Thursday, June 18, 2020

Community Partner Highlight: Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions (UCAC)

The Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions is a long-standing Sotterley partner with like mission to preserve history and educate the public about African American history and culture in St. Mary’s County. It was founded in 1995 by the late Elmer Jefferson Brown, Sr., born in 1932 in Drayden, Maryland. UCAC also advocates for community health and education and highlights the contributions of African Americans to our county and community.

Trusted advisors, members of this organization help Sotterley to better tell its stories and more effectively interpret the lives of those African Americans that lived and worked at Sotterley both enslaved and free. UCAC and its members work to research and preserve history by collecting oral traditions and histories, and by providing resources to educators and the public to conduct research.

UCAC is also responsible for the conception, design, and funds that created the African American Monument at Freedom Park and the United States Colored Troops (USCT) Civil War Monument at Lancaster Park with interpretive signage.  The last remaining “Flat-top” military housing structure in Lancaster Park is now UCAC’s interpretive center and meeting place. UCAC and St. Mary’s County also have preserved and now interprets Dryden schoolhouse, used as a school for colored children during segregation. UCAC highlights these religious and cultural institutions that still exist and those extinct to remind us that these places and people within them were vital to African American culture and resilience through the decades after slavery, and then during segregation and Jim Crow.
Courtesy Historic Sotterley, photo 2019
St. Mary's County Juneteenth

UCAC has published the book, The Relentless Pursuit of Education, and has contributed to the film, With All Deliberate Speed. The book highlights stories and photographs of community members that experienced segregation and the desire for education. The film tells the story of the desegregation of Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County between 1958 and 1972. This film was written and created by Merideth Taylor, in partnership with UCAC and St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

UCAC is also responsible for St. Mary’s County’s annual Juneteenth celebration. In 2020, sadly, the celebration is another casualty of Covid-19, but it will be back stronger than ever in 2021. If you do not know about or have never heard of Juneteenth, please go to this link to find out more.  
Lincoln emancipated enslaved people in rebellious states with the Proclamation, but it took federal troops to enforce emancipation after the Civil War. On June 19, 1865, Major- General Granger entered Galveston, Texas and announced that slaves were free. This has evolved over the decades and now is celebrated all over the country.

The Galveston Daily News (Galveston, TX) 21 June 1865 p.1,
accessed Jun 18, 2020,

To find out more about the Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions (UCAC), please visit their website at  Historic Sotterley is grateful for our partnership with this important and vital community non-profit organization.

                                                                                                                                                                                                     J. Pirtle

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Women Who Owned Sotterley Part II

                      Elizabeth Ann Plater (Plater), Lydia Billingsley (Barber),                       Emeline Briscoe (Wellmore), Elizabeth Cashner (Briscoe)

Elizabeth Ann Plater was the daughter of George Plater and his second wife, Elizabeth Ann Somerville.  Her half-brother was George Plater, born in 1796.  Elizabeth was an infant when both her mother and father died in 1802 of disease, leaving herself and her brother orphaned and in the guardianship of their uncle, John Rousby Plater. Elizabeth inherited Sotterley land from her father. As minor children, all their assets were managed by their guardian.

In November 1818, when Elizabeth Ann was about 16 years-old, she married her cousin, John Rousby Plater, Jr.  Upon her untimely death in 1820, her land was inherited by her brother, George. Elizabeth Ann Plater had a short and seemingly tragic life.  Landed women brought wealth and status to their male relatives. In 1822, her brother, George, sold Sotterley’s remaining 3,500 acres to William C. Somerville, his step-uncle. Somerville quickly divided up the estate and sold off parcels of the land.[1]

Margaret Dallam, born in 1775, was the daughter of John Dallam and Susannah Coale of Harford County, Maryland. Margaret married Peter G. Wellmore of Baltimore on August 30, 1799.[2] Their daughter, Emeline, was born on July 12, 1809.[3] The early Dallam family were of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), as such, by 1781, slavery was prohibited.  Some branches of the Dallam family continued in the Society, some did not.  Margaret also had relatives in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Her husband, Peter, owned a dry goods business in Baltimore. He sold his business in 1814 because of “ill health.”[4] He died on April 5, 1815, at 41 years of age. Emeline, their daughter, was 5 years old.   

Thomas Barber also owned a business in Baltimore during the same period as Peter Wellmore. Barber is listed in the city directory at 13 Baltimore St., Baltimore, Maryland.[5] Thomas had lost two wives in death already by 1810 and had three children, Mary, Lydia, and Caesar. Margaret Dallam Wellmore became his third wife on February 20, 1819.[6] Her daughter, Emeline, was nine years old.

In 1823, Thomas Barber bought 1,000 acres of Sotterley land from William C. Somerville.[7] This parcel contained Sotterley’s manor house. Margaret died sometime in 1823. Thomas Barber was married to Ellen MacCubben of Baltimore by that November. Emeline’s family now consisted of Thomas Barber and his children, although she still had many prominent Dallam extended family members in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. By all accounts, Emeline had a good relationship with the Barber children. In fact, Lydia Barber was her life-long, close friend. They were the same age, both born in 1809.

Emeline Dallam Wellmore married Walter Hanson Stone Briscoe in August 1826.[8] Thomas Barber died that December, just months after Emeline’s marriage. In the Will of Thomas Barber, it stipulated that Emeline would split her inheritance from her mother with her stepsister Lydia, or Emeline would get nothing.  He also made mandatory that his grandson, by his daughter, Mary, must change his last name to Barber to inherit. He did leave his 1,000 acres (Sotterley) jointly to Lydia and Emeline.[9] Lydia married Chapman Billingsley and their husbands went to court to legally divide the land between the two families.  Lydia and Chapman received 600 acres. Emeline and Walter received 400 acres that included the manor house, beginning what is called the Briscoe period in Sotterley’s history.[10] But the complex story really began with an orphaned girl named Emeline and her stepsister, Lydia.

Walter Briscoe and Emeline had 13 children together. At the end of their lives, they expected to leave Sotterley to one of their sons. Walter passed, then Emeline. Their first choice for inheritance was their youngest son, Walter, Jr., but he declined and inherited land acquired by his father after 1826.  To save Sotterley from auction, their sons, James and David Briscoe, were named trustees.  At James’ death, James, Jr. and his sister, Elizabeth, inherited Sotterley. Elizabeth Briscoe Cashner bought out her brother’s ownership of the estate and became the last Briscoe owner of Sotterley in 1905.[11]  

When wealthy New Yorker’s, Herbert Satterlee and his wife Louisa, visited Sotterley for the first time in 1906, they wanted to be informed if Elizabeth and her husband ever wanted to sell. Unfortunately, as a few years passed, Sotterley had become run down, and Elizabeth found herself in ill health. She sold Sotterley to Herbert and Louisa Satterlee in 1910 and then died of heart disease that October.[12]

A lesser known theme that runs through Sotterley's long history, is that male owners acquired land, wealth, and status through their marriages.  It is a common theme in American history as a whole. A certain family in Arlington, Virginia quickly comes to mind.  Who interprets the history is important. History seen through the lens of multiple and diverse perspectives, enriches and deepens the story and reminds us of our common reliance on one another.

J. Pirtle

Emeline W. Briscoe
Historic Sotterley Collections
Elizabeth Briscoe Cashner
Historic Sotterley Collections

[1] 6 Jul 1822 Deed: George Plater [V] to William C. Somerville “All the track which were willed to him by his father, : also Half Pone, also all those unsold tracts inherited by the death of his sister containing in the whole 3500-acres.” DA:TH29:335
[2] Maryland Marriages, 1666-1970,” database, FamilySearch ( ; 11 February 2018), Peter Wellmore and Margaret Dallam, 30 Aug 1799; citing Baltimore, Maryland, reference; FJL microfilm 13,693.
[3] Note:  The only elusive record of birth discovered so far, comes from Emeline’s tombstone, Emeline W. Briscoe. It also records that she was born in Philadelphia, PA. This is feasible as Margaret Dallam Wellmore, Emeline's mother, had close relatives there. The Briscoe family grave site is located at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in St. Mary's County, Maryland.
[4] July 12, 1814. American and Commercial Daily Advertiser. Volume XXX, Issue 4711, pg. 3.
[5] The Baltimore Directory. Compiled by Samuel Jackson., 1819, JACKSON, Samuel, Baltimore. Printed by Richard J. Matchett.
[6]U.S., Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930., 2013.   
[7]Deed William C. Somerville to Thomas Barber. Sotterley, 1000-acres. DA TH39-080 MSA. Sotterley Chronology, Peter Himmelheber, 2011, pg. 13.
[8] Maryland, Compiled Marriages, 1655-1850 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004.
[9] 12 Oct 1826 Will of Thomas Barber: WB: EJM01:001 MSA. Sotterley Chronology, Peter Himmelheber, 2011. Pg. 14.
[10] 12 Oct 1826 Will of Thomas Barber: EQ:JH01:614 MSA. Sotterley Chronology, Peter Himmelheber, 2011. Pg. 4.
[11] 24 Apr 1905 Deed: Sotterley, 400 acres. James Jr. and his wife to Elizabeth Cashner, wife of J. Douglas Cashner. LR-E04:347 MSA. Sotterley Chronology, Peter Himmelheber, 2011. Pg. 16.
[12] 22 Oct 1910. Baltimore Sun, pg. 7. Obituary, Elizabeth Cashner. Accessed Mar 23, 2010.

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.