The Milford Bard

by Dana Kester-McCabe

This story is about John Lofland who is known as the Milford bard, and who was born at the Milford landmark know as the Towers.

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One of the most well known houses in Milford is the Towers on the corner of Northwest Front and North Streets. It is pink with two towers. One is in a gable style and the other a cone shaped turret. It is further adorned with gingerbread trim and stained glass windows. The house was built in 1793 as a family home and store. It was renovated and redesigned in 1895 converting the plain colonial structure into the very ornate asymmetrical Victorian style that was in fashion at that time.

It was once the home of William Burton, the Governor of Delaware who tried unsuccessfully to keep the First State out of the Civil War. Today the house is a bed and breakfast. But this story is about John Lofland who is known as the Milford bard, and who was born there in 1798.

John grew up in the Milford landmark. After his father passed away his mother married a wealthy merchant. She was said to have spoiled her children, allowing John to be educated at home after difficulties at school. He was a bright young man and gained entrance to medical school at the University of Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately a bout with food poisoning was treated with laudanum which started him on a lifelong struggle with opium and alcohol addiction. He became known early on as a poet. He was quite a character and gave himself the moniker "the Milford bard". He was popular at school and at dinner parties in Milford because of his witty recitations of verse. But his sense of humor got him kicked out of medical school when he drew and distributed an unflattering caricature of one of his professors.

This and his growing reputation as a drunk led the father of his childhood sweetheart and fiancé, Sally Mitchell, to call off their engagement. He tried to end the romance by sending the girl away to the home of a friend who happened to be the sheriff of Snow Hill, Maryland. John followed the girl there. He had almost convinced her to defy her father and marry him. But he showed up for a date hopelessly inebriated, so she ended it for good and the sheriff sent him packing. Sally was his one true love so, brokenhearted, he never married.

For three years John Lofland never left his home in Milford. He spent his days in his self described garret writing and indulging in opium. Eventually Lofland started to come out of his seclusion. He slowly began to regain his bearings and submitted selected writings to publications like the Delaware Gazette and a new magazine called the Saturday Evening Post. These were published and he started to gain a following. He wrote an impassioned letter to the Delaware legislature against slavery which he became well known for.

He also began to get work as a scribe. In those days not everyone was literate and even if they were they might not have been confident in their writing abilities so they hired someone to do it for them. John wrote up invoices, legal documents, and any kind of letter you can imagine. He wrote memorial poems and a variety of speeches for politicians.

Then John was invited to stay with a relative in Baltimore to help with a writing project. This opened up many opportunities for the young writer, including visits to Washington D.C. to listen to speeches given in Congress.

He spent time with other artists and writers while in Baltimore including Edgar Allen Poe. They were said to be rivals of a sort. Legend has it that they engaged in a competition to see who could write the most verse within a specified time. John apparently won that bet. He was having a good time in Charm City, but he missed his family in Delaware and the loss of his true love writing these words:
In the dark dream of memory fondly I mourn
O'er the hopes from my heart that have been rudely torn;
O'er affections that faded in bright boyhood's day,
And the vows that have vanished like music away.

Despite his homesickness John Lofland began to build a favorable name for himself producing short stories and poetry. His patriotic works recounting the glories of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 were very popular. One story written for a periodical called "The Blue Hen's Chickens" was such a hit there were a number of reprints to meet demand. He wrote poems that honored George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Stephen Decatur. Here is something he wrote about Benjamin Franklin:
The mysteries that Nature shrouds,
To him were freely given:
He snatched the lightning from the clouds,
The thunderbolt of heaven;
In majesty of mind he reigned,
Bade natures laws conform;
He raised his daring head, and chained
The spirit of the storm.

Unfortunately John's addictions got the best of him. He repeatedly had to be hospitalized. Each time he enjoyed a period of sobriety only to succumb to them again. Though a lot of people tried to help him eventually drugs and alcohol took their toll and he died at the age of 51. By all accounts he was a likeable fellow who could not overcome his great sadness and insecurity.

But John Lofland did achieve something every artist strives for. In his day he offered a great deal of inspiration to his audience. And his work lives on. He is not forgotten. Through the magic of the internet you can still find his writing. Visit our website where you will find this story, with a picture of John Lofland and links to his surviving work which is available for free through Google books.


The Towers Bed & Breakfast
The Poetical and Prose Writings of John Lofland, M. D., the Milford Bard by John Lofland
The life of John Lofland by John Lofland, William West Smithers