Stanford E. Davis
Stanford E. Davis is perhaps the first alumnus of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to be a published belletrist, or “man of letters.”
Davis's 135-page book of poetry, Priceless Jewels (Knickerbocker Press, New York; 1911) is considered one of the rarer books of Delaware literature, according to John P. Reid, a collector who specializes in books written about as well as by people from the state.
Davis attended Princess Anne Academy (as UMES was known at the time) from 1905 to 1907 and graduated in that year, Reid's research shows. Unfortunately, few, if any, records of students at the academy survive from that era.
Davis was from Georgetown, Del., where he apparently attended school, since one of his "letters of honor" included in the book is signed by “John D. Brooks, Superintendent of free schools, white and colored, of Sussex County, Delaware."
Brook's letter says, in part, "You have an exceptional Poetical talent. To find a Poet gives me greater pleasure than to find a nugget of gold among the sands of Sussex. . . . May the shades of Dunbar rest heavily upon thee."
In a biography on Reid’s web site, “Collecting Delaware Books,” he notes "Dunbar" refers to Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872-1906), poet and novelist.
Brooks is credited with editing some of Davis's manuscript. The forward of the book says Dr. and Mrs. V. S. Collins were instrumental in encouraging and facilitating Davis' education. Others Georgetown people who also helped Davis were: Dr. James Chipman, a druggist, Dr. J. Hammond, lawyer Daniel Layton, Jr., former mayor Charles Moore and Miss Emma Wright.
When Davis wrote the poems is unclear. A few appear to have been written while he worked at the Hotel Dennis in Atlantic City, N.J., some while he studied at Princess Anne Academy and some following Dunbar's death.
The book's forward acknowledges support from several people in Atlantic City. It also gives a hint of an earlier, smaller book, Lyrics of Consolation. Some of the poems in Priceless Jewels are religious, others are inspirational. Still others celebrate the everyday life of his rural childhood.
Principal Frank Trigg, his patron at Princess Anne Academy, urged him to write more race poems, though several in the book clearly are, Reid notes.
Like Dunbar, Davis wrote in standard English and dialect. Dialect was used by many popular writers and poets at the turn of the century, Reid notes.
Ode to Procrastination
Why do you hold God's priceless gems
In your filthy slums, Procrastination?
How many rubies and diamonds
Have been lost in your fascination?
I glance your mold sods and spacious hems,
Your sinful caves daily sink millions!
How many talents lay dormant
In your soothing beds of ease contented Why not let them arise and shine?
How long will you hold them down lamented?
Let them come forth for God, and grant
His blessings to nations who wait them!
There may be a Shakespeare, a Burns,
Whittier, or Dunbar held in your lands Or some other Moses the world
Has not yet seen, covered in your sands,
Hindered by your dares and cruel spurns,
Which forces them to sleep deeper!
The University of Maryland Eastern Shore extends its gratitude to John P. Reid of Collecting Delaware Books, whose biographical sketch of Stanford E. Davis reproduced here is combined with other information from the Frederick Douglass Library archives.