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 176-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.
127 years ago (Oct. 29, 1892)
Capital punishment has a long history in Maryland, with the first prisoners being hung for murder in 1773. Today, the death penalty is no longer possible in the Old Line State, with the General Assembly abolishing the sentence with a 2013 law. More than a century ago, however, the mandatory punishment for first-degree murder was given as death. New laws didn’t come into force until 1908, which allowed the sentencing judge discretion, giving the option of life imprisonment. Juries were given the option of deciding if they wished to impose the death penalty during their deliberations starting in 1916.
Eight Men Will Hang
The Murderers of Dr. Hill Speedily Convicted
Chestertown, MD, October 27 — Three men and five boys are to hang for the murder of Dr. James Heighe Hill, Joshua Baynard, Lewis Benson, Henry Hurtt, Moses Brown, Frisby Comegys, Chas. Brooks, Fletcher Williams and Chas. S. Emory were each convicted of murder in the first, degree for the killing of Dr. Hill, near Millington, Kent County on April 23. by Judge Robinson, this morning, Judge Wickes and Stump agreeing. The men heard the terrible news without quailing apparently less moved than the spectators, whose pleasure at the verdict was manifested in face and action.
Their doom pronounced
At ten o’clock the three judges entered the room, and as they took their seats the eyes of the prisoners were fixed upon them to see what hope was expressed therein, but the faces of the judges gave no evidence of the verdict to be rendered. Each was unusually quite, and gave the appearance of having spent some hours of the preceding night in weighing the evidence and deciding upon the verdict. It took some time for the court-room to quiet down. There were some late arrivals, whose position was within the railing, and to get there they had to be lifted over the heads of the crowd before them. Finally the hum of voices ceased and court was convened.
The three judges engaged for a few moments in a whispered conversation, and a law book was consulted. Then Judge Robinson raised his hand for silence. In an instant the room was hushed to a silence most oppressive. Judge Robinson then spoke slowly and distinctly: The court has carefully examined and fully weighed all the evidence in the case of the murder of Dr. James Heighe Hill, and our verdict is that Joshua Baynard, Lewis Benson, Henry Hurtt, Moses Brown, Frisby Comegys, Charles Brooks Fletcher Williams and Charles S. Emory each is and all are guilty of murder in the first degree, and,” but the voice of the speaker was here interrupted by
A storm of applause
that burst almost unconsciously from the crowd of spectators. With a pained look upon his face, Judge Robinson raised his hand and said. “Oh, gentlemen, that is not right. Don’t do that,” and the applause ceased as suddenly as it had begun. The judge then continued, “and that John Potts is not guilty. The clerk will please record the verdict.” When the judge began to speak the accused men leaned forward and anxiously caught the words, the face of Potts being drawn as if with pain. When he had finished the other eight sank back in their seats with despair written on every feature, while Potts brushed his band across his forehead to wipe away the sweat that had gathered there, as a smile of hope showed in his eyes and on his face.
They had given up hope
There was no evidence given at the trial to show any complicity on the part John Potts, therefore the court unanimously declared him not guilty.
The court deprecates violence
“We are pained to hear from the sheriff,” continued Judge Robinson, “Of a rumor that violence is threatened towards this prisoner. The man has been tried before the court, and a solemn judicial opinion has been rendered. Any disposition on the part of the people to take the law in their own hands and administer summary punishment is to be deprecated. If such is to be the case, no one is safe, and the law of the land becomes a dead letter. To prevent such a criminal act, the sheriff is hereby authorized to summons a sufficient posse of men to guard the prisoner. I shall remand him to the keeping of the sheriff until the meeting of the grand jury next week, when, if any additional evidence can be brought against him of complicity in this crime, so can be again indicted on another count.”
Perry Bradshaw, who saved his neck only by being accepted as state’s witness, in the endeavor to pin something on John Potts, who was believed to have been the instigator of the crime by many people, but who failed in his testimony to implicate Potts, is also held at the jail. He will probably get his release in a few days.
To be sentenced on Monday
The convicted men and boys will all be sentenced next week, and possibly on Monday. it is not thought that they will break down during the ordeal that is before them, as the nerve they have so far exhibited has been remarkable. In this respect Williams and Brooks have excelled. In some respects this nerve seems to be brutal, and the general appearance of each would seem to corroborate this view.
52 years ago (Oct. 25, 1967)
The 1960s were a time of social change in American society, with civil and gender rights campaigns combining with a sexual revolution, relaxed attitudes on drug usage and increased anti-war sentiment. Those changes had a profound impact on college campuses, and while Cecil County didn’t yet have its own college in 1967, that didn’t mean that students didn’t want to be a part of the movement. A peculiar short story in the Whig proved that Tome School students aimed to emulate their older peers.
Student Paper Causes Stir
A student newspaper at the Tome School in Port Deposit was the subject of several complaints to the Cecil Whig this week.
The publication was described as being “crude and vulgar.”
The Whig editorial staff obtained a copy of the twelve-page mimeographed publication and agreed that the description was accurate.
Dr. William M. Hogue, headmaster at Tome, says that the students in the senior English class wanted to put out a paper imitating the “underground papers of the college protest movement.”
The English teacher and headmaster sanctioned the project.
They read, before publication, the first edition of the paper. The second edition, which is the subject of the complaints, was not read by either the teacher or headmaster prior to printing and distribution of the approximate 60 copies, according to Dr. Hogue.
The headmaster termed the work a failure. “Not only was it crude and vulgar,” he added, “but devoid of any literary merit.”
Hogue indicated that the project will be continued as not to completely demoralize the students concerned, but with faculty supervision. “The students have benefitted from the experience. They have been seen more effectively than by any adult sermonizing, the consequences of hasty and ill-considered acts which affront standards of decency,” he added.