John Hanson Briscoe & Leonardtown, Maryland in the 1930’s and 1940’s

John Hanson Briscoe and other St. Mary’s County residents reflect growing up in a less developed, St. Mary’s County. They recall living in the sidewalk town of Leonardtown or on farms on either end of the County. John Hanson Briscoe left a lasting impression on St. Mary’s County and he certainly left a lasting impression on those who knew him as evident by their kind words when reflecting on his life. The complete first chapter of The John Hanson Briscoe Historical Project, “Johnny Briscoe, A Great Life” is available for download here.

In the Beginning

John Hanson Briscoe:  “Well, I was born in Leonardtown April10th, 1934 in St. Mary’s Hospital, same place my three older sisters wereborn.  Named John Hanson Briscoe. Mymother and father gave me that middle name because I’m a descendant of JohnHanson. And I grew up with that name. As a kid going to school, my parentscalled me John Hanson, but I never knew what it meant. It didn’t mean anythingto me. I didn’t know who Hanson was until I got older and my father told methat he was a distinguished ancestor. He was the President of the United Statesunder the Articles of Confederation and I would be proud to carry his name. ButI never paid any attention to it; I didn’t even like the name. I was JohnnyBriscoe, that’s all I was. That is, until I got older and learned for myselfwhat a very prominent and distinguished patriot for the United States he wasand then I was truly proud to carry that middle name.”

Laura Mae “Lari”Mako:  “My mother was born in St.Mary’s county. My grandfather, William Clement Mattingly, lived in St. Mary’scounty. I did not grow up in Leonardtown, but I spent my summers and myholidays here because my mother came home. My father died when I was seven andmy mother always came home to my grandfather’s for the holidays and then Ispent my summers there. I love Leonardtown. I loved it. I was an only child andmy father died when I was seven so when I came to my grandfather’s I had myuncles and aunts and cousins and I had the town. And when John was born, theBriscoe family was close to my family mostly through my Aunt Leila Hodges, hisgodmother, and my mother’s sister. Aleck Loker, who lived across the street,was his godfather and was related to me on the Ford side. I’m related to almosteverybody; we were all like an extended family in those days.

“My AuntLeila, John’s mother Hilda, and her sister Libby Bacon, and I were at SenatorCoad’s house , known as Clark’s Rest, ‘for tea’, which in those days meant youwere drinking. You went for tea and you had a drink. And Hilda (Johnny’smother) was sitting in a chair and she had on a beautiful shade of blue chiffondress and I could see that she was restless. And finally she said ‘ I’m goingto have to excuse myself.’ And she left early because she was in labor orstarting. And I remember all of us saying to her ‘Have a boy. Make it a boy.’ Imean, even the Coad’s. That’s how we were all involved with that. I’m going tosay that everybody I knew, and I knew almost everybody in town, were allwishing for John to be born a boy; we wanted a boy. They both wanted a boy somuch and that’s all we talked about. When Hilda was in labor it was like thewhole town was wanting a boy and along came John Hanson. And I don’t think shehad him for maybe a day after that or something. But I remember us all goingout to the house and we were so happy. Nobody was home; we were just there. Andhe was born at the hospital. And when I say everybody, I would say old peopleand young people. Everybody was interested. I’m not exaggerating; the wholetown was thrilled about it. So, as he grew up, no wonder he was mischievous. Hewas spoiled by everybody.”

John Hanson Briscoe: “My threesisters, “Lou”, “Meme”, Hilda, my parents and I had two widows living with us.The first to move in was my father’s mother, Mariah Ford Briscoe, after herhusband, Walter Hanson Stone Briscoe, had died. She was very strict. I neverreally knew this grandmother as I was only five years old when she died. Shewas a Victorian lady. The only thing I remember about her, and this is terribleto say, but she was laid out in our living room in Leonardtown, dead.  At that time, my mother’s mother, AddieMaddox, was residing across the street with the Lokers. Addie Maddox was aclerk at the court, the Register of Wills at the Orphan’s Court, and so forth.She was, in my opinion, a wonderful lady who, after grandmother Briscoe passed,came in and lived with us for about ten years. My grandmother Maddox was a dearperson and what I liked about her was that, although I was a typical boy, shewas very tolerant and very compassionate.”

Meme Briscoe Gillaspy:  “I really didn’t know grandmotherBriscoe. My mother’s mother, Addie Maddox, I recall well. She was my namesake,Adriana Cornelia Gough Maddox. She was remarkable; a wonderful, wonderful lady.I always say that mixing the generations was a wonderful experience for me withher. We read poetry together and played cards together.  I always swore that friends who came to visitme really came to see Grandma first. She was such great company.”

John Hanson Briscoe: “There is aphoto of grandmother Maddox and her daughter, my mother Hilda. Look at herapparel; Victorian; my God, with a choker, polka dot. She didn’t believe indrinking. My father was an only child, raised as a Catholic, right. And shemade him promise that he would never take a drink as long as she was alive. AndI don’t believe he did. His mother was very strict.”

Laura Mae Mako: “Hilda, his mother, wasthe outgoing one. John H.T. Briscoe, on the surface, was very dull to behonest. But when you knew him he had a twinkle, he had a spark. John Briscoewas Hilda’s child. His whole thinking; his whole attitude.  After he was born, I remember seeing him asan infant, of course. But the first time I saw him and he was kind of with it,he was about three years old. I remember him coming shaking hands very formallyat three. He was hardly walking but he had class and style.”

Growing Up in St. Mary’s County

John Hanson Briscoe: “For a young man growing up in a county that had not developed, I didn’t realize atthe time that I was very fortunate. I could walk from my house (across from thecurrent Brinsfield Funeral Home, which was at the time owned by Doctor Camalier)walk out of the driveway and onto a sidewalk. Back in the ‘forties, a lot ofpeople didn’t have that opportunity; they didn’t live in a sidewalk community.I could walk right down past the little local store where you could getmiscellaneous things (Saunder’s) and just keep on that sidewalk and go all theway down to Leonardtown. It would take me about ten minutes to arrive at Duke’sDrugstore. And that is where I would meet my buddies.”

Lari Mako: “I knew everybodythat lived in Leonardtown. I visited everybody that lived in every house.There’s not a house in Leonardtown that I didn’t visit. Like, this is besidesthe point, but Mrs. Ruth Sterling had 18 children; she used to bake rolls onThursday. I just always happened to be there. It finally got to the point whereshe’d bake an extra pad for me because she knew I’d be there. That’s a littledescription of the town.”

William Aleck Loker, Sr. “As far asI was concerned, at the time that I got old enough to realize what times werelike, they were perfect. It was an ideal place then, and for many yearsthereafter. We were very friendly people and kind people, especially to thewants and needs of, of others in the community and it was a wonderful communityto live in, especially for youngsters. There was very little, if any, crime.And by and large it was just a wonderful place, in my opinion. At least itappeared to me that way.”

Ann Camalier Wathen: “I wouldsay growing up in Leonardtown, you couldn’t hardly beat it. You couldn’t doanything bad because if you did somebody would see and tell your mommy anddaddy, and by the time you got home you knew you were going to get it. Wedidn’t get any whippings or anything like that, but if my father raised hisvoice that was it. That didn’t happen very often, though, if he raised hisvoice at you, oh…I was very happy in Leonardtown. If it was dark in thewintertime or whatever, and we were doing homework, and I said to my mother’Oh, I used my last sheet of paper’, she would say ‘Here, take this money, godown to Mr. Nuthall’s store, buy some paper, and come on home.’ You could dothat.  Everybody was very friendly, verynice. I don’t see how it could be any better than what we had. Religion was abig part of our growing up, too. You went to church, and they told you what todo and what not to do. We definitely listened, so that made a lot of differencein our lives. I couldn’t have had a better childhood.”

Jeanette Dakis remembers Leonardtownas “a wonderful place to grow up in.  Ireally do.  Of course it was so small atthat time, you know, it only had the theater and the drugstore.  Those were the only two things that werereally in town.  But to me it waswonderful.  We had a lot of friends and alot of family, my father had three brothers that were in Leonardtown and theyall had sort of big families. Most of my family stayed in Leonardtown, someleft and some were like my brother and went into the service.  I think Leonardtown was a great place to beraised in, I really do.  But todayworries me, the way things are going today, it really does worry me.”

Peter Wigginton: “Going tochurch was an integral part of life. People tend to forget how intense theCatholicism was down here. It was the second most Catholic countypopulation-wise in the entire United States. And Catholicism, in retrospect,permeated our life, and church life had a lot to do with our total life. We hadJesuit Fathers and they were brilliantly educated, courtly, in the main,courtly, gentlemanly men. And they provided spiritual and somewhat culturalleadership. We had, essentially, what has been called ‘God’s Marine Corps’,intellectually, brilliantly educated Jesuits. Some of the finest men I’ve evermet.”

Asked about what it was like growingup in Pearson, Larry Millison said: “Well, in a community like that everybody worked. In other words, kidsthat were five, six years old, all had jobs to do. A little bit different thanyour society today. Everybody took care of chickens, or they milked the cows,or they helped with the harvest and the crops, or– my father was a merchantand we worked in the store. Or you cut firewood, or if you didn’t have runnin’water, you toted water. And uh everyone had a job to do. And was glad to do it,you know.  Really and truly, youngchildren in those days worked like, worked like what a young adults would worktoday. Virtually no one got an allowance or anything. And this was expected.Like tobacco was a big crop on Cedar Point, and livestock farming and makinghay, things like that. And just everybody worked. I mean, if your father was awaterman, you worked on the water. It was a very proud thing to do. In otherwords, it was a, the kind of community where men tried to outdo each other onhow much they could pick up. Or young boys, how much they could pick up. Or howfast they could run, or how good they could fight. You know, it was a veryphysical community, where there were those, the ability to work hard and to bestrong physically, was very important in the community. It was a form ofstanding in the community.”

Norris Shepherd was born in 1931 ina house on Great Mills Road: “I started to stay with my grandmother andgrandfather, John and Ada Norris. My grandfather died in 1942, and I rememberthe same as if just two minutes ago because I idolized that man. But we neverlocked the door. And you could take your billfold out and lay it right there. Iknow when I was working for SMECO, just started and what not, that you couldhave taken your billfold and laid it up on the board now this morning, went outand worked on jobs, come back, and you know where your billfold would be?Laying right there where you left it. You didn’t need somebody to tell you, butyou can’t do that now. And I don’t believe I knew where the key was to lock thedoor at home because you didn’t do it.”

Johnny Briscoe, In Retrospect

John Hanson Briscoe: “God, whata great life I had.”

Kennedy Abell: “We were all so,so proud of him. I mean me, personally, I’m so proud of him. What he did,getting the training and education that he did and he went that far and becameSpeaker of the House, was just fabulous. And so much of it all was hismannerisms and being able to get along with people and he was that way all hislife with everybody.  But more than that, he had the charisma of handlinghimself well. Down here in Leonardtown, we didn’t know all of what was going onin Annapolis until all of a sudden he was Speaker of the House.  I just thought he had done so well for a young man in the field of attorneys that werearound. He managed so well to become the Speaker and then when he chose to say’I’ve done my thing; I’m going home’. I think John was smart enough to try toplan what he wanted to do.”

Mary Ada Burch Candela: “Ourclass has been very, very close all these years. You know how when you’re ingrade school and there’s little cliques and little this and little that. ButJohn came in here to our reunions and he had the best time with his classmates.I mean it was like they never left. He was cool about that. He came in and hejust enjoyed being here and he enjoyed seeing them. It was like he had done itthe day before, like he never left. “Growing up in St. Mary’s county, youdidn’t have all the bells and whistles. All the museums and the this and that,it was in the town, in Washington, D.C. You went up there for special things,you didn’t just go up there at the drop of a hat. But being down here, youdidn’t have all that; you made your own fun and I do think you got closer toyour classmates, your neighbors, your friends, and formed more lifelong friendsthan people who lived other lives. An example of that is a funeral down here.When someone dies down here, the people of St. Mary’s county turn out. It’s far and flung.”

Jack Candela:  “We were all very surprised that hebecame a successful attorney, a politician, and ultimately a judge because ingrade school, like myself, he didn’t have that much ambition. I don’t know whomotivated him once he got to college, but I always lived in awe of him when hehad done so well; because if I had tried to predict it when we were in gradeschool, I would’ve never predicted that.”

Lari Mako: “You know, when Johntook off and was like his “pompous” John, I took right off with himand loved every minute of it. That’s all I can say about John. And all myfriends that came down here, I could not believe how much, when I said he wassick, how many prayers I had people saying for him, people who had just met himhere.”

Peter Egeli: “John had a naturalpersonal trait that made it easy for him to deal with people.”

Ernie Bell: “You know, his legacy…….a guy who just enjoyed life, savored every minute, and just wantedto do the right thing. He was very young and unpretentious….I mean John wasJohn. He was a guy, the Speaker of the House, he became a judge, and he wasJohn. He was just very unpretentious. He loved this county, loved it. And he loved Leonardtown in particular, there is no question about that. The last timeI was fortunate to be with him was December (just a few weeks before he passed), Al Gough and I. I don’t know if he even went out beyond Leonardtown; he talked about all the people he had known, and grown up with, and his fine memories of them and you know it was kind of good. God knows he loved Leonardtown. Everybody from Leonardtown, he gave them something to talk about.And John growing up, everybody had great stories. And that’s John. He loved toplay baseball; he loved to hunt. He epitomized what most of the kids in Leonardtown liked to grow up and do. He just parlayed that into, not by accident, not by design, but people recognized him for what he was. And here he becomes Speaker of the House and judge of our Circuit Court. I don’t think that’s something he ever set out in life to do, but the opportunity presented itself and he presented himself. And those who make the decisions, in each case the voters, said ‘man, that’s a guy we want, he’s one of us’. I think that’s his legacy, and I think it’s an important one.”