Behind the Walls of Rich Hill

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On Sunday, November 1, 2015, the Friends of Rich Hill will be hosting a special event called, “Behind the Walls of Rich Hill”.

Behind the Walls of Rich Hill

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This special “behind the scenes” look at the ongoing restoration of Rich Hill is for Friends of Rich Hill members only, however you can become a member on the day of the event by donating at least $10.

This is a unique chance to see the architectural “guts” of Rich Hill before they are covered up again during the restoration process.

We hope to see many of you on November 1, 2015 between 2:00 – 4:00 pm at Rich Hill which is located at Rich Hill Farm Rd., Bel Alton, MD 20611

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Rich Hill Preservation Update: October 2015

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Site visit with the Maryland Historical Trust to examine the recently revealed 18th century framing.

Site visit with the Maryland Historical Trust to examine the recently revealed 18th century framing.

Since its acquisition in 2014, restoration planning continues at Rich Hill. In early 2015, Charles County contracted with The Ottery Group, who have extensive experience in working with local governments to develop sound preservation strategies for historic properties under their care. Preliminary documentation and structural assessments were initiated in April 2015 and are expected to be completed by the spring of 2016. The first phase of the site rehabilitation consisted of demolition of the 1970’s-era interior finishes in order to assess the structural integrity and the condition of the historic frame.

Ed Barnes of Atlantic Heritage examines the frame for surviving evidence of the original 18th century roof system. The original hipped roof was replaced by the existing gable roof in the early 19th century which drastically altered the appearance of the house.

Ed Barnes of Atlantic Heritage examines the frame for surviving evidence of the original 18th century roof system. The original hipped roof was replaced by the existing gable roof in the early 19th century which drastically altered the appearance of the house.

David Berg, our architectural historian and consultant had this to say about the project:

The Ottery Group is genuinely excited to assist in the preservation of Rich Hill. Now that we have determined that the house is structurally stable, we have begun to look at both the documentary and physical evidence to determine the construction and appearance of the house as it existed both during Booth’s time and in the eighteenth century. These investigations will enable us to make informed recommendations for the preservation and interpretation of this important historic resource for future generations.

More recently, on October 7, 2015, dendrochronologist Michael Worthington took wood boring samples of the historic frame in order to precisely determine the date of construction through tree ring analysis.

Dendrochronologist Michael Worthington

Archaeology is also underway to understand the 1865 appearance and use of the dwelling. As part of the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s death, archaeologists explored the remnants of the outbuildings as they appear in the historic photo below.

Rich Hill circa 1895

Archeological and historical investigations will continue as plans move forward to rehabilitate this property. Part of the County’s research will be to speak to family members or persons who may remember the property and its history.

One of several 18th century doors to survive.

One of several 18th century doors to survive.

Prior to the County’s obtaining possession of the property, the Rich Hill Historic Site was part of a 121-acre residential subdivision. The house today is located on a 2.4 acre lot gifted to the County in 2014. Not only does the County plan to restore the home but hopes to expand the size of the property as well.

To learn, share, or get involved, contact Cathy Thompson at 301-396-5815

 

A Prison Letter from Col. Samuel Cox

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Col. Samuel Cox of Rich Hill

Col. Samuel Cox of Rich Hill

When Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, arrived at Rich Hill during the wee hours of April 16, 1865, he sent in motion of series of events that would have long reaching consequences for the occupants of the home. The reputation of Col. Samuel Cox, the owner of Rich Hill, as an ardent Southern sympathizer led Booth to his door. We don’t know what thoughts were racing through Cox’s head when he was face to face with the assassin on his doorstep, but, in the end, he decided he would assist the wounded man in some way. Cox allowed John Wilkes Booth and David Herold to enter his home for a meal but then sent them off into a nearby pine thicket, to be cared for by his foster brother, Thomas Jones.

Perhaps Cox hoped that his brief interaction and assistance to Booth would never be discovered. However, with a manhunt as massive as the one for Abraham Lincoln’s killer, no stone was left unturned. In the end, Cox was informed upon by Oswell Swan, the man who unwittingly guided the fugitives to Rich Hill. After Swan reported taking a man with a broken leg across the swamp, the authorities arrived at Rich Hill on April 24th to make arrests. Col. Cox was first held at the Bryantown Tavern where he was interrogated by Colonel Henry Wells. Cox knew he had to admit that some men had come to his house but, like Dr. Mudd, Cox claimed not to know the men’s identities. Cox told the authorities that he denied the men food, supplies, or assistance, and evicted them from his property. Cox was supported in his narrative by his son, Samuel Cox, Jr. and one of the family servants, Mary Swann. Unconvinced with this tale, especially when Oswell Swan claimed that the two men entered Rich Hill and stayed inside for a few hours, the authorities had Col. Cox transferred up to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. on April 27th.

Old Capitol Prison

Old Capitol Prison

It was while he was imprisoned in Washington, that Col. Cox wrote the following letter to his wife, Walter Ann Cox.

Old Capitol Prison
21st May 1865

My dearest Wife,

Your most welcom[e] letters of the 18th also that of the 16th have been received and gave me great comfort, to hear from you all, also I received one from Sammy to day dated yesterday stating that he would leave for home to day (also Mary) and I know my dear wife it will give you as much pleasure to inform you, as it was for me to receive, permission just as your letter was received, to walk in the yard for exercise, which I have been deprived of until to day, having been confined to my room now for nearly four weeks. I there met several acquaintances, who are in my own predicament. I am glad to say I am as well as I could expect, my cough is not worse than it is sometimes at home. I have not heard a word from the authorities but learned that all the witnesses supposed to be in my case, were released and have gone home. I hope my dear wife it will not be a great while before I shall be released myself and will return to our dear old Home & loved ones. I feel exceedingly sorry to hear of the illness of Miss Matilda. I hope you will be able now that you have your horses to go and see her and not let her suffer for any thing. I hope Sammy arrives home safe. Should you want any groceries & necessarys, you had better write to our merchant in Baltimore for them unless you can wait until I can get home myself, but do not wait should you want any thing. Give my sincere love to Aunt W. and all friends. Continue my dear wife to unite with me in devout prayer to our merciful Father to guide, sustain, and so direct all things, that we may soon be restored to each other. [?] [?] mail. Your devoted husband,

Saml Cox

As much as the government probably would have liked to put Col. Cox on trial, the only evidence that proved Cox’s complicity was Oswell Swan’s statement and even this testimony did not prove that Cox had any foresight of the assassination plot. The government really only wanted to try those who they believed were active conspirators in plotting Lincoln’s death, and Samuel Cox did not fit that charge. In the end, Col. Cox, was released from prison on June 3, 1865, after signing the oath of allegiance. Cox’s role in aiding the assassin and his accomplice was not widely known until Thomas Jones, another man who provided considerable assistance to Booth and Herold, publicly discussed and wrote about the events in the 1880’s and 1890’s. By then, however, Col. Cox was dead and the truth of his involvement could no longer hurt him.

This prison letter from Col. Cox provides us with a glimpse of a man worried for his wife’s well being during his incarceration, and his longing to return to his home of Rich Hill.

Rich Hill illustration 1893

References:
Samuel Cox, Letter to Mrs. W. A. Cox, May 21, 1865, James O. Hall Research Center

Rich Hill on Aerial America

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Aerial America Logo

Aerial America is a stunningly beautiful television show on the Smithsonian Channel. The premise of the show is simple, use awe inspiring aerial photography to tell compelling stories of a state’s varied history. The series, which premiered in 2010, has featured each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and has also expanded into other destinations. The hour long episodes feature exquisite fly overs of historic sites and vistas, along with a compelling retelling of their significance.

On April 26, 2015, the episode devoted to Washington, D.C. aired for the first time.  It was ironic date for the show to debut because not only is April 26 the same day John Wilkes Booth was cornered and killed, but the episode itself featured a five minute segment about Lincoln’s assassination and Booth’s escape. The episode provided beautiful shots of Ford’s Theatre, the Surratt Tavern, Dr. Mudd’s House, and even our own Rich Hill:

Rich Hill Aerial America 1

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Rich Hill Aerial America 2

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Rich Hill Aerial America 3

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Rich Hill Aerial America 4

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These flybys of Rich Hill show it as it appeared in about July of 2014, shortly after it was donated to Charles County. Since then a lot of work has been done to clear away the foliage that was invading the house and repair the large holes on the sides of the house. For contrast here is a picture of Rich Hill taken earlier this week (9/27/2015):

Rich Hill 2015.09.27 1

It was wonderful to see Rich Hill on TV and highlighted among the other important historic buildings relating to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Like Ford’s Theatre, the Surratt Tavern, and the Dr. Mudd House, Rich Hill is an important site in the story of one of the most dramatic events in American history. We’re grateful that Aerial America took the time (albeit briefly) to show, and, in their own way, promote this irreplaceable home. And just think how nice the aerial photography of Rich Hill will look when the house is complete rehabilitated!

You can visit the Aerial America page of the Smithsonian Channel’s website to check for future airings of the Washington, D.C. episode (next one appears to be November 28th at 5:00 pm EST).  You can also purchase the episode through video streaming websites like Amazon Video.

If you would like to see images of some of the other Lincoln assassination related sites from this episode, check out The Lincoln Assassination on Aerial America on Dave Taylor’s BoothieBarn.com.

Two Previously Unpublished Photographs of Rich Hill

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One of the fun parts about researching the history of Rich Hill is discovering new images of the historic home that very few have ever seen before. For a relatively unassuming house in Southern Maryland, Rich Hill has been photographed fairly often over the years. This is mainly due to the home’s association with Lincoln’s assassination and the escape of John Wilkes Booth. Since the 1865 crime itself, countless people have journeyed over Booth’s escape route and viewed Rich Hill in person, picturing the fugitive and his accomplice, David Herold, knocking on Samuel Cox’s door on the morning of April 16th.

The following photographs follow this idea and come from a scrapbook that was created of John Wilkes Booth’s escape route in the early 1920’s. The small handmade scrapbook, which has never before been published, was recently sold at auction in January of 2015. The new owner of the scrapbook was kind enough to share these two images of Rich Hill that were contained within it.

Rich Hill 1920 - 1922 1

Rich Hill 1920 - 1922 2

These images show the house looking much the same way as it looked when Samuel Cox owned it. The single story addition (which is no longer present on the home) contained the dining room and the bedroom of Col. and Mrs. Cox. John Wilkes Booth and David Herold, who were given a meal at Rich Hill, likely dined in this addition.

Also at the time these photographs were taken (determined to be between 1920 and 1922), there was still a member of the Cox family living there. Ann Robertson Cox, the second wife of Samuel Cox, Jr., lived at Rich Hill until her death in 1930. Perhaps the people who created this scrapbook got to hear from Mrs. Cox herself about how her late husband was sent to fetch Thomas Jones the morning about John Wilkes Booth came to his door.

Interestingly, in the caption accompanying one of these pictures in the scrapbook a unique claim against Dr. Mudd is made. The caption states:

The residence of Col. Cox, who protected Booth and Herrold [sic] from April 16th to 21st, 1865. Booth was sent to Col. Cox by Dr. Mudd. He left Dr. Mudd’s residence about 4:00 P.M. April 15th. Dr. Mudd was a personal friend of Col. Cox and both were interested in the South.

While it is likely that Dr. Mudd knew Col. Cox and it is well established that both men were “interested in the South” as stated, the idea that Dr. Mudd recommended or sent Booth and Herold to Rich Hill is unique. Though we are not sure where the creator of this scrapbook (identified only as Bessie Burns) received her information, if this was something told to her by those living at the Mudd house or Rich Hill during the trek across Booth’s escape, there may be some truth to it. We don’t believe Booth knew Cox or had met him prior to April 16, 1865, so perhaps Cox’s name was given to him by Dr. Mudd either after the assassination, or earlier when Booth was planning to abduct Lincoln and had Dr. Mudd’s support.

Regardless of the caption’s accuracy, these circa 1920 photographs give us two additional glimpses into the past of Rich Hill and helps us create a visual timeline of this valuable and historic home.

Haberdeventure: A Stone’s Throw Away from Rich Hill

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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.

Thomas Stone, signer of the Declaration of Independence from Maryland

Thomas Stone, signer of the Declaration of Independence from Maryland

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.

Haberdeventure THST

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 Brown was born and raised at Rich Hill and later married Thomas Stone, signer of the Declaration of Independence

Margaret Brown was born and raised at Rich Hill and later married Thomas Stone, signer of the Declaration of Independence

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 Brown Harpsichord

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:

First Floor Bedroom THST

Margaret Stone's Illness THST

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.

Cemetery at THST

Margaet Stone's grave THST

Margaet Stone's grave zoomed THST

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
female Virtue

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 grave THST

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 Portrait THST reg

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.

Rich Hill 2015.09.27 1

References:
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

The History of Rich Hill

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The History of Rich Hill

by Dave Taylor

During the wee morning hours of April 16, 1865, two men and their guide approached the door of a darkened, Charles County, Maryland home named Rich Hill.  “Not having a bell,” one of its sleeping occupants later recalled, the door was, “surmounted with a brass ‘knocker’.”  One of the three horseback men, under the cover of darkness, reached out a hand and grasped the brass tool.  He raised it upwards and, as the hinge reached the apex of its journey, the knocker was silently suspended for the briefest moment in time.  In a fraction of a second, the handle would fall, striking the metal plate beneath it and “in the stillness of night the sound from this” would resound, “with great distinctiveness”[1].  The silence of the night would be shattered and the lives of the family sleeping within the house’s walls would be changed forever.  History was knocking at the door of Rich Hill and its harbingers were John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln, and David Herold, his accomplice.

Rich Hill circa 1895

While Rich Hill would become known in American History due to the visitors that April night, the house and property had a notable history starting about 200 years before.  In April of 1666, a recent immigrant from Wales named Hugh Thomas was assigned and patented “600 acres of land, called Rich Hills, on the west side of the Wicomico river, in Charles county, Md.”[2]  Two years later, Hugh Thomas would sell half of his acreage at “Rich Hills” to an English immigrant turned St. Mary’s County merchant named Thomas Lomax.  Lomax paid Thomas using the standard currency of the day: tobacco.  For 3,500 lbs. of tobacco, Lomax acquired the northernmost 300 acres of the Rich Hill parcel, upon which the notable house would later be built.[3]   In 1676, Thomas Lomax gave his brother Cleborne (also spelled Claiborne/Cleiborne) Lomax 100 acres of the Rich Hill property.  When Thomas died in the early 1680’s, he was apparently unmarried and without any heirs and so the remainder of his Rich Hill property went to his brother as well.  In 1710, the Rich Hill land was sold out of the Lomax family to an intriguing widow by the name of Mary Contee.[4]

A trifecta of circumstances had made Mary Contee nee Townley a very wealthy woman:

  1. Mary Contee’s late husband, John Contee, had previously married a wealthy widow by the name of Charity Courts in 1703. When Charity died the same year of their marriage, John Contee inherited her sizable estate.  He and Mary were then married by June of 1704.
  2. In the same year of her marriage, Mary Contee’s cousin, Col. John Seymour was appointed the 10th Royal Governor of Maryland. Mary is recounted as a “favored cousin” of the Governor and due to this her husband John was appointed to several lucrative governmental positions becoming a representative of Charles County in Maryland’s Lower House and a justice in Charles County to name a couple.[5]
  3. Thus far, it has only been shown that John Contee had become a wealthy man. While Mary assumedly enjoyed the fruit of his abovementioned “labors”, how did she herself become wealthy?  That is where the real drama comes in.  John Contee died on August 3rd, 1708.  At the time of his death he possessed 3,697 acres of land and his personal property was assessed at 2,252 pounds sterling and 13 slaves.  According to his will which was passed by an Act of Assembly in 1708, Mary became the sole executrix of her husband’s vast estate.  However, it was later discovered that this will was not as it seemed.  In 1725, seventeen years after Mary Contee had inherited her husband’s holdings, John Contee’s blood nephew, a man by the name of Alexander Contee, had depositions taken with regards to the will that had made Mary such a wealthy woman.  Through these depositions Alexander Contee learned that John Contee’s will was a perjured fraud that was never agreed to by the deceased.  Alexander discovered that his uncle’s supposed will had actually been written by a man named Philip Lynes.  According the Alexander, Mr. Lynes was a man “very officious to oblige the said Mary” while John Contee was dying in the next room.  Philip Lynes was married to Anne Seymour, the Governor’s sister and therefore was also a cousin to Mary Contee.  The will was apparently brought before John Contee who was still of sound mind, and he refused to sign it as it was written.  Though Contee lived for about a week more, the will was never rewritten in terms he agreed to.  Due to these depositions, the Maryland Assembly passed another act in 1725 repealing the 1708 act that had granted Mary Contee as sole executrix.  The new act mentioned not only the maleficence of those who gained by this false will, but also the fraudulent way a knowingly unsigned will passed the Houses in the first place.  According to the new act, the fake will passed due to, “particular persons in power by whose Interest and Influence the said Act past both Houses of Assembly… contrary to the Standing rules of The Lower House.”  Perhaps Gov. Seymour, who was still in office in 1708, used his influence, once again, to intervene on behalf of his “favored cousin”.[6]

Therefore, it appears that Mary Contee purchased the Rich Hill property with fraudulently acquired capital.  She did not own it for very long, however.  By 1714, she had remarried a man by the name of Philemon Hemsley who facilitated the selling of the Rich Hill land for 21,000 lbs. of tobacco.  The new buyer was Gustavus Brown.[7]  Brown was a native of Dalkeith, Scotland and a surgeon by profession.  His immigration to Maryland was an accidental one:

When a youth of 19 he became a Surgeon’s mate, or Surgeon, on one of the royal or King’s ships that came to the Colony in the Chesapeake Bay, 1708.  While his ship lay at anchor he went on shore, but before he could return a severe storm arose, which made it necessary for the ship to weigh anchor and put out to sea.  The young man was left with nothing but the clothes on his back.  He quickly made himself known, and informed the planters of his willingness to serve them if he could be provided with instruments and medicines, leaving them to judge if he was worthy of their confidence.[8]

Brown started his medical practice in the Nanjemoy area of Charles County and quickly made a favorable reputation for himself.  In 1710, he married a woman by the name of Francis Fowke and the newlyweds lived temporarily with her father in Nanjemoy.

Dr. Gustauvs Brown Sr.

Dr. Gustavus Brown, Sr. Source: Smithsonian Institutions

Dr. and Mrs. Brown’s 1714 purchase of the Rich Hill property ushered in a new age for the estate.   Instead of solely using the land for the planting and harvesting of tobacco, Dr. Brown sought to create a home on the land.  It is this home that we see today and know as Rich Hill.

The exact date of construction on Rich Hill has not been determined.  According to its listing in the National Register of Historic Places, the house was “built probably in the in the early to mid 18th century”[9].  Looking at the genealogical records for Dr. Brown’s children, this author has determined that the house was built by 1720, as his daughter born that year was cited to have been born at “Rich Hills”.[10]

As it is today, Rich Hill was built as a 1 ½ story structure that appears as a full 2 story building from the exterior.  The original house had a hip roof and was built on top of cut stone piers.  While the front door was on the southwest side of the house as it is now, it was formerly on the center of this wall.  As you walked into Dr. Brown’s Rich Hill, the first floor consisted of four similarly sized rooms with a small stair hall in back flanked by a rear door.   The original building had two exterior chimneys which stood on the southeast and northwest sides of the house.[11]

The majority, if not all, of the Brown children were born at Rich Hill.  Dr. Brown and Frances had a total of twelve children as his practice prospered.  He had made a name for himself on both sides of the Potomac, treating residents of Maryland and Virginia.  One humorous story regarding Dr. Brown’s experiences as a physician is recounted below:

On one occasion Dr. Brown was sent for in haste to pay a professional visit in the family of a Mr. H., a wealthy citizen of King George Co., Va., who was usually very slow in paying his physician for his valuable services, and who was also very ostentatious in displaying his wealth.  In leaving the chamber of his patient it was necessary for Dr. B. to pass through the dining room, where Mr. H. was entertaining some guests at dinner.  As Dr. B. entered the room a servant bearing a silver salver, on which stood two silver goblets filled with gold pieces, stepped up to him and said, ‘Dr. B., master wishes you to take out your fee.’ It was winter, and Dr. B. wore his overcoat.  Taking one of the goblets he quietly emptied it into one pocket, and the second goblet into another, and saying to the servant, ‘Tell your master I highly appreciate his liberality,’ he mounted his horse and returned home.[12]

While his business grew, Gustavus Brown did suffer some of his own tragedies at home.  Out of his twelve children with Frances, three died in infancy.  In an odd twist, all of the children who died were boys who were named after their father.  Dr. Brown himself was actually the second Gustavus Brown as his father in Scotland bore the same name.  Dr. Brown named his first two boys, “Gustavus”, only to watch them both die before they were a year old.  When his third son was born, Dr. Brown gave him the name Richard, and this son would survive.  Perhaps thinking their curse of losing their male children was at an end, the couple named their fourth son “Gustavus Richard Brown” only to witness him perish 10 days after his birth.   While not documented, it is extremely likely that the three infant Gustavus Browns were buried somewhere on the Rich Hill property.

Frances Fowke Brown

Frances Fowke Brown Source: Smithsonian Institutions

Frances Fowke Brown died 1744 and was buried at the estate of her daughter and son-in-law in Stafford County, VA.  Dr. Brown remarried a widow named Margaret Boyd in 1746.  With Margaret, Dr. Brown had two more children at Rich Hill, a boy and a girl.  Though tempting fate, Dr. Brown named his youngest son after himself.  This “Gustavus Richard Brown” born on October 17th, 1747, would survive infancy, follow in his father’s footsteps into the medical profession, and enter the history books as one of George Washington’s friends and caregiver at the Father of Our Country’s final hour.  Dr. Brown’s other child with Margaret was named after her mother and would later marry Thomas Stone, a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Maryland.  Their shared home, Habre de Venture, in Port Tobacco, MD is a National Historic Site run by the National Park Service.[13]

In April of 1762, the senior Dr. Brown died at Rich Hill.  His death was from “apoplexy” which was a general term that meant death happened suddenly after a loss of consciousness (i.e. severe heart attack or stroke).[14]  Dr. Brown was buried at Rich Hill, though the exact spot of his grave is lost today.[15]  Rich Hill and its 300 acres passed to his wife Margaret and then to his eldest son Rev. Richard Brown (who was also a medical doctor) and his wife Helen.

Rev. Richard Brown Source: Smithsonian Institutions

Rev. Richard Brown Source: Smithsonian Institutions

During his tenure in the house, Rev. Brown, through marriage and purchase, managed to acquire a large portion of the 600 acre Rich Hill parcel that was split back in 1668.  A tax assessment for Rich Hill in 1783 shows Rev. Richard Brown owning 566 acres of Rich Hill.  He also made some unknown “improvements” to the property, which probably entailed some work on the house.[16]  When Rev. Brown died in 1789, Rich Hill and its acreage swapped hands a few times between his descendants, with a loss of some of the land the Reverend had managed regain.

The Brown family owned Rich Hill continually for 93 years.  At least four generations of Browns had made that house their home.  It raised the men and women who befriended and married America’s founding fathers.  When it was sold out of Brown family in 1807 to a man named Samuel Cox, a new chapter for Rich Hill began.  The new owner and his descendants would own Rich Hill for the next 164 years and would witness the night history came knocking on their door.

Samuel Cox, the new owner of Rich Hill, is not the same man to whom John Wilkes Booth appeared to in 1865.  Rather, this Samuel Cox was the latter’s maternal grandfather.  From Samuel Cox, Rich Hill descended to his daughter Margaret who had married a man by the name of Hugh Cox.  What relation, if any, existed between Margaret Cox and Hugh Cox has yet to be determined.  Hugh and Margaret had five children born at Rich Hill, including their son Samuel, named for his grandfather.  Samuel Cox was born on November 22, 1819.  When Samuel’s mother, Margaret, died, his father Hugh found himself a new wife, Mary Ann T. T. Cox.  Hugh had three more children by Mary Ann.[17]

When Samuel Cox was 15 years of age, he was sent to the Charlotte Hall Military Academy.  He returned home three years later and followed in his father’s footsteps as a member of the wealthy planter class.  On December 6th, 1842, Samuel Cox married his Washington, D.C. cousin, Walter Ann Cox.  Walter Ann was named for her father who died a couple months before she was born.  By the late 1840’s Hugh Cox and his wife Mary Ann, were residing away from Rich Hill on another property they owned near La Plata called “Salem”[18].  In 1849, Hugh and Mary Ann officially gave Rich Hill to Samuel Cox as a gift.  Hugh Cox would die in December of that same year at the age of 70.[19]  Rich Hill was now in the hands of the man who would give aid to the assassin of the President.

Samuel Cox, Sr.

Samuel Cox, Sr.

Sometime in the first half of the 1800’s a significant amount of remodeling was done to Rich Hill.  Whether the work was commissioned by Hugh or Samuel Cox is unknown.  Regardless, both the exterior and interior of the house were drastically changed from Dr. Brown’s initial layout.   The hip roof was replaced with a gable roof.  The two chimneys on either end of the house were replaced with a large, double chimney on the northwest side of the house.  On the southeast side, where one of the chimneys had been, the Coxes built a one story frame addition.  This new addition contained a dining room and a bedroom in which Samuel Cox and his wife slept.  The front door was moved from the center of the southwest wall to its current location right near the intersection between the southwest and southeast walls.  The interior layout of the house was changed, too.  Originally containing four similarly sized rooms with a rear stair hall, the layout was an end hall plan with a large front room and two small rooms to the rear.  Much of the layout of Rich Hill today still follows the renovations done by the Cox family in the early 1800’s.[20]

Rich Hill Floorplan 2013

Samuel Cox was a successful farmer and participated in many political and social groups in the county.  Through the exertions of Samuel and his father before him, the Rich Hill farm prospered to 845 acres, even larger than its initial 600 acres in 1666.[21]  Despite his success in farming, Samuel Cox, like another previously discussed owner of Rich Hill, had difficulty producing a namesake.  None of his children with Walter Ann survived infancy.  Instead, Samuel Cox ended up adopting his late sister’s son, Samuel Robertson.  Though this younger Samuel had spent much of his life on his uncle’s farm and property, he was officially adopted and had his named changed to Samuel Cox, Jr. three days after his 17th birthday in 1864.[22]

Samuel Cox, Jr. was present at Rich Hill when John Wilkes Booth and David E. Herold arrived in the morning hours of April 16th.  Years later, he would write about the night he was awakened so early by the sound of that brass knocker on the door:

There was at the time in the house, Col Saml Cox, his wife, his wife’s mother Mrs Lucy B. Walker, Ella M. Magruder, now my wife, two servant girls, Mary and Martha and myself.  Pa’s bedroom was on the first floor – and to the extreme eastern end of the house, and to approach the front door, which opens into the hall, Pa had to pass through the dining-room, where Mary and Martha slept.  The stairway to the 2nd floor is approached through a door midway the hall and at the head of this stairway Mrs. Walker slept.  My room is on the second floor and directly over the hall and two windows in this room are immediately over the front door looking out upon the yard and lawn in full view of the road which approached the house.  When I was aroused by the knock I jumped out of bed and went down in the hall and as I approached the front door where I found Pa standing with the door partially open with Mary standing just behind him in the doorway of the dining room only some six feet away…[23]

Samuel Cox, his adopted son, and their servant Mary Swann would claim to investigators that Booth and Herold were never allowed entry into the house and were, instead turned away almost immediately.  Cox, Jr. would hold onto this story to his dying day, telling assassination author Osborne Oldroyd in 1901 that his father found the fugitives attempting to sleep in a gully close to the house the next morning.  It was only then, according to Cox, Jr., that his father instructed his farm overseer, Franklin Robey, to guide them into a nearby pine thicket while he sent Cox, Jr. to retrieve Thomas Jones, who would care for the men during their stay in the pine thicket.[24]  Other sources, however, including Oswell Swann, the ignorant guide of the assassin and his accomplice, would state that Booth and Herold spent a few hours inside of Rich Hill before they departed.  Some later second hand accounts also speak of Booth and Herold entering Rich Hill during that early morning for food and drink.  Regardless of whether or not the men entered the house, the knocking on the door of Rich Hill by David Herold secured the home’s role in the history of the 12 day escape of the assassin of President Lincoln.

Samuel Cox, Mary Swann, and Samuel Cox, Jr. were all arrested in the aftermath of Booth’s visit to their house.  They were informed on by Oswell Swann, who brought the troops to Rich Hill at about midnight on April 23rd.  The three residents were transported at first to nearby Bryantown.  After getting Mary Swann’s statement of events, Samuel Cox, Jr. and Mary were released, only to be rearrested a couple of days later.[25]  Samuel Cox, the elder, was transported up to Washington and was imprisoned at the Old Capitol Prison.  Though the authorities strongly suspected that Cox had aided the fugitives, with Mary Swann contradicting the account of Oswell Swann, there was nothing to prove their beliefs.  While imprisoned at the Old Capitol Prison, Samuel Cox wrote a letter to his wife on May 21st.  Addressed to “Mrs. W. A. Cox, Port Tobacco, MD”, Cox recounts, in part, the degree of his imprisonment, “…I know my dear wife it will give you as much pleasure to inform you as it was for me to receive, permission just as your letter was received, to walk in the yard for exercise, which I have been deprived of until to day, having been confined to my room now for nearly four weeks.”[26]  Cox was eventually released from the Old Capitol Prison on June 3rd, and returned home to Rich Hill to his waiting family.

Samuel Cox, Jr.

Samuel Cox, Jr.

The extent of Booth’s visit to Rich Hill remained quiet for a number of years.  During the interim, Samuel Cox died on January 7th, 1880.  In his will he left Rich Hill to his wife until her passing, after which the home and property would go to his only heir, Samuel Cox, Jr.  In 1884, newspaper correspondent George Alfred Townsend (GATH) met with Thomas Jones.  After years of silence, Jones shared with GATH his involvement in helping Booth and Herold during their “missing days” of the escape.  Jones did nothing to shield the Coxes from their involvement, divulging how he was brought to Rich Hill by Cox, Jr. and how his father insisted Jones help get the men across the river when the time was right.  In his article, entitled, How Wilkes Booth Crossed the Potomac, GATH describes Rich Hill:

The prosperous foster brother [Cox] lived in a large two-story house, with handsome piazzas front and rear, and a tall, windowless roof with double chimneys at both ends; and to the right of the house, which faced west , was a long one story extension, used by Cox for his bedroom.  The house is on a slight elevation, and has both an outer and inner yard, to both of which are gates.  With its trellis-work and vines, fruit and shade trees, green shutters and dark red roofs, Cox’s property, called Rich Hill, made an agreeable contrast to the somber short pines which, at no great distance, seemed to cover the plain almost as thickly as wheat straws in the grain field.[27]

Though Samuel Cox, Jr. was the man of the house, he officially became the sole owner of Rich Hill upon the death of his adoptive mother in 1894.  By that time, Cox, Jr. had already married and had 3 children by his wife, Ella Magruder.  These young Cox children, Lucy, Edith and Walter, grew up and were raised at Rich Hill.  Ella died in 1890 and Cox subsequently remarried a cousin of his named Ann Robertson.

Like his father before him, Cox, Jr. became a prominent member of Charles County society.  He had a sizable plantation with Rich Hill and he also owned Cox’s Station, a stop of the Baltimore and Philadelphia Railroad line that ran from Pope’s Creek on the Potomac up to Bowie in Prince George’s County where it connected to other lines.  The modern town of Bel Alton (where Rich Hill is located) bore the name Cox’s Station up until Cox sold a sizable parcel of land to the Southern Maryland Development Company in 1891 and they renamed the area to its modern name.  Cox, Jr. was also involved in local politics, running for and winning a seat in the Maryland general assembly in 1877.  Dr. Mudd, another familiar name in the Lincoln assassination story, ran alongside Cox, but was not elected.[28]

Cox and Mudd for Delegates

Samuel Cox, Jr. died on May 5, 1906 at the age of 59.  The ownership of the property passed to Cox’s son, Walter, who sold his share of it to his married sister, Lucy B. Neale.  Lucy and her family did not live at Rich Hill.  The last member of the Cox family to reside at Rich Hill was Samuel Cox, Jr.’s second wife, Ann Robertson Cox.  Her death on March 4, 1930, marked the end of the Cox family’s habitation of Rich Hill.

Between the years of 1930 and 1969, Samuel Cox, Jr.’s grandchildren operated Rich Hill’s property as a tobacco farm for sharecroppers.  The land shrunk back down to 320 acres by 1971.  That year, Rich Hill and its 320 acres were sold to its current owner, Joseph Vallario, a senior member of the Maryland House of Delegates.[29]  In celebration for the bicentennial of the United States in 1976, Delegate Vallario restored Rich Hill to its appearance during Dr. Brown’s day.  This involved removing the front and back piazzas along with the one story addition that had been added by the Cox family in the 19th century.[30]  Though this did make Rich Hill look less like the house that Booth and Herold saw on April 16, 1865, the restoration worked to preserve Rich Hill and keep it from falling down.  Rich Hill served as a beautiful rental property for many years after.

As time passed, however, the house and property began to decay again. When no more renters were to be found, Rich Hill sat vacant and unattended. Mother Nature started eating away at Rich Hill. In 2014, a group of Charles County citizens approached Delegate Vallario about the possibility of him donating the property to either the Historical Society or the county government in order to save it from its slow descruction by the elements. Mr. Vallario agreed that the house deserved to be saved and preserved and graciously donated the house to the Charles County Government in 2014. The County, in cooperation with groups like Friends of Rich Hill, are working to preserve and restore this historic house for future generations.

While Rich Hill’s involvement in the story of Lincoln’s assassination is the house’s most discussed historical aspect, it is far more than the “stop on the trail of John Wilkes Booth” sign that stands some distance from it.  As has been shown through this article, Rich Hill has had a notable and lengthy lifespan.  It not only holds an important place in the history of Charles County, but it also affected the history of the nation due to the men and women who were raised under its roof.  As a restored museum run by Charles County in conjunction with the Friends of Rich Hill and the Historical Society of Charles County, Rich Hill will continue to influence and affect the history of our nation.

Rich Hill 4-1-2015

Sources:
[1] Samuel Cox, Jr., Letter to Mrs. B. T. Johnson, July 20, 1891, James O. Hall Research Center.
[2] William F. Boogher, Gleanings of Virginia History: An Historical and Genealogical Collection (Washington, D.C.: W.. F. Boogher, 1903), 283.
[3] 26 Apr. 1668. Charles County Circuit Court Liber D, Page 14.
[4] 3 Mar. 1710. Charles County Land Records, Liber C#2, Page 245.
[5] Edward C. Papenfuse, A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature 1635-1789 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), 230.
[6] Acts of the General Assembly hitherto unpublished 1694-1698, 1711-1729, Volume 38, ed. Bernard Steiner (Baltimore, MD: Lord Baltimore Press, 1918), 384-386.
[7] 12 Jan 1714. Charles Co. Land Records, Liber F#2, page 51
[8] Horace Edwin Hayden, Virginia Genealogies: A Genealogy of the Glassell Family of Scotland and Virginia : Also of the Families of Ball, Brown, Bryan, Conway, Daniel, Ewell, Holladay, Lewis, Littlepage, Moncure, Peyton, Robinson, Scott, Taylor, Wallace, and Others, of Virginia and Maryland (Wilkes-Barre, PA: E. B. Yorby, 1891), 152.
[9] National Registry of Historic Places Nomination Form, Rich Hill Farms (1976).
[10] Hayden, Virginia Genealogies, 162.
[11] Registry, Rich Hill Farms.
[12] Hayden, Virginia Genealogies, 153.
[13] Ibid, 147.
[14] Ibid, 151.
[15] Norma L. Hurley, “Samuel Cox of Charles County,” The Record – Publication of the Historical Society of Charles County, Inc., October 1991, 1-5.
[16] J. Richard Rivoire, Rich Hill Tract History (Charles County Historical Society).
[17] Hurley, “Samuel Cox”.
[18] “Mary Ann Cox Obituary,” Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, VA), February 9, 1856.
[19] Hurley, “Samuel Cox”.
[20] Registry, Rich Hill Farms.
[21] Michael W. Kauffman, American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies (New York: Random House, 2004), 250.
[22] David Taylor, “The Name Game,” BoothieBarn.com. August 24, 2013. http://boothiebarn.com/2013/08/24/the-name-game/
[23] Cox, Letter to Mrs. B. T. Johnson.
[24] Osborn H. Oldroyd, The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (Washington, D.C.: O. H. Oldroyd, 1901), 267.
[25] Cox, Letter to Mrs. B. T. Johnson.
[26] Samuel Cox, Letter to Mrs. W. A. Cox, May 21, 1865, James O. Hall Research Center.
[27] George Alfred Townsend, “How Wilkes Booth Crossed the Potomac,” Century Magazine, April 1884, 827.
[28] Report of the Twelfth Annual Meeting of the Maryland State Bar Association held at Ocean City, Maryland July 3rd – 5th, 1907 (Baltimore, MD: Maryland State Bar Association, 1907), 75.
[29] Rivoire, Tract History.
[30] Registry, Rich Hill Farms