Howard’s Adventure: Matthias Hammond’s Country Estate

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By: Rachel Lovett, Curator & Assistant Director

The original owner of the Hammond-Harwood House was a young man named Matthias Hammond. Matthias likely never made the impressive residence on Maryland Avenue his primary residence; however, he was the one who commissioned skilled British-born architect William Buckland to design the home in 1774. So, without Matthias Hammond the story of the Hammond-Harwood House would never have happened.

From records we can ascertain that Hammond spent the majority of his life on his family’s plantation in modern day Gambrills, Maryland (fig 1). This property was known as Howard’s Adventure. Early Marylanders had a wonderful habit of naming their land tracts. In Anne Arundel County early properties generally had names pertaining to the family, including examples such as Hopkin’s Chance, Petticort’s Rest, and Norwood’s Fancy (fig 2).

fig 1 Howard’s Adventure
fig 2 Early Land Grants of the Severn River Area

The Howard family were early settlers in Anne Arundel County and large landowners, which included the farm known as Howard’s Adventure. The property came to the Hammond family through marriage. Charles Hammond (1672-1713) married Hannah Howard, daughter of Captain Philip Howard. The property was acquired likely after the death of Captain Howard in 1701. Charles Hammond built the manor house sometime after 1705 and it was improved upon until 1730. Philip Hammond (1696-1760) (father of Matthias) was the son of Charles and Hannah. When Charles died in 1713, his holdings were divided between his sons. Philip bought out his brothers’ two shares to own the entire tract of Howard’s Adventure.

Matthias Hammond’s parents, Philip Hammond and Rachel Brice, were married in 1728. Rachel was the daughter of Captain John Brice (1660-1713) and Sarah Dorsey née Howard. The English-born Captain Brice was one of the largest landholders in the county, owning several plantations. He was a judge, merchant, and captain. Unfortunately, by the time of Rachel’s wedding he had passed, so it was her older brother John Brice II (1705-1766) who gave her away at the wedding, an event where no expense was spared. The wedding day began in Annapolis and continued at Hammond Manor at Howard’s Adventure as the night progressed.

Hammond descendant Laura Webb-Peploe described the wedding in her 1922 publication History of the Hammond Family: “After the ceremony…they sit down to a great dinner. The Brice’s entertained royally, and all that could be said of society in Annapolis at that day is applicable to this great occasion. At eight o’clock the wedding party wends its way to Hammond Manor…Philip’s coach has been imported along with other things from across the seas for his wedding…Arriving they find the community assembled. The blazing fire and twinkling of many candles reflect soft lights reflect surfaces of polished mahogany and glistening silver in the mirrors. The music begins and the dances glide gracefully. At midnight the wedding supper is served.” While the event took place 132 years prior to Ms. Webb-Peploe’s birth in 1860, we can assume that the colorful description had been passed down verbally through the generations. It was likely embellished with colonial revivalism sentiments and should be viewed as an entertaining notion of what could have been and not a primary source.

Philip and Rachel had nine children; seven survived to adulthood including one girl and six boys. The youngest was Matthias Hammond (1748-1786), the original owner of the Hammond-Harwood House. Out of the seven children only three married– the two eldest sons and the daughter. Matthias was one of four bachelor brothers.

His father Philip was very active in Annapolis as a vestryman at St. Anne’s church, treasurer of the Western Shore, and speaker of the lower house. He was also integral to the founding of public schools in Annapolis starting in 1736. Though very dynamic in Annapolis civic life, the family remained at Hammond Manor at Howard’s Adventure about 15 miles from the city center.

Matthias Hammond was familiar with Annapolis as he came of age in society. He joined an Annapolis gentleman’s club called the Forensic Society in 1764 when he was just 16 years old. His early introduction into social life is in line with his coming from a family with extraordinary wealth. After the death of his father Philip in 1760, Matthias began appearing on more legal records, mostly the witnessing of land sales. He became a shrewd businessman at a young age and even sued a landholder from St. Mary’s County when he was 21. He amassed wide landholdings and became very wealthy in his own right. As he looked towards the future, he began to acquire lots in Annapolis with the intention of building a house.

Contemporaries had mixed reviews of Matthias. The Carroll family of Annapolis (fig 3) took particular dislike to his business dealings in land disputes and gave him the nickname “Fish” or “Fishy” Hammond in their correspondence. It is unclear if it was a nickname just used by the Carroll family or others in Annapolis as well. In a 1780 letter from Charles Carroll of Annapolis to his son Charles Carroll of Carrollton he refers to Matthias: “I need not suggest the reasons you may offer him to consent, nor recommend such a conduct, were he a man of the least honor.”

fig 3 Charles Carroll of Annapolis by John Wollaston

Despite the conflict with the Carrolls, Matthias demonstrated good intentions as shown by his work with the Well-Meaning Society. In February of 1773 Matthias chose to lease a small portion of his Annapolis lots to the Well- Meaning Society, a group of craftsmen. Matthias was influenced by “a desire to promote the intention of so worthy a society.” Matthias leased them property for the rent of one penny current money, which they would pay on March 1st every year. The lease extended for 99 years, renewable after that, on the condition that the group build a house on the property at their own expense within three years. If the group did not meet for more than six months the lease would terminate, and the house would be sold at auction. The lot was on Prince George next to Paca House. In August of 1773 the Well-Meaning Society sold the lease back to Matthias as they couldn’t build the house within the time frame detailed in their lease.  The group was politically minded; members were aligned with the patriot cause and focused on discussions of moral well-being. Matthias was a staunch patriot and would have been easily enamored with such a group.

Matthias was very engaged in civic life for a stretch of only about four years, from 1772 until about 1776. It was during this time that he acquired four city lots and hired architect William Buckland to design his grand home. The work began in in the spring of 1774. His Brice cousins were meanwhile improving their homes– his cousin James Brice was building and furnishing an opulent mansion on the corner of East and Prince George Street (fig 4) in downtown Annapolis. This was Annapolis’ golden age and planter politicians were busy commissioning grand townhouses. During this building boom more than 14 large residences where constructed.

fig 4 Brice House in Annapolis

Sadly, for Matthias, his personal and professional life did not match his material wealth. In April of 1773 he became a vestryman at St. Anne’s Church as his father had done. In May of that year he was elected to represent Annapolis at the General Assembly at the State House (fig 5) and went on to serve on a number of committees. Rising tension with England led to a fission between once congenial Annapolitan neighbors. The patriots further divided into two groups, and Matthias was aligned with the more extreme. It was partly at his insistence that the infamous Peggy Stewart ship was burned in Annapolis harbor in October 1774 after carrying tea from England. Matthias and his brother Rezin (pronounced Rea-son), also a politician, were both vocal in opposition to British rule and spoke with militia to advance their ideals.

Matthias Hammond was not re-elected to the legislature, those with more conservative views were chosen to serve.

fig 5 1789 State House Engraving by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Hammond-Harwood House Collection.
fig 6 William Buckland Copy done in 1947 by Winifred Gordon. Original by Charles Willson Peale is at Yale.

After 1776 Matthias began to retreat from civic life and mainly attended to business affairs on his various properties. He lived with his mother Rachel and bachelor brothers at Howard’s Adventure. In April 1776 when the artist Charles Willson Peale left Annapolis for Philadelphia sold Matthias Hammond his sulky (carriage). Despite patriotic feelings Matthias hired Joseph Roberts as his substitute for military service in May 1778; this was typical of gentlemen of the period who could afford it.  1783 tax showed Matthias owned 63 slaves, an abundance of livestock, 3400 acres of rural land, four city lots –accumulating to a total wealth of 8,657 pounds. By contrast, his architect William Buckland’s (fig 6) 1774 inventory accounted for just over 672 pounds. It is curious what aversion Matthias might have had for his house in Annapolis. A March 1779 letter from Hammond’s next-door neighbor Edward Lloyd (fig 7) to his brother Richard Bennett Lloyd in England suggests that Matthias is not living in his house: “I have already mentioned Hammond will not rent or sell his house.” Perhaps he was disillusioned by his failed politics; we shall never really know. Historians in the 20th century advanced the notion that he was jilted by a fiancé. However, there is no documentary evidence to support this claim and the narrative was likely developed to make sense of his bachelorhood. As three of his five brothers never married, and his cousin James Brice did not marry until his mid 30’s, Matthias may have never felt compelled to do so or had intentions to take a wife in the future. He was very close to his mother Rachel, who favored him among her other children in her will upon her death in 1786. Matthias died in November of that year; he was only 38 years old. He was buried in the family cemetery (fig 8) at Howard’s Adventure along with his parents and siblings.

fig. 7 Chase Home. Courtesy of Geoffrey Hodgdon.

 

 

fig 8 Hammond Cemetery

 

The manor house at Howard’s Adventure (fig 9) had a large two-story wood framed structure with a field stone foundation six feet thick. Over time the house was significantly altered and took on the appearance of an Italianate structure with gables, by the time of the late 19th century. In addition to the original manor and cemetery, large stones in the yard were said to be the site of slave auctions. It is unknown how many enslaved individuals were subject to the auctions here; however, we know that the Hammond family held a large number of enslaved individuals who contributed to their financial success. In the 18th century the main crop was tobacco, which required arduous labor.

fig 9 Manor House

After the death of Matthias, his brother Rezin continued to live on the property. Per research conducted by James Cheevers, former Senior Curator at the United States Naval Academy Museum, the property had 9,000 acres at the time of Rezin’s death in 1809. The property was then given to a nephew Major Philip Hammond, who also for a time owned but never lived in the Hammond-Harwood House. The estate descended through generations until 1905 when it came into the hands of George A. Kirby, the brother of Major Philip’s granddaughters in law. A 1903 newspaper article noted that the fields adjacent (fig 10) to the house still had the original names, including “Deer Park,” “Sheep Field,” Charter Oak,” and “Pump Lot.”

fig 10 Fields at Howard’s Adventure

In 1913 Congress acquired the property to be used as a dairy farm for the United States Naval Academy, after typhoid outbreaks at local farms.

In 1922 Laura Webb-Peploe (mentioned previously as the author of the Hammond Family), a descendant who grew up at Howard’s Adventure, described the house: “There is wonderful charm and picturesqueness. It was a long low [building], with high ceilings on the first floor, and it arose to nearly two full stories with dormer windows extending along the front roof…There are massive chimneys at either end, and huge fireplaces, which are now planked up. Built after the English fashion, there is a wide central hall with two large handsome square rooms on either side. The hall and drawing room are handsomely paneled in oak from floor to ceiling. This paneling has been spoiled by many coats of paint. A wide, easy stairway with mahogany rails and newel posts make a good picture.” Ms. Webb-Peploe was an early advocate for the Hammond-Harwood House Museum and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She held a meeting of the D.A.R in the family cemetery at Howard’s Adventure in August 1941, where she was laid to rest in 1956 in the last known burial on site.

In the 1920’s the house began to fall into disrepair. The paneling was removed by a relative in Baltimore and installed into his home where it remains.

In the mid-20th century, the house saw change when the second story was divided into apartments for the workers at the Naval Academy dairy farm. The manor house saw a glimmer of hope when Anne St. Clair Wright, founder of Historic Annapolis, took an interest in the property. In 1957, there was a movement to dispose of the dairy farm; however, some congressmen disagreed and made it so it would take an act of Congress to dispose of the farm. In 1998 it was leased to Anne Arundel County, which still manages the property, while the federal government owns it. In 1977 James Cheevers, then curator of the United States Naval Academy Museum, was able to get the manor house placed on the National Register for Historic Places. The site was unfortunately a target for local vandals and the home was set ablaze the following year, burning to the ground October 15, 1978.

Thus, closes a sad chapter in the saga of the home of Matthias Hammond. All that remains now is the cemetery and large stone where the slave auctions are said to have taken place. Though this house has been lost, some homes of Matthias Hammond’s relatives can still be seen today,such as Burleigh (fig 11) built by his brother Rezin in 1802 and Acton, started by his father in 1760 and finished by his brother John. Matthias Hammond’s own houses, the Hammond-Harwood House and Howard’s Inheritance, are also still standing.

fig 11 Burleigh built by Rezin Hammond in 1802

On March 13, the last day of normal before the onset of COVID-19 restrictions, my good friend Fran Harwood (fig 12), Hammond-Harwood House docent, and I took a trip out to Howard’s Adventure. It was a beautiful day that felt like spring as we drove past the rolling fields in modern day Gambrills. As we entered the dairy farm, we edged by the early 20th century buildings created as housing for the workers, which are still utilized. The road out to the cemetery was very bumpy and as we reached the site, we were dismayed to see three enormous bulls blocking the ancient burying grounds, stomping their hoofs and angrily eyeing the car from behind an electric fence. Fearless Fran wanted to press on around them but I surmised that wouldn’t be in our best interest so I drove further up, where we were able to get out and take pictures.

As I surveyed the lush green surroundings (fig 13), so peaceful, I could understand the comfort this land provided to Matthias Hammond. I was grateful in that moment to be in this beautiful place with one of my good friends, as I knew then our world was about to change. On our way out we met one of the farmers who worked on the property. He kindly offered to move the bulls if we scheduled a time. So perhaps when the world comes back into a more normal existence we can once again venture out to Howard’s Adventure and visit the place to better understand the world Matthias Hammond called home.

A special thank you to James Cheevers, Jean Russo, and Fran Harwood for their research and friendship.

fig 12 Fran and I
fig 13 View of Howard’s Adventure

 

 

Posted on Apr 15, 2020 in , by Hammond-Harwood House

 

 

Hammond-Harwood House

The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve, for public education and enjoyment, the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts.
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