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Lynchings on Maryland's Lower Eastern Shore: George Chelton, 1923

Biography

George Chelton (d. 1923) 
Executed on June 8, 1923 in Baltimore, Maryland

George Chelton (aka Shelton, Sheldon) was executed in Baltimore, Maryland on June 8, 1923 for crimes committed in Somerset County. Chelton was convicted of assaulting a white girl. Chelton was 19-21 years old at the time of his execution. Little is known about his life before his arrest, conviction, and execution.

In mid-January of 1923, George Chelton was suspected to have feloniously assaulted 14 year old Thelma Hughlett outside of Princess Anne, MD. Hughlett had been riding a horse cart home with her younger brother when Chelton asked for a ride. Having known Chelton, Hughlett granted his request. Chelton departed the cart after reaching the road where his house was. After traveling a short distance greater, the Hughletts found themselves besieged by an African American man covering his face with a handkerchief. The Hughletts initially tried calling for help and bribing the man, but the assailant threatened them with a knife to keep them quiet before assaulting the former. After the attacker fled the scene, the Hughletts finished their trip home to inform their parents, who in turn contacted the county sheriff and a doctor. While neither child could make out the face of the attacker due to the handkerchief, both identified the assailant as George Chelton based on his voice.

Sheriff Dryden and his deputy arrested Chelton at his home, where he proclaimed his innoncence. He was then confined to jail in Princess Anne. It was not long before news of the assault on Hughlett began to spread throughout the town, and a crowd began to form in the streets. Fearing an attempt to lynch Chelton, Dryden removed the prisoner to Baltimore. Chelton remained incarcerated there until the days leading up to his trial. Upon his return to the Eastern Shore, Chelton was held in the Salisbury jail until his trial in Princess Anne. While in the Salisbury jail, Chelton made a statement to the Wicomico County Sheriff and State's Attorney that his exchange with Hughlett had been consensual and initiated by her. This statement and testimony by the sheriff and state's attorney were presented at Chelton's trial in Princess Anne. Combined with the testimonies of the Hughletts, doctor, and other parties presenting evidence against him, Chelton's statement effectively confirmed his guilt of assaulting Thelma. On April 18, 1923, George Chelton was sentenced to death for his crime. Before his sentencing, talk had gone around Princess Anne of seizing and lynching Chelton. However, the death sentence proved to be enough to satisfy the trial audience, who cheered at its announcement.

 

Chelton was transported to Baltimore shortly after his trial and sentencing. A new state law required all executions to take place at Maryland Penitentiary rather than the counties where the crime had been committed. Chelton was to be the first execution to take place at the Penitentiary under this law. Chelton was executed on June 7, 1923 with the Wicomico and Somerset County Sheriffs in attendance.

 

Newspaper Clippings

"Negro Assaults Girl Near Princess Anne," Worcester Democrat, January 20, 1923.

"Spectators Cheer as Judge Pronounces Death Sentence," Capital Gazette, April 18, 1923.

"First Hanging in 'Pen' Will Be Girl's Assailant," Baltimore Sun, April 18, 1923.

"Death Sentence for Negro Who Assaulted White Girl; Big Crowd Attends Trial," Crisfield Times, April 21, 1923.

"Somerset Negro to Pay Extreme Penalty," Worcester Democrat, April 21, 1923.

"To Be First Hanged at Pen," Baltimore Sun, April 25, 1923.

"Sheriff to Execute Somerset Negro," Crisfield Times, May 5, 1923.

"Chelton to Hang," Wicomico News, May 10, 1923.

"To Set Hanging Day," Midland Journal, May 18, 1923.

"Shelton to Hang June Eighth," Afro-American, June 1, 1923.

"To Hang Negro Tomorrow," Baltimore Sun, June 7, 1923.

"First Hanging is Held in State Penitentiary," Baltimore Sun, June 8, 1923.

"Extra! Shelton Hanged on Gallows," Afro-American, June 8, 1923.

"Chelton Hanged at Penitentiary," Crisfield Times, June 9, 1923.

"Farlow is Witness to Negro's Hanging," Wicomico News, June 14, 1923.

"Levy for 1923," Crisfield Times, August 11, 1923.

"Catholic Father Collects $25.00 for Spiritual Advice," Marylander and Herald, January 19, 1924.