Cecil County DecoysCecil County Decoys



Gerard William Wittstadt, Jr., Esquire (c)2017

To my children, Will, Taylor, Benjamin and Andrew



IMG 6247 LO WebWhen I was twelve (12) years old, my father took my brother and I on a weekend hunting trip to Elliott's Island, Maryland. My dad was not a hunter, but many of his friends were. I will never forget the proprietor of what was later named the Mertle Gray Gunning Club, Sam Kenney, telling us that whatever we shot, we ate. That being said, Pete Malloy cooked us muskrat and wild duck for dinner that evening. The older gentlemen at Elliot's were kind enough to take us duck hunting that season; it was then that I first placed my hands on a decoy. I remember thinking then that there was something special about that object, and that feeling never left me.

As an undergraduate, I was a history major. Specifically, I enjoyed Maryland history. When I attended law school in South Dakota, many of my classmates grew tired of my constant reference to Maryland's history in my explanation of legal theories during and after class. The same held true while on active duty in the United States Navy, Judge Advocate General Corps. I was often accused of being somewhat conceded when it came to my Maryland roots. Oh well.

My collecting reflects that same identity; my collections consist of only pieces of memorabilia related to Maryland's history, which include, for example, Maryland Confederate iamges, uniforms and accoutrements, Preakness glasses, Baltimore and Cumberland cone top beer cans, trains, oyster cans, Baltimore made guns, and of course, antique decoys.

Living in Cecil County, Maryland, I have fine tuned my decoy collecting to those birds carved only in this great county. Like any serious collector will tell you, once you get involved in your collection and hold an old decoy in your hands, your mind starts wondering; thinking about what action that particular bird might have seen over the years. My historical quest quickly lead me to the quite little village of Charles Town. It was not long that my interest in the Charlestown carvers lead to research into the town's fascinating colonial heritage. In speaking with the residents of Charlestown, I learned that decoys and gunning was as much as part of the town's real history as that of the town's colonial hero, Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Ramsay. I found several articles about the early colonial history of Charlestown and several references, in sporting magazines and decoy collecting books, to the town's decoy carvers, but found a void where the two meet.

I do not consider this book to be, by any means, an academic work, nor do I consider it to be a "decoy book." Rather, it is my attempt to simply introduce this little town to those who might care, a provoke an argument with our neighbors in Harford County, as to where the first decoy capital of the world was located.


In putting this book together of the past eighteen (18) months, there are several people that I would like to publically thank for their kindness and assistance. First however, I would like to thank the octogenarians of Charlestown. Without you and the members of your families that have gone before you, there would be no town for me and others to enjoy. You have truly preserved a treasure. Your work is to be commended. It is my hope that the younger generations of Charlestown residents appreciate the special place that you have called home.

I would also like to thank Allen W. Purner, Sr., who was the first person I contacted with the idea of putting this book together. When I called Mr. Purner he immediately invited me into his home, opened his books and records and provided me with unparalleled support throughout this project. I would also like to thank J. Edgar McMullen and J. Cranford Henry for allowing me to reproduce their families' photographs and for their keen sense of history. Thanks also to Colonial Charlestown, Inc.; to Rebecca Phillips, Darlene McCall and Ruth Patchell Wright.

Of course, I must also thank my loving wife, Lynn, for without her love and support, I would be lost. I love you, always.