Saturday, April 4, 2020

The Gypsy Campground

The earliest named Gypsy in America was Joan Scott who in 1695 was charged with fornication and bearing a child out of wedlock.  The Henrico County Virginia court records describe her as “an Egiptian and noe Xtian woman (Egyptian and non-christian)”.  Her case set the tone for negativity against Gypsies. 

By 1767 people described as Gypsies had scattered across the colonies.   In August of 1767 three servant men ran away from forges at the Patuxent Iron Works on the Patuxent river about twenty miles south of Baltimore.  They had been transported to America as convicts from England and they were purchased for a seven year contract to serve as bound labor.  Below is the ad in the Maryland Gazette that described them as Gypsies.

The previous two paragraphs were based on works by Ann Ostendorf.  So early on any recorded media showed the Gypsies in a negative light.  Gypsies are usually defined as any member of a traveling people traditionally living by itinerant trade and fortune telling.  They speak the Romany language that is related to Hindi and are believed to have come from a group of people from north west India. So much for definitions, by the 1800s they were all over America.  Traveling in bands, making their living from horse trading and tinkering for the men, removing sickness, giving curses and fortune telling for the women.   Today with so many amusements at our viewing pleasure Gypsies are not as much a factor as they were from 1850 to 1950. 

In 1900 about every six months a tribe of Gypsies would go down the Delmarva Peninsula stopping every week or so at a different location.  The men and women would go house to house selling their trade be it tinkering (tinsmithing, basketmaking, leather work and shoe repair), selling good luck charms and potions, fortune telling, horse trading, selling  lawn chairs made from branches, etc.  Some time smaller groups would follow the crops working as itinerant workers in the canneries and fields.  In larger cities they might stay for a month or so.

above 1938 Salisbury Times

As bad publicity spread about their actions (they would always be accused of stealing chickens, stealing children, or stealing money) the local governments would try and enact regulations against them.  In 1964 Wicomico county required the below licensing fees mostly pertaining to gypsies.

When they passed through Delmar they would frequently camp at Leonard Mill pond.  Since all traffic traveling what is today RT13 had to cross Leonard Mill pond it was noticeable spot for all travelers be they gypsies or non gypsies.  In the 1850 to 1950 time period there was grove of trees by the pond and travelers would camp there over night or for a couple of days.  It had the requirements of water, trees and owners that would allow people to camp out there.  They would park their covered wagons start their campfires, visit local houses to sell their wares and return to the grove to play their music at night and locals would visit the camp for the adventure or to buy what ever they were selling.  After a couple of days they would continue on down the shore. 

I am sure there are still followers of a good fortuneteller but today they are not as prevalent as before 1960 in which many of our relatives would seek out fortune tellers and for five or ten dollars be told a great story of events to befall them.  Gypsy fortune tellers rated high above all others.

above 1954 ad

One of the family stories we have in my family is when my grandmother ran a small grocery store in Venton, Somerset county in 1920.  When the gypsies came through my grandmother had to keep an eye on the Gypsies and her younger sister, who would give away anything in the store if they would read her hand and tell her fortune. 

The Gypsy was romanticized in the movies, plays, books etc.  Local groups performed what was called Gypsy entertainment sometimes in churches sometimes in schools.

below is a 1929 Delmar Maryland High school play that included Gypsies. 

Front Row; Nadine Hudson and Frances McGuinness
back row; Thelma Powell, Irene Parsons, Catherine Elliott, Pauline Small, Jeanette Walls, Virginia Hudson

above the Wilmington Morning News 9 Nov 1899

1939 cartoon

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