OLD WHITE MARSH CHURCH.
ADDRESS BY W. THOMAS KEMP,
BEFORE THE EASTERN SHORE SOCIETY OF BALTIMORE CITY, MARCH, TWENTY-FIFTH, NINETEEN-HUNDRED AND TWENTY.
he early history of the Eastern Shore
of Maryland begins with Claiborne's settlement upon Kent Island in 1631.
As Claiborne and his followers had migrated from the Colony of Virginia where
the Church of England was firmly established, it is only natural that the
earliest church records pertaining to the Eastern Shore should concern the founding
of the Church of England, later called the Episcopal Church in America. It is
known that the Rev. Richard James accompanied Claiborne on his trip from Hampton,
Va., to Kent Island in 1631, where he remained until 1638. The first building
for public worship on the Eastern Shore was erected some years later on Broad
Creek, Kent Island, and though the church building itself has long since
disappeared, the foundations still remain to mark its location.
But the oldest church on the Eastern Shore in which public worship was conducted in recent times is unquestionably White Marsh Church, situated in Talbot County, about a quarter-of-a-mile east of the village of Hambleton on the old public road leading from the port of Oxford toward Dover, one of the earliest settlements on the Choptank River. Today there remain standing only the ruined brick walls of the church building, which was destroyed by fire as recently as January 12, 1897. The passing traveler now observes the rectangular church-yard, protected by the spreading branches of a dozen or more large oak trees surrounding the blackened walls of the old church, and shading the countless graves of those who slumber there.
In a paper read some years ago before this Society by Percy G. Skirven, Esq., it is stated that according to the Land Records of Talbot County, the original White Marsh Church was built about the year 1665, and that it remained a place of public worship for nearly 200 years thereafter. Though located within the confines of St. Peter's Parish, Talbot County, as laid out under the Act of 1692, the selection of this hallowed site and the erection of the old building antedates the beginning, of the history of St. Peter's Parish by nearly 30 years. Among the records of Talbot County Court, held June 20, 1693, may be found the following: "The Court proceeds to lay out the parishes of this County, as also to nominate and appoint the vestry for the several and respective parishes." Then follow the names of the vestrymen appointed for St. Peter's Parish, as follow.-;: Thomas Robins, Thomas Bowdle, George Robins, Nicholas Lowe, Samuel Abbott, and Thomas Martin.
St. Peter's Parish was bounded by the Third Haven or Tred Avon River, the Choptank River, curving as far around as Tuckahoe Creek, and then by a line following Tuckahoe Creek, and thence to the headwaters of the Tred Avon River. Located about the center of this territory, Old White Marsh Church became, and for many years remained, the only church of the parish. It was not until a century or more later that Christ Church in the town of Easton was erected, and became by virtue of its more accessible location in the county seat, the main church of St. Peter's Parish.
In the year 1856, upon the petition of sundry persons living at or near the town of Trappe, consent was given by the vestry of St. Peter's Parish to the formation of a new parish within its limits, and on May 12, 1856, David Kerr, Jr., Alexander Matthews and James Lloyd Chamberlaine, a committee representing persons anxious for a division of the parish, procured the passage of a resolution by the Diocesan Convention whereby that portion of St. Peter's Parish lying south of a line from the waters of Trippe's Creek to the waters of the Choptank River was organized under a separate jurisdiction with the name of White Marsh Parish. Though embracing the ancient parish church, the new church building of White Marsh Parish was erected in the town of Trappe, and was dedicated in the year 1858, under the name of St, Paul's Church. The old communion service which had been used at White Marsh Church was removed to St. Paul's Church, where it is still in use. One of the silver cups of this service bears the initials of John Builen, registrar of the parish from May 2nd, 1710 until May 15, 1731, when he was succeeded by his son Thomas Bullen, whose salary was then fixed at 1000 lbs. of tobacco.
The old mahogany alms-box is preserved as a relic by one of the parishioners. The box is about six or eight inches square, and is covered by a top with a hole in the center. It has a long handle, which served the two-fold purpose of passing the box during the collection, and of punching any of the congregation who might fall asleep during the sermon. After 1858 regular services ceased to be held in the ancient church until the summer of 1896, when, through the activities of the Rev. J. Gibson Gantt, then rector of the parish, the old church building was repaired, the surrounding grounds cleared, and arrangements made to renew the holding of services within the old structure. But unfortunately not many months thereafter a farmer while burning brush, consisting in all probability of the same undergrowth which had been cut away from the church site, accidently set fire to the church building itself, so that the interior was gutted by fire, leaving only the high brick walls standing to mark the site of what was until that time the oldest church edifice on the Eastern Shore.
Returning now to what is known as the early history of old White Marsh Church, we glean some information from the official record of "Births, Marriages and Deaths, St. Peter's Parish." For instance, there is the record of the birth of William Riche of this parish on the 9th of July 1681, but the name of the minister officiating at the baptism is not given. The following is another record: "Thomas Delahay, son of Thomas Delahay and Eve his wife, was borne ye 23rd of October Ano Domi 1689 and christened, pr. Rev. Joseph Leech." The name of Mr. Leech appears in this connection during many years down to 1697. The following minute is quoted from the proceedings of a Court held June 7, 1681:
"To the Worshipful Commissioners of Talbot County, the Humble Petition of John Lillingston showeth: That your petitioner at the request of Alice Bradburne, widow and Relict of John Bradburne, did preach a sermon upon the funeral of the said Bradburne, for which your Petitioner humbly conceives himself to be well worthy of four hundred pounds of Tobacco. The administration of the said deceased his personal estate was committed to Mr. Will. Bishop, who refuses to pay your Petitioner the said four hundred pounds of Tobacco."
Court ordered the Tobacco to be paid.
Among the records of the Court of Talbot County for June 21, 1687, is one of the appointments of overseers of the roads. William Dickinson was appointed to repair the road "from Cooley's gate to the church at White Marsh" showing the existence of a church edifice some years before the passage of the first law for establishing a religion in the province, 1692.
Dr. Samuel A. Harrison's manuscript on St. Peter's Parish mentions two "visitations" or conferences of clergymen held in White Marsh Church, one on May 30, 1722, and the other on June 16, 1731. In the latter visitation Rev. Jacob Henderson presided as "Commissary" of the Bishop of London, and the following clergy men were present: Rev. Thomas Fletcher, rector of All Hallows parish, Somerset county; Rev. William Wye, rector of Somerset parish, Somerset county; Rev. Thomas Thompson, rector of Dorchester parish, Dorchester county; Rev. Thomas Avery, rector of Great Choptank parish, Dorchester county; Rev. Thomas Dell, rector of St. Mary's White Chapel, Dorchester county; Rev. Daniel Maynadier, rector of St. Peter's Parish, Talbot county; Rev. Henry Nichols, rector of St. Michael's parish, Talbot county; Rev. James Cox, rector of St. Paul's parish, Queen Anne's county; Rev. Thomas Phillips, rector of Christ's church, Kent Island; Rev. Alexander Williamson, of St. Paul's parish, Kent county; Rev. George Ross of St. Mary Ann, Cecil county.
From the parish record of St. Peter's Parish (copy whereof is now preserved in the -Maryland Historical Society), it further appears that "Rev. Mr. Wm. Glen an Orthodox minister of the Church of England sent by the Right Reverend Father in God, Henry, Lord Bishop of London" was received as rector on July 18, 1708; Rev. Daniel Maynadier was rector from 1717 to 1746; Rev. Thomas Bacon from 1746 to 1758; Rev. Hindman in 1779-, Bishop Claggett, the first Episcopal Bishop of Maryland, held a confirmation in the church in 1793.
The parish records also state: in 1708 "the vestry bought of Mr. Robert Grundy 185 acres of land situated and lying near St. Peter's Church called and known by the name of Tranquility to be and remain a certain Glibb to the ministers of St. Peter's Parish forever for the sum of 16,000 pounds of tobacco" also 50 and 34 acres adjoining.
On June 7, 1709, the following entries appear: "The vestry ordered the Register to give Mr. Wm. Coursey an order on Mr. R. Ungle for 400 pounds Tobacco for drawing two conveyances for certain Glibb land bought for the use of your Minister of St. Peter's Parish and his succeeding Ministers forever. " "Ordered church wardens to provide nails for certain work to be done at the church and to agree with a workman to do the same. "
"Ordered that the church wardens admonish Mr. Dan'l Sherwood not to frequent the company of Mary Stevens."
"Then also ordered that the church wardens admonish Mr. Thos. Collier not to frequent the company of Mary --------- "
"Then the vestry ordered that the church wardens provide two quires of paper for the use of the vestry."
Later on the parish records read: The Revrd. Dan'l Maynadier, rector of St. Peter's Parish, was married to Mrs. Hannah Parrott the 12th day of January Ano. Domi 1720. During the rectorship of Dr. Maynadier the following answers to "Queries of Ministers" (published in Dr. W. S. Perry's Historical Collection of American Colonial Churches) were prepared in 1724 concerning St. Peter's Parish: "I was removed to this parish I now possess in the year 1714 in May. I was licensed by the then Henry, Bishop of London. My parish is 29 miles long and 14 miles broad; there are 344 families in it. There are several negroes in my parish but no Indians. I hold Divine service on Sundays and holidays; on the Lord's day I have a large Congregation, on holidays very small. I have a Glebe and a dwelling house upon it and I occupy it myself."
These records also show the progress made from time-to-time in fitting out the interior of the church, and in making certain alterations or extensions of the church building itself. On March 7th, 1709, the vestry authorized the making of ten new pews and altering several old ones, the building of a new pulpit and repairing the windows and chancel doors, and ordered the same paid for to the amount of 5,250 pounds of tobacco. On April 3rd, 1722, 150,000 bricks at the rate of 200 pounds of tobacco per thousand were ordered burned for an addition to the building, and on April 6th, 1724, the size of the church was made 56 feet in length and 28 feet in breadth. On June 8th, 1726, the minutes gave IC an account of subscriptions for building St. Peter's Church" and state that "the old church is much decayed and unfit for Divine service." In 1731, the church was ordered to be 46 enclosed with palings, with the church yard 200 feet in length and 130 feet in breadth more or less, the palings to be well sapped and drawn. "
On May 6th, 1751, the Parish Record states: "The pews in the new addition to St. Peter's Parish Church in Talbot County that are underwritten were this day divided among the several subscribers herein mentioned to the said new addition, the largest subscriber having his first choice and then the next largest, and where they are equal by Lot" :
"No. 10. To the Revd. Thos. Bacon.
No. 14. Mr. James Dickinson, by Lot.
No. 18. Messrs. Foster, Cunliff e &Sons, of Liverpool,
(Jan. 14. 1758, Henry Callister sold the within Pew to
Nichs. Pampillon who's property it now is)."
In 1745, during the rectorship of Rev. Thomas Bacon, the attendance upon the services at White Marsh Church had increased to such an extent that the church building was insufficient to accommodate the people, and shortly thereafter a brick addition to the church was built which nearly doubled its seating capacity. Thus the church remained until 1834 when further extensive repairs were made. On February 3rd, 1834, the list of pew holders at White Marsh Church included the following:
Nicholas Goldsborough, Anna Maria Tilghman, Richard Trippe, Edward Martin, Samuel Stevens, Rev. Thomas Bayne, Theodore Loockerman, Thomas Worrall, Thomas Hayward, Harriet Martin, Thomas Coward, James Lloyd Chamberlaine, Robert Delahay, Josiah Rhodes, Thomas Baker, Samuel T. Kennard, Martin Goldsborough, William R. Trippe, Joseph Martin, Mariah Goldsborough, Nicholas Martin, Nicholas Thomas, Mary Clare Martin, Robert Henry Rhodes, Mrs. Chaplin. Later the following names appear as pew holders: John Goldsborough, John Bullen, William R. Hughlett, Samuel Banning, William H. Groome.
Among the last minutes of the registry of the vestry of St. Peter's Parish, having reference to old White Marsh Church, is one relating to the ancient burial-ground surrounding this church. It is dated August 4, 1845, and reads as follows: "On motion, Resolved that the parishioners be requested to meet at the parish church, with their hands, carts, grubbing-hoes and axes for the purpose of cleaning up the churchyard on Wednesday the 27th of August, if fair; if not, the next fair day."
As above stated, services at the old church were discontinued after 1858 until 1896, when the churchyard was again cleaned and the building restored sufficiently to permit the holding of occasional services therein.
As might be expected, tradition attaches many a legend to the memories of this ancient church. A strange and weird story has been handed down from generation to generation of the Martin family, two members of which were vestrymen at the time of the incident. It was in 1714 that the Rev. Henry Maynadier, a Huguenot, was the Rector of White Marsh Church. The rectory was an old brick mansion on the Glebe farm, about a mile distant from the church, and the house still stands in excellent repair at this time. The story is that the rector's wife died, and her last wish was that she should be buried with a valuable family ring upon her finger, for it was customary in hose days to bury a body without removing jewelry that had been most worn in life.
Two strangers who had attended the funeral had observed this valuable ring and determined to secure it that night; so they went to the old churchyard, for it was then over half-a-century old, and digging into the grave, removed the coffin, broke it open and attempted to take the ring off the woman's finger. It would not come off, and so a knife was used to sever the joint, and this was the means, with the restoration to fresh, cool air, that revived her, who not being dead, suddenly uttered a cry and sat up in her coffin. Tradition does not say what became of those two grave-ghouls, but it is to be hoped that the fright they received turned them from their evil ways.
As for Mrs. Maynadier, she realized the situation, and though alarmed and ill, she was possessed of great nerve; she drew her shroud about her form and started upon her homeward way.
In the rectory the old clergyman was seated before his hearth alone, doubtless recalling the wife he had won in the long-ago, far across the seas, and whom he had just buried in their adopted land. Sad must have been his memories; deep must have been his sorrow; as he sat there looking into the past and thinking of the loved one in the White Marsh burying ground.
Suddenly he was startled by a fall against the door, followed by a low moan. - A fearless man, he sprang to the door and beheld the fainting, shrouded form of his wife. The sight nerved him to action and drove away fear. He raised her in his arms, bore her to her bed, gave her stimulants, chafed her hands, one still bleeding from the cruel cut of the ghoul, and soon restored her to coconsciousnessThen he called his servants, told them the weird story and sent, to Oxford, five miles distant, for a physician. Mrs. Maynadier recovered from her illness and lived for many years. She and her husband now lie side-by-side in sweet repose in the old White Marsh churchyard.
Such indeed is the story from the pen of Richard T. Martin, Esq., a worthy member of this Society.
No history of White Marsh Church would be complete without a reference to the age-darkened grave-stones and wrecks of tombs of those early colonists, many of them our own ancestors, who lie buried in the churchyard. Several of the grave-stones are illegible; others are fairly well preserved. Among those which can be deciphered, we read as follows:
White Haven, in England,
Died, Match 14th, 1742.
Age 26 Years.
To The Memory Of
MR. THOMAS RICHARDSON, Merchant,
Who Died October 10th, 1734,
Aged 41 Years ------ And ------
MARY, (His Wife) Who Died in 1728,
Aged ------ Years ------ And Of
ABIGAIL, Their Daughter, Who Died, September, 23rd, 1728,
Aged Ten Months.
MR. ANTHONY RICHARDSON, Merchant,
Who Died Nov. (ye 22) 1740,
In The 39th Year Of His Age.
This Monument Was Erected
May Ye 12,1742, By Their Most Affectionate
But Afflicted Kinsman,
As one stands within the ruined walls of the old church, there can be observed several brick-lined sepulchres wherein lay the dust of some prominent members, or perhaps one or more of the rectors of the church, whose importance entitled them to burial beneath the floor of the church. Rather a sad commentary on the frailty and uncertainty of merely human achievement.
By far the most interesting, as well as the most legible, is the restored tomb of Robert Morris, father of the celebrated financier of the
American Revolution of the same name, and himself a worthy and
The inscription reads:
IN MEMORY OF ROBERT MORRIS,
a Native of Liverpool
In Great Britain,
Late, a Merchant at Oxford
In This Province.
influenced his dealings
Principles of Honour governed his actions
With an uncommon Degree of Sincerity
He despised Artifice and Dissimulation
His friendship frequent, secret and well adapted
His Zeal for the Publick Good, active and useful
His Hospitality was enhanced by his Conversation
Seasoned with cheerful Wit and a sound Judgment
A Salute from the Cannon of a Ship
The Wed fractured his Arm
Was the Signal by which he departed
Greatly lamented as he was esteemed
In the fortieth year of his Age
On the 12th day of July
Perhaps I may be pardoned if I now
digress from the subject of this paper in order to recount a few details of the
life of the father and son, both bearing the same name, which is thus linked
with this ac- count of Old White Marsh Church.
Robert Morris, the elder was born in Liverpool sometime in the year 1711. As
a young man, he was sent to America as a factor or resident agent for the
Liverpool firm of Foster, Cunliffe & Sons, and was established at Oxford,
then the most thriving seaport in Maryland. In Bacons' Laws of Maryland (1706,
ch. 14) it is provided that "All the Towns, Rivers, Greeks & Coves in
Talbot County, and the Towns, Rivers, &c. in Great Choptank, and Little
Choptank in Dorchester County and Kent Island in Queen Anne's County were to he
decreed Members of the Port of Oxford. " All of the prominent English firms
trading with the Colony had representatives called factors located at Oxford.
Its excellent harbor could boast of ships that sailed the seven seas. For twelve
years, Robert Morris remained at Oxford in general charge of the business of his
Liverpool firm and of the various sub-agencies established at Cambridge and
Dover on the Choptank and at other points on the Wye and Chester Rivers. In the journal kept by his business
associate and personal friend at Oxford, Colonel Jeremiah Banning, (which
Journal has fortunately been preserved) we read:
"The great natural abilities of Mr. Morris over leapeoverleapedher deficiency. As a mercantile genius it was thought he had not his equal in the land. As a companion and bon-vivant he was incomparable. If any public or political point was to carry he defeated all opposition. He gave birth to the inspection law on tobacco and carried it through though opposed by a powerful majority. He was the first who introduced the mode of keeping accounts in money, instead of so many pounds of tobacco, per yard, per pound, per gallon, as was formerly the case. He was a steady, warm friend wherever he made professions and had a hand ever open and ready to relieve real distress. At repartee he bore down all before him. Mr. Morris was father to the present Robert Morris, of Philadelphia, the most distinguished merchant of his time in America."
Mr. Banning gives this contemporary account of Mr. Morris' tragic death:
"Mr. Morris, the elder, agent to the great house of Foster, Cun liffe & Sons, Liverpool, received his death wound in July, 1750, by the wad of a gun, fired by way of a salute to him from the ship Liverpool Merchant, Samuel Matthews, commander, which was then lying at Oxford. The accident occurred in the following manner: On the arrival of the aforesaid ship from England, Mr. Morris and some other gentlemen went on board, as is usual on such arrival. On his return to the shore he was accompanied by the Captain, who, before he left the ship, gave orders, upon a certain signal to salute with such a number of cannon. The signal was the Captain putting his finger to his nose. Unfortunately a fly lit upon the nose of Captain Matthews, and he, with his hand brushed it away; this was taken by the officer on board as the signal. The guns were fired; the wad of one passing through the backboard of the pinnace struck Mr. Morris a little above the elbow, broke the bone and occasioned a contusion which in a few days brought on a mortification and put a period to his life in August. It may appear fabulous, but, notwithstanding, assuredly true, that Mr. Morris had a favorite spaniel by the name of Tray. This dog kept to his master during the whole of his sickness, and after he was laid out crouched under him, where he in a few hours died. I do not mention this through any superstition, but merely to portray the sensibility of those sagacious animals."
Substantially the same account of the death of Robert Morris is contained in a letter written by Henry Callister, his successor as a factor at Oxford, and quoted at length by Col. Oswald Tilghman in his history of Talbot County.
Robert Morris' son, "the present Robert Morris of Philadelphia," as Mr. Banning called him, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and afterward the great financier whose credit saved Washington's Army in the darkest hours of the Revolution. Robert Morris, the younger, was born in Liverpool, England, January 31st, He emigrated to America in 1747, entered a mercantile house in Philadelphia and in 1754 became a member of the prosperous firm known as Willing, Morris & Co.* In the conflict with the mother-country, he was vice-president of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety (1775-1776) and a member of the Continental Congress (1775-1778). At first he disapproved the Declaration of Independence, but he finally joined the other members in signing it on the 2nd of August. He retired from Congress in 1778, and was at once sent to the Legislature, serving in 1778--1779 and in 1780--1781.
His greatest public service was the financing of the War of Independence. As chairman or member of various committees, he practically controlled the financial operation of Congress from 1776 to 1778, and when the board system was superseded in 1781 by single headed executive departments, he was chosen superintendent of finance. With the able co-operation of his assistant, Governeur Morris, who was in no way related to him, he filled this position with great efficiency during the trying years from l78l to l784. For the same period, he was also agent of marine, and hence head of the Navy Department. Through requisitions on the states and loans from the French, and in large measure through money advanced out of his own pocket or borrowed on his private credit, he furnished the means to transfer Washington's Army from Dobb's Ferry to Yorktown (1781). In 1781 he
established in Philadelphia the Bank of North America, chartered first by Congress and later by Pennsylvania, the oldest financial institution in the United States, and the first which had even partially a national character. A confusion of public and private accounts, due primarily to the fact that his own credit was superior to that of the United .States, gave rise to charges of dishonesty, of which he was acquitted by a vote of Congress. He was a member of the Federal Convention in 1787, but took little part in its deliberations beyond making the speech which placed Washington in nomination for the presidency of the body. On the formation of the new government, he was offered, but declined, the secretaryship of the treasury, and urged Hamilton's appointment in his stead. As United States Senator, 1789-1795, he supported the Federalist policies and gave Hamilton considerable assistance in carrying out his financial plans, taking part, according to tradition in arranging a bargain by which certain Virginia representatives were induced to vote for funding the State debts in return for the location of the Federal capital on the Potomac. After the war he gradually disposed of his mercantile and banking interests and engaged extensively in western land speculation. At one time or another he owned wholly or in major-part nearly the entire western-half of New York State, two million acres in Georgia and about one million each in Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina. The slow development of this property, the failure of a London bank in which he had funds invested, the erection of a palatial residence in Philadelphia, and the dishonesty of one of his partners, finally drove him into bankruptcy, and he was confined in a debtor's prison for more than three years (1798-1801). He died in Philadelphia on the 7th of May, 1806. (Encyclopedia Brittanica).
Such was the tragic end of one of America's leading patriots, whose father's mortal remains have reposed peacefully in White Marsh Churchyard for nearly 200 years. And so the name of this ancient church, thus linked with the name of one of its earliest and most famous parishioners, passes down into the history of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the appreciation and preservation of which is so dear to the members of this Society.
*The wife of Robert Morris, of Philadelphia, was Mary, daughter of Thomas White, who came to this country from London in early life and settled on the Eastern Shore of Marylond. White had a son and a daughter. The former was William, who became the first Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania and the second of that church in the United States. The other became Mrs. Robert Morris, who has been described as "elegant, accomplished and rich and well qualified to carry the bliss of connubial life to its highest perfection."