In 1651, Cecil Calvert authorized the creation of Calverton Manor, eight to ten thousand acres extending north and west along the potomac River from southern Maryland to Great Falls, and therefore including what is now Glover Park.
But the lord of the manor did not live here; in all likelihood, the first person of European descent to have lived in our neighborhood was a tenant, who paid his rent by clearing land of trees so it could be brought under the plow. When his job was done he moved on, and his name was forgotten.
The names of landlords, on the other hand, are a matter of record. History favors owners over renters, and enshrines their deeds in massive volumes called libers, where one can, if sufficiently curious, trace the succession of title of any given piece of land, all the way back to the first European who claimed it to be his.
Prior to 1791 the land that is now Georgetown Heights was successively part of Charles, Prince Georges, Frederick, and Montgomery counties. The earliest land transactions in this neighborhood, preserved in Maryland State Archives, show that Glover Park comes out of two land grants with the curious names of Salcom and Salop, which are situated east and west of Huidekoper Place, respectively.
In 1687, when ours was still a distant corner of Charles County, John Evans of St. Mary’s County patented 300 acres “called Salcom, Lying in the ffreshes of Potomack River.” It ran from “a bounded white oak standing near the Patomack River a little above the mouth of Rock Creek,” up to where the Russian Embassy is now. (Salcombe is a town in Devonshire.)
Charles &c To all Persons to whome these presents shall come Greeting in our Lord God Everlasting Know Yee that for & in Consideration that John Evans of St. Maries County in our said Province of Maryland hath due unto him 300 acres of land within our said Province being due to him by a Warrant for the same quantity granted him 29 July 1685 as appears upon Record & upon such Condicions & Tearmes as are expressed in the Condicions of Plantacion of this our Province bearing the Date the ffifth day of Aprill 1684 & Remaining upon Record in our province of Maryland Wee do therefore hereby Grant unto him the said John Evans all that Tract or parcell of Land called Salcom lyeing in Charles County in the ffreshes of Potomack River” &
Beginning at the mouth of the Creeke called Rock Creeke at a marked white oak on a point at the Mouth of the Creeke on the River side & runing up the River
- West Northwest for the length of 136 perches to another white oake by the River side then
- North northwest for the length of 500 perches to a marked hiccory then
- East Southeast for the length of 136 perches to a marked red oake
4. Then with a straight line to the first bounded Tree
Now laid out for 300 acres more or less According to the certificate of Survey thereof taken & Returned unto the Land Office at the Citty of St Maries beareing Date 21 September 1685 and there Remaining upon Record Together with all Rights profitts benefitts and privileges thereunto belonging (Royall Mines excepted) To have & to hold the Same unto him his heirs & Assignes for ever To be holden of us & our heirs as of our Mannor of Zachiah in free & common soccage by fealty only for all manner of services Yielding & paying therefore yearely unto us & our heirs at our Receipt at our Citty of St. Maries at the two most usuall ffeasts in the yeare vizt. The ffeasts of the Annuntiacion of the Blessed Virgin Mary & St. Michaell the Archangell by even & equall porcions the Rent of 12 shillings sterling in silver or Gold and for a ffyne upon every Alienacion of the said Land or any part or parcell thereof one whole years Rent in silver or Gold or the full vallue thereof in such Comodities as wee and our heirs or such officer or officers as aforesaid Provided that if the said Time for a ffyne for Alienacion shall not be paid unto us and our heirs or such officer or officers as aforesaid before such Alienacion and the said Alienacion entered upon Record either in the Provincial Court or in the County Court where said parcell of land lyeth within one month next after such Alienacion the said Alienacion shall be void & of none effect Given at our said Citty of St Maries under the Great Seal of our said province of Maryland the ffifth day of June in the Twelfth yeare of our Dominion &c 1687 Witness our trusty & well beloved Coll Henry Darnall Keeper of the Great Seale of our said Province of Maryland.
Salcom, John Evans, 1687, Charles County, 300 acres.
Patent recorded IB&IL#C, ff.308-309.
Survey recorded Liber 22, f.267.
(Research by Priscilla W. McNeil)
On the same day in 1687 that Salcom was patented, Robert Mason (1653-1700), a planter in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, on the lower Potomac River, patented 300 acres west of Salcom. His English birthplace my be indicated by the name he gave his land: Salop, i.e. Shropshire. (Patent recorded NS#2, f.267. Research by Priscilla W. McNeil; Edward C. Papenfuse, et al, A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789, vol.426, p.580)
Know yee that whereas Robert Mason of St. Marys County hath due unto him 300 acres of land being so much of a Warrant granted unto him 29 July 1685, We do therefore hereby grant unto him all that tract of land called Salop lying in Charles County in the freshes of Pattomack River and
Beginning at a marked white oak it being the Southwest corner tree of John Evans land and running
- North Northwest by Evans land for the length of 500 perches to a marked hiccory on Evans land, then
- West Northwest for the length of 136 perches to a marked oak,
- South Southeast for the length of 500 perches to a marked white oak by the riverside,
4. Then with a straight line to the first bounded tree,
containing and now laid out for 300 acres more or less, according to the Certificate of Survey dated 22 September 1685, to be held of the Manor of Zachiah, paying the yearly rent of 12 shillings Sterling in silver or gold. Given 1 June 1687 by authority of Henry Darnall.
(Salop, Robert Mason, 1687, Charles County, 300 acres. Patent recorded NS#2, f.267. Research by Priscilla W. McNeil)
Rock of Dumbarton
This land tract, patented by Ninian Beall in 1703, lies east of Wisconsin Avenue, and extends––more or less––from the C&O Canal in Georgetown to Cathedral Avenue.
Ninian Beall, born in Largo, Fifeshire, in 1625, was a soldier in the Scottish Royalist army defeated by Cromwell at the battle of Dunbar in 1650. Transported to Barbados, Beall served the latter part of his indentured servitude in Maryland, and began to appear in Calvert County transactions in 1658. At the end of his term of service Beall was provided with fifty acres that he called The Soldier’s Fortune. “Then came Ninian Beall of Calvert County, Planter, and proved right to 50 acres of land for his time service performed with Richard Hall of same county”. (Calvert County Liber 5, f.416; Liber 11, f.195, January 16, 1667)
In 1684 Beall was appointed Deputy Surveyor of Charles County; his payment appears frequently to have been in the form of land. Beall also acquired land by headright, i.e., paying for the transportation to Maryland of other indentured servants. For importing two hundred Scottish settlers to New Scotland Hundred––which extended from Oxon Branch to the falls of the Potomac––Ninian Beall accumulated––accounts vary––from four to fifteen thousand acres of land. To this Beall added, in 1703, the 795 acres called Rock of Dumbarton, in what is now the District of Columbia. (Priscilla W. McNeil, “Pretty Prospects: The History of a Land Grant”, Washington History, Fall/Winter 2002; Priscilla McNeil, “Rock Creek Hundred: Land Conveyed for the Federal City,” Washington History, No. 1, 1991)
In 1711 Beall offered the future site of Georgetown to the Baron Graffenried for the projected German colony that eventually settled at New Bern, North Carolina. (Baron Christoph von Graffenried, Relation of My American Project, or Account of the Founding of New Bern, 1716)
Beall served the Province of Maryland as an Indian ranger, patrolling between the Patuxent and the Potomac, and informing the Piscataway Emperor, Maryland’s native ally, of the wishes of the Assembly. When allied Indians were suspected of crimes, Beall was consulted before action was taken. In 1676, after the militias of Maryland and Virginia surrounded a Susquehannock fort on Piscatway Creek, Beall was present, and was later called to testify about the murder of the five hostage chiefs that led to Bacon’s Rebellion. (Carl Waldman, Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, 2009, pp. 89, 286; Alice L.L. Ferguson, The Susquehannock Fort on Piscataway Creek, 1984; Charles McLean Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 1675-1690, 1915, 1952, p.16; John Thomas Scharf, History of Maryland from the Earliest Period to the Present Day, 1765-1812, 1879, Vol.1, p.293)
Beall served on a Commission to treat with the departing Piscataway Conoy in 1697. In 1699 the General Assembly passed an act of gratitude for the distinguished “Indian services” of Colonel Beall; it is rarely mentioned that the reward for thirty years of service was three slaves. (Liber LL No. 11, folio 228. Archives of Maryland)
Although Beall had helped to dispossess the Catholic Lord Proprietor of Maryland of his colony, he acted to quell Protestant fear-mongering––“All Rumors of an Indian Invasion supported by the Catholics were found to be false”––and after the Glorious Revolution appears to have disappointed the most extreme of his fellow Presbyterians by supporting the establishment of the Church of England in Maryland.
Ninian Beall, who lived at Bacon Hall, near Upper Marlboro, died there in 1717, and was probably buried there as well. This was not called into question until 1889, when Sally Somervell Mackall wrote that a tomb found in a family burial ground in Georgetown contained the remains of the patriarch himself. “His skeleton was found in perfect preservation, and measured six feet seven inches, and his hair which was very red had retained its natural color”. But the Ninian Beall found in Georgetown is more likely to have been a grandson of the pioneer. In fact, the immigrant Ninian Beall had a son named Ninian (1674-1734), and the succeeding generations of Bealls christened Ninians with great regularity.
(Sally S. Mackall, Early Days of Washington, 1889, p.48. The vivid description of the redheaded octogenarian was repeated by––among others––George Norbury Mackenzie, 1907, Colonial Families of the United States, vol. 2, pp. 66-68. The legend was traced to its source by the late Robert Lyle, of the Peabody Room of the Georgetown Branch Library.)
As John Evans and his heirs did not take up the tract called Salcom, it was declared vacant and granted to James Smith in 1732 under a new name: Knaves Disappointment. The tract in question, which had been in Charles County, was now in Prince Georges.
Charles &c. Know ye that Whereas James Smith of Prince Georges County by his humble petition to our agent for the management of Land Affairs within this province did heretofore sett fort that he was possessed of a tract or parcell of Land lying & being in the County afsd. & Comonly Known by the name of SALCOM which on or about the 21 day of September 1685 Surveyed & laid out for a Certain John Evans for the Quantity of 300 acres who afterwards dying leaving one only Daughter Mary who likewise dyed without heirs and forasmuch as Our Grant never Issued thereon according to the Condicions of plantations & Sundry proclamations which have heretofore Issued the petitioner was advised by Council that the said land was lyable to be taken up again as Vacant Land We never having granted the same and the petitioner being desirous to pay for & take up the said parcell of Land but finding by means afsd that a Comon Warrant would not Effect it he humbly prayed a Special Warrant to effect & Secure the same & that upon return of a Certificate of survey thereof he Complying with all things requisite & usual as in like Cases might have our grant Issue unto him thereon which we thought fit to Condescend unto and accordingly a Warrant on the 4th day of August 1732 to him for that purpose did issue In pursuance whereof it is Certified unto our Land Office that there is Surveyed & Laid out for & in the name of him said James Smith the Exact Quantity of 300 acres for which he made good right to at the time of Granting the said Warrant & the said James Smith has likewise paid & satisfied unto Matthew Tilghman Ward Esq Our present Agent & Receiver General for our use the sum of 3 pounds Sterling for some improvements mentioned to be made thereon according to Charles Lord Baron of Baltimore our Grandfather of Noble Memory His Instructions to Charles Carroll Esq his then Agent bearing the date at London the 12th day of Sept. 1712 and registered in our Secretary’s Office of our said province WE DO therefore hereby grant unto him the said James Smith all that tract or parcell of Land now Called KNAVES DISAPPOINTMENT lying in Prince Georges County afsd BEGINNING at am Old bounded white oak Standing near the Patomack River side a little above the mouth of Rock Creek & running thence
- WNW 136 perches
- Then NNW 500 perches
- Then ESE 136 perches
- Then with a straight line to the first tree
containing & now laid out for 300 acres of Land more or less, according to the Certificate of Survey thereof taken & returned into our Land Office bearing the date of the 15th day of August 1732 & there remain. At the time of the survey of KNAVES DISAPPOINTMENT by George Noble in 1732, improvements on the property were a dwelling house 24 feet long, two 40-foot tobacco houses, and six other small houses, all old and built with clapboard. For these improvements James Smith paid three pounds sterling.
Knaves Disappointment, James Smith, 1732, Prince Georges County, 300 acres
(Patent: PL#8, p.601, Certificate of Survey #1248; Research by Priscilla W. McNeil)
The characteristic shape of Salcom and Knaves Disappointment––”being one and the same”. (Diagram by Priscilla W. McNeil, after a plat drawn by Thomas Orme, Surveyor, April 21, 1800, Hall of Records, Annapolis.)
The characteristic shape of Salcom and Knaves Disappointment is reflected in the northern boundaries of colonial Georgetown, which were were confirmed by Congress––”An Act Amending the Charter of Georgetown,” March 3, 1809. They are shown in red on a modern street map. (Map prepared in 1974 by Col. Robert B. Curtiss, of the Burleith Citizens Association.)
Rock Creek Plantation
The Scottish Catholic George Gordon, who left Scotland penniless in about 1711, prospered as a merchant in Maryland, and eventually acquired numerous tracts of land in several counties. In 1734 he purchased of James Smith one hundred acres at the mouth of Rock Creek, part of Knave’s Disappointment––formerly Salcom––in what was then Prince George County, and set up as a tobacco planter. Gordon called his enterprise Rock Creek Plantation. There were apparently already a few old clapboard tenant dwellings and tobacco houses on the land.
To form any idea of it we must remember that plantations of those times always had much more land than they brought under the plow, and always kept in reserve as much virgin soil, and uncut woodland, as possible. Rather than merely growing his own tobacco, in 1745 Gordon built an “Inspection House for Tobacco” overlooking the Potomac (probably west of Wisconsin Avenue, and below M Street) where the tobacco of smaller planters further inland could be weighed and inspected, prior to being shipped overseas. A village was bound to follow.
Between 1734 and 1745 George Gordon acquired the bulk of Knave’s Disappointment:
In 1734, James Smith sold George Gordon the southern 100 acres of Knave’s Disappointment, for 100 pounds sterling. (Prince Georges County Land Records, Liber T, f.245, Indenture, December 30, 1734, recorded January 22, 173[?])
In 1738, James Smith sold Henry Watson the northern 200 acres of Knave’s Disappointment, for 40 pounds. (Prince Georges County Land Records, Liber T, f. 675-5, November 30, 1738)
In 1742, Henry Watson sold James Russell the northern 200 acres of Knave’s Disappointment. (Prince Georges County Land Records, Liber Y, f. 484-7, records July 5, 1742)
In 1745, James Russell, merchant of Prince Georges County, sold Matthew Hopkins of the same county and state, the northern 200 acres of Knave’s Disappointment, for 40 pounds sterling. (Prince Georges County Land Records, Liber BB1, f.487-8, sale September 12, 1745, recorded November 28, 1745)
Matthew Hopkins then sold George Gordon 136 acres, “being a tract called Knave’s Disappointment, lying near Rock Creek Ferry”, for 77 pounds 4 shillings. (Prince Georges County Land Records, Liber BB1, f. 501-2, sale October 23 or 30, 1745, recorded December 24, 1745)
(Notes made at Maryland Hall of Records by Margaret Reckmeyer, 1971-1973, “Beatty” file, Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch Library.)
Grace Dunlop Ecker wrote this description of George Gordon.
“George Gordon, the other of the two original proprietors of the lands which became George Town, was also a Scotsman and had a share in a manufacture at Leith, near Edinburgh, so it is evident that, when he came to this country, he had means which he invested in Prince Georges County and Frederick County, Maryland. He held the office of Sheriff of Frederick County and was a judge of the first County Court.
A deed to Gordon from James Smith, “planter,” is dated November 13, 1734. In it, George Gordon is described as “merchant.” The tract conveyed was one hundred acres, known as “Knaves’ Disappointment,” a part of three hundred acres called his Rock Creek Plantation. The consideration was one hundred pounds sterling or about five hundred dollars.
It is thought that the original Inspection House of George Gordon was built of logs not far from the mouth of Rock Creek, fronting on the Potomac, somewhere between 1734 and 1748. The main inspection house was built later on “the warehouse lot,” an acre close to the southwest intersection of Falls and Water Streets (M Street and Wisconsin Avenue). He resided nearby at the site of 3206 M. Street. Later on, in 1745, George Gordon bought an estate for a permanent home; it is thought to have been near Holy Rood Cemetery or near the Industrial Home School on Wisconsin Avenue. After the death of his wife, George Gordon left his Rock Creek Plantation, and went to live at “Woodyard” with Stephen West.
The will of George Gordon is dated May 10, 1766. At the time of his death he had a son, John, and a daughter, who had married Tobias Belt. To his son, John, “mariner,” who was in the East India service, he devised the dwelling house at Rock Creek Plantation on Goose Creek and the waterside lot in Georgetown numbered 75.
In those days tobacco was, of course, the big crop, and an English writer called it “the meat, drink, clothing, and money of the colonists.” Regulations were very strict in regard to the exportation of tobacco.
Inspection houses for tobacco such as that of George Gordon were also called Rolling Houses, from the fact that the hogsheads of tobacco had a hole bored in each head and an axle run through from one end to another. To this axle a shaft was attached, and drawn by a horse or an ox, so rolled along over the rough roads of that time to their destinations. Here was the one place in Frederick County for inspection; here was a natural site for a town, and so came the demand for one.”
In 1748 our neighborhood became a distant corner of Frederick County, and Gordon was a Worshipful Justice of its Court, and then a Sheriff. One of the requirements of his office in 1750 was to erect a pair of stocks, near a new warehouse, for the public chastisement of criminals, an entertainment sure to appeal to gawkers on market days. When Georgetown was laid out the following year, part of the new town came out of Knave’s Disappointment. (Nonetheless, Gordon was assessed for 236 acres called Knave’s Disappointment as late as 1759.) A few years after that notice was given that George Gordon was selling a house in Georgetown on the Potomac River, and would soon move to Woodyard, in Prince George County.
(Maryland Gazette, August 22, 1754; Prince George County Liber T, ff.215-216; Frederick County Liber J, ff.529-534; Frederick County Liber 34, f.359; Millard Rice, This Was the Life, 1979; Western Maryland Genealogy, Vol.10, p.51; Effie Bowie, Across the Years in Prince George County, pp.764-766; Elise G. Jourdan, Early Families of Southern Maryland, 1993, Vol.2, pp.88-91)
In 1766, when George Gordon died, his son-in-law Stephen West, merchant, of Woodyard and Upper Marlboro (who had married Gordon’s wife’s daughter by a prior marriage) appears to have represented Gordon’s creditor. (Maryland Reports, Being a Series of the Most Important Law Cases Argued and Determined in the General Court and Court of Appeals of the State of Maryland, from October, 1790, to May, 1797, New York, 1813)
In 1770, Stephen West, attorney in fact for his father-in-law’s brother-in-law, William Black of London, merchant, sold 209 acres of a tract called Knave’s Disappointment, to Adam Steuart of Georgetown, for 500 pounds.
“Whereas George Gordon, late of Prince Georges County, gentleman, died seized of a certain part of a tract of land in Frederick County, adjoining Georgetown, containing by estimation, 209 5/16 acres, commonly known as Knave’s Disappointment, and whereas the said George Gordon by his last will and testament… did bequeath unto his son John Gordon, and the heirs of his body lawfully begotten, the aforesaid part of a tract of land… and whereas George Gordon in his lifetime became lawfully indebted to William Black of London, in diverse large and considerable sums of money, which remained due at the time of the death of John Gordon… and the personal estate of George Gordon was found insufficient to pay and satisfy the other debts due by George Gordon to the several creditors in Maryland and elsewhere… whereby the real estate of George Gordon… became liable for the payment of the debt so due by George Gordon to William Black of London… and whereas… John Gordon, son and heir of George Gordon deceased… did assume to pay said William Black and for that purpose… William Black did empower Stephen West by power of attorney to settle his affairs in Virginia and Maryland; and the said Adam Steward hath agreed to buy the tract Knaves Disappointment, for £500 sterling. (Frederick County Land records, Liber N, f.12-13, Indenture January 1, 1770, recorded February 7, 1770)
Adam Steuart immediately sold the land back to West: 209 acres “of which the late George Gordon died seized and which was attached and condemned in the Provincial Court of and for the use of a certain William Black of London, merchant”, for 550 pounds sterling. (Frederick County Land Records, Liber N, f.17-18, January 10, 1770, recorded February 12 or 15, 1770)
West then sold about 208 acres of Gordon’s land to the developers Beatty and Hawkins, who used it to enlarge Georgetown in 1769 with 300 new lots (and four for the use of churches).
Stephen West, of Prince Georges County, to Charles Beatty and George Fraser Hawkins, for 900 pounds sterling, the tract conveyed by James Smith and his wife to a certain George Gordon, November 30, 1734, 100 acres in Frederick County, adjoining to Georgetown, a part of Knave’s Disappointment, except such part thereof containing 26 11/16 acres, condemned out of it for Georgetown, and one acre sold by George Gordon, son and heir to the said George Gordon, to a certain Samuel Bond; and Stephen West conveys 136 acres, more or less, of said tract, which was conveyed from Matthew Hopkins to George Gordon, October 30, 1745. Signed Stephen West; Hannah, wife to said Stephen West, released dower rights. (Frederick County Land Records, Liber N, f.234-6, Indenture made July 7, 1770, recorded July 20, 1770)
The guess that George Gordon’s house stood on a part of his property outside of the border of Georgetown, is plausible. But, of the two sites mentioned by Ecker––Holy Rood Cemetery, and the Industrial Home School––only the former was on Gordon’s property.
“The subscriber being settled in the House where Mr. George Gordon resided adjoining Georgetown, in Frederick County, and lately the occupation of Mr. Martyr, Tavernkeeper hereby informs all Gentlemen Travellers, that, for Ready Cash will receive good usage of Entertainment for Themselves and Horses, from Cornelius Orme.”
Maryland Gazette, April 30, 1767
Mathew Hopkins, born Kilmarnock, September 3, 1711, “late of Maryland, Merchant… died intestate… at his habitation in Rock Creek, Potomack River, in Maryland… in or about the month of January, 1751.” (James Hopkins, recorded deposition and certificate, May 7, 1753: Patricia Abelard Andersen, Frederick County, Maryland Land Records, 1752-1756, pp. 150-155)
In 1753, James Hopkins, brother and heir-at-law of the late Matthew Hopkins, sold Henry Threlkeld three tracts of land, totaling 629 acres, for 100 pounds: 300 acres of original Salop which by now had become part of Resurvey on Salop, described (as was the original Salop) as beginning at the southwest corner white oak of John Evans’ land; 265 acres of all the remaining part of Resurvey on Salop; and 64 acres of Knave’s Disappointment, which were part of the 200 acres of upper Knave’s Disappointment which Matthew Hopkins bought from James Russell, September 12, 1745, and which Matthew Hopkins retained when he sold 136 acres of Knave’s Disappointment to George Gordon, October 30, 1745.
(Frederick County Land Records, Liber E, f.180-3, May 24, 1753, recorded June 2, 1753. Notes made at Maryland Hall of Records by Margaret Reckmeyer, 1971-1973, “Beatty” file, Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch Library; Patricia Abelard Andersen, Frederick County, Maryland Land Records, 1752-1756, pp. 180-183)
“In the year 1742, Mathew Hopkins, of Kilmarnock, County of Ayr, Scotland, came to Rock Creek, now in Montgomery County, Md., where he died January, 1751. He bought from Osburn Spriggs August 26, 1741, a tract of 300 acres of land called Sallop and later bought other lands. At his death he left a widow, Mary, who afterwards married Henry Thralkeld, but they had no children. James Hopkins, brother of Mathew, County of Ayr, was appointed by his mother to act as her attorney, to receive all property that might be due her from Mathew’s estate. The power of attorney was dated April 29, 1752, and May 24, 1753, James Hopkins deeded to Henry Thralkeld and wife the tract of land called Sallop, and a part of the tract known as Resurvey, a part of which was incorporated in Georgetown, D. C.”
(Joshua Dorsey Warfield, The Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, Maryland, 1905, p.318; F. S. Reader, Some Pioneers of Washington County, Pa., 1902, p.24)
By virtue of a Special Warrant of Resurvey bearing date by renewment 3 December 1744 to resurvey a tract of land called Salop, I find the original runs as formerly and contains 300 acres to which I have added 265 acres of contiguous vacancy all which appear per the Platt below… containing and now laid out for 565 acres of land, to be held of Calverton Mannor, resurveyed for Mathew Hopkins by Peter Dent, Deputy Surveyor. Surveyed 10 May 1745.
(The Resurvey of Salop, Matthew Hopkins, 1745, Prince Georges County, 565 acres. Patent recorded PT#1, f.122. Survey recorded LG#E, f.412. Survey Certificate #1828. Research by Priscilla W. McNeil.)
The buyer was Henry Threlkeld, who was born June 12, 1716, at Coburg, Parish of Kirkoswald, County Cumberland, England, and emigrated to America. In 1753, Threlkeld paid his future brother-in-law James Hopkins one hundred pounds for three tracts of land north and west of Georgetown, totaling 629 acres, that had been the property of James’s brother. Threlkeld also married Mary Brown Hopkins (1717-1801), the widow of Matthew Hopkins. (James Hopkins, recorded deposition and certificate, May 7, 1753: Patricia Abelard Andersen, Frederick County Maryland Land Records, 1752-1756, pp.150-155)
John Threlkeld (“A Portrait of Old George Town”, Grace Dunlop Ecker)
In 1781 John Threlkeld, the only son of Henry and Mary Brown Hopkins Threlkeld, inherited his father’s property.
In 1785––having added Addition to the Addition to the Resurvey on Salop (!)––John Threlkeld was taxed for a good dwelling house, a kitchen, barn, and slave quarters that stood on his inheritance. The assessor found that only 250 acres of the new Salop had been cleared, and declared the soil to be “thin and stoney.” John Threlkeld was assessed for part of Knaves Disappointment.
The 1785 assessment mentions Dunghill: 279 acres that boasted three or four old log houses and 150 acres cleared land, “soil thin, land very broken”. The reference appears to be to “Dung Hill”, surveyed for Walter Evans, August 10, 1715, containing 536 acres, at the mouth of Watts’ Branch, in what is now Montgomery County. This tract was acquired by Henry Threlkeld in 1753, and inherited by John Threlkeld. (T.H.S. Boyd, The History of Montgomery County Maryland, 1879, pp.33-34; Hopkins v. Threlkeld, May, 1796, Maryland Reports, Most Important Cases in the General Court and Court of Appeals, 1813, Vol.3, p.443)
But why would the Georgetown tax assessor list it? Or is there another, closer tract of the same name?
Lucky Discovery was 93 acres of Frederick County, just north of what is now the Russian embassy, granted to John Orme in 1771. John Threlkeld acquired––perhaps for a right-of-way?––one acre of it, and of Pretty Prospects, from Joseph West. (DC Libers AB (1811) f.474/387; AP (1817) f.399)
One of the last additions to Threlkeld’s holdings appears to have been The Scotch Ordinary––later more often seen as Scott’s Ordinary––one hundred acres, north of Tunlaw Road, between New Mexico Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue––granted to Alexander Arthur in 1716. (Prince Georges County Liber FF7, ff. 56-7, PL4,f. 70)
Between 1810 and 1816 The Scotch Ordinary passed into possession of John Threlkeld. As was customary, the 1810 deed recited language from the original patent: “Beginning at a bounded black oak, standing upon a stony knoll, by an Indian path near the head of a deep run which falls into the Potomac River, about two miles below the first fall, right against an Island of Rocks”. The references appear to be to Mount Alto, Foundry Branch, and (possibly) Wisconsin Avenue. (DC Libers Y (1810) f.538; AA26 (1811) f.88; AD29 (1812) ff.448/377; AM (1816) f.196)
All of the above parcels were consolidated in 1791 by Threlkeld in a tract named Alliance (whose extent can be judged by the fact that it includes Georgetown University, Foxhall Village, Burleith, Hillandale, Wesley Heights, Whitehaven Park, Glover-Archbold Park, and much of Glover Park.)
Unfortunately, John Threlkeld had many debts. “In accordance with writs fi-fa of the Circuit Court”, the marshal auctioned 296 acres of Alliance: Threlkeld had been indebted to the banker Clement Smith since 1821, and Smith got land to satisfy the debt (Liber WB20 (1828) f.480). After Threlkeld died in 1830, Clement Smith held substantial parts of Alliance, and when Smith died in 1839, still more went on the market.
Detail of local land tracts, as they existed circa 1800. (Diagram by Priscilla W. McNeil, 1991.)
In 1795, Benjamin Stoddert, Uriah Forrest, and William Deakins Jr. assembled portions of Rock of Dumbarton and Addition to Rock of Dumbarton, north of Georgetown (and one block east of what is now Wisconsin Avenue) into a real estate investment optimistically christened Pretty Prospects.
When the British surrendered at Yorktown in 1781, Benjamin Stoddert was serving as secretary of the Continental Board of War, where his talents had come to the attention of the president of the War Board, John Adams. Stoddert came home to Maryland and married Rebecca Lowndes, the daughter of the founder of Bladensburg. In 1786 Stoddert bought land for a house in Georgetown, and went into business with another former officer, Uriah Forrest, and with John Murdock. Stoddert chose Georgetown for its proximity to the wheat that had replaced tobacco as the dominant cash crop.
Stoddert was among those who lobbied to bring the seat of federal government to the vicinity of Georgetown. George Washington, empowered by Congress to select the location of the site of the new capital city, wanted the same thing, but could not show his hand without driving up prices. So Washington enlisted people like Stoddert to quietly assemble town lots for federal reservations, and to pretend that they were for private use. It was understood that these agents would also invest in real estate on their own account.
The Bank of Columbia, chartered in 1793 for the use of the commissioners in charge of building the federal city, also financed private purchases; its first president was Benjamin Stoddert.
Besides buying up town lots in Washington City, the partnership of Benjamin Stoddert, Uriah Forrest, and William Deakins Jr. also invested in land on the outskirts of the city that they calculated would be desirable for estates. In 1792 they began to assemble portions of the patents known as Rock of Dumbarton, and Addition to Rock of Dumbarton, north of Georgetown, and east of the road to Montgomery Court House (Wisconsin Avenue) into a 1282-acre tract, optimistically christened Pretty Prospects, which they patented in 1795. (DC Liber C3 (1795) f.360-64; recited in DC Liber Q16 (1807) f.301)
The potential value of the property in which Stoddert and his partners speculated hinged on whether the residential, commercial, and governmental development of the new city would be as far west as possible. Stoddert advised associates to invest in lots and houses on the road from Georgetown to the future President’s house. “Lay out your gains in lots & cheap but good large homes, on one of the Avenues leading from Geo Town to the Prests. House & you can not better serve yourself – the District – & the Public.” Although not everyone in Georgetown was thrilled to have a competing city established right next door, Stoddert predicted that some of them would profit. “Displeased as are the People of Geo Town there are not many there whose situation will be so enviable two years hence, as theirs will be. I mean those who have property. Land 5 miles from Phila. inferior to my 300 ar. up the road, is worth L50 to L100 an acre.” Stoddert’s reference is to his portion of Pretty Prospects. (Benjamin Stoddert to unknown addressee, Philadelphia, July 22, 1798, Manuscript Collection, Historical Society of Washington)
But the bonanza envisioned by the investors was illusory; Stoddert and Forrest were tax delinquents, and the newspaper advertised that household furniture would be put up for auction “at the house where Benjamin Stoddert formerly resided”. (Centinel of Liberty, February 5, 1799)
In 1800 Benjamin Stoddert and Uriah Forrest each endorsed the other’s note for money they owed the District commissioners, which the commissioners would not accept. Stoddert repackaged his holdings––including 550 lots in the District of Columbia, and Prospect House, his Georgetown residence on Prospect Street––as the Washington Tontine, and begged his Federalist friends to buy shares, but the scheme failed. In 1805 Stoddert conducted a war of notices with James Greenleaf, who challenged the Washington Tontine’s title to lots in the city. The Tontine accumulated back taxes on city lots, and by 1812 Stoddert was listed as one of the largest tax delinquents in Washington.
Stoddert died December 23, 1813, at age 62, at his wife’s house Bostwick, in Bladensburg, and was buried at Addison Chapel, Seat Pleasant, Maryland. The Bank of Columbia took his widow to court over debts totaling $50,000, dating back to 1801, and litigation continued for decades.
Notes made at Maryland Hall of Records by Margaret Reckmeyer, 1971-1973, “Beatty” file, Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch Library
Research notes of Priscilla W. McNeil, Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch Library.
Judith Beck Helm, Tenleytown, D,C.: Country Village into City Neighborhood (1981), which acknowledges Priscilla W. McNeil’s archival research.
Priscilla W. McNeil, “Pretty Prospects: The History of a Land Grant”, Washington History, Fall/Winter 2002 pp. 6-25
Pamela Scott, “Moving to the Seat of Government: ‘Temporary Inconveniences and Privations'”, Washington History, Spring-Summer 2000, pp.70-73
Bob Arnebeck, Through A Fiery Trial, 1991
Grace Dunlop Ecker, A Portrait of Old George Town, 1951
Maryland Reports, Being a Series of the Most Important Law Cases Argued and Determined in the General Court and Court of Appeals of the State of Maryland, from October, 1790, to May, 1797: Thomas Harris, Jr., and John McHenry, New York, 1813
Obituary, in “Biographical Notes from the Maryland Gazette”, 1811-1821, Maryland Historical Magazine, December 1947, vol. XLII, no.4, p.277
Harriot Stoddert Turner, “Memoirs of Benjamin Stoddert, First Secretary of the United States Navy”, Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol.20, 1916
The citation and acknowledgement of my research is greatly appreciated.
All rights reserved.
Questions and corrections may be directed to
The support of the Advisory Neighborhood Council (3B) is gratefully acknowledged.