Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Women Who Owned Sotterley: Part I

Rebecca Tasker Addison and Her Daughters

In a letter from Charles Lowe to Benedict Leonard Calvert in November, 1727, Lowe wrote, “Pray when you wait on the Widow Bowles, convince her what a Melancholly thing it is to lie alone; Mr. Crow will take care to provide some Good Wine to push you on." [1] In 1727, a 24-year-old widow, Rebecca Bowles, mother of three daughters, Jane, Eleanor and Mary, owned over 3,418 acres and 41 enslaved people, on what was to become known as Sotterley.  Rebecca remarried in 1729, an ally of the Calverts, a lawyer and secretary to the royal governor, George Plater.[2]

Rebecca was well connected to prominent families in Maryland. Her father was Thomas John Addison of Oxon Hill in Prince Georges, County, Maryland. Her mother, Elizabeth Tasker, was sister to Governor Benjamin Tasker of the Maryland colony. Rebecca Tasker Addison became the second wife of James Bowles c.1719. Rebecca and her three young daughters remained at home when James traveled to England in 1727, not knowing that this would be the last they would see of him. Rebecca’s husband had gone to prove his own father’s Will in England as the only son of Tobias Bowles. James never returned to Maryland, as he succumbed to illness and was dead within a few weeks of his arrival.

By marrying Bowles’ widow, Rebecca, in 1729, George Plater would control the wealth of not only James Bowles with his marriage, but the fortune of Tobias Bowles as well.  Plater, as the secretary to the governor, had signed the proved Will of James Bowles, and was well aware of Rebecca’s wealth and status before the marriage. Mary Underdown, sister of James, worked to ensure that her brother and father’s fortunes would benefit her three nieces. Taking the matter to court, the decision favored the women. The three daughters were wealthy and property owners in their own right. Plater had to buy Sotterley property from his own step-daughters. With this wealth from the Bowles estate and sale of the land, the sisters were able to bring large dowries into marriage.

It is difficult to name too many prominent families in Virginia and Maryland that do not have some connection back to Sotterley through Rebecca’s three daughters by James Bowles. Mary Bowles, her aunt’s namesake, married William Armistead c. 1738. The Bowles, Armistead, and the Carter families of Virginia were already allied by the 17th century. Her “fortune” was reported as upwards of £6,000 sterling.[3] In today’s money, Mary’s dowry would be worth close to a million and a half dollars alone, not to mention all of her family connections that brought value, wealth and power to her husband and his relatives.  Eleanor Bowles, named for Rebecca Addison Bowles’ sister, Eleanor, married first William Gooch, who died within a year. In 1746, Eleanor was married to Warner Lewis, sister-in-law to Betty Lewis (Washington), the sister of President George Washington. Jane Bowles, named for her father’s sister, Jane, married Ralph Randolph Wormeley of Virginia by 1742. Wormeley’s mother was also an Armistead.

Rebecca Bowles Plater (Addison) had two daughters by her second husband. Her daughter, Rebecca Plater, married John Tayloe II of Mt. Airy, Virginia in 1748. Rebecca’s daughter, Elizabeth Plater, was married to Rodham Kenner of Virginia, on August 3, 1763. Some accounts refer to her as a “spinster” at age 20. After she is widowed, Rebecca marries the Rev. Thomas Davis. She died in c. 1800 and was buried at Old Christ’s Church cemetery. Her grave marker reads, “Here lie the remains of Mrs. Elizabeth Davis, the late consort of the Rev. Thomas Davis, Rector of this Parish. She was related to several of the most prominent families in Virginia and Maryland. She lived deservedly esteemed by all the worthy of her acquaintance and died justly lamented on the 9th of May 1800, aged 59."

Click on links below to see their likeness from Virginia Colonial Portraits Database.

 J. Pirtle

[1] Yentsch, Anne E. (1994) A Chesapeake family and their slaves; a study in historical archaeology.  New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 80.
[2] Note:  Since Sotterley was owned by four men all named George Plater, the George Plater that married the widow Bowles is sometimes labeled by Sotterley as George Plater II who died in 1755.
[3] The Virginia Gazette. Sunday, 26 Jan 1738, p. 4. Williamsburg, Virginia.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Stuffed Ham - The Great Debate

It’s edible.  It’s mysterious. And it’s controversial.  Stuffed ham, that iconic food, is one of the best representations of St. Mary’s County.  For centuries people have argued over how to properly stuff the ham, what greens are used, and its origins.  There are no less than three stories about how stuffed ham came to be.  One story that I grew up hearing was that the enslaved at a plantation owned by Jesuits in St. Inigoes, in the southern part of the county, were the first to create it.  Enslaved people in the county received rations of food.  The meat in these rations usually consisted of things such as fatty pork or rancid meat. Sometimes during the holiday season, the enslaved would receive the jowl meat from pigs butchered. The meat was then mixed with greens.  Some say that the earliest versions of stuffed ham included dandelions, wild onions, and field cress, or whatever greens the enslaved could harvest from the wild or gardens.  This version of the origin story suggests that the Jesuits and others were intrigued by this boiled concoction of ham and greens and had the meal recreated using a better cut of meat.  The ham used today is called a corned ham.  Similar to corned beef, the less common ham version, was something that the English colonists would have brought over to Maryland. Corned ham is unique and is quite different from the Smithfield style ham one would get if they crossed over into Virginia.  This is no honey glazed, spiral cut piece of meat.  Corned ham is a fresh ham that has been taken a saltwater bath.  Instead of taking months to be ready, it only a matter of days for it to be prepared.  
Stuffed ham’s controversy centers around a few key points. One issue is what kind of opening do you create in the ham for the stuffing? Do you create X-shaped slits in the ham or are you one of those who makes a diagonal line in the meat?  Are you as precise as a surgeon or are you more independent and creative with your cuts?  Some families are very particular with what style of cut they use for the stuffing. The most contentious issue concerning stuffed ham is what mixture of greens are used.  Some parts of the county stuff the ham with a mixture of cabbage and kale that’s pretty even.  Other locations add more kale or use almost entirely cabbage and seasoning. Are you on Team Cabbage or Team Kale? Personally, I like just about any version of stuffed ham as long as its spicy.  There is also a debate over just how spicy the stuffing in the ham should be.  Red pepper flakes can add a bit of a kick to the meal.  Some people prefer to abstain from the red pepper while there are others tend to go overboard with it. 
Part of the appeal of making stuffed ham is that it can serve as a way to connect the past with the present.  Grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles can all come together to lead the process of preparing the ham and greens. Older (and not so old) relatives can share with the younger generations their family’s oral histories.  They can pass down their family recipe for stuffed ham and other stories. 
While there are other stories that dictate how stuffed ham came to be, no one can agree on just one version.  The legend of stuffed ham has been passed down throughout the county, through families each generation adding their own embellishment to the story.  As a result, stuffed ham while delicious and aromatic is clouded in a dense fog of mystery.   One thing many can agree on is that stuffed ham is a holiday food.  I say that stuffed ham should have its own holiday.  Stuffed ham can be found as the centerpiece of tables throughout the county (and parts of Charles County) from Thanksgiving through Easter.  Families start preparing the ham at least a couple of days in advance and the aroma of the ham and greens cooking lingers even after the meal has been eaten.  As we dive into the holiday season there will be a demand for greens and corned ham.  Those that don’t have the ability to commit to making it will gladly wait in line in small stores across the county in order to purchase it pre-made.  
Stuffed ham isn’t just food.  It is more than that; it’s a sharable link to the past.  It’s unique to the history of southern Maryland.  It’s a part of our region’s heritage.  And yes it’s amazing.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Keeping Memory - Thanksgiving in America

As with most traditional holidays and celebrations in the United States, they are a mixture and hodgepodge of stories, culture and commerce, manifested and celebrated today by our present generations.  The Thanksgiving holiday in our country is no different.
Abraham Lincoln set the day in 1863, during the Civil War on the fourth Thursday of November, for giving thanks and prayer.  Various days of harvest feasting throughout our history and official days of prayer had been celebrated in the past.  Thanksgiving was not a recognized “day off work” until 1941, just before the United States entered WWII.   
The events in Massachusetts by the Separatists, (a.k.a.) Pilgrims, is a mixture of myths with some fact.  The Separatists did have a harvest feast that November. People in Massachusetts began relating the story of the Native Americans and Pilgrims by the 1830’s, although by 1640 Native Peoples where either dead or gone from Plymouth.
Many holidays like Thanksgiving and even Christmas were used as psychological weapons of war on the enemy to break their spirits and will to fight.  Later, these days became infused with American marketing and commerce and we end up with our present forms of remembrance and celebration. These also vary across the country and ethnic cultures of our people.
At Sotterley, Thanksgiving was a time chosen by the owners of the 20th century, Herbert and Louisa Satterlee, to visit from New York.  We know this because there are photographs taken during this time of year, and it became a tradition for their descendants, Mabel Satterlee Ingalls and even her children and grandchildren visited Sotterley in the fall, usually just before or during Thanksgiving. Oysters, both roasted and as the ingredient in stuffing are traditional dishes in the Tidewater region for the holiday.
 No matter how your family chooses to spend this long weekend, remember to share and listen to the stories and history of family around you. Taste, smell and share the culinary traditions of your loved ones.  It is the perfect time to ask questions and write down all of your shared history, stories and culture that you want to remember and pass on to the young. Holidays are about making and keeping memory.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Veterans of Sotterley

Historic Sotterley’s history includes the people that served in the military. As usual, this is not a simple story.  George Plater III (Shown Right), owner of Sotterley in the years leading up to the American Revolution and contemporary to George Washington, served on the Colonial Governor’s Council. He then joined the Patriot cause and served on the Maryland Council of Safety, procuring supplies for the war effort. Many of his extended family remained Loyalists. Some enslaved people at Sotterley went with the British. 

George Plater’s son, John Rousby Plater, who served as master of Sotterley during the War of 1812, was a Federalist who did not vote for President Madison, and was against going to war with Britain, reasoning that it would disrupt trade and the United States was not prepared militarily to protect the Tidewater region. Even though he was correct on both counts, he did serve the U.S., while at least 48 enslaved persons from Sotterley left seeking freedom on British Ships for places like Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Trinidad. The British did burn tobacco stores and a structure that housed some U.S. militia, but miraculously, Sotterley’s Manor House was not burned during these two wars with the British.  

The Civil War was no less complicated. Maryland, one of the Border States that remained in the Union but still held on to the institution of slavery, had soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Sotterley’s owner, Walter Hanson Stone Briscoe, helped to arm citizens in St. Mary’s County. His sons, Henry, David, Chapman, and Samuel, fought for the Confederacy in Virginia. As known sympathizers, Union troops kept a close watch on travel between Southern Maryland across the Potomac to Virginia, and of course, on Sotterley.  All of Briscoe’s sons survived the War.
One enslaved man from Sotterley, his name listed as George W. Briscoe, was actually named, Barns, but the Army changed his name. The reason given was, “there were too many people named Barns.” Joining the United States Colored Troops at age 26 in 1863, he went to Camp Stanton, near Benedict in Charles County, Maryland. He was assigned to the 7th Regiment, Company I.  He served at Petersburg, Virginia in the same time period as Henry Briscoe, the son of his former master. At the close of the War, the 7th Regiment was sent to Indianola, Texas for guard duty. There was an outbreak of cholera, and George died there, just before the 7th returned to Baltimore.
Sotterley’s owner from 1910-1947, Herbert Livingston Satterlee, had served in the Spanish American War with the New York Naval Militia. Serving as Asst. Secretary of the Navy under Teddy Roosevelt for the last months of his administration, he was a lover of the Navy and helped in the creation of the Naval Reserves.  Satterlee served on the Board of Visitors of the Naval Academy in Annapolis.  He helped to retrieve the body of John Paul Jones from Paris to have it interred at the Academy. On a visit to Sotterley today, one can quickly see through the things Herbert collected, his love of all things Navy.
Pictured Above: Left Col. Herbert Satterlee, Gen Edward Hayes,Col. John Jacob Astor IV, Gen. M.O. Terry.

During World War II, loved ones of the families that lived at Sotterley served our country in the military, listed here are some of those veterans:  Noah W. Callis, Jr., U.S.M.C., James Victor Scriber, Jr., U.S.N., James Franklin Scriber, U.S. A., Francis Ford Barber, Jr. U.S. A.
Sotterley’s descendants continue to serve our nation today.

Pictured Right: Noah W. Callis, Jr. USMC

Monday, November 4, 2019

November 1, 1864 - Emancipation in Maryland

November 1, 1864    Emancipation in Maryland

In October 1864, the Union controlled government of Maryland ratified the third of four state constitutions. It abolished slavery in Maryland only with the help of votes from returning Union soldiers.  It failed to franchise anyone except white males who pledged loyalty to the Union. Maryland was a border state, along with Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri, which meant they did not succeed from the Union but kept slavery.  Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to Union slave states.  On November 1, 1864, slavery officially ended in Maryland.  Many slave owners petitioned the government for compensation for their lost property years after the war ended.  With government power shifting to Democratic southern sympathizers, the 1864 constitution was replaced by the present constitution of 1867. Racial discriminatory laws and social practices continued in Maryland.  St. Mary’s County, Maryland school desegregation began in 1968 and the process lasted into the early 1970s.

Above: Alfred Edwards, pictured here, was enslaved at Sotterley along with his mother, Priscilla. 

He was emancipated at age 17 on November 1, 1864. In 1910, Alfred and his wife Alice, with their seven children and grandchildren, were living in an old slave quarter on what was once the Billingsley farm adjacent to Sotterley.  Mr. Edwards died in the early 1930s.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

In Honor of United Nations Day: The bridge between Sotterley and the UN.

FDR coined the name “United Nations,” that represented 26 nations joined together to defeat the Axis Powers in WWII.  After the war, 50 countries helped to create its charter, and the UN was officially signed and then came into being on Oct. 24, 1945. Remember that the United States and Soviet Union fought together against Hitler’s Germany during WWII. The UN was founded to solve disputes and conflicts to avoid wars and armed conflict. The UN charter includes these directives:
Maintain International Peace and Security, Protect Human Rights, Deliver Humanitarian Aid, Promote Sustainable Development, Uphold International Law. 

UNESCO is the United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
UNESCO helps preserve culture and history throughout the world, part of this is designating World Heritage Sites, of which some are in the United States. In December 2018, Sotterley was designated a UNESCO Slave Route Site of Memory, which promotes education, heritage and healing. 

In April 7, 1948 the World Health Organization was established, a concept of the United Nations.  WHO is a specialized agency of the United Nations that has its own charter and concentrates on international public health. Sotterley’s last private owner, Mabel Satterlee Ingalls, used her expertise and education in bacteriology and public health during WWII and also was a liaison officer between the World Health Organization and the United Nations. She conducted surveys of health services in developing countries. Ingalls’ daughter, Sandra, married Jan van Heerden, who served as vice deputy director with the United Nations Development Programme. 

Mabel Satterlee Ingalls, last private owner of Sotterley, shown far left 
& former Sotterley Trustee, Grace Horton, shown right.

UNESCO Day of Remembrance Event at Sotterley,
August 23, 2019 

Link:    United Nations Day

LinK:  World Health Organization

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Museum Day at Sotterley!

FREE TOURS and Admission
on Museum Day
Historic Sotterley will offer free tours and admission to the public on Saturday, September 21st as part of Museum Day, sponsored by the Smithsonian magazine.
Museum Day is an annual celebration of boundless curiosity, which brings together museums, zoos and cultural centers from all 50 states to offer free admission to all Museum Day ticket holders. Museum Day represents a national commitment to access, equity and inclusion.
The Museum Day ticket provides free admission for two people on Saturday, September 21, 2019. Guests to Historic Sotterley will need to present their complimentary ticket(s) at the Visitor Center. Tickets will be available for the public to download at: beginning at midnight on August 15, 2019.