Cecil Whig first edition

ELKTON — Each week, we take a look back in time to examine what was on the minds of Cecil County readers. Rotating through the Whig’s 177-year history, we hope to not only provide direct text from our archives, but also context as to why the issue was important at the time.

Join us as we thumb through the pages of our history.

July 3, 1869 (150 years ago)

We often read about the viral social media postings that blame government, teachers, students or parents for the failing of our young scholars. So when we read this short update about the end of the school year just before the Fourth of July — can you imagine the school year running that long today? — we thought it was apropos to interject a bit of historical perspective. The blame has been passed for generations.

Close of the Public Schools

Wednesday last was the expiration of the Public School year, and we presume most of the schools throughout the county closed on that day. The Elkton Public School, S. J. Tammany, Principal, did not close, however, until Friday. Some of these institutions of learning have been kept prominently before the public, whilst of many others little has been published, among them our Elkton school, the largest in the county. For the past year, this school has been under the charge of the efficient Principal, Mr. S.J. Tammany, who, with his able corps of assistants, has devoted his entire energies to the prosecution of his profession: and not without a favorable result, either, as the progress made by the children will fully testify. The latter part of the week was occupied by a public examination, and on Friday the exercises terminated with the reading of compositions and recitations by the children, all of which was very creditable.

It is to be lamented that the parents of the children manifest so little interest in their school duties. It is seldom the parent is ever seen in the school-room, to speak a word of cheer and encouragement to the teacher, or pupils, or to exhibit any signs of kindly and lively feeling toward the cause of education. Even at a public examination the parents will not attend, thus showing how little they appreciate the efforts of those who endeavor to impart instruction, and the progress made by the children.

The following account lays bare some of Cecil County’s ugly, racist past as a white man reportedly murdered a black man, only to have the court turn a blind-eye to the incident. Coming just a few years after the emancipation of slaves and the end of the Civil War, the incident shows that the thinking of many had not yet evolved, nor had black citizens gained true civil rights.

Fatal Shooting Affair

A shooting affair took place in Sassafras Neck, this county, on the farm of B.F. Cruikshank, on Friday afternoon of last week, which resulted in the death of a colored man named W. Flamer almost instantly. William J. Potter, a young man, farmer, in the same neighborhood, had the colored man in his employ who left his field and went to work for Mr. Cruikshank, while Potter was from home. When Potter returned home he went to Mr. Cruikshank and requested permission to go into his field and get his man to return, and was granted that privilege. The colored man had formerly been a slave of Potter’s family, and he and young Potter, the party who did the shooting, were raised together, and as boys, it is said were always very intimate, Flamer having always been a special favorite of Potter’s.

The testimony in regard to the particulars of the shooting was given by four colored men who were the only parties in the harvest field near where the shooting took place, except the principals to the tragic affair. They state that Potter passed by them in approaching Flamer, showing no symptoms of unusual excitement, and that when he came up to Flamer he asked him why he had left his field. No other words wore spoken, the colored man accosted making no reply; the two men nearest the parties, who were — one of them 30 yards, and the nearest only about 8 feet distant — testify to hearing only this remark. The other two were considerably further off and did not hear the words of Potter. The next instant they all heard a shot and saw the colored man fall, and Potter with the pistol in his hand. Potter’s back was toward the witnesses who appear to have all been in a line along a swath of wheat. Nothing like an encounter or altercation took place, but everything was so void of excitement that the witness who was within a few feet of the parties set up the sheaves he held in his band against a shock after Potter asked the question above quoted, so little had his interest been excited, but in the instant the pistol was fired.

Potter has the reputation of a quiet, peaceable young man, with nothing of the “border ruffian” apparent about him, which makes the melancholy affair wear a still more unaccountable aspect. Potter’s account, we have heard, is that be drew the revolver for the purpose of intimidating the negro into returning to work for him, and he thinks, but does not seem certain about the action of the negro, the colored man attempted to strike up his arm, and in so doing the pistol was fired, the ball passing through the upper part of his head.

This painful occurrence shows the wicked folly of carrying deadly weapons, particularly revolvers, about the person, habitually, as so large a number of our young men do. The very custom is presumptive evidence of an intent to kill or fatally wound some human being, under some contingency that may arise, and on a comparatively slight provocation too; for in this orderly community, the danger from assaults which carry with them any serious consequences, requiring the use of deadly weapons in self defense is almost imaginary.

Potter came to Elkton on Saturday morning and delivered himself up, but was not committed to jail until Monday. Justice Brown held a Coroner’s inquest on the body of Flamer on Saturday, and the verdict of the jury was that William J. Potter had committed the deed in the heat of passion; a verdict as singular as any other part of the tragedy, for there is not a particle of evidence of passion having manifested itself in the whole melancholy affair.

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