Cecil County is known for many things, but poetry is not the first thing most people think of when you mention the county. Did you know that a collection of poetry by Cecil County writers was published?

The Poets and Poetry of Cecil County, collected and edited by George Johnston, was published in 1887. George Johnston is probably best known as the author of a detailed book, The History of Cecil County. The collection includes the work of twenty-seven different poets, so this review of them will be divided into three parts. This time we will take a look at David Scott (of John), Emma Alice Brown, and the Reverend William Duke.

The idea for this collection was a result of the passing of Johnston’s best friend, David Scott (of John). “Of John” was added to Scott’s name because he had a first cousin with the same name. His cousin was known as David Scott (of James). The Scotts’ grandfather was also named. David Scott! When David Scott (of John) passed in 1885, Johnston and others proposed to publish a collection of his poetry. Upon beginning this project, they realized that there were not enough poems to create an entire volume of poetry. The plan then changed to collect poetry written by native poets of Cecil County. They also included poetry written by those who resided in Cecil County.

In the preface and editorial notes, Johnston apologizes for the “prominence given to the poems of David Scott (of John)” and explains that they were close friends for over twenty-five years and shared their writing with each other before publication. Johnston added that most of the poets included were born in the northern part of the county, within eight miles of the Maryland/Pennsylvania border. In addition, most of the poets were related in some way to each other.

David Scott (of John) 1817 — 1885

David Scott (of John) is the first poet who is profiled. Scott was born in 1817 near to what was known as Dysart’s Tavern, now Appleton. He always lived within a few miles of his birthplace, and spent most of it on the Big Elk Creek at what was known while he owned them, as “Scott’s Mills.” As a young man, he became interested in politics and was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates and later to the Maryland State Senate. In 1853, he was elected as a county commissioner. During the Civil War, he supported the Union cause. In 1882, Scott was appointed School Commissioner of Cecil County. Scott began writing poetry at about twenty-one years of age and several times his work was published in the Cecil Whig. His tombstone at Head of Christiana Church bears the inscription “David Scott, the poet”. This book includes thirty-seven of Scott’s poems, most of which are dedicated to friends and family. Most of them are more than two stanzas. Here is the beginning of a poem he dedicated to the editor, George Johnston.


Dedicated to his friend George Johnston

How are you, George, my rhyming brother?

We should be kinder to each other,

For we are kindred souls at least;

I don’t mean kindred, like the beast,—

Mere blood and bones and flesh and matter,—

But what this last is makes no matter.

Philosophers have tried to teach it,

But all their learning cannot reach it;

‘Tis matter still, “that’s what’s the matter”

With all their philosophic chatter,

And Latin, Greek, and Hebrew clatter,

Crucibles, retorts, and receivers,

Wedges, inclined planes, and levers,

Screws, blow pipes, electricity and light,

And fifty other notions, quite

Too much to either read or write.

Just ask the wisest, What is matter?

And notice how he will bespatter

The subject, in his vain endeavor,

With deep philosophy so clever,

To prove you what you knew before,

That matter’s matter, and no more.

Emma Alice Brown 1836 — 1890

Emma Alice Brown was born near Colora in 1836. She became a published writer for the Missouri Republican and for the New York Ledger as an adult. She married in 1864 and continued to write using the surname Browne, adding an “e” to the end. Brown was the cousin of the editor of this book. This is a poem by Brown, which is included in many books of children’s poems as well as the Cecil County anthology.


Last night I walked in happy dreams,

The paths I used to know;

I heard a sound of running streams,

And saw the violets blow;

I breathed a scent of daffodils;

And faint and far withdrawn,

A light upon the distant hills,

Like morning, led me on.

And childish hands clung fast to mine,

And little pattering feet

Trod with me thro’ the still sunshine

Of by-ways green and sweet;

The flax-flower eyes of tender blue,

The locks of palest gold,

Were just the eyes and locks I knew

And loved, and lost—of old!

Rev. William Duke 1757 – 1840

Reverend William Duke was a well-known minister. The log cabin in the historical society’s backyard once was Rev. Duke’s school for boys. He became the rector of North Elk Parish in 1793, but resigned and moved to Annapolis three years later. He returned to Elkton in 1799 and opened a school. He preached in North East, Elkton, and at the Episcopal church in New London, PA. In 1793, Duke married Hetty Coudon, the daughter of the Rev. Joseph Coudon, a former rector of North Elk Parish. This poem was originally part of a pamphlet called “Hymns and Poems on Various Occasions”.


But now the dawn of day appears,

And now the dappled East declares

Ambrosial morn again arrived,

And nature’s slumbering powers revived,

And while they into action spring

The infant breeze with odorous wing,

Perfumes of sweetest scent exhales,

And the enlivened sense regales,

With sweets exempt from all alloy

Which neither irritate nor cloy.

Nor less the calmly gladdened sight

Enjoys the milder forms of light,

Reflected soft in twinkling beams,

From numberless translucent gems.

But now Aurora dries her tears,

And with a gayer mien appears,

With cheerful aspect smiles serene,

And ushers in the splendid scene

Of golden day: while feeble night

Precipitates his dreary flight

Dispelled by the all cheering sway

Of the resplendent God of day,

Who, mounted in his royal car,

And all arrayed in golden glare

With arduous career drives on

Ascending his meridian throne:

From thence a Sovereign of the day,

His full-grown glories to display.

The Historical Society remains closed until the end of 2020. Please feel free to visit our website www.cecilhistory.org .

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