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Story of Laurel's first bank robbery has interesting conclusion [Commentary]

I read with great interest your article Jan. 31 about Laurel's first bank robbery by John Morgan. Sadly, this was not our last bank robbery and just as sadly, not the last 19-year-old to go to prison from our county. A quick review by the state archivist, Dr. Edwin Papenfuse, brings us the "rest of the story." (By the way, if every part of government was as efficient or accommodating as the state archives, there would not be much to complain about.)

The Hon. Chief Judge John P. Briscoe of our Circuit Court sentenced Morgan to five years in the state penitentiary, notwithstanding the recommendation for leniency by the bank president, Charles H. Stanley Sr.

Several months later, Morgan's sister Gertrude, who was a nurse at St. Joseph's Hospital, applied to the governor to pardon her brother. Gertrude Morgan had treated a man at the hospital named D.M. Hoke, to whom Gertrude had revealed the fate of her brother. Moved by sympathy for the young John Morgan, Hoke offered to move back to Maryland from South Carolina and raise Morgan as his adopted son if allowed.

Judge Briscoe himself also sent a recommendation to the secretary of state for the governor to pardon Morgan. In addition to the sentencing judge, Gertrude Morgan was also able to collect signatures asking for clemency for her brother from many officials of Citizens National Bank.

John Morgan was pardoned by Gov. Phillips Lee Goldsborough (R) on Jan. 7, 1913 after serving about two years of his sentence.

Goldsborough, a former clerk for the U.S. Navy, state's attorney for Dorchester County and Comptroller of the Treasury, served one term as the 47th governor of Maryland from 1912 to 1916. He was only the second Republican at the time to ever become governor.

Goldsborough's tenure as governor saw a great deal of education reform, including the appointment of school boards and teacher certification. It was also during his tenure that the state purchased the land for the Maryland Agricultural College, which is now the University of Maryland College Park.

He left politics afterwards and resumed his law practice in Cambridge, and also became president of the National Union Bank. Goldsborough went on to serve as a Republican member of the U.S. Senate from Maryland (1929 to 1935).

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Goldsborough to the director's board of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1935. He served in that position until he died in 1946 in Baltimore, and is buried in the old churchyard of Christ Episcopal Church of his hometown of Cambridge.

Briscoe continued serving as the chief judge for the 7th Judicial Circuit (then District) of Maryland, which includes Calvert, Charles, St. Mary's and Prince George's counties, until 1924. He died a year later, survived by seven children.

Briscoe was the chief judge for 33 years. As the Circuit's chief judge, he also served as a member of the Court of Appeals, which was customary at the time. Before becoming a judge, Briscoe was engaged in private practice from 1875 to 1890. During that time, he was elected state's attorney three times for Calvert County. In addition, Judge Briscoe was a member of the Board of Visitors for St. John's College, chair of the Democratic State Central Committee, president of the Maryland State Bar Association, secretary and treasurer of the vestry of St. Paul's Protestant Episcopal Church in Calvert County and a Mason. Briscoe attended Charlotte Hall School and St. John's College. Interestingly, there is no mention of the judge attending law school.

There appears to be no public record about John Morgan after 1913. Perhaps two years in the penitentiary caused him to reform. We can only hope.

The actual pardon order can be found at msa.maryland.gov.

Kevin Leonard, Jim McCeney, Don Henyon and Bernie Robinson deserve our thanks for keeping Laurel's history alive and reminding us "that as much as things change, they stay the same."

C. Philip Nichols Jr. is a Laurel native and a Prince George's County circuit judge.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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