Today I visited the Thomas Stone National Historic Site in Port Tobacco, Maryland. Owned by the National Park Service, the site contains the home and final resting place of Thomas Stone, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.Stone’s beautiful home, Haberdeventure, is surrounded by a few hundred acres of land with wonderful hiking trails and period outbuildings. The Park Rangers at Thomas Stone National Historic Site are well versed in Revolutionary War history and give fascinating tours of the house.
Thomas Stone was not the only occupant of this historic home. In fact, its other long-term resident is what connects Haberdeventure to Rich Hill, which is located less than ten miles away to the southwest. Haberdeventure was also the home of Thomas Stone’s wife, Margaret, who was born and raised at Rich Hill.Margaret Stone nee Brown was the youngest child of Dr. Gustavus Brown, Sr. and his second wife, Margaret Boyd. While the exact details about her life are uncertain, we know she was born at Rich Hill in 1750/1751. At a young age she made the acquaintance of Thomas Stone, another native of Charles County. The two married in 1768 when Margaret was about 18 years old and Thomas was about 25. Part of Margaret’s dowry was a large amount of money from her wealthy father, Dr. Brown. One of their descendants later wrote that Margaret’s dowry was about 1,000 pounds sterling and that this money was used to pay for the purchase and construction of Haberdeventure. Thomas Stone found success as a lawyer providing him with more than enough funds to build his dream home which was completed by 1773 at the latest.
As a young woman, Margaret loved to play the harpsichord. Her portrait hangs over a period harpsichord inside of Haberdeventure.
Margaret and Thomas would have three children overall. In 1773, Thomas became a member of the Charles County Committee of Correspondence, which allowed the different colonies to communicate and develop plans outside of the royal government. Committees of Correspondence were effectively the predecessors of the Continental Congresses. In December of 1774, Thomas Stone was elected to join the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He left Margaret and his children behind to serve Maryland in this important assembly.
Many are well acquainted with the loving relationship and correspondences between fellow Continental Congress representative John Adams and his wife, Abigail. Thomas Stone was equally in love with his wife, Margaret, and missed her dearly during his long absences away from her. Writing to Margaret in 1775, Thomas stated:
My heart is with you, and I wish it was in my power to see you, but many gentleman insist that I should stay to assist in deliberation on those important affairs… Pray God preserve you and bless our little ones. We are like to see times which will require all our fortitude to bear up against.
At least once, Margaret did make the trek from Charles County up to Philadelphia in order to visit her husband. This occurred in May of 1776. While in Philadelphia, Margaret Stone was inoculated against smallpox which was running rampant in the New England colonies. The method of inoculation was not a pleasant one. Essentially a lesion from someone who was in the “recovery” stage of smallpox was lanced, and the resulting blood and pus from the infected person was transferred into a cut of an uninfected person. This procedure would effectively cause the previously uninfected person to go through the stages of the disease but to a degree that would hopefully not cause death.
Margaret Stone did survive her inoculation of smallpox but barely so. Thomas Stone, in writing to a friend in May of 1776, recounted Margaret’s illness:
The Illness of a wife I esteem most dearly preys most severely on my Spirits, she is I thank God something better this afternoon, and this Intermission of her Disorder affords me Time to write you. The doctor thinks she is in a fair way of being well in a few days. I wish I thought so.
Thomas’ reservations regarding his wife’s condition were well founded. During her illness, which prove more severe than hoped, Margaret was treated with the common practice of using mercury, usually applied as an ointment. In time, Margaret would recover from the smallpox, but for the remainder of her life she would feel the ill effects of the mercurial treatments used on her. She would develop rheumatoid arthritis at a very early age due to the heavy metal poisoning. From 1776 onward, Margaret would often be a sickly and unhealthy woman with Thomas Stone devotedly caring for his beloved wife.
Though he had always been hopeful that a peaceful reconciliation between England and the Colonies could be reached, in the end, Thomas Stone voted in favor of Independence writing, “You know my heart wishes for peace upon terms of security and justice for America. But war, anything, is preferable to a surrender of our rights.” Stone was one of the four Maryland representatives who affixed his name to the Declaration of Independence.
In large part due to Margaret’s poor health, Thomas Stone would remove himself from the complicated duties that took him away from her for long periods of time. He departed the Continental Congress in late 1776, even though he was re-elected to the position in November of 1776. He would not return to the Congress until September of 1778 where he would lobby Maryland to ratify the Articles of Confederation, which he had helped develop in 1776. He would be unsuccessful and would leave the Continental Congress again to care for Margaret back home. It was not until 1781 that Maryland, the last holdout, would ratify the Articles of Confederation.
The only other time that Thomas Stone would return to the Continental Congress was in 1784, when the Congress was meeting in Annapolis, Maryland. After they changed locales to New Jersey and then New York, Thomas Stone would resign from the Congress for the last time and return home to care for Margaret.
In the beautifully decorated first floor bedroom of Haberdeventure, there is a small interpretive panel which alludes to Margaret Stone’s recurring illness:
Thomas Stone would eventually move his wife out of Haberdeventure and up to Annapolis where he was serving in the Senate. The change of homes did little to improve her health. Finally, after many years of illness and pain, Margaret Brown, born in Rich Hill in Charles County, would die in Annapolis with her devoted husband, Thomas Stone, at her side on June 3, 1787. She was only 36 years old.
Thomas Stone was devastated by the loss of his wife. He had her body transported back to Haberdeventure and she was the first one buried in what would later become a small family graveyard adjacent to the home.
MARGARET STONE Wife of
THOMAS STONE and Daughter of
[Gustavus] RICHARD and MARGARET BROWN
departed this life on the 3rd of June 1787
Aged 36 Years
She was endowed with elevated Talents
and blessed with Piety and every
After the loss of his beloved Margaret, Thomas Stone’s own health began to deteriorate rapidly. His physicians and friends suggested that he take an ocean trip to regain his health. He traveled to Alexandria to await a ship to take him across the ocean. Perhaps he was going to sail for Scotland, where Margaret’s father, Dr. Gustavus Brown, Sr. came from. He never left Alexandria, however. On October 5, 1787, four months after Margaret’s death, Thomas Stone died suddenly. His descendants say he died of a broken heart. He was 44 years old.
Thomas Stone was interred right beside Margaret at Haberdeventure. On his tombstone it was written, “He was an able and faithful Lawyer, a wise and virtuous Patriot, an honest and good Man.”
Thomas Stone was also a truly devoted husband to his wife Margaret. He put the needs of his wife first, forsaking all else to spend his days caring for the woman he loved. He was a selfless and honorable man, who put the largest premium on love. A few days before his death, Thomas Stone wrote to his only son about the importance of family and of being a good man:
Let your aim in life be to attain to goodness rather than greatness among men: the former is solid, the latter all Vanity…Seek to do all the good you can, remembering that there is no happiness equal to that which good actions afford. Be attentive and kind, and loving to your sisters, and when you grow up, protect and assist them on all occasions… I commend you to Heaven’s protection. May God of his infinite mercy protect you and lead you to happiness in this world and the next, is the most fervent prayer of your loving father.
Before Thomas Stone voted for Independence and affixed his name to the Declaration of Independence in July of 1776, he weighed the decision thoughtfully and deeply. His thoughts turned not to the convictions of his peers, but to his wife, Margaret, who was always paramount in his mind. When doubts of a successful Independence loomed large in his mind, his love for her and for the future he wanted for their children took precedent. Thomas Stone wanted a nation where the rights of the individual were respected and upheld. He wanted a nation bound by the ideals that, “…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” He wanted to share in such a nation with the woman he loved more than his life and more than his liberty. He wanted to create a nation filled with the happiness they shared. He helped to lay the cornerstone of that nation and then left to be with her.
Margaret Stone, born Margaret Brown, shares in her husband’s accomplishments and dream for a better nation. Just as their shared home of Haberdeventure has been restored and maintained for future generations, we, the Friends of Rich Hill, are working to restore her childhood home of Rich Hill. Without Rich Hill, Thomas Stone may have never met the woman who so deeply impacted his life. And, without her influencing and motivating him to work towards a better future, who knows how differently the American quest for Independence might have turned out.
Thomas Stone National Historic Site
Thomas Stone – Elusive Maryland Signer by John and Roberta Wearmouth
History of Maryland from the Earliest Period to the Present Day by John Scharf
Virginia Genealogies by Horace Hayden
Thanks to Park Ranger David Lassman for the detailed tour of Haberdeventure