Sunday, January 5, 2020

Good Neighbors & Family Papers: Roland Park, Baltimore

Good Neighbors and Family Papers:

C. Harvey Palmer, Jr. (1919-2019) &

Elizabeth Machen Palmer (1926-2008)

We have been fortunate all the years we have lived in Roland Park (since 1971) to have good neighbors. On the East side we shared a driveway and garage with Harvey and Betsy Palmer who were always friendly and helpful, giving good advice, a helping hand, and large gingerbread men cookies for the children at Christmas. Harvey even lent his Jeep Cherokee when a friend and I retrieved a player piano from upstate New York, and then they had to tolerate our limited antique collection of player piano rolls donated by another good neighbor, Dorothea R. Thorne (1933-2019), which wasn’t so bad, except perhaps in the Summers before air conditioning, when the William Tell overture was an oft repeated favorite.

Harvey and Betsy were aware they lived next door to an Archivist, and over the years Betsy sought advice on family papers and books which for the most part are now housed at the Library of Congress[1], although a few remain in family hands or were given away.

gift from the Library of Charles Carroll of Carrollton (September 19, 1737 – November 14, 1832)

library of ecpclio

Shortly before they left for their retirement home, Betsy arrived on our doorstep with a present of a book from the library of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a Maryland signer of the Declaration of Independence, containing a bookplate Carroll had purchased as a young man studying law in London. While Betsy knew how touched I would be by the gift of the bookplate, the book also proved significant. It is the collected works of Edmund Waller, an able politician and poet who advocated religious freedom, a theme dear to the heart of the Carrolls who were Roman Catholics.

Harvey Palmer (1919-2019),

Professor Emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering,

Johns Hopkins University[2]

Harvey was always working on some project or another. Most were successful, but not all. My favorite was the fish pond he built in their backyard adjoining our mutual driveway. He never was able to prevent it from leaking, but it was attractive nonetheless.

Harvey loved solving puzzles and knew my passion for historical ones. In 2016 when he was encouraged by the family to unburden himself of the remaining family papers Betsy had left him, he and his daughter Helen showed up on our doorstep with transcriptions of Betsy’s mother’s diaries (which were given to the Maryland State Archives) and a single letter postmarked Baltimore 1890, given to me to tell its story.

I promised Harvey I would, but set it aside until I ran across it in my effort to catalog and dispose of my own papers. It turned out to be quite a story that led me to an ex-Confederate grandfather and the life of the author, a prominent Presbyterian New Testament Scholar whose obituary was written by H. L. Mencken.

The letter on the surface is a treasured piece of juvenalia, written by a nine year old Gresham Machen to his grandfather in Macon Georgia, thanking him for sending him some stamps, one of which was rare, and relating how his father and mother rewarded him for answering all his “Chatesism” [Catechism] questions correctly. In time he would learn how to spell well the word (among many others) on his path to becoming a prominent Presbyterian theologian.

Pardon and application for Pardon of John J. Gresham (1812-1891)

Case files of applications from former Confederates for Presidential Pardons (“Amnesty Papers”), National Archives Microfilm Publication, M1003, Records of the Adjutant General;s Office, 1780’s-1917,

Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D. C.

Not long after the letter was written, the grandfather, John J. Gresham (1812-1891) came to live with Gresham and his family, after a long career in Georgia as a lawyer, judge, and prominent businessman. He proved to be a Confederate pardoned in 1865 by President Andrew Johnson on the advice of Supreme Court Justice James Moore Wayne who was also from Georgia, but remained with the Union until his death in 1867.

John Gresham Machen, the author of the letter given to me by Harvey Palmer, was the beloved uncle of Betsy. He grew up to be a distinguished biblical scholar and professor of the New Testament at Princeton Seminary, who left the Seminary to found his own, conservative, Westminster Theological Seminary as a more orthodox alternative. His textbook on basic New Testament Greek is still used today in many seminaries.[3]

Greenmount Cemetery grave of John Gresham Machen next to his Mother

source: Wikipedia

John Gresham Machen died in December 1936, while on a lecture tour in North Dakota and was buried in Baltimore’s Greenmount Cemetery with the wrong year of his death engraved on his tomb.

H. L. Mencken, no fan of his theology, nonetheless, admired his intellect and wrote a glowing obituary (for Mencken) in the Baltimore Evening Sun which ends this tribute to a good neighbor whose gift set me on the trail of the life of a young boy who wrote a proper thank you note to his grandfather, what in today’s world of video game worship and texting friends is a lost art.


"Dr. Fundamentalis"(1)

[Courtesy of]

The Rev. J. Gresham Machen, D. D., who died out in North Dakota on New Year's Day, got, on the whole, a bad press while he lived, and even his obituaries did much less than justice to him. To newspaper reporters, as to other antinomians, a combat between Christians over a matter of dogma is essentially a comic affair, and in consequence Dr. Machen's heroic struggles to save Calvinism in the Republic were usually depicted in ribald, or, at all events, in somewhat skeptical terms. The generality of readers, I suppose, gathered thereby the notion that he was simply another Fundamentalist on the order of William Jennings Bryan and the simian faithful of Appalachia. But he was actually a man of great learning, and, what is more, of sharp intelligence.

What caused him to quit the Princeton Theological Seminary and found a seminary of his own was his complete inability, as a theologian, to square the disingenuous evasions of Modernism with the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. He saw clearly that the only effects that could follow diluting and polluting Christianity in the Modernist manner would be its complete abandonment and ruin. Either it was true or it was not true. If, as he believed, it was true, then there could be no compromise with persons who sought to whittle away its essential postulates, however respectable their motives.

Thus he fell out with the reformers who have been trying, in late years, to convert the Presbyterian Church into a kind of literary and social club, devoted vaguely to good works. Most of the other Protestant churches have gone the same way, but Dr. Machen's attention, as a Presbyterian, was naturally concentrated upon his own connection. His one and only purpose was to hold it [the Church] resolutely to what he conceived to be the true faith. When that enterprise met with opposition he fought vigorously, and though he lost in the end and was forced out of Princeton it must be manifest that he marched off to Philadelphia with all the honors of war.


My interest in Dr. Machen while he lived, though it was large, was not personal, for I never had the honor of meeting him. Moreover, the doctrine that he preached seemed to me, and still seems to me, to be excessively dubious. I stand much more chance of being converted to spiritualism, to Christian Science or even to the New Deal than to Calvinism, which occupies a place, in my cabinet of private horrors, but little removed from that of cannibalism. But Dr. Machen had the same clear right to believe in it that I have to disbelieve in it, and though I could not yield to his reasoning I could at least admire, and did greatly admire, his remarkable clarity and cogency as an apologist, allowing him his primary assumptions.

These assumptions were also made, at least in theory, by his opponents, and thereby he had them by the ear. Claiming to be Christians as he was, and of the Calvinish persuasion, they endeavored fatuously to get rid of all the inescapable implications of their position. On the one hand they sought to retain membership in the fellowship of the faithful, but on the other hand they presumed to repeal and reenact with amendments the body of doctrine on which that fellowship rested. In particular, they essayed to overhaul the scriptural authority which lay at the bottom of the whole matter, retaining what coincided with their private notions and rejecting whatever upset them.

Upon this contumacy Dr. Machen fell with loud shouts of alarm. He denied absolutely that anyone had a right to revise and sophisticate Holy Writ. Either it was the Word of God or it was not the Word of God, and if it was, then it was equally authoritative in all its details, and had to be accepted or rejected as a whole. Anyone was free to reject it, but no one was free to mutilate it or to read things into it that were not there. Thus the issue with the Modernists was clearly joined, and Dr. Machen argued them quite out of court, and sent them scurrying back to their literary and sociological Kaffeeklatsche. His operations, to be sure, did not prove that Holy Writ was infallible either as history or as theology, but they at least disposed of those who proposed to read it as they might read a newspaper, believing what they chose and rejecting what they chose.


In his own position there was never the least shadow of inconsistency. When the Prohibition imbecility fell upon the country, and a multitude of theological quacks, including not a few eminent Presbyterians, sought to read support for it into the New Testament, he attacked them with great vigor, and routed them easily. He not only proved that there was nothing in the teachings of Jesus to support so monstrous a folly; he proved abundantly that the known teachings of Jesus were unalterably against it. And having set forth that proof, he refused, as a convinced and honest Christian, to have anything to do with the dry jehad.

This rebellion against a craze that now seems so incredible and so far away was not the chief cause of his break with his ecclesiastical superiors, but it was probably responsible for a large part of their extraordinary dudgeon against him. The Presbyterian Church, like the other evangelical churches, was taken for a dizzy ride by Prohibition. Led into the heresy by fanatics of low mental visibility, it presently found itself cheek by jowl with all sorts of criminals, and fast losing the respect of sensible people. Its bigwigs thus became extremely jumpy on the subject, and resented bitterly every exposure of their lamentable folly.

The fantastic William Jennings Bryan, in his day the country's most distinguished Presbyterian layman, was against Dr. Machen on the issue of Prohibition but with him on the issue of Modernism. But Bryan's support, of course, was of little value or consolation to so intelligent a man. Bryan was a Fundamentalist of the Tennessee or barnyard school. His theological ideas were those of a somewhat backward child of 8, and his defense of Holy Writ at Dayton during the Scopes trial was so ignorant and stupid that it must have given Dr. Machen a great deal of pain. Dr. Machen himself was to Bryan as the Matterhorn is to a wart. His Biblical studies had been wide and deep, and he was familiar with the almost interminable literature of the subject. Moreover, he was an adept theologian, and had a wealth of professional knowledge to support his ideas. Bryan could only bawl.


It is my belief, as a friendly neutral in all such high and ghostly matters, that the body of doctrine known as Modernism is completely incompatible, not only with anything rationally describable as Christianity, but also with anything deserving to pass as religion in general. Religion, if it is to retain any genuine significance, can never be reduced to a series of sweet attitudes, possible to anyone not actually in jail for felony. It is, on the contrary, a corpus of powerful and profound convictions, many of them not open to logical analysis. Its inherent improbabilities are not sources of weakness to it, but of strength. It is potent in a man in proportion as he is willing to reject all overt evidences, and accept its fundamental postulates, however unprovable they may be by secular means, as massive and incontrovertible facts.

These postulates, at least in the Western world, have been challenged in recent years on many grounds, and in consequence there has been a considerable decline in religious belief. There was a time, two or three centuries ago, when the overwhelming majority of educated men were believers, but that is apparently true no longer. Indeed, it is my impression that at least two-thirds of them are now frank skeptics. But it is one thing to reject religion altogether, and quite another thing to try to save it by pumping out of it all its essential substance, leaving it in the equivocal position of a sort of pseudo-science, comparable to graphology, "education," or osteopathy.

That, it seems to me, is what the Modernists have done, no doubt with the best intentions in the world. They have tried to get rid of all the logical difficulties of religion, and yet preserve a generally pious cast of mind. It is a vain enterprise. What they have left, once they have achieved their imprudent scavenging, is hardly more than a row of hollow platitudes, as empty as [of] psychological force and effect as so many nursery rhymes. They may be good people and they may even be contented and happy, but they are no more religious than Dr. Einstein. Religion is something else again--in Henrik Ibsen's phrase, something far more deep-down-diving and mudupbringing, Dr. Machen tried to impress that obvious fact upon his fellow adherents of the Geneva Mohammed. He failed--but he was undoubtedly right.

If this book helps you gain a new understanding of the Bible, please consider sending a small donation to the Institute for Christian Economics, P.O. Box 8000, Tyler, TX 75711. You may also want to buy a printed version of this book, if it is still in print. Contact ICE to find out.


1. Baltimore Evening Sun (January 18, 1937), 2nd Section, p. 15.

ecpclio 2020/01/05

[2] image from:, See also:, In Memoriam: C. Harvey Palmer, 1919-2019, August 16, 2019, C. Harvey Palmer, Jr., OSA Fellow and distinguished physicist, passed away on 16 August 2019 at the age of 99. Palmer was a professor emeritus of electrical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, specializing in optics. He was made an OSA Fellow in 1967 and became an OSA member in 1950.

Palmer was born on 8 December 1919 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, to Charles Harvey and Grace Hambleton (Ober) Palmer. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in physics from Harvard University in 1941 (magna cum laude), a Master of Arts in physics in 1946 from Harvard, and a Doctorate in physics from Johns Hopkins University in 1951. While pursuing his master’s degree, Palmer worked as a staff member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Laboratory, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and then went into academia as an assistant professor and associate profession of physics at Bucknell University. Palmer moved to Baltimore, Maryland in 1954 and began his career at Johns Hopkins University. He held various positions in the electrical engineering department at Johns Hopkins over the course of his tenure including assistant professor, associate professor, professor and ultimately professor emeritus (1992).

Palmer was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Physical Society, New York Academy of Sciences, and Sigma Xi. He authored numerous papers, articles, presentations, and was most known for his book, Optics: Experiments and Demonstrations, published by The Johns Hopkins University Press. Palmer was married to Elizabeth M. Palmer for sixty years and they enjoyed many adventures together including hiking Kilimanjaro in 1981 and raising their family. Palmer was a devoted father, brother, and grandfather. OSA and the scientific community mourn the loss of C. Harvey Palmer.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Baltimore: 1816

Baltimore: October 1816

A City of Promise on the Bay

October 2016 marked the 200th anniversary of the launching of a fund drive to build a Christian church in Baltimore independent of any denomination and creed. The invited featured speaker in 1816 was a famous independent preacher from Boston. Those who invited him were prominent members of Baltimore City’s Mercantile elite, many of whom had their origins and family in New England.

Baltimore from York Road, ca. 1816

In October of 1816, Baltimore was a place of great promise and expectations, although the prospects of wealth and freedom were not evenly distributed among its rapidly growing population. There were storm clouds on the horizon. The dumping of vast quantities of English goods on the American market (encouraged by American merchants of whom Baltimore claimed the most adventuresome), loans on paper for a vast speculation in western lands were to prove insufficiently backed by income, the loans made for the acquisition of Louisiana were coming due to European banks such as Baring Brothers, and Entrepreneurial Baltimoreans were building stately mansions and country estates on credit generously provided by local banks which it seems they could not afford.

Between 1800 and 1810 Baltimore’s population grew to 46,555 of which 10,343 were non-white composed of 5,671 Free Blacks and 4,672 slaves. They lived in three separate areas incorporated into the city in 1797 (Fells Point, Old Town, and Baltimore Town) which had ill defined boundaries that reached out into what were called precincts to the West and East. In 1810, there was no plan for the physical growth of the city. An attempt to map the city and establish bounds for taxing purposes in 1811 failed with the resistance of the local surveyors who preferred to keep the profitable secret of lot lines and right of ways to themselves. As a result of their underhanded efforts, they sent the surveyor hired to lay out the then present and future streets and lot lines of Baltimore, packing to New York. There he became a successful surveyor of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, producing in 1816 a highly reliable and accurate map of lower Manhattan. In 1817 Thomas Poppleton would be called back to Baltimore, this time under an act passed by the legislature of Maryland that called for the boundaries of the city to encompass nearly 15 square miles (14.71 square miles to be exact), that included the annexation to the city of the Eastern and Western Precincts. Baltimore would have a map whether it's surveyors and the city government wanted it or not. The Federalist dominated legislature not only told the city what it had to do to define itself and future development, it also pushed the boundaries of the city outward to encompass those pesky Democratic-Republicans who were threatening Federalist dominance of Baltimore County.

Travelers to Baltimore in 1816 would visit a city without a plan, but with some striking buildings, fine homes, and more to come. Some would come from the north and the east by roads that took them from the heights of the piedmont where they could just see the steeples of the city and the Chesapeake Bay and beyond.

Ads for turtle soup, October 1816

They would enjoy the fine cuisine at the Union Hotel, or other famous eating spots in town where such as the delicacy of Turtle soup was featured.

Steamboat ad, October 19, 1816

But most came by water to the wharves of the city, some by steamboat, others by sail. Some moved on, but many stayed to seek their fortune. By 1820, with its boundaries on the way to being defined, the population of the city increased by 35% to 62,738, with the Free black population nearly doubling to 10,324, and the slave population declining slightly to 4,359.

[Poppleton’s map] (see also:

The geography of the city and its path to expansion can be seen clearly by superimposing the map completed in 1822 by the British born and trained surveyor, Thomas Poppleton on to Google Earth. It is this map that controlled how the city grew and developed on the streets and blocks he mapped out. In fact his map with its blocks would become the basis for recording all land transactions in the City after its land records were separated from Baltimore County in the decade before the Civil War, making it the only jurisdiction in the state that kept track of property transfers geographically. By placing the map on google earth it is not only possible to see how accurate Poppleton’s surveying was, but also it provides a dramatic means of visualizing in a birdseye view of how the physical plant of the city has changed since those October days of 1816.

That opportunity in October 1816 was uneven, and limited for many in a city dominated by supporters of Thomas Jefferson and his party, goes without saying. To Jefferson, all white men were created equal and ought to be permitted to participate in the political process free of property restrictions.

Women and blacks in Baltimore were, like their counterparts elsewhere in the new nation, restrained from civil rights and from pursuing social and economic equality. To be sure Baltimore had had a dynamic postmistress and publisher of a newspaper and almanacs in Mary Katherine Goddard, who, after being ousted from her public post by the Washington Administration, supported herself as a storekeeper. She never married. Described by a contemporary as "woman of extraordinary judgment, energy, nerve and strong, good sense," she died in Baltimore in August 1816, leaving to her long-time slave Belinda Starling "all the property of which I may die possessed, all of which I do to recompense the faithful performance of duties to me,” and her freedom.

Most women in town were not as fortunate, nor as independent as Mary Katherine. Three of the Caton sisters fled Baltimore to London on their grandfather, Charles Carroll of Carrollton’s money, where they worked their way into the aristocracy and lives of leisure.

Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson, daughter of one of the richest merchants in town tried to do likewise on her own by marrying Napoleon’s brother who had come to Baltimore. Napoleon annulled the marriage, even though they had a son, and her father disowned her, but Betsy was a shrewd business person, and invested wisely what she could squeeze out of her son’s Bonaparte relations, dying very wealthy and unmarried in 1879. In 1816 she was in Europe, having gotten a divorce by an act passed by the Maryland General Assembly. Another Elizabeth who came to Baltimore at the age of 15 with her father, a prominent physician and unheralded authority on the causes of yellow fever, did not fare as well as either Mary Katherine Goddard or Elizabeth Patterson who for a time was her friend and confidant. Born in Barbadoes, Eliza Crawford was fluent in French, and sought a paying literary career as an editor. Having been abandoned by her merchant husband in 1801, she lived with her father and daughter, editing his publications and then striking out on her own In 1806 and 1807, at the age of 26, as the founder and editor of a Baltimore publication called The Observer. It proved to be a financial failure, although she found a new husband in one of her authors, Maximilian Godefroy, a teacher of drawing at St. Mary’s seminary, and a promising architect who would create the Monument to those who successfully fought the battle of Baltimore in 1814, design the first major textile mill (Union Mills) that signaled an important aspect of Baltimore’s manufacturing future, and oversee design and construction of two churches and a bank.

In 1816 their joint future seemed bright with one particular commission in the making that October that would establish him without question as an accomplished architect.

Sadly the downturn in the economy that affected all America between 1817 and 1824, but especially the most adventuresome of the Baltimore men of business, meant the drying up of commissions. Eliza, Maximilian, and her daughter would leave Baltimore for London that frightening summer of 1819, never to return. The daughter would die of yellow fever before the departing ship reached the mouth of the Bay, and be buried on shore in an unmarked grave. Eliza would spend the rest of her life promoting her husband and seeking support from her husband’s acquaintances, including a former student at St. Mary’s Seminary who would be responsible for preserving much of the surviving written record and drawings of his former tutor.

Thought to be Daniel Coker, a black preacher from Baltimore,

painted by a black artist from Fells Point, Joshua Johnson

Opportunities for slaves and free blacks to make money and establish themselves in Baltimore in 1816 were limited to preaching, barbering, the maritime trades, and the service industries including carting goods, undertaking and catering, although one artist, Joshua Johnson was well known and painting in 1816. In that year a black preacher from Baltimore, Daniel Coker, and his supporters were invited to attend the Philadelphia Conference, from which the national organization of the African Methodist Episcopal Church was formed. The pattern of black lives in antebellum Baltimore has been painted with a broad brush and statistically by a number of distinguished authors, but little has been written about the lives of individuals, with the exception of Frederick Douglass who came to Baltimore as a slave, worked as a caulker of ships, and escaped to freedom dressed as a sailor because black sailors were so common in the seaport cities as to be less likely to be challenged as runaway slaves.

In 1812 an attempt was made to pull a black hairdresser by the name of John Lewis back into slavery, claiming that he came as a young slave to a refugee white merchant from the slave uprising in Haiti, and had never been freed, even though he had lived free for nearly a decade, and was appreciated for his skills as a barber by a large white clientele. With good legal and community support, the attempt by a relative of Edgar Allan Poe, failed, but while the case was pending he was forced to live quietly on the same street where Douglass would live, and take a poor paying job as a caulker. By 1816 he was back in the city directories plying his trade as a barber, and either he or his namesake may have been among the first blacks in the city to vote after the adoption of the 15th amendment to the Constitution in 1870, but it was a long and difficult journey to political and economic freedom and still very far from social equality.

The mainspring of Baltimore’s trade and commerce in 1816 was the export of flour. Initial investment had come from Pennsylvania (principally from in and around York), and established planter families from Maryland such as the Carroll’s, the Ridgely’s, and the Howards, but it was soon augmented by new arrivals from New England and elsewhere, including the islands of the Caribbean where Baltimore had carried on an extensive trade, both legal and illegal, in such commodities as sugar, coffee, and silver coin shipped to Baltimore in exchange for flour, lumber, and finished European goods.

Among the most prominent and vocal of the arrivals from Boston were the newspaper publishers Benjamin Edes followed by Ebenezer French. In 1811 they established a newspaper in town dedicated to furthering the prospects of Jefferson’s political party, the Democratic-Republicans. They joined several entrepreneurial merchants from Massachusetts, already resident, including the large Williams family, all of whom were instrumental in bringing the Unitarian faith to Baltimore in 1816. The Baltimore Patriot filled its pages with ads for goods, medical cures, runaway slaves and all manner of property for sale. It announced arrivals and departures of ships. It carried the editorial banner of the Democratic-Republicans even to the extent of a duel involving its editor, and condoning mob violence that garnered an unsavory reputation for Baltimore as Mob Town.

Baltimore’s legitimate trade with the Caribbean was lucrative, as was the licensed ‘pirating’ carried on by Baltimore ships that carried letters of marque during the War of 1812. Letters of Marque were official papers signed by the President and Secretary of State of the United States that authorized American ships to capture the ships and cargoes of the enemy (as defined by Congress), and bring them back to American ports for adjudication and distribution of the income derived from the sale of the ship and its cargo. During the war Americans captured over 4,000 vessels, a significant portion of which were taken by Baltimoreans. In 1816 the war was over, but Baltimore merchants and ship captains successfully sought letters of marque and reprisal from the rebels in South America who were attempting to overthrow Spanish rule. One such prominent Baltimore Captain was Joseph Almeida who had emigrated from the Swedish island of St. Bartholomew, and settled his family in Fells Point. He got his ‘license’ to continue raiding Spanish shipping (especially those carrying silver bullion and coin) from the Argentine rebel government. He was so successful in sending large shipments of coin (specie) back to Baltimore that when he returned in 1819 he was placed under arrest at the urging of the Spanish government. As his great-great-granddaughter explained it in 1991:

Upon returning to Baltimore in mid-April 1819, Almeida was arrested by the authority of the state of Maryland at the urging of the Spanish consul on a charge of piracy for capturing property of subjects of the King of Spain. He was soon released when the Judges of Baltimore County court decided that the case was not under their jurisdiction. He was then arrested on the same charge by authority of the United States and held for bail. He was tried May 8th in Federal Court and, after full consideration of the treaty between the United States and Spain, a clause of which was the basis for the indictment,

the court directed that Almeida be discharged.

In the course of his troubles with Spain he appealed to Secretary of State John Quincy Adams who described him as “a rough, open-looking, jovial Jack Tar, who can neither write nor read.” He could also barely speak English. His native tongue was Portuguese, but despite his language difficulties and prolonged absences, he provided for his family in Baltimore. His adventuresome career did not end well, however, and the family fortune was dissipated in an effort to save him. He was captured by the Spanish in 1831, and after nearly a year in which his family and friends unsuccessfully sought his release, he was executed by a firing squad in Puerto Rico in 1832. Further tragedy plagued his family, including a poisoning by one of the Baltimore household slaves who in turn was executed, and for whom the family was compensated $60 by the State for their loss of property. The only located surviving child of Captain Almeida was William who moved to St. Louis and whose descendant lived to write the family’s history. As to the tens of thousands of silver dollars that Captain Almeida deposited in a Fells Point bank, there is no record of what happened to it, although the bank seems to have survived the panic of 1819 because it had enough specie on hand to pay its depositors

St. Bartholomew Island in the Leeward Islands, published by Fielding Lucas, Baltimore

Another adventurer from the Swedish Island of St. Bartholomew who emigrated to Baltimore about 1815 was John Franklin Gibney. He may have been a factor/merchant representative for the McKim family in St. Bartholomew prior to and during the War of 1812, having gone there from Norfolk, Virginia, apparently fleeing a suit for debt. He married a widow Cochran and brought her with him to Baltimore where she died in 1816. Apparently Gibney brought some of his wife’s family money with him, which her daughter by her first marriage to Mr. Cochran attempted to retrieve.

That was the least of his worries. John Franklin Gibney woefully overextended himself. He invested his (and his wife’s) money in Baltimore real estate just at a time when the market peaked. By 1821 he was bankrupt and the last that can be found of him is as a pedlar of curative medicines in 1837, the year of the second great panic or depression to hit Baltimore, and the year in which his third wife, Louisa Gibney, formerly Miss Sharp of Baltimore, died in Maracaibo, Venezuela.

By late August of 1815 John Franklin Gibney was forced to offer his new house at auction, although he had not yet finished his property buying splurge. The house appeared to be truly elegant. It was on North Charles. “built by Mr. Kimmil and considerably enlarged and improved by F. I. Mitchel, esquire, and lately completed in the best and most expensive and elegant manner by the present proprietor…” It contained “an octagon staircase, a furnished basement, and a wonder of a kitchen ‘replete with every convenience, having the hydrant, rumford roaster, steam machine and stew holes, and large cellar under the whole, paved with brick.” The sale included elegant furnishings among which was a London made organ, three barrels, plays 50 tunes.

Still he was not finished with investing in property. In November 1815, for $15,000 he bought a dance hall on south Charles built in 1811 by a consortium comprised of John Hollins, James Mosher, the architect Robert Cary Long, Hezekiah Price, Robert Watson, and Dancing instructor Francis D. Mallet. Francis Mallet apparently recruited the investors advertising for subscribers in June of 1811 noting that he had contracted with Robert Carey Long and Mr. James Mosher to construct the building which was to be at 24 South Charles Street (by today’s numbering, 20 South Charles Street). That same month he insured it with the Baltimore Equitable Society for $12,000 at 1½% per annum and made it his dwelling house as well as his business.

The insurance policy graphically describes the building

fronting on the west side of Charles street near the south side of Baltimore Street [there was an alley in between that would become German, now Redwood, street], forty one feet three inches, covering an alley of thirteen feet three inches, being two high stories including brick stairway adjoining the back part thereof sixteen feet by thirteen feet three uncommon high stories, the stories elegantly furnished, also three story brick building adjoining to the west end of Stairway, nineteen feet six inches long & sixteen feet six inches wide having kitchen underneath the whole plain finished, having firewalls, [all protected for $162 a year]

The policy notes that it was transferred to Charles G. Boehm who in 1818 acquired the property for $13,250, $12,000 of which Gibney immediately transferred to Luke Tiernan who had advanced him $12,000 of the original purchase price of $15,000. Boehm would lease the building to another prominent dancing master, A. H. Durocher who continued teaching dancing, and hosting balls and concerts at that location until the 1850s. Durocher is perhaps best known for composing a March and Quick Step in honor of General and Future President Zachary Taylor for his accomplishments in the War against Mexico.

In his valedictory volume, a traveler’s guide to Baltimore’s landmarks, the departing French cartographer and engineer, Charles Varle summed up the history of the building to 1833:

Concert Hall and Dancing Academy

A neat convenient house was built about 20 years ago in south Charles Street by a joint stock association for a dancing academy and was occupied as such for some time. An Harmonic society being in want of a saloon for musical performances, this hall was rented to them, and hence took the name of Concert Hall. The Athenaeum however having furnished to the amateurs of harmony, a room of more appropriate construction, the concerts have since been held there, and the Hall has resumed its original purpose and is now occupied by the celebrated Mr.Durocher,where his dancing Academy is kept and cotillion parties given.

In October 1816, John Franklin Gibney still owned the Dance Hall, and was anxiously looking for tenants as Dancing Master Mallet had moved to new quarters near the theater on Holliday Street, where the Famous Mr.Cooper was to play Hamlet Saturday night, October 19, 1816, and where the Peale Museum was ablaze with the first gaslights in the city.

To what probably was his great relief, Gibney received a booking for his great three story hall for two weekends in October, 1816. The celebrated Unitarian preacher, the Reverend Doctor James Freeman, pastor of Boston’s King’s Chapel was arriving to preach, and help raise money, invited by a prominent group of citizens who expected to build a Unitarian Church of their own at the corner of North Charles and Franklin. Dr. Freeman was scheduled to speak at Gibney’s Dance Hall on Sunday, October 13, and again on Sunday, October 20, at 11 a.m. and half past three. He had come to Baltimore on a fleeting visit, not long after presiding over the September 10 wedding of the daughter of Thomas Bartlett, and returned by way of Philadelphia to Boston to officiate at the wedding of former Vice President Elbridge Gerry’s daughter on November 16.

His role while in Baltimore was to whip up enthusiasm for the building of a new church that would accommodate those who generally adhered to Thomas Jefferson’s explanation of his Christianity. Nearing the end of his life, Jefferson would write a letter to his friend and Unitarian Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse in response to a Waterhouse’s attack on the use of tobacco and wine.

You will find it as difficult to inculcate these sanative precepts [meaning conducive to physical or spiritual health and well-being] on the sensualities of the present day, as to convince an Athanasian [who believes in the trinity] that there is but one God. I wish success to both attempts, and am happy to learn from you that the latter, at least is making progress….[Jefferson like good wine which he purchased from a merchant in Baltimore named Gustier of Bartlett and Gustier fame].

Jefferson went on to outline his own creed, declaiming that he rejoiced

That this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its creed and conscience to neither kings nor priests, the genuine doctrine of one only God is reviving, and I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die an Unitarian.

suffer no speculative differences of opinion any more than of feature, to impair the love of their brethren. Be this the wisdom of Unitarians, this the holy mantle which shall cover within its charitable circumference all who believe in one God, and who love their neighbor!

What the Reverend Doctor Freeman actually said on those four occasions when he preached in
Gibney’s Dance Hall those two weekends in October 1816 is not known for certain, but it certainly must have been effective.

One distinct possibility is Freeman’s sermon published anonymously in 1829 entitled “We walk by faith, and not by sight” (Cor. 5:7). An annotated copy of “Eighteen Sermons and a Charge” in the New York Public Library declares him to be the author.

It would have been suitable to a new untested audience and contained some admonitions that his audience would have done well to have heeded.

In this chapter [of Corinthians] the Apostle [Paul] is treating of the immortality of man. With great confidence, he expresses his hope of a future state of happiness. Nevertheless, he adds, we walk by faith, and not by sight. That is, this immortality is not a matter of knowledge, but of belief. We cannot demonstrate it, though we are firmly persuaded of its truth. The assertion of the Apostle is not applicable to a future state only; but in almost all the doctrines of revealed religion, we walk by faith and not by sight. Absolute knowledge, in few cases, is granted to us; what we believe may be probable, but it is not certain; for here we see through a glass darkly, and know in part. In a future world we hope to enjoy perfect knowledge; but the present world is in some measure a scene of obscurity.

As a consideration of this subject is adapted to make us cautious, humble, and candid, it deserves attention. At the same time, it is of importance to show that the prejudices, which are entertained against religion on this account, are ill-founded; for if we walk by faith in religion, we are guided by the same light in almost everything else. We ought not therefore to object against revelation because it cannot be demonstrated, for demonstration is not afforded us in other subjects.

Historians would also do well to heed Dr. Freeman’s advice. It is impossible to know the past, we can only surmise based upon as much reading and digging through the surviving evidence as we can. As Dr. Freeman concluded with regard to the doctrines of religions so also it applies to our interpretation of the past:

Faith ... is the light by which we must guide our steps in the doctrines of religion, yet the duties of it are clear and certain. Whether our own opinions of Christianity are true or false, it is our duty to be pious and virtuous, to practise the precepts which are contained in the gospel. These precepts are agreeable to nature and reason, and must be true, whatever our speculative system may be. Christianity, which teaches them, is supported by innumerable probable arguments. Let them who deny this assertion examine the subject with care. In every step which they take, they will find proofs accumulating upon them, which they cannot easily resist; and they should acknowledge that it is not less absurd to neglect their moral conduct, because they cannot demonstrate by irrefragable arguments a future state of rewards and punishments, than it is to neglect exertion in any other case, because they cannot positively answer for the success of their plans. Uncertain as events may be, sufficient motives present themselves to induce us to be virtuous; and if we refuse to attend to them, it cannot be allowed that we act with wisdom.

His audience must have liked what they heard. The money was raised through subscription. An architect, Maximilian Godefroy was selected and the following June 5, 1817, the cornerstone for the new church was laid. According to a newspaper report:

It is to be denominated the “First Independent Church in Baltimore;” and is building under the superintendance of messrs. Henry payson, Ezekiel Freeman, C. D. Williams, Tobias Watkin, Charles H,. Appleton, Nath. Williams, Wm. Child, James W. McCulloh, John H. Poor and Isaac Phillips. On a brass plate, deposited in the stone, is this inscription

“There is one GOD, and One Mediator, between God and Men; the man Christ Jesus.” 1Tim. 2, 5”

George Williams, merchant, director of the Second Bank of the United States, and member of the new Independent Church of Baltimore

The Williams’s especially church members and brothers Amos and young George, along with church treasurer James W. McCulloh would have done well to have heeded the advice of Doctor Freeman to walk humbly and virtuously. As Dr. Freeman put it, probably at Gibney’s dance hall in October 1816,

Uncertain as events may be, sufficient motives present themselves to induce us to be virtuous; and if we refuse to attend to them, it cannot be allowed that we act with wisdom.

In 1815 and 16, George Williams and his Clerk, James W. McCulloh concocted a scheme to make themselves and their family rich, or so it seemed. George and James secured the signatures of over three thousand individuals who agreed to buy one share each of stock in the Second Bank of the United States for which they were paid pennies for the use of their names. In turn George Williams and James W. McCulloh offered to act as security for the signatories, and to provide the payment for each share by borrowing the cost of the shares from the bank on their promise to pay. George was given their power of attorney, and with it, voted himself in as a director. No money actually changed hands (except the pennies for the use of the names) and there was no regulatory agency looking over their shoulders. In fact a tinsmith by the name of John James and James W. McCulloh who moved from George Williams’s counting house to be Cashier at the Bank, successfully sued the State of Maryland over the State’s attempt to tax the paper money issued by the Bank, a suit that went all the way to the Supreme court before Chief Justice Marshall decided in favor of the Bank. Meanwhile, George and James continued their stock jobbing. At first the value of the Stock rose, in part because on the books so many people were buying it, but then came the crop failures of the summer of 1816, caused by drastic change in the weather caused by a volcanic eruption in what is today Indonesia, the calling in of loans for the purchase of western lands that farmers could no longer afford, the dumping of European goods on the American market for which the public no longer had the means to purchase, and the calling in of the loans by European bankers that financed the purchase of Louisiana. By 1825 it was reported to Congress that George and James still owed $1,207,332.08 to the bank, dragging down U. S. Senator Samuel Smith who partnered with them into bankruptcy. By then Amos Williams was also bankrupt and had lost the elegant house that he owned and George occupied on what is now the site of Mercy Hospital on Calvert Street. Curiously neither George nor James was convicted of wrongdoing despite the objections of one of the judges on a three judge panel that reviewed the thousand of pages of testimony and documentation provided by General and Senator Robert Goodloe Harper. Their speculations were deemed an honest mistake, if poor judgment. Amos died in obscurity. George continued as a commission merchant dealing with customers on the Eastern Shore, and managing the family property of Savage Mills.

After the first major bubble of economic expansion in Baltimore burst in the banking scandal of 1819, Betsy Patterson Bonaparte, the daughter of one of the wealthiest merchants in Baltimore and the rejected bride of Napoleon’s brother, wrote her own brother her view of why the high fliers of commerce and banking were ruined.


[To quote Betsy, one merchant] by this tragical event, [has] been severely punished for the folly which led him to build and furnish with regal magnificence a palace. I am sorry to express my conviction that General Smith’s fine house, and the extravagant mode of living he introduced into Baltimore caused the ruin of half the people in the place, who, without this example, would have been contented to live in habitations better suited to their fortunes; and certainly they only made themselves ridiculous by aping expenses little suited to a community of people of business. It is to be hoped that in [the] future there will be no palaces constructed, as there appears to be a fatality attending their owners, beginning with Robert Morris and ending with Lem. Taylor. I do not recall a single instance, except that of [William] Bingham, of any one who built one in America, not dying a bankrupt.[Elizabeth Patterson to William Patterson, May 22, 1823, as published in Eugene L. Dider, The Life and Letters of Madame Bonaparte (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1879), 142, courtesy of Lance Humphries]

That the city would recover from the financial debacle caused in large measure by its own entrepreneurial merchants, was never in doubt for long. Even some the perpetrators survived to fame and fortune. James W. Mcculloh even became the U. S. Comptroller of the Treasury and lived to a ripe old age in New Jersey.

But the expansion of the city following the streets that Thomas Poppleton delineated on his map, published in 1822, would challenge the character and location of its maritime trade. The strange weather of 1816 and 1817, including the 10 inches of rain in August 1817 would wash vast quantities of mud and debris into the harbor at Fells point, wiping out its only freshwater supply above Fountain Street, and silting up wharves to the point of exasperation of its wharf owners. A court suit followed against the city that made its way to the Supreme Court. There two Fells Point wharf owners, Craig and Barron, lost, which meant that the City would not reimburse them for digging out the silt surrounding their wharves with a mud machine. Instead they leased their once busy commodity wharf to a ship builder who built one of the largest sailing ships ever launched in Baltimore only to find that he had to pay for the Mud Machine to dig out the silt in front the wharf so that the ship could sail to its new owner, the emperor of Brazil.

In October of 1816 Baltimore was an urban frontier of great promise. A significant core of its merchant elite looked forward to greater wealth based upon speculative ventures of uncertain outcome and daring such as bank stock kiting and exploiting revolutions in Mexico, Central, and South America. At the same time a number of the most adventuresome in Baltimore turned from the established religions of their city to a more independent approach to the teachings of Jesus Christ, an approach that challenged his divinity and stressed the virtues of his humanity, while in their business lives, they faltered in following his precepts, setting examples of business behavior that future generations of Americans would strive to emulate.