Saturday, December 10, 2011

William Bladen's Grave, Annapolis. Maryland's last witch prosecutor

Grave of William Bladen

William Bladen, an important early Maryland official is buried at St. Anne's Episcopal Church, in Annapolis on Church Circle. There are only a few graves in the actual church yard, (the larger graveyard that they own is nearby). Who was this person and why was he considered important? 

According to Side-lights on Maryland history: with sketches of early Maryland families by Hester Dorsey Richardson:
Honorable William Bladen came to Maryland in 1690, at the early age of nineteen years. That he was possessed of eminent ability is very certain from the fact that he at once became active in public affairs. Two years after his arrival, when but twenty-one years old, the House of Burgesses awarded him 1600 pounds of tobacco for his services as clerk. Later in the same year young Bladen was allowed in the levy 4000 pounds of tobacco for transscribing copies of the laws, and in 1693 he, with Captain John Davis and William Aisquith, was appointed deputy to apprehend, seize and take into custody Colonel Peter Sayer and Thomas Smith, of Talbot County, for conspiracy.

For a while Honorable William Bladen seemed to have rivaled the modern clubwoman in his many offices. In 1695 we find him clerk of the House of Burgesses; on December 12, 1696, he made oath that he was then clerk of the House of Burgesses, clerk of St. Marie's County and clerk of general indictments in Prince George's County, while just one year later he gave bond for £500 as Collector of the Port and district of Annapolis, with Charles Carroll and Edward Dorsey as his sureties.

St. Anne's Episcopal Church
In 1698 he was Surveyor and Deputy Collector of the port; the next year or two Naval Officer and Surveyor of the Port.

In 1701 Nathaniel Blackistone, Royal Governor of Maryland, appointed Honorable William Bladen Secretary of the Province. On May 8, 1702, he was commissioned Attorney-General and in 1704 he was Clerk of the Council.
In addition to his civil offices William Bladen was a vestryman of old St. Anne's Church, Annapolis. In the year 1708 Queen Anne appointed Honorable William Bladen one of the first Aldermen for the City of Annapolis. But this high and important Colonial official upon his arrival in Maryland had lived first in St. Mary's County on St. Elizabeth's Manor, an estate of 2000 acres, originally patented to Thomas Cornwaleys in the year 1639. It was in St. Mary's that he met, wooed and won young Anne Van Swearingen, daughter of the notable Gerret Van Swearingen, of St. Mary's County, a native of Holland and said to have been of noble lineage.
The removal of the capital from the City of St. Mary's to the Port of Annapolis accounts for the change of residence of many Colonial families whose representatives figured in official life, and this it was, no doubt, that resulted in Honorable William Bladen's removal from St. Mary's County. His name is associated with the important work of compiling the first laws of Maryland into one volume.

What is left out of this account is a review of his performance as Attorney General, one of the many positions that he held. C. Ashley Ellefson in the book, William Bladen of Annapolis, 1673?-1718:"the most capable in all Respects" or "Blockhead Booby"? painted a far more cynical picture of Bladen as a scheming public official who would do anything to get and hold onto power. Ellefson pointed out that as prosecutor Bladen only received convictions in less than half of the cases that he took to trial. And while that was probably better than my average as a prosecutor in Baltimore City, it was low considering that criminal defendants had less of an ability to get a fair trial in those days. Ellefson wrote about this:
Bladen’s high proportion of failures might be evidence not only of incompetence but also of simple cynicism. Criminal prosecutions and punishments in eighteenth-century Maryland were designed as deterrents — warnings to others to behave themselves as authority demanded —, and the prosecution of an innocent person was as good a warning as the prosecution of a guilty person was. 
Actually the prosecution of an innocent person might provide an even better warning than the prosecution of a guilty person would. The person who watches the prosecution of a defendant whose guilt appears to be clear might conclude that if he does not break any laws he will be safe, while watching the prosecution of an innocent person might lead him to conclude that he had better not draw attention to
himself in any way by deviating from the strictest conformity.

One additional fact about Bladen, that may interest readers, is that as Attorney General he brought the last (capital) witchcraft case to trial in the Provincial Court in Annapolis (then Maryland's highest trial court). Virtue Violl, from Talbot County, was charged with using witchcraft against a neighbor, Elinor Moore, and causing her to lose the use of her tongue. Violl was indicated, transported to Annapolis, and put on trial. She was acquitted by a jury. What is most strange about this case is that it took place in 1712, when most educated people would have ceased to believe in the power of witches to do harm. Did Bladen actually believe that Violl was in fact a witch? Did he care about the truth of the accusation? Or did he simply prosecute her, as Ellefson suggests, as a warning to others?

Hooper sleeping
History's final judgment on William Bladen may still be out. But while visiting the site, my dog, a greyhound named Herr Hooper, made his own judgment. Upon seeing the grave he promptly walked up to it and, despite my protests, urinated on it.

Historic St. Mary's City

Historic St. Mary's City, in St. Mary's County, Maryland, is the birthplace, so to speak, of the State of Maryland.

George Calvert, a secretary of state to James I, was forced to resign his position due to his conversion to Roman Catholicism (which was technically illegal to practice), but was given the title of the first Lord Baltimore (named after the Irish city) by the king due to his previous service. He campaigned for a charter in the mid-Atlantic region of North America in order to set up a colony for disaffected English Catholics. His charter was eventually granted, although shortly after his death, and it was instead given to his son, Cecil Calvert. Maryland's charter set up a proprietary colony under the Lord Baltimore, with the condition that he govern with the advice and assent of the freemen of the province. Maryland was not an English (or British  - there was a union of crowns, but not parliaments between England and Scotland) colony (in the traditional sense of a colony), but a self-governing territory.

After landing in Maryland in 1634, in what is now St. Mary's County, the settlers soon set up their capital nearby, in what they would call St. Mary's City. The capital of Maryland moved in 1695 (1694 if you are using the Julian calendar as they did at the time) to Annapolis, but today a historic park has been set up at the location.

State House Reconstruction
One of the first places to see is the reconstruction (and it is important to note that everything depicted is a reconstruction as the original, mostly wood, buildings have been lost to time) of the original State House from 1676. In this building the lower house of the Assembly, the upper house (which was picked by the governor), the Provincial Court (Maryland's then highest court) and the St. Mary's County Court all would have met. Before the construction of the State House they would have met in private houses and bars.

The building is open to visitors. You can explore the first and second floor. On the left is a picture of the first floor where the lower house of the Assembly would have met. It is also the place where the court would have sat as well. All capital cases in the province would have been heard here(in the Provincial Court), including the witchcraft case against Rebecca Fowler of Calvert County, which resulted in her conviction and execution.

The Dove
The Dove is a reconstruction of a 17th century trading ship and named after The Dove that brought some of the early settlers to Maryland. It is important to note that the blueprints to the original Dove have been lost, but it is fair to say that it would have been similar to this vessel. If you arrive at the right time (12 noon when I visited) you can watch a demonstration of how 17th century settlers would have navigated the waters. Needless to write, it all looked very complicated and since I get lost with GPS, had I been in charge of anything on the ship they never would have made it to Maryland. The reconstruction is an actual sailing ship that they often take out for trips on the bay. If you volunteer working on the ship they will take you out on their trips.

Not every structure has been completely reconstructed. Wooden frames have been put out along the grounds to give the visitor some of idea of what the place would have looked like. A fair amount of trees are present on the property, but I was told by a guide that the early English settlers would have removed most of the trees in the city limits. They could not do this today as the area is a watershed and there is a state law against removing trees in a watershed.

Other structures have been reconstructed on the grounds. In some of them there are guides who will answer questions. Others have placards that display information about the history of the area.

A reconstruction of a Catholic chapel is at the site, demonstrating the importance of religion to the lives of the early settlers. The ruling Calvert family was Catholic, but the majority of early Marylanders were Protestants, including Puritans who were fleeing from religious oppression in Anglican-ruled Virginia. Maryland was more tolerant than most places at the time, but only towards trinitarian Christians. Blasphemy was a capital offense, although there are no recorded executions for it.

A brief walk from the main part of the park will take you to the Tobacco Plantation. The staff at this location act out the roles of 17th century people working on a tobacco plantation. They will show you around the farm and answer questions about the period, as if they were actually still living there. It is a little bit weird at first, but sort of entertaining.

I was a bit surprised, but happy to see, that they actually were growing and curing tobacco, despite the fact that it is a State park. Maryland can be such a horribly "liberal" (actually authoritarian) state and many would love to tax or prohibit tobacco out of existence. Many have the rather fascist view that you are not smart enough to decide what substances you should ingest, whether that be tobacco, marijuana, or trans-fats. I almost didn't want to post pictures of the growing tobacco out of fear that some mentally challenged legislator might seek to introduce legislation requiring them to remove the tobacco from the tobacco plantation in some sort of Stalinist purge.

On the farm you will also find live farm animals, including pigs and cows. The actors will answer your questions about everything related to the property. You will find out how people became indentured servants, how they could eventually own their own land, the origin of the term earmarks, or anything else that you wanted to know about 17th century farming. Around the plantation there are also lots of trails that will take you around the surrounding woods.

Parking at the location is free and there are plenty of available spaces. It closes down in the winter, but opens back up in the spring. Check the Historic St. Mary's website for details. Entry to the State park was $10. There was a nice gift shop there as well, although I didn't buy anything.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mount Calvert, Prince George's County

During the summer I took a drive over to Prince George's County to see the historical and archaeological park at Mount Calvert.

Mount Calvert, as the name suggests, was originally part of Calvert County, when it was established as a town in 1684. It had a vibrant trading community. It later became part of Prince George's County when it was formed in 1696. Renamed Charles Town, it became the county seat. It remained so until 1721 when the seat was moved to the nearby town of Upper Marlboro (which is not worth a visit, trust me). Mount Calvert is today considered part of Greater Upper Marlboro.

Indictment of Fowler.
In the 1680s, two witch accusations were made in this area.
In 1685, a former indentured servant, Rebecca Fowler, was indicted for using witchcraft at Mount Calvert and surrounding areas. Arrested, tried before a jury at the Provincial Count in St. Mary's County, and convicted, she was hanged on October 9, 1685. Less than a year later, Hannah Edwards was also accused of using witchcraft at Mount Calvert and other places around the county. She was also tried, but later acquitted. I am currently working on a book about alleged Maryland witches.

Dig site at Mount Calvert. Covered due to a brief rain storm.
On the site of the park there is an archaeological dig taking place. The supervising archaeologist there when I was visiting indicated that they were looking for (among other things) witch bottles, but so far had not found any.

In the 1780s a tobacco plantation was built on the grounds and today a mansion stands facing the Patuxent River. The mansion was damaged during the earthquake and is not currently open to the public. If it ever reopens, it is worth a visit inside. There is a brief outline of Maryland history and exhibits showing some of the items recovered from the grounds, including this collection of tobacco pipes.

Entry to the grounds and mansion was free and the archaeologists working there seemed reasonably happy to answer questions about the history of the place. I recommend visiting, especially if the mansion ever opens up again.

Additional pictures:

The mansion at Mount Calvert  

An exhibit in the mansion.

A view of the Patuxent River from the grounds.