Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"... a chance resurrection ..."

“Oswald had some literary taste, the dilettante kind, and was particularly fond of delving among old records and family papers. No occupation had greater charm for him than that of building up, bit by bit, from material obtained in this way, a picture of the long-buried past ...”

So begins my favorite passage from the novel about 19th-century Poplar Grove, A Maryland Manor, that I wrote about here the other day. It's honestly felt and beautifully described because, I am certain, the author was writing about himself. Frederic Emory (he's the owlish chap you see above) recalled in a different context that while still a child, he happened to contract "a taste for rummaging among old papers and records, while exploring the garrets of certain venerable houses in Queen Anne's."

To all of us who have spent at least part of this summer exploring the nooks and crannies of Poplar Grove and its history, the rest of the passage - which I'll quote in its entirety - has the shock of the familiar, even though the scene it describes is set in 1861. The character is Oswald Reeve, a young gentleman living at the Manor, and the setting is the "lumber room" [an old-fashioned term for a room used to store documents, unused furniture, etc.] in the attic:

“It was a very large room, covering nearly the entire floor space of the main building. The steeply slanting roof showed its rafters and the sheathing of shingles untouched by paint. The large dormer windows looked out upon a zigzag line of roofs, thickly coated with moss, and upon chimneys of various heights and dimensions. Huge locust trees waved their scraggy branches almost against the window panes, and Lombardy poplars reared their shining green leafage above the tallest of the chimneys. A circular window in the front gable [NB: see the photo at the top of this blog] commanded a view of the lane, with its avenue of elms; a square window, at the opposite end of the room, afforded glimpses of the garden, the Quarter, the overseer’s house, with the cove in the distance.

“Oswald seated himself one afternoon upon an old armchair of colonial pattern, upholstered in faded red velvet, in one of the dormer recesses, and was soon absorbed in examining a package of letters which revealed a touching romance of the Cheston family during the Protestant Revolution of 1689. The floor in front of him was strewn with a great variety of objects – bits of rare China; broken articles of furniture; old, worm-eaten books; piles of yellow title-deeds, mortgages, letters; heaps of laces, silks, and velvets, the remains of clothing which had adorned some belle or beau of the family in the olden days. From rusty nails driven into one of the rafters, hung three suits of military uniform, each representing a different period of army service. One of them was the scarlet and buff of the Maryland 'macaronis' during the Revolution. Another was the militia colonel’s regimentals worn by our Colonel’s father, the Judge, in the War of 1812. The third, of much more modern pattern, was the dragoon suit which the Colonel himself had donned upon his promotion to a captaincy at the close of the last campaign against Osceola, the noted Seminole chief.

“There was scarcely an object in the room which did not possess some interest for Oswald in the associations it suggested. The silks and velvets and laces, for example, called up vividly the scenes of colonial times – the stately minuets in the parlors downstairs; the formal water parties in large bateaux, propelled by negro oarsmen, which were also used in making visits of ceremony at neighboring plantations; the foppish audiences in the tiny theatre of quaint old Annapolis, the provincial capital, which was visited frequently by strolling players; the groups of brilliant youths and maidens moving with slow, measured tread over the lawn or among the shaded, fragrant paths of the garden. But the chief interest for him lay in the collection of letters, and as he slowly deciphered the faded characters which told the romance upon which he had stumbled, he was brought close in sympathy to the poor ghosts who, in the flesh, had traced the lines which had secured to them a chance resurrection. How plainly were they brought to life again by their unconscious disclosures! A single sentence, in some instances, presented an individuality with all its distinguishing traits – its weaknesses, its faults, its prejudices, or perhaps, its worthy, lovable qualities – in clear outline. So real were some of the images, limned with a naively graphic power, that Oswald almost fancied he could see the originals before him.”

Those few last sentences, in particular, ring true with uncanny resonance in light of our experiences this summer. (When we were in that attic, though, it was so ungodly hot, not to mention bee-infested, that we were hardly tempted to settle down in a cozy dormer as Oswald did. See this post.)

How odd to reflect, however, that many of the Poplar Grove documents that seem so old and quaint to us now were new - or not yet written - in 1861. As Abbie suggested in his last post, there were no doubt many papers that disappeared from the house over the years, perhaps some at the hands of Frederic himself. His own modernity, the era of the Civil War, is now even more remote and foreign to us than the colonial period was to him (or to Oswald).

Although we have not, alas, unearthed any 17th-century love letters like the ones that enchanted Oswald, the "piles of yellow title-deeds" were still waiting for us.

[The one shown here (click to enlarge) is among the oldest pieces of paper that we have found. It is dated at the top, in Roman numerals, November 24, 1665 (it may possibly be a very early copy). The deed is to Samuel Withers, for "a parcell of land called Witherington lying in Talbot County on the north side of Choptank River ... to be held of the mannor of Baltamore." Withers was one of the founders of Ann Arundel County, and was one of the Commissioners of the colony under the Cromwellian government of the 1650s, when Maryland was taken away from Lord Baltimore. Clearly all had been forgiven enough by 1665 for Withers to get a nice land grant from the very nobleman he had formerly displaced. So there's not a 17th-century love story written in this document, but perhaps a political romance of betrayal and reconciliation.]

[... and there may no longer be any Seminole War dragoon uniforms hanging from the rafters at Poplar Grove, but in a similar spirit, we did come across someone's - probably Lloyd Tilghman Emory, Jr.'s - campaign jacket from World War II.]


Anonymous said...

Your posting of the very early deed reawakened our interest in the provenance of Brampton/Poplar Grove as well as the relationship between Charles Emory, the Elder, Margaret Marsh, and David Register. Early land records (1710 and 1739) mention Brampton, but in no way tie the estate to the Emorys. The earliest document that we have seen tying Brampton to the Emorys is an abstract of John Register Emory’s will (1791) where he leaves to son Thomas Emory “. . . my dwelling plantation pt of 2 tracts ‘Brampton’ and ‘Conquest’ and all remaining land devised to me by my father.” “My father” is apparently his step-father, David Register, since it is clear from David Register’s will (and other sources) that John Register Emory and David Register considered each other father and son. We are fairly certain that John Register Emory’s biological father was Charles Emory, the Elder (b. ca 1710/13), and that Margaret Marsh somehow obtained a divorce (?) and married David Register by perhaps 1740.

Have you discovered any deeds, documents, wills., etc. which would shed any light on the early owners of Brampton and/or the Emory/Marsh/Register relationship?

Adam Goodheart said...

The short version of the story is that Brampton was indeed granted in 1669 to an ancestor of the Emorys ... his name was William Hemsley. The land did not enter the Emory family itself, we believe, until almost a century later.

The very long version (taken from our Poplar Grove Collection guide-in-progress):

Brampton was granted by Lord Baltimore to William Hemsley I in 1669. The property lay then within the bounds of Talbot County, becoming part of Queen Anne’s County in 1706.

The original land grant to William Hemsley was for 250 acres. Since the present-day Poplar Grove measures just over 250 acres, it is quite likely that this modern farm occupies the same boundaries as the original 17th-century Brampton.

William Hemsley (c. 1633-1685) was an important and successful early settler of the middle Eastern Shore who was granted a number of tracts of land in the area. He served as clerk of the Talbot County Court for many years beginning in 1668. He is referred to in some early records as “Dr. William Hemsley” and others as “Capt. William Hemsley.”

The name Brampton (sometimes spelled “Brompton,” “Bromton,” etc. in early documents, which likely reflects its original pronunciation) probably derives from the village of Brompton in Kent, England. The English Brompton lies about 20 miles away from the village of Sundridge in Kent, where William Hemsley was born.

Sometime in the late 17th century, the Brampton property passed into the Hawkins family – whether by sale, inheritance or otherwise is uncertain.

In 1693, Col. John Hawkins demised (i.e., leased) to William Coursey his "plantation dwelling house and other out houses Orchards Gardens and two hundred and fifty Acres of land and other appurtenances thereunto belonging Scituate lying and being on the South side of Chester river in Talbott County Aforesaid called Brampton." This is the earliest known mention of any house or other structures on the farm.

Ownership of Brampton – as well as the adjacent farm called Conquest – passed out of the Hawkins family shortly after Colonel John’s death in 1717, and was owned for the next two decades by the Coles and Claytons. But some of the Hawkinses may have kept living on the property, since a 1739 document describes it as the “dwelling plantation” of Ernault Hawkins (grandson of John) and his wife, Jane, who reacquired title in that year.

The Hawkinses seem to have had trouble holding onto the property, since in 1749 they sold off half of the Brampton tract, which ended up in the hands of the Brown family. Ten years later, Jane Hawkins sold the remaining part of Brampton to one David Register, described in early deeds as a “Blacksmith” of Queen Anne’s County. By the 1760s, David Register, in transactions with the Hawkinses and others, had acquired much of the land on Spaniard Neck (including Conquest) that would become Poplar Grove. It was through this ambitious blacksmith that this land would soon enter the Emory family.

David Register’s wife, Margaret (1715-1764), was herself a member of the Hawkins clan, as the daughter of Elizabeth Hawkins (Colonel John’s daughter) and Thomas Marsh. By the time she married David Register in 1740, Margaret had been divorced or separated from one Charles Emory (c. 1710-after 1763), who had abandoned his wife around 1735. (Or it is possible that the two had had an out-of-wedlock relationship. Divorce at that time required an act of the General Assembly, and there is no record of this occurring.)

The forsaken Margaret brought to her new marriage a five-year-old son who was named John Emory. David Register adopted this fatherless boy as his son, and the boy took the name John Register Emory. David’s will, dated December 1767 and probated the following month, refers to John Register Emory among “my children,” and names him as executor. David had already granted his share of Brampton to John in 1762, and in his will he bequeathed Conquest to John’s two sons, along with three other grandchildren.

John Register Emory also married one of the Hawkinses, Juliatha, in 1758 (she died three years later), so it is possible he acquired some of the Spaniard Neck lands this way.

The 1783 Tax Assessment for Queen Anne’s County refers to John Register Emory as owning a number of the properties that would later form Poplar Grove, including Brampton, Conquest, Larrington, and Bishop’s Outlet – totaling 588 acres. His share of Brampton is still given as only 126 acres, however – the other 124 belonged to Edward Brown.

It was not until the time of John’s son, Gen. Thomas Emory (1782-1842) that Brampton’s 250 acres were finally reunited in Emory hands. In 1818, Thomas purchased the remaining half of the original tract from the Brown heirs. Around the same time, he consolidated his Spaniard Neck properties into a single estate that he grandly renamed Poplar Grove.

From the early 19th century to the present, the property has descended by inheritance through the Emory family.

Adam Goodheart said...

The 17th-century Arthur Emory (“The Immigrant”) did own land in the area, including on the south side of the Chester River, and may perhaps have owned some of the land later absorbed into Poplar Grove, though we have as yet found no proof of this. Further research is needed.

Adam Goodheart said...

And to put this all into some historical context:

Although there tends to be a mystique in the Chesapeake region about early colonial families staying on the "original land grant" for many generations - in the manner of English aristocrats rooted to their country estates - this was in fact quite rare. The early Chesapeake was a volatile, boom economy - think of Northern California circa 1849, or 1999 for that matter - and settlers bought, sold, and traded real estate often as they scrambled their way up the ladder. The frequent deaths (and hence multiple remarriages) in the early years also led to properties changing hands. Add to this the factor of soil exhaustion caused by intensive tobacco farming, and you will see why pretty few families held onto the same land for long.

However, the old dream that the 17th-century immigrants had brought to America - of possessing aristocratic fiefdoms in the manner of medieval England - died hard. It was still alive after the American Revolution. Some might say it even lives on today, still flickering every time that, say, a banker from D.C. builds a Georgian McMansion on a nice piece of Chesapeake waterfront.

Interestingly, we've found evidence that Thomas Emory's children in the 19th century believed that Poplar Grove had belonged to none but Emorys "since the Indians" - even though it was their own father and grandfather who'd assembled the estate not too long before.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting the very detailed history of Poplar Grove. We share your amusement at the highly romanticized views of colonial history, including Brampton/Poplar Grove, held by so many. Perhaps your history of the place will dispel many of the myths. Nevertheless, there is something almost comforting about a family holding on to a piece of land for so long.

As to residents of Poplar Grove, the entry below is from an Emory Bible (not in our possession), probably owned by a descendant of John Martin Groome Emory, son of Charles Emory, the younger. It reads as follows:

“Caleb North Emory, son of John M. G. Emory was married to Sarah Bland Daughter of Nicholas Martin of Poplar Grove near Easton Talbot County on 12th Jan. 1849. By the Rev. Henry Mason, at the residence of Mr. N. Martin at 8 o’clock, P. M.”

This entry shows that Nicholas Martin was a resident of Poplar Grove, if not the owner, in 1849. Prior to this marriage, we can find no genealogical connection between Nicholas Martin and the Emorys.

As to the forlorn Margaret Marsh, we note the she was the mother of at least one more Emory son, Thomas, and perhaps an Emory daughter, Sarah. All of this was before she married David Register when she was but 25 years old! She must have been quite a gal.

Thanks to you and your staff for all the work you are doing at Poplar Grove. We look forward to hearing more about The Poplar Grove guide.

Adam Goodheart said...

Bob, thanks for the comment and the 1849 entry from an Emory family bible.

However, this must be a different Poplar Grove. Ours is not "near Easton Talbot County" - it is near Centreville, Queen Anne's, some 30 miles away.

And the mid-19th century is the best-documented period of Poplar Grove's history - we are certain it was occupied by the Emorys and not the Martins at the time.

"Poplar Grove" was a popular name for farms/plantations in the 19th century, esp. in the South, and there are dozens of them across the country - hence the confusion.

And yes, Margaret Marsh does not appear to have been one to stay forlorn for long ...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification, Adam. We did a little looking (not a whole lot) for another Poplar Grove in the Easton-Centreville area, but could find none.

Anonymous said...

My last name is Emory and my family were all descendants of your referenced Poplar Grove Emorys. My name is Daniel nmn Emory. My aunt raised me and her maiden name was Emory. She was born at Kennedyville, not far from Chestertown. My aunt came from a family of six children. I was her brothers son, (William Earl Emory). Most of my ancestors are buried in either Templeville or Sudlersville. I can give you more of my family's history but I am going to look into your project more as it is actually my blood line as well. I reside in Camden,DE and my Email is and my cell is 302-233-8468. I knew I was of British descent, actually my aunt had a small picture she showed me of my great great grandfather. My uncle (by marriage) had a book of old Maryland maps that were reproduced (only a small printing) and there was an Emory somewhere over by Chestertown. Used to go to family reunions in Ingleside. Talk later.