J. B. Welch – Milton’s poet laureate

J. B. (John Bayne) Welch (1848 – 1926) was born near New Market Church, just east of Ellendale, and came to Milton at an early age. He went to work for L. B. Chandler, a druggist, and learned the business. Entering into partnership with William T. Starkey, the two ran a drug store together until 1901, when the partnership dissolved and Welch established his own drug store across the street from the Milton M. P. Church (now the Lydia B. Cannon Museum) on Union Street. Starkey started his own drug store on Federal Street, and both men were successful in their respective businesses. Welch’s

Welch had a second, parallel “career”: he was a poet and musician of some local note, having written and published a number of historical poems, sentimental songs, and religious music. Artistically, his work cannot be ranked with even the second-tier poets of his time, but its subject matter is of interest because it garnered praise from his fellow townspeople and local journalists such as David A. Conner. People who were educated enough to read a newspaper in the 19th and early 20th century loved to read a poem that dealt with contemporary or historical events, or took up nostalgic or sentimental themes. Of the latter category, his song My Old New Market Home, sung to the tune of My Old Kentucky Home, was reported to have greatly moved older residents of that town when he sung it publicly in 1904. A deeply religious member of the Goshen M. E. Church, he led the choir there for many years, and many of his songs are religious in nature, reflecting his concern for the plight of the poor.

Harold Hancock and Russ McCabe’s book Milton’s First Century, 1807-1907, contained the texts of several of Welch’s poems. Two of them—The Slave of Nanticoke and My Old New Market Home—are included here.

The Slave of Nanticoke

Published in 1906, this poem was based on material in The Entailed Hat, by George Alfred Townsend, and gives an account of the attempted abduction of a former Delaware slave by the infamous Patty Cannon gang.

‘Twas near the banks of Nanticoke,
In Sussex County Del.,
Three maiden ladies owned a farm,
and farmed it good and well.

They raised their corn, their wool and flax,
To feed their corn and slaves,
Who did the work upon this farm,
And got their bark and staves.

Each year they burned a kiln of bricks,
Which were in much demand,
In Seaford; and all trade was hauled
By Al, their foremost hand.

They taught this slave to read and write,
And cipher, all they could,
So he could sell, collect and buy,
And measure bark and wood.

They taught him how to be polite,
To greet the guest who came,
And take their teams, and wait on them;
He gained much note and fame.

For fourteen years he had the charge
Of work done on the farm.
Seeing that all the younger slaves
Their equal task perform.

And when at thirty years of age
His mistress set him free,
He worked for wages still for them;
No more a slave was he.

Old Patty Cannon lived nearby
And knew he was a prize.
She laid her plans to capture him,
And make him merchandise.

She detailed Milman on the case,
Who with a Negro pal,
Laid in wait near Walker’s mill,
And tried to capture Al.

The Negro was to catch his team,
Which were a sprightly pair;
They reared, and knocked him to the ground,
And left him lying there.

But Milman caught behind the cart,
And tried to get within,
But Al brought down his loaded whip,
And hit him on the chin;

And knocked him flat into the road
Down in the mud and muck.
Then Milman swore: “I’ll have you yet,”
“and send you to Kentuck.”

Soon after this Al left the farm,
So many did narrate,
And made his home in Wilmington,
A city up the state;

And there he lived to good old age,
And worked for James McPhal.
My story tells, how Milman failed,
To steal Aunt Peggy’s Al.

My Old New Market Home

J. B. Welch sung his composition in 1904 at the re-opening of the New Market Church.

With joy I often think of my old New Market home,
And the places where I played when I was young,
The old pound gate, where I used to swing and sing,
For many were the songs that there I sung.
The old well and sweep and the row of cherry trees,
As I went down the lane toward the barn,
The old Catawba tree and the little cedar crib,
Where we stored the golden ears of yellow corn.

Fare thee well old homestead, my love to you I tell
I will sing my song of my old New Market home,
My old New Market home, fare thee well.

There’s the old church yard and the little meeting-house,
Where our fathers lie entombed all around,
The little running brook and the grove of stately trees
Which they used as their old encamping ground.
O, the many scenes have changed since I left where I was born,
And the old encamping ground is no more,
The little blacksmith shop and the store that stood near by,
All are gone as was seen in days of yore.


The voices that I heard and the faces that I loved,
They have gone to their reward beyond the sky,
I will drop a tear for them and the days of “auld lang syne,”
There will be a grand re-union by met by.