“Kelly” Brown: Gypsies in B.T. Woods


Raymond Robert Brown (1904-1976), born at 3416 Reservoir Road (in the Bryantown section of Georgetown), acquired his nickname because, as a boy, he loved to shine the pole, and whistle to the horses, at Engine Company No. 5 (3412-20 Dent Place), where the firemen gave him the name “Kelly the Chief.”

In 1969 Brown recalled a gypsy encampment at what is now Hillandale.


I remember years ago, Mrs. Hillary and Mrs. Chamberlin and mother (Sadie Louise Thomas Brown) ‑‑ we’d go out to what we called the “B.T.” woods where the big estate is now, which was right across from Georgetown Hospital, where the Archibald Estate is on this same location now.  Every couple of years a big tribe of Gypsies in their wagons and horses and covered wagons would show up over night and they’d have big bonfires around with kettles of soup going. Momma and Miss Chamberlin and Mrs. Hillary got pretty well acquainted with these Gypsies, especially the King and the Queen of the tribe. And I remember that they once said they were going to have this huge wedding and wouldn’t my mother and her friends make some dresses and blouses?  All of them were good seamstresses and they felt sorry for the Gypsies and they knew they’d be invited to the big wedding. It was supposed to be a big festival. So mother and all her friends after making all these garments, delivered them one day. The next day when the wedding was suppose to take place, we went up to the woods and everything was cleaned out ‑ the Gypsies had left overnight, if I recall correctly.

(Oral History, Raymond R. Brown, 1969, Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch Library)



“Kelly” Brown’s recollection is confirmed in the press (where it is more loosely described as being “near Western High School”). In 1911 a band of gypsies, led by a man called King Jawn, were reported to have pitched their camp on the outskirts of Georgetown for several days. Visitors to the camp––of whom there were several thousand––had their fortunes told, and heard rumors that there was to be a gypsy wedding.



The much-heralded wedding did not take place. According to Lieutenant Schilling, of the Seventh precinct, the gypsies had no idea of performing a wedding ceremony, in the first place. “King Jawn,” he said, “is a shrewd customer. He knows the value of advertising and acts as the press agent of the whole brigade. No sooner had the gypsies comfortably settled themselves in the Georgetown camp than they confided in several women visitors that a wedding was to take place this week. “Say not a word about it to anyone,” King Jawn told them. “We do not want it known.”

“The request of the gypsy king was treated just as he thought it would be. Within an hour after the departure of the feminine visitors droves of persons came to the camp to make inquiries about the supposed pranks of the Hungarian Cupid.” The gypsies are headed toward a warmer Southern clime, and expect to spend the winter in middle Tennessee.

(“Gypsy Band Quits Georgetown For Warmer Clime––Hungarian Wanderers Suddenly Leave For Virginia”, Washington Times, November 2, 1911, p. 13)




Brookland historian Robert Malesky found that the press carried stories of a similar encampment in Northeast Washington in 1895: “Where the Gypsies Live,” Morning Times, August 18; “Election of a Queen,” Morning Times, August 21; “Gypsies Made to Move,” Evening Times, August 21: “Brookland Items,” Evening Times, August 22.

Bygone Brookland




Carlton Fletcher

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