2603883201118270301_nI was, with nine classmates, sleeping in the middle of the Chester River on a tiny schooner, the Sultana.  We’re sailing down into the Chesapeake Bay.

While many people will always recall their first days at college, most do not begin their four-year journey on a recreated 18th-century British sailing ship. It was an odd start, but a good one, beginning the process of washing away high school routines and discovering a bigger world.

The original HMS Sultana was a miniature (fifty-nine foot) two-masted ship, Boston-built in 1767, patrolling up the Atlantic coast as far as Nova Scotia, as a British revenue cutter.  It had the distinction of being the smallest warship in His Majesty’s Fleet.  In the old days, almost all of the original crew deserted.

It’s pretty cramped below-desks, and maybe they got on each other’s nerves.  Or got tired of eating lobscouse and maggoty biscuits.

But we didn’t eat lobscouse, as far as I know.  I keep looking it up, but then forget what the heck it is.

And I did not desert.  I loved this little ship.


A scurvy lot of scoundrels

Washington College, in Chestertown, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, arranged this freshman experience with the Sultana Foundation.  So there I was, a shy young landlubber from the hinterlands, raised far from salt water, on a wooden ship full of strangers, two thousand square feet of canvas, and a lot of complicated ropes (sheets?) for a week. With the exception of a backup diesel in the hold, it was authentic down to the working swivel-guns.  And it was awesome.

photo from the Washington College website. That’s the Kalmar Nykel on the far left, from Wilmington, a replica of the Dutch ship, that carried over Swedish settlers in the 1600’s. Portside, I meant to say.

The most remarkable memory for me was the first night, sleeping above decks, seeing more stars than I had ever seen, other than in the Adirondacks.  Despite being on the edge of the light pollution from the vast megalopolis across the bay (DC-Baltimore-Philly) we could look up into a fantastic number of stars and shooting stars.

10408511_1019514914740739_3930343943261198002_nSleeping on the decks felt great, and it seemed less humid on the river than ashore in Maryland.  Waking up early, we felt pretty cool even in August.

Half-way through our voyage, we stepped ashore just in time to feel waves.

Generally not an active seismic area, on August 23, 2011, an earthquake rocked Washington D.C., with tremors felt as far north as New England.  The shockwave cracked the Washington Monument, and the chimneys of my college president’s historic home. We were in a van, going on an excursion off the boat for one day, when it struck, and we just assumed the boom was the van backfiring.  Later we learned it was a quake.

The next day, we were back aboard the ship, after a long day of sightseeing, history and culture lessons about the Chesapeake region, and an impromptu lesson on seismology.  But a personal highlight of the little voyage was next, and also happened on land.

We had sailed a bit farther down the widening river, closer and closer to the Bay itself, and had arrived at the rural Maryland equivalent of “Millionaire’s Row.”  Maryland is the richest state in the USA per capita, jammed with millionaires and billionaires, so a long succession of waterfront mansions wasn’t anything noteworthy to the locals.  But when we docked at one, I was pretty excited.  When a kid from a poor, rural, nothing town gets to spend the night at a mansion, it’s kind of a kick.

Well, technically, not actually guests in the mansion.  We kind of went round the backdoor, and slept in the boathouse!  Still very fun – their “boat house” was massive, enough room for two yachts, with a bathroom and a lounge of sorts.  (What Mel Brooks movie had that sign, “Our Bathrooms Are Nicer Than Most People’s Homes“?)

We slept fairly comfortably there and when I awoke, a sartorially-elegant and very dignified man greeted us. I was happy to be able to thank the owner for his hospitality, and told him, I thought his place was lovely.

He laughed, and told me, he was just the butler.

This mansion, or I should say, villa (complete with an actual Roman bath/pool that we enjoyed, pilfered sometime in the last century from somewhere in the Ancient World), belonged to none other than the former owner of RCA, or some such mega-corporation.  (And in case I didn’t come across right, I’m grateful that he let a mob of college kids stay on his estate.) 

So that’s all I wanted to write about that trip – – no typhoons, U-boats, or mermaids to report.  Kind of tame, but not everyone is cut out for “The Perfect Storm.”  And if you think about it, that book wasn’t autobiographical.  Because the crew was all underwater.  If I have to choose, I’d  prefer my writing to be dry instead of posthumous.  But maybe you don’t agree!  

I love history, don’t know if I ever mentioned that.  Claiming that this brief college cruise gave me a deep insight into the Age of Sail would be pretentious and idiotic, but you have to seize upon whatever fragments or experiences you can.  Enjoying the stars, or crammed below-decks when it rained, we perhaps gained a tiny, foggy glimpse of something of the past, that we hadn’t seen before.  That’s all.

What also impresses me about this, is how quickly my own trip seems like Ancient History.  

It really seems like quite a long while ago, and already my memories are jumbled.  I know the chronometer was invented for sailors, roughly about the same time as the original Sultana was launched, but somehow, “being at sea” left me chronologically-confused as to where and when we sailed.  (And before you say anything — the water was brackish, and connected eventually to the Atlantic, so I’m calling it “at sea,” so sue me.)  But I think the memories, however disjointed, will stick with me, and whenever I read a mariner’s tale, or see sails out on the water, I start dreaming of a sea voyage. 

Walter Mitty at the helm

Chestertown History, Civil War, History, Journalism, politics

President Garfield in Chestertown. The Great Copperhead Riot of 1863.


When I went to college in Chestertown, Maryland, it was a pretty sleepy little place on the Eastern Shore. But it turned out to be rich in history, so I read whatever I could find about its past. This story I ran across reading some old-time newspapers.

Back in 2008, an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at George Bush during a press conference.  I had to give the President points for coming back with a joke, “All I can report is, it is a size 10.”  OK it’s not that funny, but he seemed to handle himself pretty well at that moment.  He went on to say something about living in a free society — while Iraqi security guards kicked the crap out of the journalist.

A few years later, somebody in Philly threw a book at Obama, but apparently he was just a desperate author following a suggestion from a blog called “Low Cost PR You Can Do Yourself.”

Going farther back, when Richard Nixon was Eisenhower’s VP, he was hit by a rock, while trying to talk to a crowd of college students in Lima, Peru.  Nixon also wins some points, for standing his ground and yelling “What’s the matter?  Are you afraid to talk to me?”  His car was also egged, during a South American goodwill tour that didn’t go so well.  Nixon would have also have rocks and tomatoes thrown at his car during his inauguration.

And going even farther back…we arrive in Chestertown, Maryland, with another egging and a future President.

General Garfiled LOC

General Garfield Library of Congress

In 1863, James Garfield was Chief-of-Staff for the Army of the Cumberland, fighting in Tennessee.  Despite the army’s bloody defeat at Chickamauga, he actually enhanced his military reputation by helping to stabilize the Union rear guard, after the general in command had decided the battle was lost, and suddenly remembered he had a dentist’s appointment in Chattanooga.  By the end of that horrific day, the larger Confederate army had actually suffered greater casualties than the retreating Yankees.

That fall, Garfield was promoted to major general, but resigned his commission, as he’d been elected to Congress as a “Radical” Republican.  (In those days, “Radical” meant he was anti-slavery.)   Another Ohio politician-soldier, General Schenck, who had been assigned to keeping Maryland’s secessionists under control, was also elected to Congress.

Garfield and Schenck traveled through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, speaking at Republican rallies.  On October 28, 1863, along with Salmon Chase, Garfield attended a mass pro-Union meeting and procession in Baltimore, promoting emancipation in a city where a mob had attacked Union troops on their way to Washington, only two years before.

But on 11/6/63, the Pittsburgh Daily Commercial printed this one-sentence news item:

“On Saturday night General Garfield was mobbed by a gang of Copperheads at Chestertown, Md.”

A few days later, another Pennsylvania paper reported

“Gen. Garfield, while speaking for the Union, in a strong slave-holding locality, in Maryland, was mobbed by a crowd of copperheads”.

This sounded exciting – – a pro-slavery mob in Chestertown, attacking a future President!

The only problem – – it just wasn’t true.

A few days later, a Cleveland paper printed a retraction:

Your correspondent telegraphed you…that General Garfield was mobbed…by a few Copperheads and slaveholding ruffians…it appears…that [this] was incorrect…”


The mob attack had been somewhat scaled back.

To one guy.

And a single egg.

So, mostly, a “cautionary tale” as they used to say.  The incident reveals a bit about taking news reports (then and now, in the Age of The Internet) with a grain of salt.  And a bit about Chestertown, and about Garfield — when he handled it with aplomb.  The reporter could not remember Garfield’s exact language, but reported the gist of it:


One scoundrel threw a bad egg at the General, whereupon…he coolly remarked that a few weeks since he was face to face with the companions of the miscreant on the field of battle.  “They carried more dangerous weapons,” said the General, “and as I did not run there, it is not probable that I shall run now;  and as I fought then, if necessary, I shall fight now!” 


The Cleveland Daily Leader reported it this way:

When somebody aimed a missile at General Garfield, during his speech in a pro-slavery Maryland neighborhood, the General quietly remarked that not long ago he had been meeting men on ‘Chickamauga creek, who defended the same cause with more dangerous weapons, and if it became his duty, he supposed he might renew the fight.’ 

They cheered the soldier politician to the echo, flogging some fellow soundly on suspicion,  though he earnestly protested that he didn’t throw the egg, and wound up by going off into a regular emancipation jubilee.  Residents, understanding the temper of the crowd, declared the rotten egg had made them dozens of votes in the immediate vicinity.

 Apparently, the crowd blamed the wrong person for the egg-throwing, but the beating he got from the Unionists “had an excellent moral effect upon the Copperheads present.”

egg beater 1885 patent

U.S. Patent Office

I believe attacks on politicians should be limited to debate, and maybe sarcasm, or even mockery — but not eggs, not spit, not rocks, not violence.

Garfield and daughter LOC

President Garfield with one of his children

Garfield deserved better.  He was smart, honest, and progressive.  He grew up poor, and worked his way through college, where he rose from janitor to president in just a few years (no wonder Horatio Alger wrote his campaign biography!) and also became both a minister and attorney.  As a volunteer soldier, who quickly became a respected general, he survived Shiloh and Chickamauga, and then campaigned for the civil rights of African-Americans.  He took office as President on his birthday, started reforms immediately…and 120 days later was shot in the back.

An insane person was able to walk into a store, buy a $10 handgun, and shoot President Garfield.  It took him another 80 days to die.

It’s too bad that people in our country don’t stick with words, and honest, courteous debate, face-to-face.  And if that’s just too old-fashioned, at least, stick to eggs.

Chestertown History, Civil War

1861 Chestertown and the pirates


Chestertown 1861   —   “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”

(Ok we’re sitting on a dock on the Chester River, not Chesapeake Bay, but I love Otis Redding.)


The Eastern Shore of Maryland was not a battlefield of the Civil War.  But the war did touch life there once in a while.  This story reflects two old sayings, often reproduced in abbreviated form:

“War is Hell.  Even when you don’t have to wear a corset”

“They also serve, who only stand and wait, on a dock in Chestertown”


I went to college in Chestertown, MD, and during a couple of rainy weekends, read everything I could find about the town in the old days, in the digital archives of old newspapers.  This is one of the stories I ran across.  And be forewarned, this tale is compiled from period newspapers, chock-full of inaccuracies, speculation and outright fabrications.


Sometimes a historian feels entitled to an educated guess.

In college, I was taught to call it a hypothesis.

So, on Tuesday, July 9, 1861, I am hypothesizing, there was a crowd of passengers on the dock in Chestertown, waiting for the Chester, the regular ferryboat from Baltimore, and getting more and more irritated.

Because the ferryboat was not coming to Chestertown that day.

It was, instead, chasing pirates.


Steam Paddle Wheeler



That day, the Chester was at its dock in Baltimore with a full head of steam, ready for its routine trip to Chestertown, when the Provost Marshal of Baltimore suddenly commandeered the craft, and directed it to Fort McHenry.

Nobody at the fort had seen any action since 1814, and anyway, everyone likes a boat ride, so it was not hard to persuade a company of gunners to climb aboard, and bring a couple of 24-pounder cannons with them.

The heavily-armed ferryboat then steamed off to Chesapeake Bay looking for a schooner full of pirates.

Leaving the Chestertown passengers cooling their heels on the dock, wondering where their ride had gotten to, and if the entire Civil War was going to be like this.




The people they were chasing, who the soldiers considered pirates, were considered by others to be, in fact, privateers and patriots.


They had already captured four ships, they were armed and dangerous… and their leader wore a dress.


I found the story not in a history book (although I’m sure it’s there, somewhere, as another strange footnote to the Civil War) but reading old newspapers online, looking for news of Chestertown.  So this is not a fact-checked history, but mostly a tale drawn from the often-unreliable journalists of the time.

The story begins, as do so many stories of weirdness and woe, with two Marylanders.


One of these Maryland gentleman-adventurers was named Richard Thomas.

Raised on a plantation in St. Mary’s County that was once owned by Lord Baltimore, his father was the Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, and his uncle had been governor.

A West Point dropout, Thomas claimed to have served as a mercenary in China and Italy, under the name Zarnova.

He returned to America, and rather than enlist in the Confederate army, which limited your fashion choices to gray or butternut, he decided instead to serve as a secret agent.

During this story, he would be known as Madame Zarona.  Or Madame LaForce, or Serano, etc. the newspaper accounts disagree;   some reporters just called him “The French Lady”.


George Nichols Hollins

Commodore George Nichols Hollins, Confederate Navy. LOC

The second man was from Baltimore, and was a genuine seadog.

George Nichols Hollins began as a midshipman in the War of 1812, serving under Stephen Decatur, and rose through the ranks.  He seems to have been somewhat impulsive, as shown by “The Bombardment of Greytown”.

In 1854, he was captain of a sloop-of-war off the Miskito Coast (Nicaragua) when Americans in Greytown complained of mistreatment.

Hollins responded by bombarding and destroying the town.

This seemed just a bit of an overreaction to some people, and created a bit of a diplomatic fuss, since the town was under British protection, but just then the British were busy dying of cholera in the Crimean War, and it blew over.

The Evening Star, a Washington, D.C. paper, described Hollins as “pompous” and “notoriously weak in the upper story”, but this could just have been sour grapes, because by then, he’d resigned from the U.S. Navy to join the Confederates.

It was ironic that in his younger years, Hollins had fought the Barbary Pirates, and would now begin his new naval career by becoming one, at least from the Union point of view.



The plot Thomas and Hollins came up with was simple.

The St. Nicholas, a steam-powered paddlewheeler, was making regular runs from Washington to Baltimore, carrying passengers & freight, and supplies for US Navy ships.

They would seize the ship, and use it to approach, board, and overpower the Pawnee, a Union warship patrolling the Potomac.

Pawnee sketch by A. R. Waud 1860

The USS Pawnee. Sketch by A. R. Waud, 1860. from the Library of Congress

The Pawnee was built at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and is usually described as a ten-gun sloop-of-war,  although one source lists it as a much more disreputable-sounding “second class steam sloop (screw)”.

It had been bombarding Confederate shore batteries and blockading the river.  In May, the ship steamed up the Potomac to Alexandria, Virginia, and demanded its surrender.  (This was the same day that Col. Elmer Elsworth got shot there, taking down a secessionist flag –the first Union officer to die in the war).


Thomas and Hollins approached Governor Letcher of Virginia with the plan of attack. The operation called for revolvers, carbines, cutlasses, and a full-skirted dress with crinolines and hoops.

I have been unable to discover a really satisfying description of the dress, so this will require another historical hypothesis.



“Pagoda” sleeves over engageantes were popular that year, and mauve and purple were still au courant, but speaking as a professional historian, I believe a Confederate secret agent would choose a gown in “magenta”.  It was one of the brand-new chemical dyes, and named for the Battle of Magenta, during the Italian War of Independence.

Somehow this seemed important to me when I looked it up.  I don’t remember why.  But I thought maybe you’d want to know.



John Letcher, Governor of Virginia. Lawyer, Editor, Politician, Spymaster.

Governor Letcher liked the plan to seize the irritating Pawnee, was apparently OK with magenta, and advanced $1000 to hire a crew.

Thomas and Hollins were behind enemy lines, and needed to quickly assemble a band of desperate rogues and cutthroats.

But luckily, they were in Baltimore and knew some guys.


Actually, it was undoubtedly an easy place to recruit – this was only two months after the Baltimore Riot (a mob attacked soldiers passing through on their way to Washington) demonstrated the temper of the city.  Southern sympathizers called the riot the “Pratt Street Massacre” and when the soldiers finally shot some of the mob, this was the source of the “patriotic gore…That flecked the streets of Baltimore” in Maryland’s state song.[1]


Norwich Paddle steamer

Paddle steamer. LOC


On June 28, 1861, sixteen of the Confederate conspirators boarded the St. Nicholas,  disguised, depending on the newspaper account, as “passengers”, “mechanics”, or “New York Zouaves”.

Except for Thomas, who was now disguised as Mme. Zarona, a French fashionista, and by some accounts, was flirting with the ship’s officers from behind a Spanish-style fan.


At first, it was still not clear to me why he was wearing a dress.


But he was portraying a fashionista, and the ruse was to justify hauling a load of steamer trunks onto the ship, supposedly loaded with the latest Paris fashions.

Apparently no one noticed that a box of French hats felt a lot like a crate full of revolvers.



3b50487r LOC poster Zouave remember Ellsworth

A Zouave, exulting in his comfortable, loose-fitting, yet stylish trousers. LOC

At some point during the voyage, Thomas changed into a Zouave uniform — very possibly more spectacular than the dress.

Zouave uniforms (based on those of French colonial soldiers in North Africa) usually involved red pantaloons, an embroidered blue jacket – – and you got to wear a fez, too!

Thomas opened up the trunks, distributed pistols and cutlasses to his band, and locked the ferryboat’s crew in the hold.

The Confederates were now ready to board and capture the Yankee warship.


But the target of this exercise, the warship Pawnee, was gone.


NY Zouave

NY Zoave. LOC


Admiral Dahlgren aboard the Pawnee, his flagship, leaning on one of his namesake cannons.  I think this photo was taken at the end of the war, after one of his sons had been killed during a cavalry raid on Richmond, possibly attempting to assassinate Jeff Davis. LOC

If they’d asked, the Confederate Secret Service Bureau could have revealed the Pawnee’s movements to the privateers.  Governor Letcher ran a string of spies, and the head of the Confederate Secret Service, in fact, was from Baltimore County. [2]


Or, alternatively, the Confederate raiders and secret agents could have…just picked up a newspaper.

During the Civil War, the movements of warships were listed in the paper, just like any other shipping.

Apparently the secret agents did not read the Baltimore Daily Exchange that day, which reported a fight the day before at Mathias’ Point.

During the fighting while Union forces attempted to erect a shore battery, the captain of a gunboat had been killed.  The Pawnee was carrying his body back to the Navy Yard.


Stern Wheelers

Stern Wheelers

So instead of stalking the Yankee warship, the dread rebel privateer St. Nicholas paddled off toward the Rappahannock.

On the way, they captured three civilian ships:  the Monticello (3500 bags of Brazilian coffee), the Mary Pierce (200 tons ice), and the Margaret (270 tons coal).


The Confederate war machine now had the capability of making a lot of hot coffee, or alternatively, iced coffee.

The Governor of Virginia, delighted, and possibly highly caffeinated, promoted Hollins to commodore, and Thomas to colonel.  The ferryboat freebooters had a big parade in Richmond, and everybody got to wear Zouave uniforms.



All this happened in June.

So all through this tale, you’ve been wondering, if you’ve paid attention, why were the Chestertown passengers waiting around on the dock in July?


Baltimore spy

Harper’s Weekly “A Female Rebel in Baltimore…” LOC

Apparently, Thomas/Zarnova/Madame X decided to repeat the stunt.  According to one account, he was onboard the Columbia, sister ship to the St. Nicholas, but was recognized by the St. Nick’s captain, who had been released by the Confederates and was returning home as a passenger.

But according to the NY Daily Tribune, Colonel Thomas/Madame X was caught by a police officer, who’d boarded the Mary Washington, looking for one of the rioters who had attacked the Sixth Massachusetts soldiers marching through Baltimore in April.  The policeman recognized Thomas & some of his men, stopped the boat at Fort McHenry, and got a company of  soldiers to arrest the Confederates.


It took an hour’s search to find Thomas.  He was hiding in a large bureau drawer in the ladies’ cabin.

He really did seem to have a thing for women’s clothing.


Thomas and his men were treated as pirates, rather than POWs, and were sent to prison.

The southern press complained of the “villainous and inhuman” treatment of Confederate privateers.

(They’d been sent to Philadelphia.)


A Memphis paper reported them as being held in damp, dark cells for felons, often in double irons;  they were entitled to rations costing sixteen cents per day, but a Union officer was quoted as saying they managed on a nickel.  Governor Letcher of Virginia reportedly threatened to subject Union soldiers to the same treatment, and at some point, the privateers were released.

Thomas headed for France and stayed there for the duration.



After Thomas’ arrest, the Chester (the ferryboat-turned-pirate-hunter)  was pressed into service to look for a schooner that was reportedly hanging around with the rest of the raiders onboard.

But I don’t know if they ever found it.

Or when they finally picked up the Chestertown passengers.

Or if they had to give the cannons back.


The Civil War fostered many huge leaps in military technology.  Aerial observation, electronic communications, ironclad warships with turrets,  breech-loading weapons, landmines, etc. But was also one of the last gasps for cavalry charges with sabers and plumed hats…and also for privateers.


After the Crimean War, the Europeans had banned privateering, and country after country, even the Ottoman Empire, signed on.  Queen Elizabeth I had graciously smiled upon Drake and Raleigh, and all the gold they’d looted from the Spanish, but Victoria was not amused.  In the 19th century, somehow privateering (and having the Queen have to share the prize money), just didn’t seem very…Victorian.

But even if An Englishman Would Not Do That, the British shipyards were happy to build the CSS Alabama and other commerce raiders for the Confederates.

Lincoln and his successors were not amused by this, and after many years of Exchanging Stiff Notes, and finally, international arbitration, Gladstone actually coughed up fifteen million dollars so he didn’t have to listen to any more gripes.


(There were commerce raiders in WWI, but they were ships of the Imperial German Navy, not privateers working on spec.)


Back in the 1850’s, the U.S. was asked to sign the ban on privateering, but in those days, our fleet was still dwarfed by those of the European powers, and folks still remembered the successes of the Baltimore clippers during the War of 1812.  And all that lovely prize money.

Secretary of State William Marcy, a good New York lawyer after all, wanted the U.S. to keep its options open.  His response echoed Geo. Washington’s admonition to avoid Large Standing Armies, and powerful navies.  He told the international community, that this ban on privateers sounded very expensive, as we’d have to purchase a Great White Fleet somewhere, and we’d have to think about it.

And we still are.  Thinking it over.  The U.S. has never signed the ban, so technically, we’re still free to seek letters of marque and reprisal,  put on a dress, and go seize a ferryboat.



[1]   Have you actually read the original lyrics of the Maryland State Song?  Kind of amazing.   The state of Georgia gets a fantastic tune by Hoagy Carmichael, and Maryland gets a 2nd-hand Xmas carol with propaganda — which rhymes “bravely meek” with “shriek”.

I really resent someone contaminating “O Tannenbaum” with this crap.  OK, “gore” and “Baltimore” do rhyme, sort of, and Baltimore/gore is still a very appropriate association, but seriously, what an artless anthem of  negativity to teach school kids.  Like the rowdies killed in the “Boston Massacre”, Baltimore’s “anointed throng” was basically a bunch of thugs attacking people with rocks.  Maybe I sound a bit opinionated.

[2]  At the NSA’s Cryptologic Museum, they have a Confederate “cipher cylinder” the agents used to send coded messages.

(I’ve been to the museum, but cannot reveal to you where it is.)

(OK, it’s in Annapolis Junction.)

(On Route 32, behind the Shell station)

(and it has a gift shop!)


Most of the photos of old steamboats, Hollins, and Adm. Dahlgren, and the A. R. Waud sketch of the Pawnee, are from the Library of Congress.  I was unable to find the Chester, but these pictures give you an idea of the age of steam and paddle wheelers.

P. S.   Putting cannons onto a ferryboat was not quite as crazy as it sounds.  In 1861, the U.S. needed to blockade Southern ports and capture the Mississippi, but only had a handful of ships.  The Navy began frantically building warships.  They could build a complete ship in an amazingly short time.  The “Liberty ships” of WWII got it down to five days, but they had prefab sections.  During the Civil War, the Northern shipyards up and down the Eastern seaboard, including Maryland, built serviceable warships from scratch in three months.  These “90-day gunboats” were then sent on blockade duty.

But in the meantime, the Union bought and converted hundreds of civilian ships — clippers, schooners, barks, whalers, tugs, stern-wheelers, side-wheelers, screw steamers, paddle frigates, steam sloops, etc.

The list of ship types gives you some idea of the floating menagerie assembled by the U.S. — one of the most diverse navies ever assembled.

Former civilian vessels were used as mortar boats, tenders, dispatch boats, tugs, coalers, survey boats, pilot boats, transports, etc.

Some had iron plates or heavy timbers slapped on the sides, and became gunboats.  The Confederates even sent “Cottonclads” into combat, using huge bales of cotton in lieu of armor.

Ferryboats and tugs were powerful and sturdily built, and apparently were favorites for conversion to warships.

Newspaper articles available via LOC about the privateers:

3/21/61;  3/28/61 Evening Star (Wash DC);  4/20/61 Daily Ohio Statesman (Columbus, OH);  4/21/61 Nashville Union and American (Nashville, TN);  4/20/61 The Daily Green Mountain Freeman(Monpelier VT);  4/22/61 The Daily Dispatch (Richmond, VA);  7/2/1861 The Daily Dispatch (Richmond, VA);  7/2/1861 Evening Star (Wash DC);  7/2/61 The National Republican (Wash DC);  7/2/61 The Daily Wabash Express (Terre-Haute, IN);  7/2/61 The Daily Exchange (Balt., MD);  7/6/61 The Daily Exchange (Balt.MD);  7/9/61 New-York daily tribune;  7/10/61 The Daily Exchange (Baltimore, MD);  12/23/62 Staunton Spectator (Staunton, VA);  8/14/62 Memphis Daily Appeal (Memphis, TN)

The Washington Times, October 6, 2007 Saturday, TRAVEL; THE CIVIL WAR; D03, 2339 words, Rebel raider disguised in hoop skirt, By Richard P. Cox,



A quiet farmhouse,

set back from the highway,

home to a nice family.

If you ever stayed up late, reading

Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood,

feeling more and more jumpy,

you’ll recognize the setting.



This is an article about murders that really happened in Kent County, Maryland, back in the 1800’s.  While I was going to college in the area, I ran across a mention of the trials in an old Baltimore newspaper, and tried to read every newspaper account I could find.  It was quite a story.

Despite the lurid title, this is not pulp fiction.   But here’s a Disclaimer.  This is a recounting based entirely on period newspapers – – reportage that’s full of inconsistencies, conjecture, and perhaps outright invention.  I’m informed by a local historian, that the errors I’ve included (both the old ones, and my own), are far too many to list, but I enjoyed reading through these old columns, and hope you will, too.  This is not a fact-checked history, but rather a fireside tale, a mash-up of sometimes grisly, but somehow entertaining, newspaper reports.  So you can enjoy the story, as related by the papers of the day, and take it with a grain of salt, or if you’d prefer an accurate, dry bones history…you’ll have to go elsewhere.




Hangman’s Folly  

A few miles northeast of Chestertown, is the little town of Galena, formerly “George Town Cross Roads”.  And just south of town is the Moody Farm.

The Maryland State Archive did an historic site assessment, which told us that the farm was originally part of two tracts called “Hangman’s End” and “Hangman’s Folly.”

Appropriate names, as it turned out.

Robert Moody bought the land in 1768.  He was apparently a hard worker and successful.  The Archive noted “In his earliest land transactions, Moody is referred to as a farmer, but prior to his death in 1815…he is referred to as a gentleman.”

After farming for thirty years, Moody put up a brick house, and for some reason, it was built facing away from the road, and maybe that’s relevant to the story also.

From the description in the archive’s file, it sounds like it was a nice house.  The mantels had a “course of gouge-carved flutes and swags” and I guess it’s the rare person who doesn’t appreciate a few flutes and swags around the place.

You can still see some pictures online from 2008 articles, when the house was knocked down – apparently being on an Inventory of Historic Places doesn’t mean much in Kent County.

The local paper had interviewed someone who’d visited the house, with the wonderful name of Paul W. T. Pippin.  Mr. Pippin happened to be an architect of note, who was born in Chestertown, and graduated from Washington College.  He was related to the former residents, and commented that a house from that era “…had to have some importance to have paneled rooms.” [1]

Mr. Pippin also recalled there were bullets still lodged in the paneling.


The Massacre


The colonial-era Moody house and farm were later owned by William Cosden, and it came to be better-known as the “Cosden Murder Farm”.

On February 27, 1851, Cosden, his wife, his sister, and his sister-in-law were shot, stabbed, and killed.

A servant (a black slave rented to the Cosdens by a local deputy sheriff) was also shot twice, but survived.   

Cosden’s sister was 17 years old, and his sister-in-law was ill and bedridden.   Mrs. Cosden’s 14-year-old brother was also in the house, but managed to escape.

The “Cosden Family Massacre” was bound to create a sensation in Kent County, but when I ran across the incident, reading the old newspapers of the time, I realized the story ran in papers all over the U.S.. There was plenty of juicy “human-interest” stuff:  a quadruple slaying, the randomness of the attack, the gory details of the crime scene, the possible rape of the women, a number of mistaken arrests, the trial…

and finally the executions, which involved four hangings for three men.




The Penny Dreadful

I’ve seen commentators advising us that the internet has given us an exaggerated fear of crime, because it instantly broadcasts every incident, in every penny-ante town.  But by 1851, the “penny press,” (the cheap newspapers which were hugely popular with the middle class, because they literally cost one cent) had already been “sensationalizing” the news for twenty years, and anything weird or horrible was sure to be passed along from paper to paper.

So Step 1, in the 1830’s, was hooking up a steam engine to the press, to crank out thousands of papers, instead of hand-printing them for rich folks.

Step 2, was dropping the price from six cents, to one cent.

Step 3, in the 1850’s, was the Magnetic Telegraph.


early Morse telegraph

early Morse telegraph


“How They Brought the Good News from Ghent…”

I think in part, this crime became a national story, because initially it was “telegraphic news”, a crime story relayed to out-of-town papers by telegraph wires that had just been strung, up and down the eastern seaboard.

In 1851, people had grown up in a world where news often trickled in weeks later.  The classic example being the Battle of New Orleans, our biggest victory of the War of 1812, fought after a peace treaty had already been signed, fifteen days before.

News of the treaty, signed in Ghent, Belgium on Christmas Eve, had to cross the Atlantic by sailing ship, and didn’t arrive in Washington until February 11th, forty-nine days and two thousand casualties later.

But the Cosden murders happened in a new era, and people all over the country began reading about it in mere days, instead of weeks or months. [2]


Morse telegraph

Morse telegraph. LOC


Hot Off The Press

The murders occurred on a Thursday night, and were reported in Horace Greeley’s newspaper (the largest in NYC) the following Monday, in the column “By Telegraph to the New-York Tribune”.   Similar “Telegraph Dispatches” ran in papers in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania (“Fiendish Murder of a Family” in the Wilkes-Barre Star of the North).  The story then spread to papers in at least nine other states, and I’m guessing it was published in the other states, too, if I continued searching.   Newspapers as far away as New Orleans followed the arrests, trial, and hangings.


Chestertown’s Extravaganza

The news coverage brought what was probably the Chestertown’s biggest crowd of the century.  Steamboat companies brought in execution excursionists, and contributed to the seven or eight thousand spectators that flooded into Chestertown, controlled by hundreds of militiamen and cavalry.

I know that unlike the uncultured masses of the 19th century, the modern reader does not want to wallow in lurid sensationalism, but if you’ve stuck with me through the telegraph thing, you deserve the basic story, as it was related in the newspapers.




Blackbird Forest

The four men convicted of the crime had been hanging around the Blackbird Forest.  There’s still a state forest in Delaware called that — 5400 acres, just a remnant of the huge woods which stretched from bay to bay, across Kent and New Castle counties.

Before the railroad came through a few years later, the area was still only lightly settled.



For unknown reasons, the men settled on this particular farm for a robbery, perhaps because the house faced away from the road.

At their trial, the men claimed they were simply looking for “pillage” or “plunder”, but they showed up like a NRA convention, armed with a musket, a double-barreled pistol, and three double-barreled guns.  Apparently they didn’t find much to steal;  four people were killed, and another maimed, for a few rings and earrings.


69 cal 1842-style lockplate, Belgian style nipple alteration w.replaced hammer $2-300


Tea and a Massacre

If the murderers had planned on a robbery, they might have knocked on the door, and stuck a pistol in the homeowner’s ribs.  But it began when one of the men saw Cosden sitting in front of his fire, and simply shot him through the window.

They then broke down a door, and shot and stabbed his 17-year-old sister.

His wife, also shot and stabbed, tried to escape, but only made it as far as the yard.

When the men realized the farmer and his wife were not yet dead, they were again attacked, but Cosden somehow survived long enough to describe the assailants.

Mrs. Cosden’s sister, Miss Webster, had been ill and bed-ridden for two weeks, and was shot where she lay;  the bedding was charred by the blasts.  Rings and earrings were taken from the women.  The papers reported that “it was the opinion…of the doctors who examined the bodies…that a rape had been attempted on both of them, either before or after they were shot,” although this did not seem to be brought up at the trial, so it may have been a reporter’s invention.


The servant, a slave owned by Deputy Sheriff  Edwin Crouch, was shot in the kitchen, but ran off and survived, although she was left with only one functioning arm.

Amazingly enough, Mr. Congden and his sister-in-law lived long enough to describe the attack to their neighbors.  Mrs. Congden’s 14-year-old brother was also visiting, and escaped to give the alarm to the neighbors.

Papers all over the country began following the story.  Part of the reaction may have been due to the randomness and lack of personal motive.  Cosden was described as “a most worthy and industrious, and highly respectable young farmer” and “a most excellent citizen, harmless and inoffensive.”   The family was “living in peace and quiet, unsuspecting harm from any one

(quotations from The Gallipolis Journal (Ohio, 3/13/51) and The Lancaster Gazette (Pennsylvania 3/13/51)





Hundreds attended the funerals.  The constabulary and mounted patrols began beating the bushes, and the Chestertown jail began to fill up, and some suspects had to be sent to Elkton.  Some of the dragnet enthusiasm may have been due to the reward:  $1000 offered by the Governor, and talk of another $2000-$3000 from the citizens of Kent County. (The Daily Crescent, New Orleans,  3/12/51)

A man found in the woods making a brush shelter was arrested first, who had “a knife and a dirk, both with bloody handles, whilst there was also blood on his clothing…” (The Lancaster Gazette 3/13/51)  In March, the New York Daily Tribune (3/7/51) announced more suspects:  James Roberts, a traveling clock-mender, who had been at the house the day before, and William Shelton, a mill worker.IMG_1625


Roberts, supposedly identified by Miss Webster on her deathbed, was nonetheless released when he provided an alibi, and was immediately arrested again on a different charge “so as to have him at hand if further testimony should connect him with the transaction” (The Athens Post, Athen, TN 3/14/51)

Mrs. Cosden’s uncle, William W. Webster, who had quarreled with his niece and her husband in the past, arrived at the house for the funeral, did not appear to be sufficiently sad, and was promptly arrested.

For weeks, the papers reported suspect after suspect swept up in the manhunt in the surrounding area, then as far as Philadelphia.

A “Henry D. Webster” was apparently arrested in Baltimore simply because he was from the area and was thought to be a relative.



Confusion & Confession

In April, the papers began indicating there had been a confession, and some claimed the women’s uncle had admitted his guilt.

But finally, Uncle William Webster was cleared when Thomas Drummond, a woodcutter, confessed his involvement, and turned state’s evidence, naming the other gang members:  Nicholas Murphy, Joseph Shelton, Stephen Shaw, and Abraham Taylor.  (Evansville Daily Journal 4/23/51)  Drummond claimed that Taylor, a former convict, recruited him to go out robbing, telling him that Maryland owed him $7,000 for 7 years’ unjust imprisonment.  [The Daily Crescent New Orleans, 4/30/51]


A couple from Blackbird (the hamlet within the forest) testified that their boarder, Stephen Shaw, had come home drunk and confessed to them.  Shaw also escaped the noose by confessing and naming the others.

Despite all the yards of newspaper coverage, no one seemed to know much about these men.  One history mentions the forest as a refuge for Irish immigrants – was Murphy a desperate refugee from the Great Famine?  There seems to have been a long-time tavern in Blackbird run by a family named Murphy, that predated the potato famine years.  Were any of the men disturbed veterans of the Mexican-American War?




Three Men.  Four Hangings

Eventually three of the men (Nicholas Murphy, Joseph Shelton, and Abraham Taylor) were convicted.  Dressed in shrouds, with black caps on their heads, they were taken in a wagon from the Chestertown jail to a scaffold a mile out of town.  There, in front of an audience of seven or eight thousand (“but not a white lady near,” according to one newspaper account), and hundreds of militiamen, they were hanged.

Following addresses by clergymen, the attorneys “took an affectionate farewell of their clients”, according to the Brooklyn  Daily Eagle account.  ““I shall send this lock of hair to your mother,” said one of the lawyers;   another handed a ten dollar note to a friend, to be given to the wife of one of the murderers.

(I’m assuming the lawyer was reprimanded by the bar association — giving ten dollar rebates when you lose a capital case would set a bad precedent.)


Famous Last Words.   Or not.

The convicted men continued frantic “protestations of innocence” until the nooses were around their necks.  Two continued to pray, and just before the trap boards dropped, Murphy was heard to utter his last words, “I am going safely home”.

This declaration turned out to be premature, and not his last words.  Murphy had an hour more to live.

Shelton and Taylor appeared to die instantly, but Murphy slipped out of his noose and fell eight-to-twelve feet to the ground, still alive, “to a universal thrill of horror,” according to one account.  The rulebook apparently required that the bodies be left to hang to make sure they were dead, so Murphy watched the other two men swing for 27 minutes, while he continued to protest his innocence, and refused to confess to the crimes.

He asked for a glass of water, but was unable to swallow due to his damaged neck.

He was eventually hanged again, although he “seemed to die much harder than the others, the muscular motion of the body lasting for some minutes”.

The authorities apparently reckoned they’d leave him hanging for a full hour, just to be sure he was dead this time.

So the steamboat excursionists enjoyed a good show.


Epilogue – Party Like It’s 1893

Chestertown wouldn’t see any more hangings for over forty years.  But in 1893, the town did its best to make up for lost time.  Newspapers as far away as Scotland and Ireland reported “The death sentence has been carried out in something very like wholesale fashion in Chestertown, Maryland”.

Chestertown prepared to out-do the Cosden executions, with a special gallows built for eight simultaneous hangings.  The eight had been convicted of murdering a Dr. J. H. Hill, on April 25, 1892.  When the governor commuted the sentences of four of the men, all under the age of seventeen (to life in prison), this extreme liberality aroused the ire of the victim’s widow and many locals, amidst talk of burning the jail.  A New York paper reported that only a heavy snowstorm had prevented a lynch mob from forming.

On the 13th of January, 1893, the remaining four men were hanged simultaneously:  Moses Brown, Charles Brooks, Fletcher Williams, Frisby Comegys.  Ministers were not allowed to attend them, but the weather had improved enough for a drunken crowd to gather at the jail, and some obtained tickets to stand at the scaffold.  The horrified reporter from The Sun (NYC) described drunken spectators, laughing and swearing at the foot of the gallows.

A particularly ugly incident.  So maybe I’ll explore it in more depth at a later time.


OK – Déjà Vu– One More Epilogue, Then It’s Really Done

The Parlor


George Town Cross-Roads.  People have just finished tea.  A figure outside the house fires a bullet through the window, and somebody dies.

Continuing to read back in time, through the old newspapers at the Library of Congress, I was floored to find a  murder scenario in the same tiny locale, with some similarities to the Cosden case.   The town is now called Galena, which is some kind of lead ore – – was there lead in the drinking water?  Too many Kent County first cousins marrying?


So, in 1840 in George Town Cross Roads, there were two men and a woman.

You already see where this is going.

One man was named Wroth (as in, “the Sheriff of Nottingham waxed wroth…”), so you would expect him to be the perpetrator, but he was the victim.

Edgar Newnam was visiting and fell for a local lady named Lavinia Piner.   (I know, how could anyone resist a girl with a name like that.)

Intercourse tended to increase the passion of love which had been slumbering in his bosom…” says the account in the Baltimore Sun.

Speaking as a professional etymologist (well, anyway, I once drove through Intercourse, PA and read the sign), I hasten to clarify for Lavinia’s sake, that in 1840, intercourse just meant “fellowship” or “social interaction”.

But sadly, Lavinia did not fall for Edgar.

And Edgar believed that Lavinia liked James Wroth.

And Edgar was unhappy about this.

And, even more sadly, Edgar grew homicidally angry about this.

And so, Edgar waxed Wroth.

(Sorry, had to say it)

It wasn’t until the trial, that the newspaper brought out the fact that Edgar and James were cousins.

I think in Kent County, it was just assumed.


So on the night in question, after tea, Edgar pretended to go to bed.

Instead, he went out to the barn and got a gun.  He then apparently chickened out, went to his room, which he shared with another visitor, and had a few drinks.   Edgar then said to his roommate “Now I will try again”.

I have a tiny bit of Dutch ancestry and refuse to use the phrase “Dutch courage,” so let’s just say, as they do in the South, he “liquored up.”

DSC08273He went back outside the house, looked in the parlor, and saw that his cousin was still sitting with the family.  Edgar shot through the window “and literally blowed the head of the unfortunate victim to atoms – the brains were scattered all over the room, and those who were sitting


The Sun really knew how to write up a murder, even if they were a little hazy on grammar.


Edgar immediately confessed and demanded to be arrested, but soon sobered up and got himself a Philadelphia lawyer.  They attempted to plead insanity, but that didn’t play in Kent County, and he was convicted of 2nd degree murder, and got 18 years.


So, faithful reader, what have we learned from all this?


Well, in Kent County:

>  When you’re done with your tea, for God’s sake, go straight to bed.

> Stay away from girls named Lavinia

> Curtains or venetian blinds are a real priority


— The End —



[1]   [The Star Democrat “Cosden Murder House Demolished” 11/2/2008  — by Kevin Hemstock  Special from The Kent News]

[2] The Battle of New Orleans was typical of a screwed-up war — a colorful Hollywood victory, with hillbilly riflemen, Choctaws, slaves, Cajun pirate cannoneers, and crusty army Regulars, all uniting under Old Hickory (the guy with the Mount Rushmore forehead on the twenty dollar bill) to whip the redcoats.

And then they find out the war was already over.

When the British realized their crushing defeat at New Orleans was after the peace treaty was already signed, they argued  that the Napoleonic Code does not allow for sudden-death overtime, but since we didn’t ratify the treaty until February, it definitely counts as a U.S. victory.  And supposedly, the British had secret orders to continue to capture New Orleans, regardless of any peace treaty.

The British commander, General Pakenham (Wellington’s brother-in-law), got the job because his predecessor, General Ross, had gotten killed in Maryland, trying to capture Baltimore.

After the battle, Pakenham’s body was shipped home in a barrel of rum.  My question:  what happened to the rum after he got home?  It is an historical impossibility that the Royal Navy dumped out an entire barrel of rum.  They were also famous for giving limes to their sailors, so was this how daiquiris were invented?  To disguise a funky…aftertaste?  Haven’t tracked down this theory yet, but to this day, some people in England say “tap the admiral” to mean, sneak a drink, based on a similar theory, when Admiral Lord Nelson’s body was shipped home in a barrel of spirits, after he was killed at Trafalgar.)

[3]  E-mail:  The Treaty of Six Nations

I was struck by the national attention the Cosden Massacre received, and realized the telegraph’s contribution.  I was also surprised to see a “Treaty of Six Nations” mentioned in articles about telegraphs, because I’d been researching the Iroquois Confederacy (“The Six Nations”) and knew nothing about this treaty.

Eight years before the murders, Congress gave Samuel Morse $30,000 to build a test telegraph line from Baltimore to Washington, D.C.. (And yes, Samuel Morse was of course honored with membership in the American Philosophical Society, my employer this summer.)

By 1851, there were dozens and dozens of telegraph companies, stringing competing lines from city to city, and already reaching to New Orleans.  In a few more years, they would lay down a cable across the Atlantic Ocean, and a few years after that, across the continent.  The so-called “Treaty of Six Nations” was simply a deal between telegraph competitors, realizing they would profit from “cooperating” (“collusion” is such an ugly word), and beginning the process that lead to the Western Union monopoly.  Newspapers began running columns with items hot off the wires.


1850's, Chestertown History, Early American History, Gothic literature, Murder

At sundown, the killers emerged from the Blackbird Forest and approached the farmhouse…