Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Plot to Kill Lincoln: Cipriano Ferrandini?

Ferrandini, Cipriano (1823-1910)
MSA SC 3520-14473


Cipriano Ferrandini was a hairdresser from Corsica who emigrated to Baltimore, and established himself as the long-time barber and hairdresser in the basement of Barnum's Hotel. There he practiced his trade from the mid 1850s to his retirement long after the close of the Civil War. He was accused, but never indicted for plotting to assassinate Abraham Lincoln on February 23, 1861, and while once caught in a secessionist dragnet in 1862, was never prosecuted for his pro-Southern convictions.

Image:Barnums balt.jpg

How do you discern bravado and bar room talk from a serious threat to personal safety? How do you confirm and abort a terrorist threat?

Those were likely questions that the President Elect of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, pondered the nights of February 21st and 22nd, 1861, when Allen Pinkerton, a detective he trusted, and Frederick Seward, son of his greatest Republican Rival and soon to be Secretary of State, warned him that he ought not to appear in public in Baltimore as scheduled because plans were afoot to assassinate him.

Lincoln chose to heed the warning, donned a disguise of a soft cap, and passed through Baltimore unseen and unheralded on the night of the 22nd, leaving Mrs. Lincoln and the children to face the crowd awaiting his arrival from Harrisburg the following day, February 23.

Image:1861 feby 23 nast.jpg

From that day forward, historians have argued over whether or not there was a plot and in the course of their narratives have not only created myths and perpetrated fallacies, but also have missed a few clues.

Historians fall into two main camps.

There are those who follow the lead of John Thomas Scharf, who had dual careers with the Confederate Navy and Army. He went to great lengths to argue that Baltimoreans would never do anything so ignoble, even though the cause was just. According to Scharf, who spilled more ink than any historian in denial, there simply was no evidence of a plot and after all no one was ever arrested for even contemplating one, although many other good citizens were thrown into jail without benefit of habeas corpus.

The other camp is led by the carefully considered research of William Evitts, who in A Matter of Allegiances based his arguments in favor of their being such a plot on the papers of Allan Pinkerton which the Huntington Library acquired, and which Norma B. Cuthbert edited for publication in 1949. Scharf denied that there were any names associated with the plot. Professor Evitts used Pinkerton's papers (of which the Huntington Library only had transcripts made by Lincoln's friend and biographer William Herndon--the originals apparently were lost in the Chicago Fire) to name Cipriano Ferrandini, a Baltimore hairdresser/barber as the Captain of the terrorists. Professor Evitts found the Pinkerton evidence convincing, and other historians, like Robert Brugger, have accepted his conclusions, even though they do not mention Ferrandini by name.

Who was Cipriano Ferrandini? What facts can we glean about his life before attempting to evaluate the level of threat, if any, that he posed against the life of Abraham Lincoln?

Because there is a project at the Maryland State Archives to bring all extant vital records in Maryland on line, research began with the end to see if there were any records of anyone with such a distinctive name who died in Maryland. Two were found, father and son.

The father, Cipriano Ferrandini died at the age of 87 in the rented house of his daughter and son-in-law on Radnor Avenue, Govans, a Baltimore suburb, in 1910, ironically as a result of botched dental work, by a professional dentist, the successor in profession to barbers who generations before extracted teeth and acted as itinerant surgeons. Cipriano's son and namesake bought a house only a few blocks away on Willow Avenue, which has since been demolished for the grounds of the Carter Elementary School.

Fortunately Cipriano died at the end of a census year, so his presence in Maryland could be traced backwards decade by decade using census schedules on which provides all the extant census records accompanied by more or less helpful indexes.

In the census records, the spelling of Cipriano Ferrandini is erratic, which made the hunt much more difficult.

His name is spelled:
Siprono Fernandini in 1910
Sip Ferrandine in 1900
Cipri Ferrandini in 1880
Ciprian Ferrendinie in 1870
Cipri Ferrandini in 1850
Note that there appears to be no census record for 1860. There is good reason, possibly related to the plot.

From the eve of the Civil War until his first wife Harriet died about 1872 in a terrible accident reported as far away as New York, Cipriano and his family lived in a house his wife owned at what would today be 1608 East Baltimore Street.

Great detail could be given about her ownership and his stewardship of this property, but suffice it to say that tracing the mortgages through our new on line service of all Land Records, makes it clear that the property was used for home equity loans. Every few years as they paid off one mortgage they took out another, on average every six years from 1858 until Harriet's death, when Cipriano remarried a woman 21 years his junior and moved to Madison Street.. Of all the mortgages, the first is the most interesting. In 1858, Cipriano borrowed $2,000 on his wife's house from Thomas Winans, a mortgage that was not released until 1869 when Winans was in Russia building locomotives. In 1861, Thomas Winans and his father Ross, would be outspoken secessionists, possibly even aiders and abettors of an effort to invent and raise arms against the North, if not directly involved in plotting murder.

But was Cipriano really a terrorist bent on assassinating President Elect Lincoln in February 1861?

First let's get the facts straight about what happened that day, because accounts are conflicting.

As best as can be determined, The New York Times got it wrong and John Thomas Scharf got it right about the sequence of events on February 23, 1861. Lincoln did, of course, move through town in secret. That is a given. But the details surrounding how Mrs. Lincoln and the children were guarded have been overlooked in the partisan arguments over the plot. Marshall Kane did have a plan and it was implemented. Mrs. Lincoln and the Children did not arrive at the Calvert Street Station to be greeted by a hostile crowd. There was a hostile crowd there alright, as the New York Times correspondent pointed out, but Mrs. Lincoln and the children were let out of the train where the tracks crossed Charles Street above the Washington Monument and were whisked to Democrat John Gittings mansion on Mount Vernon Square, where they were treated to a quiet, private dinner, before being taken to Camden Station much later that afternoon. Whether or not they encountered some unpleasantness at Camden Station is a matter of debate, but Lincoln did not abandon his family to an unprotected journey through a raucous Baltimore. Marshall Kane, Southern sympathizer and future Confederate businessman who may have met with John Wilkes Booth in Canada in 1864, did his job well on behalf of Mary Todd and the children.

Probably one of the funniest contemporary theories why Lincoln really avoided Baltimore, was to not have to meet with his small but zealous contingent of Republican supporters, but what about the plot? Was there one and was Cipriano Ferrandini at its head?

First, there is the Pinkerton evidence.

The only purported contemporary account of Pinkerton and his spies is the transcript of his 1861 journal which he let Herndon copy and which was purchased by Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln's body guard. The Cuthbert book makes it very clear that Ward Hill Lamon had little use for Pinkerton and the feeling was mutual, leading Lamon to at one point discount the existence of any plot, but if the transcript of Pinkerton's 1861 Journal can be authenticated in any way, perhaps the old saw, where there is smoke there is fire, may prevail.

Pinkerton's account relies upon one agent and two sources to document Cipriano Ferrandini as the leader of the assassination plot. His agent meets with Cipriano and leaves a vivid account of the extent of the plot as derived from a participant who related the details from the comfort of a Davis Street bawdy house and the arms of an inmate named Annette Travis. She did exist and is listed on the 1860 census for Baltimore at #70 Davis Street. Davis street ran south from the Calvert Street train station and appears to have a number of such places in the 11th ward, forming one of the more concentrated 'red light' districts of the city. In his Spy of the Rebellion (1883), p. 64-65, Pinkerton asserts that in addition to his spy Howard, he also met with Captain Ferrandini (who he calls Fernandina), at Guy's Monument Hotel, which was across the street from Barnum's on Monument Square.


At Guy's, Pinkerton reports that "Fernandina cordially grasped my hand, and we all retired to a private saloon, where after ordering the necessary drinks and cigars, the conversation" turned to the assassination and Ferrandini was asked "Are there no other means of saving the South except by assassination?" "No replied Fernandina, ... He must die -- and die he shall, And, ... if necessary, we will die together." To illustrate his story, Pinkerton included a drawing of himself seated at a table with Ferrandini standing, hand upraised as if clutching a dagger.


But does any of this prove that there was a National Volunteers group led by Cipriano Ferrandini deeply immersed in a plot to assassinate the President Elect? Pinkerton himself began to doubt the bravado of his prime suspect, or at least so he says long after the fact, but Cipriano himself leaves us with some clues (if the Congressional Record can be trusted).

Eighteen days before the alleged timing of the terrorist attack on Lincoln, Cipriano Ferrandini appeared before a Congressional Committee of Five investigating rumors that efforts would be made to prevent the President Elect from reaching his inaugural, or if he did manage to get to Washington, seriously disrupt the ceremonies. The committee had been formed at the end of January when the Union appeared to be rapidly dissolving. Efforts at brokering a compromise were floundering. Even Lucius E. Crittenden recalled that on hearing the news that Lincoln had indeed made it to Washington, a Missouri colleague at the Washington Peace Conference exclaimed: "How the devil did he get through Baltimore?" Crittenden speculated that clearly more than Italian (did he mean Corsican?) assassins and plug uglies must have known of the plots to keep Lincoln from being inaugurated. If the upper levels of Baltimore and Washington society knew of any such plot, they probably learned about it at the Maryland Club. As Robert Brugger discovered, in July 1860, a Colonel Cipriani from Corsica dined at the club as a guest of J. N. Bonaparte, Napoleon's nephew. Was this a cover for Captain Cipriano Ferrandini recently returned from terrorist training in Mexico? The Maryland Club was clearly a hotbed of Southern sympathy, and had a remarkable guest list of Rebels and Copperheads, until closed down by Union Troops.

Just what did Ferrandini have to say for himself to the Committee of Five the following February? For one he suggests that the reason he could not be found when the 1860 census was taken was because he was in Mexico in military training. For another he certainly makes his secessionists views very clear and has no problems admitting that he is engaged in applying his military training to a group dedicated to preventing the "Northern Volunteers" from passing through Maryland.

From the Congressional Record, you can get a flavor of the passion of this 38 year old Corsican Barber. Can you see him acting on that passion? Was he all talk? Was there a plot? He certainly traveled in the circles that cried out for Maryland to secede. His mortgage was held by one of the town's purported leading southern sympathizers. Was the potential for violence defused by the steps taken on the advice of Pinkerton and derived from a profile of Ferrandino that he himself drew before a Congressional Committee?

Cipriano Ferrandini died an old man with terrible teeth, in the care of his family. Did he plot to assassinate Lincoln? Probably. Would he have carried out his threat if Lincoln had stopped in Baltimore as planned? Or is it possible that he became a Union informer and a useful means of persuading Lincoln to avoid the City at a time when Lincoln's safety could not, in the minds of his closest advisers be guaranteed?

Archival Sources-

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH BUREAU OF VITAL STATISTICS (Death Record, Counties) Cipriano Ferrandini, December 20, 1910, Baltimore County [MSA S1179-167, 0/70/10/16]
Family Papers relating to Cipriano Ferrandini, msa_sc5852, msa_sc5862

Secondary Sources-

Cuthbert, Norma Barrett (ed.). Lincoln and the Baltimore Plot, 1861. (1949).
Evitts, William J., A Matter of Allegiances- Maryland from 1850-1861(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,1974).
Professor Evitts assessment of Ferrandini has been strengthened by Michael J. Kline, The Baltimore Plot. The First Conspiracy to Assassinate Abraham Lincoln (Yardley, Pennsylvania: Westholme Publishing, LLC, 2008).
Pinkerton, A. (1883). The Spy of the Rebellion; being a true history of the spy system of the United States Army during the late rebellion. Revealing many secrets of the war hitherto not made public. Comp. from official reports prepared for President Lincoln, General McClellan and the provost-marshal-general. New York, G.W. Carleton & Co.
United States. Congress. House. Select committee of five, appointed January 9th, 1861 (1865). See:

© Edward C. Papenfuse, Maryland State Archivist, retired

Monday, November 4, 2019

Obituaries for Laurel: Artist and Laundress Charity Govans (1820?-1878)

Charity Govans (1820?-1878), Chenille Artist and Laundress

On October 28th, 1878, Charity Govan’s died at her long-time residence on Aisquith Street in Baltimore at the age of 58.[1] Her occupation is listed as “keeper of her own house”, and the cause of death appoplexis.[2] She was attended by George W. Wayson, M.D., who lived at 18 Aisquith Street, and prepared for burial by undertaker Theo J. Locke of 73 Jefferson Street. She was buried in Laurel Cemetery.[3] Charity had resided in Baltimore for 45 years, over half of which time she lived at 133 Aisquith Street.

1876 Tax Assessment on Charity Govan’s 3 story brick residence and lot next door to the Aisquith Presbyterian Church property. In 1876 her next door neighbor at the parsonage was Reverend Stephen Noyes, pastor of the Church. With the renumbering of houses in Baltimore City in the late 1880s, 133 became 609 Aisquith Street and the Aisquith Presbyterian Church moved from the neighborhood.[4]

Recently Charity has been the subject of a few references in a book by Martha Jones, Birthright Citizens, in which Charity’s efforts to obtain a travel pass in the 1850s under the restrictive laws of Maryland is featured. While the efforts to identify Charity from the surviving records were extensive and accurately cited in Dr. Jones’s footnotes, the image of Charity and the story of her life that emerges from her pages is incomplete and inaccurate. She was more than a gilder of frames and a laundress for the more affluent of Baltimore. She was an accomplished Chenille embroidery artist and possibly an important connection to the underground railroad to Canada, the destination for which she applied for, and was granted a travel pass by the Criminal Court judge of Baltimore City, Henry Stump while she was already in Canada. It is likely that she went to Canada without a pass issued by the Court, but knew that to be able to return in safety she would need one. On June 26, 1854, on the written recommendation of David Stewart, John Stewart, and James A. Buchanan, Esq., Judge Stump retroactively approved her travel out of the State of Maryland for the space of three months. While there is no record of when she returned from Canada, she was back on Aisquith Street by 1858. [5]

Charity Govans may have been born in Harford County about 1820. Nothing is known about her origins as to whether she was born free or slave, although there is an intriguing surviving slave cabin and well in Jarrettsville, Harford County, surveyed by the Maryland Historical Trust, that might have been occupied and owned by her family.

Charity first appears on public record in 1851 when her delicate Chenille work is rejected by the Maryland Institute, not on the grounds of quality, but because it “was done by a colored woman.” the judges praised the quality of her work noting that

In the first place, we do not deem it advisable to receive contributions to the exhibitions of the maryland Institute from colored persons, because of their work is accepted they will have to be received as visitors to the fairs.

Secondly , we do not approve of their work entering into competition with that of the whites.

And thirdly, the colored population have fairs of their own where they can exhibit the productions of their industry.[6]

Charity took her art work to Toronto, Canada, in 1853, where it was favorably received, and reported to Frederick Douglass’s Rochester, New York newspaper:

TORONTO, August 12, 1853.

DEAR Mr. EDITOR: - Not long since, I saw in this city, in a large, splendid guilt frame, a piece of fanciful workmanship, which has been the admiration of all who have seen it. It was the work of Mrs. Charity Govans , recently of Baltimore. This lady was by the very general invitation of the managers of the Maryland Institute, to "all engaged in industrial pursuits not only in Baltimore, and the state if Maryland, but throughout the United States, to contribute specimens of their productions for public inspection, and to compete for the prizes offered by the Institute," induced to contribute the unsurpassingly beautiful production of her skill, ingenuity and taste, if which we have spoken. This work was one of so much merit and attraction, that it was generally anticipated that the artificer would be most signally rewarded. How signally, however, you will be better prepared to learn, after you shall have read the following notice and rule extracted from the printed "regulations and arrangements for the fourth annual exhibition of American Manufactures, by the Maryland Institute, held in Baltimore, October, 1851, and signed by the chairman and standing committee on exhibition: "The particular attention of contributors and others is requested to these rules, ad they will in all cases, be adhered to and enforced." - Rule "15th. The judges are required to make their decision strictly upon the merits of the article alone, and to make full reports in writing to the "Committee of Awards, &c."

Accordingly, we have [a] sufficiently "full report, in writing," as it regards Mrs. Govan' s work. I have copied it from the published reports for the edification of your numerous readers-

"No. 1356 - A framed of CHENILLE FLOWERS, made by Mrs. C. Govans , is tastefully designed, ingeniously and accurately arranged. But the committee on Class 15 are unwilling to recommend this price of work for merited. First, because, it was done by a colored woman. In the second place, we do not deem it advisable to receive contributions to the exhibitions of the Maryland Institute from colored persons, because if their work is accepted, the will have to be received by visitors to the fairs. And thirdly, the colored population have fairs of their own, where they can exhibit the productions of their industry. Having given our opinion at length concerning Mrs. Govan' s work, we leave it with the Committee on Premiums to decide whether they think proper to give a premium for it. We would respectfully advise the Managers of the Institute if they wish to preserve their exhibition in good repute, and prevent dissatisfaction on the part of whites and blacks, to decline the acceptance of colored persons' work at all subsequent exhibitions."





The Committee are unwilling to recommend this piece of work for a premium, because it was done by a colored woman. The reason here given for this magnanimous treatment is indicative of a littleness, dwarfish caliber and ineffable meanness soul, which in despite of the copiousness of our language, and its adaptedness to the expression of every shade of thought and sentiment, it is exceedingly difficult to describe in terms sufficiently appropriate. Look at it: We are unwilling to discharge an obviously assigned duty, a simple act of Justice to a lady of intelligence, wealth and standing, because she is a colored woman. The singular frankness - not to say shameless - of an avowal of a reason so despicable, and that by ladies whose self respect permitted them to give their names to the scrutinizing gaze of the world in such a connection, its a mournful evidence of the full influence of those Institutions and prejudices in the United States, which deteriorates and destroys all that is lively and liberal, just and humane, in the human character. These ladies, and all whose feelings are equally groveling, should receive the pity of the truly wise and excellent of the earth, to throw intrinsic nobility they are strangers, and whose good opinion they are incapable of appreciating. We pity them, because we cannot deny them. Again; "if their work is accepted, they will have to be received as visitors to the fairs." A horrible consequence truly! They will then be in the same room with ourselves, walk the same floor, and gaze upon the same objects. Intolerable! Well, one thing is certain and inevitable; either the fastidious taste of these ladies will have to undergo a seasonable and serious change, or they will be unable to enter the kingdom go God with many of these despised ones; for "there shall, in now wise, enter into it anything that defileth;" their vitiated taste will exclude them. Are they prepared for the stern, the unavoidable alternative? These considerations, however, weigh but little in these days of fashionable, time serving Christianity. But we must not forget that colored persons are not excluded from these fairs, if they willingly accompany white visitors as servants. Special provisions is made for all such. The green eyed monster cannot brook the sight of a colored gentleman or lady, whose condition is above that of a servant. - Let him not be alarmed when I tell him that such sights will become increasingly annoying, and they are destined to put the severest test the religion and philosophy of the American Union. He would do well to make a virtue of necessity. "Thirdly, the colored population have fairs of their own, where they can exhibit the productions of their industry." True, but they would no longer remain in comparative obscurity; they would occasionally place some of the productions of their skill in just a position, I and in competition with those of their paler brethren. Speak out, ladies, all you objections - your worst fears in regard to such a competition. Remember, we have given you credit for your frankness. "We would respectfully advise the Managers of the Institute if they wish to preserve their exhibitions in good repute, and prevent dissatisfaction on the part of both whites and blacks, to decline the acceptance of colored person's work at all subsequent exhibitions." - Thank you ladies, we think we understand you. You mean to say that if colored competitors should be successful, as was Mrs. Govans , in winning admiration, and deserving highest premiums - of which there would be a great probability - then the Institute would suffer in it reputation; and dissatisfaction on the part of unsuccessful competitors as among the whites, would be as inevitable as it would be with the successful rivals among the blacks to whom your silly prejudices would render you incapable of doing Justice. In view of this unpleasant state of things, I thank God that I am no more an inhabitant of your country - my native land - but that it is my privilege to rejoice that I am now,


At the time of the exhibition at the Maryland Institute and her travels to Canada where there was a large expatriate former slave community from Maryland, Charity was living on North Gay Street in Baltimore on the East side of the Jones Falls, possibly with a husband named Daniel who is listed in the 1849/50 Baltimore city Directory at 161 North Gay Street.[8] On her return from Toronto, she lived at 133 (later 609) Aisquith Street in East Baltimore, which remained her Baltimore residence for the rest of her life.[9]

After Charity’s death in 1878 the house number on Aisquith Street was changed to 609. By the 1960s

the front of the building was a laundromat, and by the 1970s a vacant lot approximately where the white car beyond the church is parked. Charity’s house is shown on the detail from the 1880 Sanborn Insurance map

Charity lived two doors down from the all white Aisquith Presbyterian Church, which is today Greater Grace Harvest Church.[10] She may have attended Bethel or Waters AME church, which was nearby, but her son-in-law, Burwell Banks, who lived with her for a time in the 1860s and early 1870s, was a long-time vestryman of St. James Episcopal Church. Charity’s home survived until the 1970s serving in its last years a laundromat, somewhat fitting, as in her last years her occupation was listed as a “laundress.” Today the site of her home is a vacant lot, a casualty of the failed urban-renewal development of Old Town.[11]

After her return from Canada, Charity lived a quiet life of domestic service. In the one public notice of her that appeared in the Christian Recorder October 10, 1863, she was mentioned as the wealthy mother of an “accomplished daughter” also named Charity who was about to be wed to a “Mr. Bromwell [Burwell] Banks,” a wealthy Baltimore grocery “Provisioner” who supplied the fashionable hotels of Baltimore including the Rennert, and who owned considerable real estate in the city.[12]

In 1870, while Burwell Banks and his wife, Charity Govan’s daughter, Charity, were living at 133 Aisquith, Catherine Labeat (age 60), ten years older than Charity Govan, was resident there as well. Who Catherine Lebeat was, is unknown, but she might have been Charity’s teacher of Chenille work, and possibly an Oblate Sister whose order was well-known in Ante-bellum Baltimore for training Black girls in Chenille and expert needle work. [13]

In the same Christian Recorder article recording the prospective marriage of Charity’s daughter, it was observed that “Our city has been in a state of joyful excitement for several days or weeks past. The first outburst of joy was caused by the military authority opening the slave pens and letting all the slaves go free. The men all went out and joined the regiment, and the women found comfortable homes among the friends in the city.”[14]

It would be a very long time before full citizenship came to the Black Community of Baltimore, and it would not be until the 1930s that the Maryland Institute would exhibit the work of Black artists like Charity Govans,and even then it would be controversial.

Among the Black Artists in the exhibition were

Cartoonists Elmer Simms Campbell and

William Chase of possible Maryland descent, but no women [15]

By all public accounts, Charity was among the wealthiest of the Black community of Baltimore by the time of her death. In 1870 she was noted on the Census as possessing $8,000 in real estate, while her son-in-law (Burwell Banks) who in 1870 lived with her at 133 Aisquith, and owned a prosperous produce business, was credited with $15,000 in real estate and $1500 in personal property. When she died in 1878 she left an inventory of personal property worth nearly $1400, including $54 in cash in the house and $1200 in a bank account.[16] Among her personal effects, apart from a feather bed, a horsehair couch, lace curtains, a table, 13 chairs and a sideboard, were two pieces of “framed embroidery,” perhaps the very same Chenille work that was rejected by the Maryland Institute and carried with her to and from Canada?[17]

Sadly Charity would not be permitted to rest in peace, memorialized in Laurel Cemetery where she was laid to rest in October 1878. Her remains may still be there under the blacktop of the shopping center, moved and covered over by bulldozers that desecrated the graves.[18]

May this obituary remain as a virtual marker of her grave and memory of her life.

Ecpclio, 2019/11/07

[1] Death certificate, Msa_cm1132_010_cr048054-28377. Sorting out the Charity Govans who appear in the public records and the city directories of Baltimore is a daunting task. The ages on the census records are unreliable estimates, and the city directories are far from complete or accurate, but the surviving documentation strongly suggests that the Charity who was denied the right to exhibit her work at the Maryland Institute, was living on North Gay Street with Daniel Goven (Govin) in 1840 as a free woman without children, was living on Aisquith Stree as early as 1858 in a house on which she paid taxes, possibly with a daughter also named Charity who married in 1863, and that she died in her home at 133 (later renumbered to 609) Aisquith Street in October 1878. Her death certificate asserts she was 85 at her death, but all the other evidence of her existence indicates that the number is reversed, and that she was instead ca. 58 when she died.

[2] Appoplexis uteri apparently was a medical term described briefly in the Journal of Obstetrics, volume 58, for 1908, p. 752, as meaning hemorrhaging of the uterus.

[4] Baltimore City Archives, Baltimore City Property Tax Records, field Assessors’ Work Books, BCA BRG 4-3,

[5] Jones, Martha S. Birthright Citizens. A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018, pp. 98, 99, 100, 101. Professor Jones and her research assistants did discover many of the sources about Charity as cited in this essay, but failed to interpret them correctly, or overlooked their significance. Professor Jone’s Charity was only four years old in 1854. Charity Govans, the subject of this esssay, always lived on the East Side of the Jones Falls, not the West, while Professor Jones misses altogether the reasons for seeking a travel pass, as well as Charity’s considerable talent as a Chenille artist. For the travel pass, see: BALTIMORE CITY CRIMINAL COURT (Minutes) 1851-1971 T483-1, unnumbered folio at 1854, January 26. Buchanan and the Stewarts were prominent white members of the Baltimore legal and mercantile Community and can be found in the Baltimore City directory for 1851. Their connection with Charity is unknown.

[6] The book of the exhibition. Annual exhibition of the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the mechanic arts. Baltimore. Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts.Baltimore, 1852.


Collection: African American Newspapers, Publication: FREDERICK DOUGLASS PAPER, Date: August 26, 1853,Title: TORONTO, August 12, 1853. DEAR Mr. EDITOR: - Not long since,...Location: Rochester, New York

[8] 1840; Census Place: Baltimore Ward 3, Baltimore, Maryland; Roll: 158; Page: 102; Family History Library Film: 0013183, and 1849/50 Baltimore City Directory. Daniel does not appear in the 1851 Baltimore City Directory, nor does Charity. It is possible that Charity was a widow by the time of her attempted entry into the competition at the Maryland Institute..

[9] How Charity acquired 133 (609 Aisquith) remains an unsolved mystery.

[11] See, Baltimore City Land Records RHB 2941/676, other references to the “Old Town” renewal project. For Burwell Banks, see below, note 11.

[12]Burwell Banks was once arrested and fined for selling Quail out of season to the owner of the Rennert Hotel. When he died in 1891 he left a considerable estate, and was remembered as one of the first Black men to serve on a Grand Jury in the city charged with investigating conditions at the City Jail. See the Baltimore Sun for July 14, 1887, and August 29, 1891, the Baltimore Church Advocate for Saturday, February 13, 1892, and the quail incident in the Baltimore Sun for January 20, 1877.

[13] To date no evidence has been found of Charity Govans having attended the school for girls founded by the oblate sisters, nor is there any surviving record found to date that illuminates the life of her boarder in 1870, Catherine Lebeat. For Charity Govan and those residing with her in 1870, including Catherine Labeat, see: 1870 Census, Ward 5, Dwelling no. 2033, with real estate owned or leased by Charity worth $8,000, on, 1870; Census Place: Baltimore Ward 5, Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland; Roll: M593_573; Page: 276B; Family History Library Film: 552072. The Oblate Sisters history in Baltimore is to be found in summary form on their website:, from which the following is derived:

The Oblate Sisters of Providence is the first successful Roman Catholic sisterhood in the world established by women of African descent. It was the work of a French-born Sulpician priest and four women, who were part of the Caribbean refugee colony which began arriving in Baltimore, Maryland in the late eighteenth century. Father James Hector Nicholas Joubert, SS, a Sulpician priest discovered it was difficult for the Haitian refugee children to master their religious studies because they were unable to read. He heard of two devout religious Caribbean women who were already conducting a school for black children in their home in Baltimore. In 1828 those two women, Elizabeth Lange (later Mother Mary Lange ) and Maria Balas accepted his proposal to start a sisterhood with the primary mission of teaching and caring for African American children. After adding two more women, Rosine Boegue and American-born Theresa Duchemin, they began studying to become sisters and opened a Catholic school for girls in their convent at 5 St. Mary's Ct. in Baltimore. Thus began St. Frances Academy. It is the oldest continuously operating school for black Catholic children in the United States and is still educating children in Baltimore.​​

[14], Collection: African American Newspapers, Publication: THE CHRISTIAN RECORDER, Date: October 10, 1863, Title: For the Christian Recorder. Our city has been in a state of ....

[15] See: and There is no biography of Chase, but the Chase family was prominent as teachers, editors, and undertakers in both Baltimore and the District of Columbia. For example see:, and

[16] See: 1870 census entry for Charity and her daughter and son-in-law: Charity’s probate is indexed at:, f. 72.

[17] BALTIMORE CITY REGISTER OF WILLS (Inventories) 1878-1879, JHB 111, MSA C196-47, 231-232.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Purveyors of Baltimore History: William B. Marye (1886-1979)



And Pioneer Environmentalist


by John McGrain

source: The Evening Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, 13 Nov 1950, Mon • Page 20

William B. Marye was 84 years old when I first met him at his residence in the Preston Apartments in October 1969. I had gone down to talk about revising the "Literary Map of Baltimore," a chart that the Baltimore County Historical Society had paid for printing, and, which, thanks to me, contained a number of disgraceful errors and misspellings of the names of those the map sought to honor. Mr. Marye had known some of the people who pursued literature in Baltimore, and he suggested a number of additional names for the map. He had not been a close friend of Mencken, and in fact thought that Jesse Lee Bennett of the Baltimore Sun was as good a writer, in his own style. Baltimore had produced an extraordinary number of "poetasters," thought Mr. Marye; it was almost an aberration of the climate, as he put it. He had suffered a number of literary affairs in his time, and at some of them he said it was difficult not to laugh at the sincere readings of drivel. He was once lucky enough to hide his mirth behind a lady with an enormous flowered hat. Literary ladies had given him the notion that there were no intelligent women in Baltimore, in spite of all the colleges and businesses so full of them in the 20th century.

The Maryes were Virginians who happened to have a French name. The Battle of Fredericksburg took place, in part, on the lawn of the Marye clan's mansion, Brompton. Marye's Mill on the banks of the Rappahannock next to the railroad bridge appeared in all the Civil War artists' sketches and photographs of the town. After the war, some of the Marye brothers came to Baltimore and at one time owned the Pearl Hominy Mill. That mill was the ruination of the family, said WBM one time. Located on a Pratt Street pier, the mill burned and was never rebuilt. WMB's father, Nelson Marye, had to take up a clerical job in the city, although they were by no means ruined. "I have never enjoyed the Battle Hymn of the Republic," he once said, "because it was my people who were being trampled out with the vintage."

For the remainder of his life, WBM and I had a great many conversations by telephone and a number of visits to his apartment and encounters at the Maryland Historical Society. We didn't talk much about literature. WBM, as we will call him for short, liked to recall rural life in the Upper Falls area of Baltimore County. He was interested in old families, old land grants, hiking, fishing, Indian artifacts, and all forms of local history. He was interested in the ownership of mills and furnaces, but was not much concerned about their technology, which is now becoming more respectable to pursue under the heading of Industrial Archaeology. Even the mill technology of 1795 was more advanced than WBM's sphere of interest. A lot of Marye data went into the History of Agriculture in Baltimore County and into various booklets written by Matilda C. Lacey and by the history group at Perry Hall that published Villages in the 1990s.

In his youth, WBM had explored all the mill sites and all the trout streams in several counties, and he had almost total recall of all the facts he had gathered. His published articles were and continue to be the basis for almost everything written today about colonial history in Baltimore and Harford Counties. It as almost impossible to find any record he had not consulted and wrung dry. Even in his eighties, he was finding new items, still revising some of his earlier findings instead of merely defending them as writ.

WBM had never retired, because he had never exactly worked; he was never regularly employed, except as consultant archaeologist or genealogist, and he was the corresponding secretary of the Maryland Historical Society, which, if salaried at all would have been minimal. He lived somewhat modestly on money at interest. He used to say that he was not properly trained to do anything in particular--in spite of a degree from Johns Hopkins and further study of geology. WBM was a survival of a period when people of even modest means never did any type of manual work; the family had household servants, gardeners, a coachman, and farm managers. He once said that he always had to remind himself that in the 1970s, the person raking leaves in front of a Guilford house was probably the owner rather than the garden man. The landed gentry of the 1890s used to dress formally all day, even during the summer on the farm.

WBM's perpetual retirement was one of the most productive careers of any of Baltimore's "idle rich," as his vast accumulation of notebooks and published materials will attest. The extensive footnotes in his articles about the "Indian Roads" certainly meet the criteria of Germanic thoroughness aimed for in the earliest days at Johns Hopkins. The style of these articles is elegant in the 19th century manner, not without touches of irony and well disguised wit. During his time at Hopkins, some of the founding professors were still on hand--notably Gildersleve, although WBM had Kirby Flower Smith for classics and William Bennett Matthews for geology.

The Marye articles are a public monument and will endure. The man himself is a more fleeting image. In his ninth decade, WBM was quite talkative, almost exhausting to listen to at times. He was probably desperately lonely with all his immediate family long gone, and no descendants to watch over him. He had a horror of ending his days in a "home," and was luckily spared that degradation, dying of sheer old age in 1979. The constant recitation of stories and incidents about his parents helped keep them alive--I almost feel I know them myself.

WBM was essentially a gentleman. He rigorously observed the code of never giving offense, always suffering fools gladly, not writing abusive comments, trying not to insist on his own way, not exploding the reputations of fellow historians, especially the well meaning patriots who strayed into error and quoted old fantasies. WBM had served in the Navy during the first World War; his ship was sail-powered, and foul weather prevented it from reaching even Bermuda. He was a life long member of the Maryland Naval Militia and probably would have turned out, even in his eighties to fight another Battle of North Point. His patriotism was not indiscriminate, and in 1969 he was appalled by the U. S. conduct of the war in Viet Nam. This was the first adult that I respected who had turned against the war; it forced me to think, and, of course, thought could only lead to disgust with the entire incompetent and disastrous operation.

Mr. Marye was quite a tall man, heavy set even in his youth, slow and deliberate in his motion, somewhat stooped. Some of the amiable Baltimoreans were stooped, as if looking down on their visitor with amused interest. He was partially bald but benign in countenance. Like most elder statesmen of the Maryland Historical Society, he tried not to wear his spectacles unless he wanted to read something. He was one of the last of the "great walkers" about Baltimore, a town noted for persons who liked to stroll its length and breadth for sheer pleasure of ticking off the blocks or squares of row houses, passing the wharves, warehouses, and foundries. He liked to visit some of the underground storm sewers that were once natural streams, now trapped in pipes beneath the paving. There was a grating where one could see the natural flow of Jenkins Run, and WBM used to observe the waxing and waning of the volume after rains and during droughts. He had occasionally seen highly paid civil engineers sinking foundations where he knew they would shortly strike the water of some stream he had known about from deed research. No use to tell people like that, he felt; they wouldn't believe him. He at length admitted that a cab driver was likely to consider their passenger a mad man if the destination was the outflow of some storm sewer.

WBM had also walked extensively in the Orkney Islands--a bleak and elemental terrain he preferred to the architectural marvels of the Cathedral towns his parents went to see. Even in his last years, WBM liked to walk. He walked almost daily from his apartment at Preston Street and Guilford Avenue to the Maryland Historical Society. On the Tuesday in May, 1970, when hippies and unwashed ruffians terrorized the visitors to the Flower Mart in Mount Vernon Place, WBM wended his way through the throng on his usual route unaware of the subhuman disturbance. He was a familiar sight, shuffling along, sometimes wearing an ancient Panama hat in summer, fully bundled up in winter. Before I met him, I accidentally photographed him on his daily transit of Monument Street. If a satirical novel was going to be written about inside Baltimore, its acidic author would certainly utilize WBM, but anyone who actually knew him or any other true Baltimorean of his age and era could never treat so splendid a human type with levity.

WBM had in his memory the makings of his own "unprintable social history of Baltimore." Most of his social memoirs concerned prominent people who became tipsy or visited the sort of houses where Eubie Blake had played the piano. He had a stock of stories about people who were mean to the servants, or achieved marvels in stinginess and penury. He was well aware that some Baltimore socialites flaunted imaginary genealogies that connected them to various "lords and ladies." He knew who was not related to the Duke of Norfolk. He also had a stock of earthy stories, including numerous instances of plantation owners who forced their attentions on their slave women--one such lord of the manor was beset by his own dogs when he returned from the slave quarter in his night shirt--to the amazement of a house full of overnight guests who were brought to the windows by the barking. WBM also had a story of a hostess--whose family had launched clipper ships--in row house Baltimore--in one of the extra large row houses--the McK__'s were having a dinner party. No sooner was the first course served than the OEA workers arrived to pump out the servants' privy in the back yard; the dinner continued with all the windows closed, hot weather or not.

WBM was almost older than college football, but he liked canoeing and swimming. He had canoed in northern Ontario where the campers could hear wolves yelping. He had canoed most of the tidal rivers around Baltimore and Harford Counties. Some trips were veritable expeditions with a hired boatman for Marye and a few archaeologists. His early swimming took him to most of the deep holes in the same region--and of course boys of the 1890s didn't use swimming suits, which annoyed some people; once the owner of the Dieter Mill on Little Gunpowder Falls on the Harford County bank shouted out the window for the bathers to go away. WBM had also fished for trout in most of the rocky streams, many of which in 2004 are lifeless conduits of runoff.

Just about age 70, WBM turned to poetry and wrote A Farewell to Life, a gloomy assessment of how the inhabitants of this continent had all but ruined the land and water. It was written in a 19th century blank verse style, and it sold very few copies. Mr. _____ of the Sun told him that perhaps only 5 percent of the population could understand it. The author did receive a complimentary letter from John Masefield, Poet Laureate of England, and Josephine Jacobson of Baltimore apparently liked it. James Bready of the Sun literary page interviewed WBM about the time the book came out and noted that almost no copies were sold. Bready's column was however a tribute to WBM's archaeology explorations and gave him perhaps the only recognition he had ever received in his chosen city.

The last large plat drawn by WBM was for Matilda C. Lacey's 1970 booklet Perry Hall: An Invitation to Memory. This plat showed the boundaries of numerous colonial land surveys south of the Great Gunpowder Falls and east of U.S. 1-- all worked out from the verbal list of angles and distances copied from the old Patent Records. Colonial Land Surveys were chaotic, the boundaries rarely running east to west, rarely conforming to shore lines or hills or water courses either. The plat was covered with tiny lettering with useful historical data, but WBM was no longer steady enough to get his lines of text straight or the boundary lines sharp. The data is all there however, and some years later, I drew the lines again and had the text retyped on an electric typewriter.

WBM genuinely liked black people although his attitude might be called patronizing today. His grandparents owned slaves, and his parents had African American servants. One of his Virginia stories was about his grandfather's trying to beat one of the slaves; the ancestor picked up a stick from the ground , but it turned out to be rotten and broke apart and bumped the plantation owner on the nose--at that point both master and subject broke out laughing. Willie Marye's mother used to read to the black children of the domestics at Upper Falls, and WBM kept up with old employees, and even accepted an invitation to Christmas dinner. In those times, servants were called by their first names, but the coachman was called by his last name in the English style, "to confer dignity" on him, WBM stated. Mr. Marye had told another Baltimorean that Enoch Pratt had not really lived on a grand scale, because, like the Maryes, that businessman had only a coachman, but no footman, which would have marked total class. In fact, WBM, deep in the age of the automobile, was almost apologetic about never having enjoyed the services of a footman.

Many of the things that WBM wrote were used by the local papers, but he never got paid for his efforts and hidden expenses. Some of his genealogy work involved weeks of effort in libraries and his home study, yet his patrons often paid him less than he could have earned as a bean-picker. He always made his contribution to good causes out of a sense of civic responsibility, and as we stated before, he was ready to turn out for the last ditch defense of the city if another foreign invasion came to be.

[Subject to Revision, December 17,2004.]

Editor’s note:

The William B. Marye Award was created by the Archaeological Society of Maryland, Inc, in 1983 to honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions to Maryland archeology. Award winners receive a plaque at the Society's Annual Meeting in October, and their achievements are published in the Society's newsletter, ASM Ink. More than one award or no award may be given each year. Nominations should detail specific accomplishments of the nominee and should be submitted to the William B. Marye Award Committee either in a letter or on the nomination form published each year in ASM Ink. Neither Maryland residency nor membership in ASM is a prerequisite for receiving the award. Click here for a nomination form. For other information, please contact Maureen Kavanagh. (