Charlie Hall: Thank God for this Country Boy – The ‘Whip’ of the Dorsey Machine

Charlie Hall was always at any major event in order to keep an eye on politics.  THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY photo

Charlie Hall was always at any major event in order to keep an eye on politics. THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY photo


By Ken Rossignol


AVENUE, MD. — They rise early in the fine brick ramblers and two-story white colonials of the Seventh District. For decades, starting about 4:30 am, they would wind their way through the back roads from Bushwood, Maddox, Abell and Colton’s Point to either Captain Sam’s, Quade’s Store or Abell’s Diner in Clements to meet for coffee and to exchange information about families, work, who got locked up and yes — politics.

They were and are the hard-working sons of the Seventh District, both black and white, who then fanned out for up to a hundred miles at jobs working pound nets, tonging for oysters and pulling crab pots. Others went to work on “the base” at Pax River while many others worked as electricians, plumbers, brick-layers, carpenters or truck drivers both locally and as far away as the Washington area.

Some of the early-morning crowd worked at good jobs in staff positions on Capitol Hill, in federal agencies and throughout private industry. Others fought the waves and weather on the water to make a living. But for many, they started their lives by meeting and speaking with their neighbors and did it long before Facebook appeared. This was something that the middle-eastern new owner of Captain Sam’s never understood and chased away the ‘morning crowd’.

What many of them had in common was adherence to a political tradition in the Seventh District, often called “Dorsey-land” due to the tribe in local politics named for the late Judge Phillip H. Dorsey, and later led by his son, long-time St. Mary’s County States Attorney Walter B. Dorsey.  Judge Dorsey had his allies and they were the Baileys, Bo, Eddie, Bernard and many more.

Others who were influential in the ‘Dorsey Machine’, as the liberals who had their own machine liked to call it, were “lieutenants” of the political organization – one of whom was Charlie Hall.

To simply report that Charlie Hall just kicked the bucket is to do the man a great injustice, without describing the important role he played in the politics and life of one county of three-thousand in America.

Charlie Hall was pals and friends with so many others that it was due to his ability to form close relationships that he earned a position of value in politics.

Charlie rose from being a lieutenant to being a standard-bearer in that in 1974 he mounted a credible campaign for County Commissioner and lost the 1974 Democratic Primary to John Knight Parlett, the scion of a gas empire on the east coast.

The contrast between the somewhat foolish Parlett and the soft-spoken country-boy Hall couldn’t been more severe.

Parlett had all the advantages money could buy except common sense. It was said that when he tried his hand at turkey farming, he didn’t know that someone had to bring the turkeys in before a bad storm or all the damn fool birds would stand out in the rain with their beaks open to the heavens and would soon drown.

Who knows if that is true or not, but if you knew Parlett, you could believe it.

With Charlie, there was no doubt that he could have enough spunk to get into trouble but enough common sense to get out of it.

Charlie, in a tone that indicated that he would certainly not do such a damn fool thing today, told of a night when he was a young man and had been out to visit watering holes in Leonardtown. At about Clements, a State Trooper pulled him over to the side of the road.

Charlie was a pretty hefty guy who worked with his hands and likely came out on the better end of any gentlemen’s disagreements into which he might become entangled.

At a certain point in their encounter the trooper attempted to handcuff Charlie and the dance began with the two of them ending up in a nearby ditch with Charlie on top.

“We stayed there for a few minutes and the trooper wasn’t too big but I had the better position, though I was handcuffed. I told the trooper I was going to get up off him but he had to promise not to shoot me,” said Charlie.

It worked out okay.

Charlie’s life evolved as he and his sweet wife Ellen raised a large family of industrious and talented kids. Over the years, Charlie continued to be a leader in local politics and a loyal ally to Walter Dorsey and the late County Commissioner Larry Millison.

Families and politics are important in small communities and connections made between church, school, social events, bars and even viewings can be key to advancement on jobs and even admission into trade schools or colleges. As Millison had an intricate and complicated series of businesses and investments, locally and out-of-state, Charlie became a trusted manager and foreman, while still playing an important political function in the campaigns in which Dorsey and Millison were interested.

In the 1974 election, only two of the Dorsey Machine commissioner candidates were successful, Del. James Manning McKay, father of Tommy McKay, and Millison, who had been a school board member.

The other three were erstwhile allies and associates of then Speaker John Hanson Briscoe and former Sen. J. Frank Raley Jr who led the competing “New Leadership” machine.

Those three were Parlett, Ford Dean and Dr. Pat Jarboe. Life could have been a lot different in St. Mary’s had Charlie Hall been elected with Millison and McKay.

As it was, the new board elected went on a buying spree. They bought the old Leonard Hall School campus for a new county government center. The old county government had been housed in one wing of one floor of the courthouse, a great way to hold down the cost of government being to keep the rooms small and don’t keep the “now hiring” sign lit.

Then, on another 3-2 vote, with McKay and Millison in opposition again, the county government bought the closed down Charlotte Hall Military Academy property, which actually included an Episcopal Church, but no one seemed to notice.

A couple of years later a speaker at a Democratic Club Roast of Clerk of the Circuit Court Mary Bell, held at Olde Breton Inn, talked about Millison. “Take Millison, he has trouble with three Halls – Leonard Hall, Charlotte Hall and Charlie Hall”.

While the speaker got a big laugh, no one was laughing at Charlie and few would bother to keep track about such niceties as to when a particular hunting season would start.

What one could count on was Charlie being a local version of the Majority Whip in the United States House of Representatives.

What Steny Hoyer, a fellow who moved here in 1992 and camps out on weekends in a pricey pad on the Patuxent, does today for the House Minority and what Charlie Hall did for the Dorsey Machine for decades was the same.

Hall figured out what it would take to turn out votes and he delivered goods, promises, and the currency of politics usually spendable at any store and calculated the votes for his candidates. Long before the goody-too-shoe liberals in Maryland, guided by J. Frank Raley who not only gave away the Potomac River to a bi-state compact with Virginia, but got rid of slot machines – walk around money was delivered to large families who then made sure the votes went in the right spot on the ballot.

Sometimes it didn’t work out as when the late Judge Joe Weiner was disconcerted about a new tractor a down-county farmer was driving and yet the votes didn’t show up that Joe was counting on.

St. Mary's County Md. County Commissioner Larry Millison, Sen. Paul Jacob Bailey and Maryland Senate President Thomas E. "Mike" Miller a roast of Millison in 1989 noting him being selected Democrat of the Year.

St. Mary’s County Md. County Commissioner Larry Millison, Sen. Paul Jacob Bailey and Maryland Senate President Thomas E. “Mike” Miller a roast of Millison in 1989 noting him being selected Democrat of the Year. THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY photo by Billye McGahran

During the hey-day of the Dorsey Machine in which Charlie Hall played the role of “Whip”, or what big cities might call a “Ward Boss”, slot machines were a big part of life in Southern Maryland. It was Dorsey stalwart Sen. Paul Bailey (Republican) who successfully passed legislation in 1947 to legalize slot machines.  It was Sen. J. Frank Raley who passed a bill to phase out slot machines by 1966 and they were soon gone and so was Raley, who was beat by Bailey in 1966.  Raley never held office again but assumed a role as a back-room power broker.

Late in life, Charlie moved to the Walled City of Leonardtown, which isn’t the same thing as moving to Paris, France, but it’s still not down home in Avenue.

There is a current push to actually rename the St. Mary’s County Circuit Courthouse for Briscoe, who spent five years doing everything in his power to abandon the historic courthouse and build a new Judicial Palace; another idea coming from the sotted mind of Commissioner Todd Morgan is to name part of Three Notch Road after Sen. Raley.

Perhaps Commissioner Morgan believes that by issuing gratuitous naming of public places after recent history’s leading liberal Democrats is something a smarmy Republican needs to do. Lay off the sauce, Todd.

Dick Arnold became a commissioner in 1978 and when Dick hit the bricks for the hereafter, the county did name the Public Works headquarters after him.

Charlie Hall wasn’t worried about how history would treat him, he left behind a fine family of whom he was proud and that will be his legacy.

(Note: Click for a CHEAP SHOTS Special Edition of CHARLIE HALL’S POLITICS SHED provided for publication only upon his death.)

A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated on Monday, June 23, 2014 at 10:00AM in St. Aloysius Catholic Church with Father David Beaubien officiating.  Interment will follow in Charles Memorial Gardens, Leonardtown, MD .

Charlie Hall passing on knowledge to a great listener.  Photo courtesy of David Hall

Charlie Hall passing on knowledge to a great listener. Photo courtesy of David Hall










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