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Marshall Hall


Early History of the Area

Originally, the land at Marshall Hall was settled by a tribe of Native Americans, called the Conoy, who spoke Algonquian and lived in permanent villages, each having a chief, or “Tayac.” High chiefs were called “Emperor” by the colonists, as was the chief that lived on Piscataway Creek at Moyaone. Before the arrival of the English, the Emperor lived in a stockade village that contained as many as 30 dwellings. In 1639, five years after the initial landing of the English in Maryland, Governor Leonard Calvert allowed the Jesuits to establish missions with the Indians. One of the four initial missions was led by Father Andrew White who converted the Emperor of the Piscataway. From this point on, the Piscataway by-in-large lived peaceably with the colonists.

Soon colonists began settling along the Potomac in the vacant lands between Piscataway villages. The first plantations were near St. Mary’s City, but the natural tendency was to follow the shore of the Potomac River. In 1662, minor disputes between the settlers and the Native Americans over land use caused William Calvert to patent Calvert Manor (renamed Piscataway) on the south shore of Piscataway Creek as a reservation. This action was taken just in time because in 1663, Randall Hanson, a lieutenant of the Charles County militia, obtained two patents named Hansonton and Charley. These patents were on the Potomac adjacent to Calvert Manor and extended south to the present day Marshall Hall.

The Piscataway became allies with the colonial government of Maryland and were helpful during the 1642-52 wars with the Susquehannocks and the during the Seneca raids from 1664-66. The wars escalated until there was a joining of the Seneca-Susquehannocks. Randall Hanson’s plantation was attacked in 1675 and several members of his family and household killed. Continued raids of the combined tribes in 1680 on their fort caused the Piscataway to flee to Zachia Swamp in southern Charles Co. In 1682 Maryland negotiated peace with the Seneca, and again in 1685, this time including the Piscataway in the treaty. This was the end of the so-called “Indian Wars” in southern Maryland.

Still, the land at the center of the Marshall Hall estate was not patented for many years. There were difficulties locating the boundaries of Calvert Manor, with the scattering of Native Americans who had claim rights, and many patents were based on locating boundary “landmark trees” from almost sixty years earlier. In resurveying, some patents previously thought contiguous were found to be separated by vacant land, and this is how Thomas Marshall was able to patent a 66-acre tract of land on the Potomac south of patent Charley, as late as 1728.

First Marshalls of Maryland

Thomas Marshall was not a first son or the first of his line in the colony of Maryland. His father died when he was 4 years old leaving his older brother William 410 acres, and Barbara, Thomas, and Richard each an inheritance of 100 acres on the Wicomoco River in Charles Co. This land was once part of a much larger tract patented in 1651 as “Marshall” by his grandfather William Marshall, an emigrant from England; who, before his death in 1673, had accumulated 1,870 acres.

Thomas may have been raised on the Wicomoco land, but he also had several ties to people in the vicinity of his future Potomac tract. His mother, Elizabeth Hanson Marshall, was the daughter of Randall Hanson who had patented “Hansonton” and “Charley.” On November 18, 1696 Randall Hanson sold John Fendall and, Thomas’s uncle, Joshua Marshall 500 acres of Hansonton and 360 acres of Charley. Under a deed of partition dated November 24, 1696 Fendall kept the Hansonton section and Marshall kept Charley. This was followed on September 11, 1700 by a deed of confirmation signed by John Ackatamaka (Ackelahama on DAR historical marker), described therein as “Emperor of the Piscataway,” consenting to the deed transfer from Hanson to Fendall and Marshall. This may have been a requirement during the resurveying effort, following the peace treaty with the Piscataway. It is probably this deed that later contributed to the persistent legend that Marshall Hall land was granted to the Marshalls by the Piscataway.

In 1698, soon after the death of Thomas’s father (William Marshall II) his mother Elizabeth married John Fendall. It is quite possible that at that time William III, Barbara, Thomas, and infant Richard moved to Hansonton on the Potomac. It is known that when Uncle Joshua died in 1702 without heir, Fendall served as executor of the Charley property for William Marshall III.

Mistakes Happen

With newfound peace in the area, patent claims 60 years earlier by men such as Randall Hanson were finally being developed. James Stoddert, a county surveyor, was first on the scene in the new wave of land speculation to claim pieces others had overlooked. When Stoddard died in 1726, Thomas Marshall married Elizabeth Bishop Stoddert that September. On January 7, 1727 Thomas applied for a survey of “Mistake.” I’d wager there was no mistake about his marriage and the filing of this patent! By patenting “Mistake” in 1728, Thomas laid the foundation for the development of the estate that would eventually become Marshall Hall. He proceeded to build a mansion on the bank of the Potomac, east of the “Greenwich” tract patented by Randall Brandt.

The house was started around 1730, but there are no specific records to confirm its date of construction. Thomas Marshall married the widow Stoddert when he was 31 years old, and may have owned a home before their marriage. Marshall did own other land and Stoddert had a dower claim of life use of one-third of Southampton Plantation. By custom, she could have resided there with her Stoddert children and new husband as long as she wanted.

Thomas was a justice of the peace of Prince George’s Co. from 1737 to 1748, when the boundary between Charles and Prince George’s moved and he became a legal resident of Charles Co. Records indicate that in large, the Marshalls were only involved in politics at the county level. In colonial society, however, this office was powerful and prestigious. Justices, appointed by the governor, ran the county government, decided tax rates, hired sheriffs, and allocated funds. They sat in courts of law deciding local land disputes and registering deeds.

Architecture of the Mansion

The 1976 architectural report in the application to the National Register of Historic Places, support dating the original house in the early 18th century (c. 1725). It’s Flemish bond brickwork, one and one-half storied construction with balanced placement of windows and doors, corbelled chimney caps, and steeply pitched gable roof with flared eaves are all indicators of this period.

The ground floor room configuration consisted of four rooms with a short central, rear-stair hall. The front door opened into the largest of the four rooms with walls covered with raised fielded panels, heavily molded baseboards, chairrails and ceiling cornices, paneled window and door reveals and a plastered ceiling. On the west wall was an expansive fireplace with rounded back, framed by wide molding. Flanking the fireplace on the north wall was a shallow closet with a paneled door and shelved interior, once lighted by a small window, now bricked up. In the NW room the walls were decorated with paneled wainscoting, baseboards, chairrails and ceiling cornices. The fireplace in this room has been covered but measurements indicate it was the same size as that in the NE room. Flanking the fireplace was a two-part cupboard with two sets of paneled doors. The stairs in the hall were original and wind up to the second floor from north to south along the west wall.

The second floor of the house was divided by a central hall. The ceiling heights of the two front rooms are about two feet higher than those of the two rear rooms. The outside walls of the two front rooms were flush with the front of the chimney, creating a natural closet space. On the south side of the fireplace on the NE bedchamber traces of a narrow ladderway to the attic existed.

The NE extension of the house dates after 1760. This addition was carefully done so that no seam in the exterior brickwork is detected, though it was probably added at least three decades after the original dwelling. Passage between the two parts of the house was possible from two doors on the first floor, with no connection at the second floor level. The initial plan of the addition included a large full-width front room, perhaps a pantry, with a recessed porch open to the outside by a wide arched doorway. The floor was probably brick, as was the porch area. In 1800, the large room was remodeled to serve as additional living space by plastering over the ceiling and installing baseboards, chairrails, and a smaller fireplace with Federal style mantel. The porch area was divided into two rooms and the arch doorway filled in with a single door and window installed in its place. A new stair was placed in the SE rear room at this time replacing a stair in the former pantry area. The original upstairs was thought to be four chambers for servants, that was changed in the 19th century to two larger rooms and a stair hall.

About 30 feet from the SW corner of the main house stands a small one-story outbuilding with brickwork suggesting a date contemporary with the 1760 addition, this was probably the original kitchen for the house, in an era when a separate kitchen was a safety necessity, or it may have been a smokehouse or dairy. About 100 yards SE of this building stood a large mid-18th century brick stable and carriage house. Noted for its size, Flemish bond brickwork, arched doorways and high gable roof it was the only building of its type and age on Maryland’s western shore. About 100 yards east of the manor house is a fenced burial ground containing about 18 graves, half of which are 18th century. Most of the markers are large flat stones resting horizontally on brick bases.

Land Use and Plantation Labor

Marshall Hall was primarily a tobacco plantation. Production of tobacco through the labor of tenant farmers and slaves was the principle source of income during the hundred years between 1750 and 1850. Inventories and executors’ accounts show that Thomas Marshall produced a tobacco crop of 11,000 pounds in 1758. The prices and exchange rates for tobacco were especially favorable before the American Revolution. An appraisal of his estate in 1759 was made by his neighbors John Hanson and John Hanson, Jr. in the presence of “kindred” William Marshall and (Thomas’s daughter) Sarah Marshall Dent, shows low levels of debt and an estate worth 1,856 pounds sterling. Household possessions listed by room on the 1759 inventory have been keyed to room numbers. His widow Sabina Truman Marshall, with her own assets of 938 pounds, had a fortune which ranked her among the wealthiest women in Charles Co.

Other crops grown at Marshall Hall were wheat and corn. Thomas Marshall bequeathed his wife one-third of his wheat, corn, and tobacco crops. These three crops were typical of Maryland’s western shore. The inventory amounts of all three crops show around 70 acres of the plantation were under cultivation at this time. A Scotsman traveling in Charles Co. in 1772 wrote “the chief crops are wheat and Indian corn” and “what they make chiefly for sale is tobacco.” He explained that the wealthy people ate bread made from wheat while “servants and lower rank people” ate cornbread or fried cornmeal mush. No plows, harrows or seeding drills appeared in the inventory. Instead there were 2 narrow hoes, 10 hilling hoes, and 11 weeding hoes. They produced other commodities such as: 1,400 gallons of cider, 89 pounds of wool, animal hides, and 236 ft. of walnut plank. There were 10 horses, 40 cattle, 19 sheep, and 69 hogs, which was quite modest for the estimated 1,000 acres.

Tenant farmers managed modest operations on several hundred acres of the Marshall land. Thomas Marshall’s will recorded rent payments in tobacco worth 150 pounds made by several tenants. Thomas started married life by acquiring 14 slaves from Elizabeth Stoddert in 1727. By 1759, 31 slaves were listed in the inventory. For the next hundred years the number of slaves varied from decade to decade, but generally increased to a maximum of 85 in 1830. Since the Marshalls bought, sold, and rented out land at various times labor requirements changed from year to year. Slave labor continued at Marshall Hall until the estate was divided and sold in the 1850s.

A Revolutionary Family

In 1759 Thomas was survived by his two children: Sarah Marshall Dent, and Thomas Hanson Marshall, who inherited the estate. Brother and sister were married to brother and sister - John and Rebecca Dent - whose father, Colonel George Dent, was Chief Justice of Maryland.

Sarah’s husband, John Dent, rose to the rank of general during the American Revolution and their sons, Thomas Marshall Dent and George Dent, became captains in the Revolutionary War. Thomas, born October 22 1761, was the maternal grandfather of Confederate Lt. General James Longstreet. George served in the Maryland Legislature, becoming Speaker of the House before federal election to Congress for two terms as a supporter of Thomas Jefferson. Their daughter, Ann Herbert Dent (born October 30, 1756) married Captain William M. Wilkinson of the Revolutionary War. Ann's daughter, Jane Herbert (Dent) Wilkinson, was born July 23, 1798 on Truman's Place plantation near the Patuxent River in Charles County. Jane married Doctor James Long and went on to fame as the "Mother of Texas."

Thomas Hanson Marshall was a member of the group of Marylanders who opposed the British before the Declaration of Independence was signed. He was an original member of the Committee on Correspondence for Charles Co., and one of 18 men elected at Port Tobacco on June 14, 1774 to protest the closing of Boston Harbor by the British to penalize the Massachusetts colonists. In 1776, at age 45, he was appointed captain of the militia in Charles Co. His son Thomas, then 19, enlisted as a private in his father’s company.

The Marshalls and Hansons were patriots during our struggle for liberty. Included in the list of the seventeen signers of the Maryland Oath of Allegiance were John Hanson Marshall, John Marshall Hanson, and Thomas Marshall Hanson. They were neighbors related by Randall Hanson, great-grandfather of Thomas Hanson Marshall and grandfather of John Hanson (born 1715). As president of the Continental Congress, and on behalf of that body, John Hanson had the honor of welcoming home General Washington after his victory over Lord Cornwallis. This has caused some historians to dub him “first president of the United States.” For his service to our county, the State of Maryland honored him with a place in Statuary Hall.

Thomas H. Marshall, Real Estate Tycoon

Upon discovery, in 1768, that the house and family cemetery sites were not included in the land patent “Mistake,” Thomas Hanson Marshall, found it necessary to patent a 10-acre tract he named “Addition to Mistake.” This patent finally incorporated all the riverfront property between the “Charley” and “Greenwich” patents.

In a 1783 tax assessment Thomas Hanson Marshall owned 1,210 acres in Charles Co.: Mistake, Addition to Mistake, Charley, Marshall, Marshall’s Adventure, Monument, Carrick, Pasture, Pasture Enlarged, and Laurel Branch. Of this 1,200 acres probably 700 was cleared land and 500 wooded. Also, there were 480 acres in Fairfax Co. in Dogue Creek opposite Marshall Hall purchased from William Spencer. Although a 6-acre section of this, including a ferry landing, was sold to Thomas Posey in 1757 (thereafter, known as Posey's Ferry). Thomas Hanson Marshall was determined to increase his acreage contiguous to Marshall Hall. To this effort were land negotiations of some interest, so I quote:

“Dear Marshall:

Is Marshall Hall for sale? If so, how much?

(signed) George Washington”

(Washington’s note, generated this reply: )

“Dear General:

Marshall Hall is not for sale. But if you wish to sell Mt. Vernon, fix your price and it is mine.

(signed) Thos. H. Marshall”

Being aware that any information regarding George Washington is apt to get historians quite excited, do you believe it? This bit of correspondence is quoted in Mrs. Kendall-Lowther’s book (p. 20) and Mr. Geralds’ article (p. 13). Sorry, but it is not true!

However, a friendly rivalry did exist from 1760 to 1789. It was recorded in several volumes of Washington’s diaries and documented by 6 letters of correspondence, dated from June 21, 1769 to April 11, 1770 and preserved in the Washington papers at the Library of Congress. They primarily concerned the possible exchange of Marshall’s Fairfax Co. land on Dogue Creek for an equally-sized tract in Charles Co. The Fairfax land bounded Mount Vernon to the west and was sought by Washington as early as 1760, when he was in the process of expanding his Potomac estate. Marshall agreed to a “transfer of land” if Washington could acquire (through his influence) land adjoining Marshall Hall. This was accomplished in 1769, but the land exchange never took place. In 1779, in the midst of the Revolutionary War, Lund Washington purchased 480 acres on Dogue Creek from Thomas Hanson Marshall for General Washington. Due to a real estate misunderstanding (Washington's failure to complete his part of the land transfer?), Marshall never transferred the title on the Dogue Creek property to Washington - who he finally repaid in 1789.

Of the 1,210 acres taxed in Charles Co. in 1783, 960 were contiguous to Marshall Hall. By 1798, 1,298 acres of contiguous land existed, so Thomas Hanson Marshall must have accomplished part of his goal. Unfortunately, when he died in 1801, his will failed to enumerate his various tracts of land.

Dr. Thomas Marshall

Thomas Hanson’s heir was Dr. Thomas Marshall, born in 1757. Although he failed to achieve national prominence during his Revolutionary War service, at some point he left the Charles Co. militia and joined the Maryland State Hospital Department as a surgeon. In August 1781, the Council of Maryland ordered its treasurer to pay “Thomas Marshall, Senior Surgeon in the Hospital Dept.” 28 pounds. Several entries in George Washington’s diaries refer to him as Dr. Marshall. He was Washington’s guest at Mount Vernon twice in 1785, once crossing the river to have tea and another time spending the night.

Like his father and grandfather, he served as a justice of the peace, commissioned in the County in 1787. He was 35 when he married 17-year-old Anne Claggett. They had four children before Anne died in 1805. He remarried in 1808, this time to his cousin Margaret Marshall (later known as Grandma Peggy). They had no children. Dr. Marshall died in 1829 and was survived by two sons: Thomas Hanson and Richard Henry Marshall.

Richard Henry was the "Key"

Francis Scott Key, the Frederick, Maryland lawyer who penned “The Defense of Fort McHenry" (now known as "The Star-Spangled Banner") was related by marriage to the Marshall family. In March 26, 1833 he wrote a letter of sympathy to cousin Eleanor Potts, mother of Richard Henry’s wife Harriett Potts Marshall. Richard Henry met and married Harriett when he came to Frederick to study law under Roger Brooke Taney. Later, Taney was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Andrew Jackson, following the death of John Marshall.

Thomas Hanson Marshall was married to Eleanor Hardesty when he inherited Marshall Hall at age 33. They had seven children, four dying in childhood. During this period of time, many people along the Potomac were stricken with typhoid fever, and a local historian said that this was the case with some of the Marshall children. After Thomas Hanson’s death in 1843, three surviving children joined their mother in seeking court division of the Marshall estate in 1846.

The plantation’s name was changed to Marshall Hall sometime in the first half of the 19th century. The surveyor’s report ordered in 1846 indicated property of 1,907 acres in Charles Co. and 1,537 acres in Prince George’s Co., that include historic tracts named Marshall’s Adventure, Herrick (Carrick?), Hickory Hill, Hogpen, Hansington (Hansonton?), Poplar Hill, Little Troy as well as other lands of “whatsoever name or names.” Deeds in 1850 refer to the entire 3,444 acres as “land commonly called Marshall Hall.”

The End of the Line

The fifth and last Thomas Marshall born in 1826 married two cousins (not concurrently) Sarah M. Lyles and Henrietta E. Lyles and had a total of 16 children, although only 8 survived childhood. In 1850, when Thomas came of age, the land was divided into four lots in preparation for sale - one for each of the three children, and the widow’s dower. Thomas and his first wife Sarah sold Lot #1, which included the mansion, to William B. Page on a 5-year mortgage and vacated the property.

By 1851, William B. Page had defaulted and Marshall Hall was put up for auction. John Augustine Washington of Mount Vernon bought the property, described then as 365 acres. John Augustine was the great-grandson of John Augustine, brother of George Washington. He was the last Washington to own and live in Mount Vernon, selling it in 1858 to the “Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union.” Washington owned Marshall Hall for 8 years, selling it in 1859 - a year after Mount Vernon. Later, he fought in the Civil War as an aide-de-camp to General Robert E. Lee and was killed on reconnaissance in 1861.

The property was purchased by Seaton W. Norris, who in the middle of the Civil War (1863), sold Marshall Hall to Henrietta Lyles Marshall, the second wife of Thomas Marshall. They returned to Marshall Hall, briefly. Thomas, now a merchant in Alexandria, was a partner in Blalock, Marshall and Company - a company soon forced to mortgage their office “Ferry Tavern” on Union Street. In 1865, prime company property at the Alexandria docks was put up for auction due to financial problems common during the Civil War. Marshall Hall was sold again to pay debts. After December 8, 1867, no member of the Marshall family ever lived at Marshall Hall. Up until 1869, Thomas and Henrietta continue to list their legal residence as Prince George’s Co. Henrietta Marshall survived 10 pregnancies and the deaths of five children before dying in 1880. The last Thomas Marshall of Marshall Hall died in 1903.

Commercial Era

Marshall Hall remained in private hands until 1884, when it became owned by partnerships interested in commercial ventures. In 1889 it was sold to the Mount Vernon and Marshall Hall Steamboat Company. The steamboat “Charles Macalester” was christened by Mrs. Lily Macalester Laughton, regent of the “Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union” in honor of her father. It was built in 1889, in Wilmington, Delaware, expressly for the Mount Vernon traffic. “The greatest scenic short-river trip in the world” (ref: Mrs. Kendall-Lowther) left twice a day and midsummer evenings from Washington to Mount Vernon and Marshall Hall. Marshall Hall became an area attraction with the construction of a small Victorian amusement park. From the beginning of the park’s history, jousting tournaments took place each year as well as the crowning of a local beauty - the predecessor of today’s Maryland Renaissance Fair.

The DAR historical marker placed on Marshall Hall on October 13, 1931, was mentioned in the first paragraph . This ceremony commemorated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Hanson Marshall, who was a year older than George Washington. Governor Ritchie of Maryland presented the State flag to the mansion. Cora Marshall Somerson, daughter of Thomas Marshall (V) and Henrietta Lyles Marshall, participated in the ceremony as the last member of the Marshall family born in the mansion.

In 1954, leases of “Marshall Hall Park, Inc.” were made to the Wilson Excursion Line. Resident manager, Lorenzo Addison, said the park’s biggest competition has always been with Mt. Vernon. In sharp contrast to the rest of the park was the peak-roofed, shingled mansion, where Addison lived in cool summer comfort behind 20-inch thick walls. “When I first came here (in 1933) there was talk of restoring Marshall Hall,” he said, “but they decided that a dead president pulls too many people to Mt. Vernon and dropped the idea.” In 1958, a group of investors known as “Pot O’ Gold, Inc.” built a concession area that included: a snack bar, cocktail bar, and a building named “Happyland” containing 185 slot machines. At that time, Charles Co. was the only jurisdiction close to the District that allowed gambling. Many children's amusements existed: a swimming pool, ice-rink, roller coaster, ferris wheel, (c. 1905) carousel house with merry-go-round, shooting gallery, “frontier” railroad, and many other “kiddie” rides and arcades.

As new real estate development along the Potomac became visible from Mount Vernon, lobbying by private citizens and organizations like the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association occurred. As a result, in 1961, Public Law 87-362 was enacted, protecting the historic setting of Mount Vernon against commercial and industrial development. P. L. 87-362 designated Piscataway Park as a scenic overview for the Mount Vernon property. This law excluded Marshall Hall, but helped start the preservation movement for historic properties in Charles Co.

In 1966 the property was sold to Marshall Hall Development Corporation. Many of the late 19th century park structures stood until the mid-20th century when; in turn, along with most of the 18th century farm buildings, they were demolished to make way for a modern amusement park. Such was the fate of the large brick stable and carriage house, razed that year to make room for a cement picnic pavilion.

In 1969, Marshall Hall Amusement Park was sold to Joseph Goldstein (brother of Maryland comptroller, Louis Goldstein) and Star Enterprises. Goldstein had big plans to turn Marshall Hall into Disney-like park called “Spirit of America.” To this effort he started cutting trees along the Potomac shoreline, exposing the roller-coaster to view at Mt. Vernon. In October 1974 the US Government authorized the National Park Service to purchase 446 acres at Marshall Hall and an additional 179 acres, located at Ft. Washington Marina from Joseph Goldstein. Public Law 93-444 added 837 acres to Piscataway Park, including Marshall Hall Amusement Park and other adjacent Charles Co. land. On October 21, 1976 President Ford authorized the takeover, by signing a bill to appropriate 4.9 million dollars. An article in the Washington News said that the future of Marshall Hall involved a 10-year dispute with Joseph Goldstein who had been paid $900,000 by the US Government in 1972 for a promise not to further develop his land. The 1976 bill set January 1, 1980 as the phase-out date for Marshall Hall Amusement Park.

The Government Watch

On Friday night, October 17, 1981 - after 1 a.m., “the 256-year-old plantation house across the Potomac from Mount Vernon ... was totally destroyed in a fire deemed arson by State fire marshals.” The next days’ Washington Post article went on to say Marshall Hall was considered one of Maryland’s finest early colonial houses and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the largest house in southern Maryland built before 1740. At the time of the fire the Park Service was just completing an architectural study and restoration plans for the house. “We were surprised to find so much of the original house still intact including early floors, mantels, and magnificent paneling hidden behind sheetrock walls, said Park Service project coordinator David Sherman.” “It’s very upsetting to those of us in historic preservation, because it was a fine building with great prospects,” said Mount Vernon resident director John Castellani. The Marshall and Washington families were very close, establishing a public ferry across the Potomac between the two estates and even allowing intermarriage among their slaves, according to Mount Vernon librarian Ellen McCallister.