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Outfoxing the Devil The Life and Strange Burial of Gabriel Sailes by James Dawson Gabriel Sailes must have been the most eccentric person who ever lived in Talbot County. Not so much for the way he lived, although that was memorable enough, but rather for the way he was buried: in an open-ended coffin with a jug of rum and a twist of tobacco inside. But more about that later... The bare-bone facts about the man are that he was born near Oxford in the early 1700s, the son of Clement and Elizabeth Sailes. He inherited two farms named Rich Range and Delph from his widowed mother in 1723. His wife was named Jane, and when he died in 1769, he left his estate to be divided among his children Clement, Gabriel and Susannah, but not to his daughters Elizabeth and Jane, who were married and presumably had already received their dowry. But the tall tales about the man flesh out the bones nicely and, fortunately for us, were recorded in two recently discovered Baltimore Sun articles dated December 15, 1898 and October 17, 1909. The author of the 1898 article is anonymous, but the 1909 article is signed

with the initials W.N.W., who was Walter N. Willis, then owner of Sailes’ old farm. Seeing the grave, Willis became interested in Gabriel and made a concerted effort to record the stories about him before they were lost. Willis wrote that Gabriel, the youngest son in a large family, grew to be six feet eight inches tall and was enormously strong. Many stories were told about his feats of strength. Once in Oxford, the launching of a schooner was delayed when it became stuck halfway down the rails. The shipyard crew worked for two hours trying to free the vessel when suddenly Gabriel appeared and marched over, put his shoulder to the entrenched schooner, and single-handedly shoved it down into the water, then left without a word to the crowd that had assembled. On another occasion, Gabriel saw a large stone on the shore near Oxford and carried it to town. He dropped it in the middle of the street, offering a reward to anyone who could lift it. Many tried, but all failed, so Sailes 59

May 2012 Tidewater Times  

May 2012 Tidewater Times magazine

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