Limerick Roughs: the Political Killing of young John Hubbel

Screen Shot 2017-05-10 at 11.17.36 PM

John Philip Hubbel, son of a German snuff maker and roughly nineteen years old, was shot and killed at a half-past ten o’clock the night of 12 October 1859 in front of Jackson Hall. “The ball entered near the right ear and came out on the left side of the head.” (DE, 14 October) He died only “one hundred and fifty feet from his father’s house” on Constitution Street (Sun, 14 October). Living in Limerick (8th Ward Baltimore), Hubbel made the brash decision to vote the Know-Nothing Ticket in the stronghold of the Democratic Party.

  • Frank Shaw [Francis Sholl], a youth, living on Somerset street, between Chase and Eager streets, met the deceased on Wednesday at the Central police station, and proposed to go to the 11th ward polls; deceased said he was afraid to go there; witness left him and went there, but had not been there long when [Hubbel] came up; heard him say that he had voted in the 11th ward, also saw him at the 10th ward polls; did not know whether he voted there (Sun, 14 October); leaving the latter place after 5 o’clock, deceased going off by himself; heard that he had voted the Know-Nothing ticket; deceased had said that he was almost afraid to go in his own neighborhood, as there were some who had a grudge against him.” (BAnC, 14 October)

  • Miss Chrysenthia Constance of No. 7 McElderry; around 3 pm, a slightly intoxicated Hubbel: “first stopped at the house next door, and called to witness at an upper window in the rear, and told her that he had voted the American ticket;… and like to have been killed, that a young man named Philip Davis offered him a reform ticket at the 8th ward polls, which he refused to take, and then Davis told him that he would kill him on the first opportunity (Sun, 14 October); had not intended to have got tight, but meeting some of his companions they had induced him to drink. [H]e took supper at witness’s house (BAnC, 14 October); witness induced him to remain at the house until 8 o’clock [Sun gives the time as half-past ten]; he told witness that he was afraid to go home (DE, 14 October); witness asked deceased to stay all night, but he said he could not (Sun, 14 October); he had not been [home] since morning, and his mother would be in misery” (BAnC, 14 October); before going he remarked that the man Davis was watching for him, and he expected to be killed” (Sun, 14 October)

  • “Mrs. Catherine Miskelly, …Lives at 55 Front street; heard hallooing, and on looking out of the window saw deceased running; also saw the flash of a pistol and deceased fell; at the time there were four men standing on the corner of Centre and Front streets (DE, 14 October), under the lamp post from whom the deceased was running; when he was shot; they immediately ran away down Centre and back by High.” (BAnC, 14 October)

  • “Mrs. Mary Cox of 46 French street: “the report [of the gun] did not excite any surprise, as they had been shooting in the street all night.” (Sun, 14 October)

  • “Sarah Ann Cape, resides at the northeast corner of High and French streets… was sitting with her daughter awaiting the return of her son, when she was aroused from sleep by the report of firearms from the direction of Centre street (Sun, 14 October); when she went to the door, saw a party of men coming from the tannery toward High; saw three others pass from Front street down High; witness heard some screaming at the house of Mrs. Rock’s (BAnC, 14 October); She saw the deceased lying on the pavement opposite, when she exclaimed, ‘My God, there lies a man dead!’ When she used the expression a man dressed in light clothing passed her house, stopped, gazed in her face, and although she repeated the exclamation he passed heedlessly on. (DE, 14 October)” Cape owned a grocery and the same corner store was the site of Jourdan’s death two years earlier.

  • “Philip [Daley] visited the house of a Mrs. Slee, on Forrest street, near Eager” (Sun, 14 October); Coroner Sparklin with officer Talbott went to Mrs. Slee’s where they learned he lived in Willow Street. Arriving there, “his mother stated that he was not at home” (DE, 14 October).

The next day on the 13th, at his mother’s house, “Thomas alias Philip [Daley] was arrested between ten and eleven o’clock” (DE, 15 October). Thomas Daley was only eighteen years old and born in Ireland. The police arrested Samuel Donohue, nineteen years old, as a witness and at his bail-hearing Nativist politics surfaced. Samuel’s bondsman was James Donnelly, “‘who said he owned eight houses in the eighth ward.’ Judge Henry Stump responded, ‘In Limerick? (Laughter.)'” I have found nothing indicating this case went to trial. Thomas is listed in his father’s household in the 1860 census. This is the last record I have for him.


  • Other witnesses to Hubbel’s murder included: Mrs. Ellen Houseman [Howser], resides no. 44 Front street; Mary Smith, 12 years old, of the corner of Front and Lefferman’s alley; Miss Elizabeth Jackson, daughter of Mrs. Cape; and Eva Bunce of Lefferman’s alley.
  • Judge Stump was removed from office in 1860 because of routine intoxication on the bench, and the frequent laughter from the gallery was cited as an example of the contempt he held for the court.
  • In 1870, Thomas’s brother Hugh Daley was sentenced to six months in jail with John alias Dixon Woods and Barney Barnes, and levied a fine of $50 and costs each, “for assaulting officer James E. Roberts, on Saturday night, 20th instant, on Monument street” (Sun, 29 August 1870).


Baltimore American and Commercial. 14 October 1859. GoogleNews. 

Baltimore Sun. 14 October 1859; 29 August 1870. Proquest.

The Daily Exchange. (Baltimore, Md.), 14 October 1859, 15 October 1859. Chronicling America.

The Removal of Baltimore City Criminal Court Judge Henry Stump, 1860, Maryland State Archives, Govpub Image No: 821075-0001. MSA SC 5339-41-8.


Genealogy Rabbit Hole – Sparks DNA

I’m interested in contacting Maryland and Virginia Sparks descendants who have gotten DNA tests. My line comes out of Charles County, Maryland in the mid 1600s. This line included Josiah Sparks who moved to upper Baltimore County and Thomas and Matthew Sparks who moved to Pittsylvania, Virginia.

Another, very large, Sparks family came out of Queen Anne’s County, Maryland. The line goes back to William Sparks who died in 1709.

Are these two branches related? No paper trail has connected them. But I’m hoping DNA will connect them.

A DNA match on FamilyTree seems to show that the YDNA Haplogroup for the Charles County Sparks is J-M172. Are there any Queen Anne County Sparks who know their haplogroup? Are there descendants from these two branches who can confirm an Autosomal match?


The Fateful Life of Harry Taylor: Murder on the Sparks Farm

B Co. Seventh Dist. p44-45

Alfred Sparks’s farm lies on the road which follows the ridge from Hereford. Here you can see it is to the West of Hereford close by the Schoolhouse where Alfred taught. Atlas of Baltimore County, Maryland. Seventh  District, G. M. Hopkins, Philadelphia, p44-45, 1877.

There were warnings. They knew the illegitimate child had slaughtered two dogs, perhaps when his employer had angered him, as would be the case in the 1898 murder. They knew he killed some calves of Micheal Armacost because they would not go into the stable. He had been hired after he had left the House of Refuge. The African-American community knew there was something in Harry Taylor and it was best to avoid him. Sarah Lee had lunch with Taylor and Morris two days before. And even then she could tell Taylor held alot of rage within. The lunch was completely silent.

At around seven in the morning on the 16th of June 1898, the men headed into the thick woods to fell and load timber to make ties for the nearby railroad. Despite the hour, Taylor cracked jokes and appeared ready for the long day. They were going to load the wagon and drive it North to a sawmill in Parkton from the farm of Alfred Sparks on Mt. Carmel Road near Evna Road. Lemuel Morris hired Harry or Henry Taylor, 22; George Wills, 19; and John Talbott, 14. And in the early morning light a load of logs waited for them. George and John hopped into the wagon and began grabbing logs from Lemuel and Harry.

The murder

Exact details differ of the murder. A log slipped and fell to the ground. The young boys called, “Look Out!” And Taylor took offense, yelling up at them. Morris tried to placate Taylor and ended up heightening the tension. Morris turned his back to continue with the job, when Taylor, in a fit of uncontrolled rage, grabbed an ax and cracked Morris’s skull with two blows, felling the older man.

OR “Taylor said to Morris, “You’re a fool,” and Morris replied that if he were not still, he would strike him a blow, and when Morris had bowed down to the log, Taylor had hit him with the ax.” (Der Deutsche Correspondent. [Baltimore, Md.], 26 Oct. 1898.)

OR “Mr. Morris remonstrated with Taylor for allowing the end of a log to fly up. Taylor made a surly reply, Mr. Morris then said in a jocular manner. / ‘Don’t fly off the handle so quick or I’ll take my fists to you.’ …he killed Mr. Morris in self-defense. He said that they quarreled and both grabbed for the ax, which lay between them.” (Baltimore American. 17 June 1898.)

OR “Morris, he held his fist under [Taylor’s] nose and seemed to have the intention of attacking him.” (Der Deutsche correspondent. [Baltimore, Md.], 18 June 1898.)

In any case after Morris fell, Talbott and Wills moved toward Taylor and may have struggled with him:

“…the two boys made a start to interfere, Taylor turned savagely on them and they ran. He then threw the axe at them, but failed to strike them. He then picked up the axe, and, saying “Well, I’ll finish this one any way,” returned to where Morris almost lifeless body was lying and dealt the prostrated man three more terrific blows with the back of the axe, crushing in the skull.” (The Democratic Advocate. [Westminster, Md.], 18 June 1898.)

“Talbott and Mill then grappled with the young murderer, who fought like a madman and succeeded in breaking away from them.” (Baltimore American. 17 June 1898.)

The boys ran to alert as many people as possible in Parkton, including Lemuel’s father Nicholas and the local doctor, Dr. A. R. Mitchell. The doctor later testified Morris lived some 15-20 minutes after he arrived. The doomed man lay unconscious and breathed out whatever he had left in him. One account reports that blood and brains stained the forest floor. A grand jury quickly held conference over the body and charged Taylor with the murder. After the inquest, Morris’s mother and brother arrived to kneel over him and plead for him to speak.

Taylor fled toward the nearby Pennsylvania border. He lived with his mother in Rayville not far from the border. Once the community found out about the murder they began hunting Taylor along the roads. Feelmeyer and Whittle arrived at the scene and set out in pursuit. Lemuel Carr saw Taylor on foot and, ignorant of the murder, gave him a ride in his wagon, which is where Constable Grant Hare, riding, overcame Taylor and pointed his pistol at the murderer. Taylor offered no further resistance but instead later pleaded for Hare to kill him instead of turning him over to the lynch mob. “Constable Hare says that when he arrived at Parkton with his prisoner he was surrounded by an angry crowd of men, who expressed bitter feeling against Taylor, and he therefore boarded the first train for Baltimore.” (Baltimore American. 17 June 1898.)

The trial

“The trial was before Judges Fowler and Burke. Taylor appeared unconcerned, even careless. He was neatly dressed in a dark coat and rough gray trousers. His brother was in the courtroom. He was represented by Emanuel W. Herman, with whom was associated Frank I. Duncan. State’s Attorney John S. Ensor, in his opening statement to the court, gave an outline of the crime. Mr. Duncan, for the defense, filed a plea of insanity, and on that theory the defense relied almost absolutely. […]

Taylor was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to the penitentiary for 18 years.” (The Democratic advocate. [Westminster, Md.], 05 Nov. 1898.)

The life before and after

Born around August 1875, Henry’s father abandoned the family or the mother never knew the father. Illegitimacy tainted the young boy. To the farming community he was “weak and wayward temperament, morose and eccentric, without any softening influence of home life, he grew up moody, morbid, with an almost total lack of moral sensibility” (The Democratic Advocate. [Westminster, Md.], 05 Nov. 1898).  He moved in and out of charity houses. In 1880 Henry lives with the elderly Robert Eareckson and his wife Julia with the United Brethren preacher, J. T. Knapp. Able to read and write, perhaps the preacher taught him some. At his trial the Baltimore American describes him thus: “both in manner and appearance is a typical farm hand. When taken to jail he wore a large hickory hat, blue-checkered shirt, overalls, and clod-hopper’ shoes. He was very nervous and appeared to realize his position.”(Baltimore American. 17 June 1898.)

From the Penitentiary in Baltimore City, where he resided in 1900, he was moved to the State Hospital for the Insane. Despite the 18 year sentence, Taylor went on to live the rest of his life institutionalized. As late as 1940, Taylor resided at the Spring Grove State Hospital in Catonsville, Maryland.


Lemuel left four children to be cared for by his father and mother-in-law. “One year ago his wife died [from an operation] and shortly afterwards his home was swept away by fire. One month ago his youngest child died. He was well-known and very popular among his neighbors.” (Baltimore American. 17 June 1898.)



Baltimore American. 17 June 1898.

The Democratic Advocate. (Westminster, Md.), 18 June 1898. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

The Democratic Advocate. (Westminster, Md.), 05 Nov. 1898. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Der Deutsche Correspondent. (Baltimore, Md.), 17 June 1898. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <> translation by Google Translate.

Der Deutsche Correspondent. (Baltimore, Md.), 18 June 1898. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <> translation by Google Translate.

Der Deutsche Correspondent. (Baltimore, Md.), 26 Oct. 1898. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <> translation by Google Translate.

Limerick Roughs: John McDevitt, Vagabond of 8th Ward

In 1855, a simple gardener in Baltimore found it necessary to take space in the Baltimore Sun advertising his innocence of what the neighborhood gossips were spreading:

“TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN.—Mr. & Mrs. McDevitt, arrested July 20th, for assaulting and beating each other, is not John McDevitt, Gardener of Old Town.  It is hoped that this notice will satisfy a certain portion of the community who have spoken in an insulting way of said arrest.” (Baltimore Sun, 30 July 1855, p. 2)

In 1850, the gardener John McDevitt’s family resides in the 6th Ward, another resides in 8th Ward: an extended family with three John McDevitts (born 1842, 1833, and 1820) in a motley household of family and boarders. It is difficult to tell which John or if several John McDevitts committed the crimes listed here, but he came from the 8th Ward and I think it likely that it was John McDevitt born 1842 because of the 1870 census showing him in the penitentiary. [Of curious note the Gardener John McDevitt mentioned above had a son, James Aloysius McDevitt, who would achieve considerable renown as a Washington D. C. detective; including, being the first detective called to investigate Lincoln’s assassination.]

John McDevitt intimidated police and committed arson (common crimes committed by the rival Know-Nothings and other gangs); he also drunkenly stumbled into a variety of beatings and thefts making his  relationship to the political gang of the 8th Ward, the “Limericks,” difficult to fully establish. The strongest evidence for partisanship during the Natives’ violence is his arrest for the attempt to kill officer William Kid during the 1857 Election Riot.

Election Riot

On the same day that Jackson Hall faced Police and the Natives, a few blocks down, near the 8th Ward Polls, an officer was viciously attacked:

“In the eighth ward all was very quiet during the forenoon and up to half-past four in the afternoon. At that time police officer Wm. Kidd was passing the polls and when he reached the corner of Eager street turned and again started down Ensor street.  A young man of his acquaintance was sitting on the cellar door near the window where the judges received the votes. To him Mr. Kidd spoke and they started down the street together. They had proceeded as far as the corner of Webb street, when there was a cry to rally, and immediately an assault was made on the officer and he was badly beaten on the head and face with revolvers, and one of the skirts of his coat was torn off.  In the melee he was knocked down, and while he was on the ground a young man ran up, placed a revolver to his head and pulled the trigger. The cap snapped, and before he had the opportunity to make a second attempt the weapon was wrested from him by a citizen who was present. Mr. Kidd then got up and ran for the open door of a house in Webb street, but the inmates became alarmed and closed the door against him.  At that moment a pistol was fired at him, which entered his clothing in the back without touching his person.  A second shot was then fired, when Kidd put his hand on his back and staggered forward. He then ran down Ensor street as far as Chew, one of his assailants hanging on to him. There he fell, and was taken up and carried to a house near by, where Dr. Damman attended to his injuries. It was found that the ball had penetrated the spinal region and touched the kidneys. The charge from the first pistol, a large slug, was found on the removal of his clothing. His condition is said to be critical.”  (Baltimore Sun, 15 October 1857, p 1).

A few days later, Kidd would be in an improving condition. Police arrested Edward Keelan and John Millen on the charge of shooting Kidd. Police gathered John McDevitt, along with Patrick Ready and Michael Murphy on the night of 17 October 1857, and charged them with participating. Patrick Ready, already a veteran club rough, had a scar on his face from a bullet wound received in the 1856 riots. (Baltimore Sun, 15 September 1856, p. 1; 16 October 1857, p. 1; 19 October 1857, p. 1)

The Fires

Charge of Arson—Watchmen Eccleston and Hackett arrested on Saturday night last Albert Clark and John McDevitt upon the charge of setting fire to the stable of Mr. Riley, on the Bel-air commons.  The fire was timely discovered by the neighbors and extinguished without causing an alarm.  Justice Mearis committed them to await further examination.” (Baltimore Sun, 21 April 1856, 4).

“John McDevitt, indicted (together with Peddicord, Graham and others,) for arson, in the alleged setting fire to a house of Mary Ann Lankford, on the 1st of May, was put on trial. […]

Officer Hoover, on Saturday night, the first of May, about 8 ½ o’clock, saw Peddicord at the corner of Bond and Eager streets; he was dressed in dark clothes, with his cap down over his eyes, and passed the officer down Bond street.  The officer followed, thinking something was going on.  Heard the alarm of fire and ran down to the corner of Bond and Abbot Streets, and found the fire in a house on Abbot street.  Amelia Miller gave the alarm first to witness.  They broke open the door and put it out; it had been kindled with spirits of turpentine.  When witness went into the house he saw a person he supposed to be John McDevitt getting over the back fence.  About five minutes after the discovery of the fire Peddicord came into the house in his shirt sleeves, and assisted in putting out the fire.  Did not see any one in the house when he got there, and all he saw Peddicord do was to assist in putting out the fire.

Amelia Miller saw John Gordon, John McDevitt, Andrew Peddicord and John Graham in the second yard from the yard of the house fired, about three o’clock in the afternoon–they were standing there talking.  No one lived in the house to which the yard is attached where they were.  The fire was about 8 ½ o’clock– the house was unoccupied.” (Baltimore Sun, 2 June 1858, p. 1).

They were found not guilty.  Peddicord testified they were in the yard, ,”to quietly drink a half-pint of whisky” (Baltimore Sun, 8 June 1858, 1).

Petty Rogue

McDevitt gained enough of a reputation to be charged on that alone: “John McDevitt, charged with being a rogue and vagabond, was released on $700 bail” (Baltimore Sun, 3 October 1856, 1).

“John McDevitt and Joseph Solder were arrested last night by officers Scarff and Griffin, of the night police.  On the charge of robbing Samuel Folts on the 4 ½ street bridge.  They were held to bail to answer for the charge at court.” (Baltimore Sun, 11 November 1858, 4).

After the Natives

After Nativism faded from the political field, the roughs who waged the political riots found less direction in their drunken sprees, and subsequently the motives for their crimes became mundane.

Charged with Larceny.—George Connolly and John McDevitt were arrested on Wednesday night by policemen Thomas E. Roe, White and Bouldin, charged with the larceny of a silver watch, valued at $7, and 35 cents in money, the property of John W. Jackson, colored, corner of Calvert and Monument streets.  Justice Robinson committed them for the action of the grand jury.  John Ragan, charged with being accessory to the robbery, was arrested at the same time, and committed by the same justice.” (Baltimore Sun, 20 March 1868, 1).

“John Regan, John McDevitt and Geo Connelly, indicted for robbing John W. Jackson, colored, of a watch, &c, at the corner of Monument and Calvert streets, at 2 o’clock in the morning.  McDevitt was tried before a jury and found guilty; Connelly was tried before a jury and found guilty; Connelly was tried before the court and case held sub curia and Regan’s case was postponed.” (Baltimore Sun, 24 April 1868, 4.)

If John served jail time it wasn’t long: “John McDevitt, assaulting John W. Kinnear, fined $20 and costs.” (Baltimore Sun, 9 November 1868, 4).

Charged with Assaulting a Policeman.—John McDevitt, charged with snapping a pistol at, with intent to shoot and kill, policeman John R. Merrick, and Samuel Donahue, charged with being accessory to the assault, were arrested on Tuesday evening by policemen McKewen, Raymo, and Staylor, and, after an examination before Justice Hagerty, were committed in default of security to await the action of the grand jury.— The assault, it is alleged, took place on Gay street, near Exeter, between three and four o’clock in the afternoon.  The officer was on his return from the middle district station, and was followed up Gay street by the accused, one of whom (McDevitt) pointed at his head a pistol, the cap of which fortunately snapped, the other having his hand on the shoulder of the officer, who heard the click of the weapon, without being aware at the time of his dangerous situation.— On subsequently receiving information from witnesses of the occurrence, he had the parties arrested.” (Baltimore Sun, 2 December 1869, 1; 21 January 1870, 4).

The following year McDevitt and Donohue were found not guilty.(Baltimore Sun, 21 January 1870, 4).

In 1870 McDevitt sits in the City jail in the 8th Ward and unfortunately decided to assault its officers as well and sentenced to an additional six months (Baltimore Sun, 21 March 1870, 4).

“John McDevitt, Henry Burns and Wm Stack, larceny of brushes, &c $1.83, from J. McMahon, Burns pleaded guilty, one year in the penitentiary, McDevitt three months in jail, and Stack not guilty” (Baltimore Sun, 25 September 1877, 5).

The criminal, John McDevitt disappears from “Page 4” after 1877.


Genealogy Rabbit Hole #2- Sparks

The ancestry for the Baltimore and Anne Arundel County Sparks is hazy and tenuous. While many online trees give an ancestry that leads to the Fareham, Hampshire, England Sparks beginning with Richard Sparks (1658-1740) and then Thomas Sparks (1615-1693), I find that this Sparks Family Group probably came from Charles County and maybe St. Mary’s County first and were in Maryland much earlier, making it unlikely that Richard Sparks (c. 1658) is a direct ancestor. There is a consistent name repetition that might indicate this Family Group did come from Fareham but from an earlier ancestor.

I have few direct connections; however, there appears enough geographical proximity to call this a Family Group. My thinking is basically as wealthy landowners purchased and speculated in land in neighboring counties, the Sparks family migrated with these developments, working as tenant farmers. The family migrated from Charles County to Prince George to Anne Arundel and here the family splits: part going to upper Baltimore County and the other going to Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

The evidence I rely on is the repetition of names, especially the landholding class such as NEALE, COURT, BATCHELOR, and YATES.

As of now, the earliest record we have places the Sparks on the banks of the Wicomico in Charles County. The earliest record of a Sparks is in William Sparks’s court case of 1678. The one Sparks who we have in St. Mary’s County is Richard Sparks. I am not sure this Sparks is part of the Family Group. The first Sparks I am definitely placing in this Family Group is William Sparks

RICHARD SPARKS, born before 1658; died after 1681 Maryland

On 26 July 1673, “Then came Richard Sparkes of St. Mary’s County and proved Rights for 50 acres for his time of service performed in this province.”  Richard then assigned those rights to EDWARD CLARKE.

  • ST. MARY’S COUNTY (Court Records) Richard Sparkes  Book 17, pg 477.  26 July 1673.; see also Sparks, Paul E. “Immigrants Names Sparks Who Came to Maryland before 1675.”  Sparks Family Association. 18:4 Whole No. 72 (December 1970): pgs 1362-1363. Web.

When Maryland was first founded in 1634, those intrepid enough to go received 100 acres of land.  This was reduced to 50 acres by 1641.  Rich men gave indentured servants 50 acres of land at the end of their service.  Servants in turn paid for their transportation by signing over this 50 acres to their master.  It appears this is what the court record shows.  In addition to the land, a master gave his newly freed servant an ox, gun, two hoes and clothing.  Terms of service lasted from 2 to 6 years.

In an Administration record dated 10 May 1681, the estate of John Dabridgcourt paid Richard an unknown amount.  And this is the last we hear of Richard.

  • MARYLAND PREROGATIVE COURT (Inventories and Accounts) John Dabridgecourt, St. Mary’s County. 7B, 74 A # 4840. 10 May 1681. Others listed include: “John Steventon paid to Mr, Gardner, Magdalen Pean, Richard Sparks, Stephen Gough paid to Mr. Gardner, Richard Gardner, Thomas Dante.”
    • However tenuous, there is evidence through the reoccurrence names in the records. For instance PHILIP LYNES was indebted to EDWARD CLARK. JOHN COURT and JAMES NEALE act as jurors in William’s 1678 case.  Both John Court (probably a son) and James Neale would later lease land to a Thomas Sparkes.

CHARLES COUNTY 1657, 1674-1682

WILLIAM SPARKES, born before 1653; death after 1682 Maryland

A William Sparks lives in the Wicomico area of Charles County around the same time as Richard:

Upon peticon made to the Court by Wm Sparke a lame man It was ordred that Jno Lemaire receive him into his Custody and provided that the sd Lemaire doe make a pfect cure of his legg that then he bee pd two thousand poundes of tob out of the County Levye & in  case the sd Sparke doe remaine Sound one whole yeare & tht Jno Lemaire prsent him So to the Court then the sd Lemaire to be pd one thousand poundes of tob more the next Yeare, and if it Shall Soe happen that the sd Sparke Should dye wthin halfe a yeare that then the sd Lemaire be pd one thousand poundes of tob

  • CHARLES COUNTY (Court Proceedings) William Sparke 1671-1674. Liber E p. 180. 10 June 1674.; see Proceedings of the County Court of Charles County: 1666 – 1674. vol 60. ed. J. Hall Pleasants. Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1943. 563. Web. It is uncertain if this is the same William, but Lemaire did have land on the Wicomico close to JOHN COURTS.

A William Sparkes sued PHILIP LYNES on 15 October 1678. The case reached an initial hearing on 14 February 1679. Philip had forced William, on 20 August 1678, from 150 acres in Charles County before his lease was expired.  William Harbert acted as the muscle and was initially named in the suit. Philip Lynes claimed part of the 150 acres of land was part of his tracts “Stumpdale” and “Watsons Land.”[4]

  • These tracts had been surveyed for a THOMAS BATCHELOR, of Cedar Poynt.  A court case involving Batchelor and an Edward Parks occurred almost 20 years earlier.  From what I can make of it, Batchelor had hired a servant from Edward Parks and, it was argued, agreed to pay Parks regardless of the health of the servant. In the transcription there is a Mr Sparks. I now think this is a scribal error. Mister was an honorific title and not used for servants. However, an examination of the original is needed.

Parks v.Batchelor- Deposit inter mr Parks & mr Batchelor: Richard Tarling aged twenty three years or thereabts Sworne and Examined upon his Oath Sayeth Concerning a Servant that mr Sparks hyred to mr Batchelor for the time of three weeks he did him Little or no worke, by reason of his nasty diseases the flux and the Scurvey, And farther this Deponent Sayth that mr Sparks Came to mr Batchelors house one day, and mr Batchelor desired the Said mr Sparks to take Some Course with him and gett him away for he had rather give him Six hundred pounds of Tobacco, then be bound to tend on him, by the reason he was So very nasty, And farther this Depont Sayth that it hindered most of this Deponents time and mr Batchelors to tend on him, and farther this Depont Sayeth not.               Signum Richard X Tarling

Proceedings of the Provincial Court of Maryland: vol 41 1658-1662. ed. Bernard Christian Steiner. Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1922. 9. Web.; see also ST. MARY’S PROVINCIAL COURT (Proceedings) Liber B, No. 3. pg 370. 30 December 1657.

Getting back to William’s case, the court adjourned until after the land was surveyed, 11 May 1679. This was no easy feat finding an obscure boundary mark as the land dipped into swamp and morass. The tract was called Hardy’s Purchase and situated on the North side of the Potomac River.  It bordered property owned by John Lee, Richard Watson, and Thomas Batchelor. Batchelor’s Creek ran through a march, which spilled into a beaver dam on the property. William leased it on 1 August 1678 for a term of 3 years. William asked for 50 pounds sterling in damages as a consequence of being ejected. Robert Ridgely acted as attorney for William and Christopher Rousby acted for Philip Lynes. The suit was settled in William’s favor:

    Wm Sparkes Lessee of Henry Hardy


Philip Lynes

the Comand was given to the Sheriffe of Charles County that whereas at a Provinciall Court held at the Citty of St Maryes Eighteenth Day of ffebruary Anno Doni 168o before the Justices of the same Court in an action of Ejectment then and there Depending between William Sparkes Lessee of Henry Hardy plt and Philip Lynes def Itt was Considered by Our Said Justices that the Said William Sparkes Lessee as aforesaid Recover against the said Philip Lynes his terme Yett to come and unexpired of and in One messuage of One hundred and fifty Acres of Land lyeing in Charles County aforesaid Called Hardyes Purchase lately in the tenure & occupation of Thomas Peirsey decd wch the Said Henry Hardy to him the said Sparkes Demised for a terme wch is not yet past & likewise the Sume of Nine thousand One hundred sixty and Seaven pounds of tobacco for his Costs of suite by him the said William Sparkes in that behalfe Layd out and Expended Itt was therefore comanded the said Sheriffe that of the goods and Chattles of the Said Philip Lynes If they should be found in his baliwick he should Cause to be made the aforesaid Sume of Nine thousand One hundred Sixty and seaven pounds of tobacco: and When he had the same Soe made as aforesaid or any Part thereof the same in his Custody to keepe Soe that he Should have the Same here the Six and twentyeth day of September in the Seaventh yeare of the Dominion of the Right honoble Charles Lord Baltemore &c Annocp Doni 1682 to render unto the Said William Sparkes On wch Said Six & Twentyeth day of September in the yeare aforesaid Collonel William Chandler Sheriffe of the County aforesaid made returne of the writ afore said that by vertue thereof he hath made of the goods and Chattles of the Said Philip Lynes the Sume of Nine thousand One hundred Sixty and Seaven pounds of tobacco.

  • Proceedings of the Provincial Court of Maryland: vol 69 1679-1680/1 68, 136-137, 242-244, and 402-409; vol 70 1681-1683 Court Series. ed. Elizabeth Merritt. Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1964. 291.; see also ST. MARY’S PROVINCIAL COURT (Proceedings) W. C. pgs. 63, 122-123, 216-218, 369-375, 633. 26 September 1682.


THOMAS SPARKS, born before 1682; died 1702 Charles County, Maryland

On 2 December 1702, William Sparkes acted as adminstrator for a Thomas Sparkes in St. Mary’s County. William placed a 100 pound bond and Thomas Blacman and Cornelius Dunivan acted as Security.

  • MARYLAND PREROGATIVE COURT (Testament Proceedings) Administration Bonds Exhibited. vol 19A, pg 129.St. Mary’s County,  2 December 1702. For some connection see John Bould Administration 1696, Cornelius Dunivan’s wife administers and payment is made to Anthony Neale, the landlord of Thomas Sparkes.

WILLIAM SPARKS, born before 1702; died after 1722 Charles County, Maryland

There is a Charles County Court Record for a William Sparkes that according to Maryland State Archives is now lost. The only record I have of it is in the land record index for Charles County. As best that I can make out the other party in the case is a Roach.

  • CHARLES COUNTY COURT. William Sparkes. vol. K 2 pg. 355. August 1722. The reference can be found here: CHARLES COUNTY COURT (Land Records, Index) , p. 0420, MSA_CE83_1.


This is where many trees take up the Family Group. The exact relationships are still tenuous. For instance in 1738 a land record shows a Thomas Sparks Senior, meaning there must have been another Thomas of adult age that we have not accounted for in Charles County at the time. Perhaps the inventory recorded in 1727 for Thomas Sparks refers to someone outside this Family Group.

THOMAS SPARKS, born about 1689

ELIZABETH —, born about 1691; died after 1729. Married 1707 Maryland

  1.    Thomas Sparks, 1711-1789
  2.    Matthew Sparks, born about 1715; died 1786

Matthew migrated to Pittsylvania, Virginia. Married Eleanor Brooks. Matthew had a son named Josiah.

In late 1748, Matthew Sparks purchased 68 acres, called “Bedfordshire Carrier” from William Fields for 3000 pounds of tobacco.  Matthew sold this land to Evan Jones 2500 pounds of tobacco.

In 1760, Matthew Sparks purchased the 109 acres of “Smith’s Neglect” for 5 shillings from Benjamin Beall.  In 1777, Matthew sold the property to Richard Beall, son of Ninian, Sr., for 100 pounds.

In 1763, “Mathew Sparkes brought Before me the subscriber a Small Black Stallion Colt about Ten hand high has a Small Stare in his forehead he Complains that he Trespasses upon his Inclosure.”

PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY COURT (Land Records) Book EE, pg 631. 13 December 1748.; Book RR, pg 67. 27 August 1760.; Book TT, pg 113. 25 November 1763.; Book CC2, pg 337. 15 March 1777.; FREDERICK COUNTY COURT (Land Records) Deed Book F, pg 1180. 4 November 1760. Witnesses for these deeds included: B. Young, L. Young, Morda Jacobs, Robert Tyler, Josa. Beall, Chrisr. Lowndes

In a will written on 1 April 1725, JAMES NEALE of Wolleston Manor in Charles County gives to his son Benjamin Neale 500 acres of land leased to Davies, Anthony Smith, John Castles, and Thomas Sparkes.

  • CHARLES COUNTY PROBATES (Wills) James Neale. vol 3 pg 217. 11 October 1727.; CHARLES COUNTY PROBATES (Inventory) James Neale. vol. 1717-1735 pg. 238. 31 October 1727.

A ROBERT YATES witnessed the inventory to the estate.  In documents related to Benjamin the tract of land is called either “Gill’s Tract” or “Giles Land,” and borders the Wicomico River.  It appears, if the connections are correct, that the Sparks family resided here, before 1725, and the next land record we have for them is in 1738 moving into Prince George’s County.

Probate Records for Anne Arundel show a Thomas Sparks died intestate in 1727.  An inventory was conducted on 20 April 1727.  Leonard Hollyday of Prince George’s County administered the estate.  The inventory states there are “no relations” in the province (women and children were excluded from this listing). This could refer to a transported prisoner to Anne Arundel named Thomas Spark -Paul E. Sparks writes in The Sparks Association that between 1716 and 1717 a group of political inmates were transported to Anne Arundel, and their number included one “Thomas Spark.” On arrival he was purchased by Philip Dowell. I am leaning towards the Thomas Sparks who died in Anne Arundel in 1727 not being part of the direct line if he is related at all.

  • “Sparks Family of Pittsylvania County, Virginia.” compiled by William Perry Johnson. Sparks Family Association. Whole No. 11 pgs 79-85. Web.; ANNE ARUNDEL (Inventories) Thomas Sparks. vol 12 pg 264. 1727.
  • Sparks, Paul E. “Thomas Sparks, Political Exile.” Sparks Family Association. 6:1 Whole No. 24a (December 1958): pgs 335-336. Web.

THOMAS SPARKS, born about 1711 Maryland; died 1789 in Pittsylvania, Virginia

ELIZABETH —, born before 1714

  1.   Josiah Sparks 1729-1765
  2.  Matthew Sparks, born around 1745; died after 1777

Matthew married Margery. Migrated to Pittsylvania, Virginia.  In 1775, Matthew purchased from James Beck 100 acres, called Pleasant Spring Enlarged for  50 pounds.  Matthew sold this tract to John Hamilton, Sr., for 80 pounds in 1777.

PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY COURT (Land Records) Book CC,. pg 136. 2 February 1775.; Book CC2, pg 396. 5 April 1777.; Witnesses to these deeds include: Jos. Beall, Chris. Lowndes,  Chris. Lowndes, Mary Henderson.

In 1730, Thomas Sparks of Charles County leased “that plantation he now lives on for the term of 15 years,” from BENJAMIN NEALE.  Thomas paid annually 700 pounds of tobacco, 2 barrels of corn, 4 hens or capons, and 4 days work.  Thomas could use the surrounding timber but could not sell it, and if Neale were to find fruit trees, Thomas was to plant and tend them.  Any violation, on either side, resulted in a fine of 1000 pounds of tobacco. R. YATES and John Howard witnessed the deed.

  • CHARLES COUNTY COURT (Land Records) M 2, p. 0237, MSA_CE82_25. 29 September 1730.

In the 27 March 1730, Thomas is listed under the “debts” column in the inventory records for a Samuel Ferson owing 3 schillings.  He was not listed in the “desperate” column.

  • CHARLES COUNTY PROBATES (Inventory) Samuel Ferson. Inventories 1717-1735, pg 198.  27 March 1730.

In 1738, Thomas Sparks Senior, planter, signed a 21 year lease with JOHN COURTS of Charles County, Maryland, Gentleman, for 250 acres of land lying in Prince George’s County near Rock Creek and known by the name of “Clean Drinking.”  ROBERT YATES and John B[r]iscoe witnessed the deed.

  • PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY COURT (Land Records) T, p. 0682, MSA_CE65_10. 24 October 1738.

In the lease Thomas was to plant 150 apple trees and leave them in “good order” once the lease was expired.  Thomas was to have the first year rent free, but after pay 800 pounds of tobacco yearly. “Clean Drinking” lay near the first falls of Potomac River on Rock Creek.

  • In 1740, a lease from Charles Carroll, Esquire,  to Thomas, a planter from Prince George’s County, states Thomas was to pay 600 pounds of tobacco every March for twenty-one years delivered to the Eastern Branch of the Potomac, and not “Suffer more hands to work or till the demised premises than himself his wife and Children and in case his Children [are] uncapable to work then only to take in one able hand,” perhaps meaning Carroll did not want slave labor on the tract.  The land was called “Cloven Couse,” contained a 100 acres, and bordered Samuel Beall’s land.  Thomas was also required to improve this land with 100 apple trees.[14]  Daniel Carroll and Samuel Beall, Sr. witnessed the deed.
    • PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY COURT (Land Records) Y, p. 0197, MSA_CE65_11. 25 June 1740 .

Thomas began to buy land in 1748 beginning with a plot of 162 acres called “Owings Range” in Anne Arundel from John White of Prince George’s County.  The purchase required 1200 pounds of tobacco and 3..7 pounds sterling. John Brice and Vachel Denton witnessed.

  • ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY COURT (Land Records) RB 3, p. 0115, MSA_CE76_20. 30 November 1748.

In 1751, as executrix of Jacob Wood’s estate, Jane Wood settled an account with Thomas Sparks for 6 pounds 14 shillings and 6 pence.[16]

  • FREDERICK COUNTY (Administration Accounts) Jacob Wood vol 1 pg 12. 7 October 1751.

In 1752, Thomas purchased “Taylor’s Lott,” “Milford,” and “Cockey’s Addition.”  The first two parcels totaled 300 acres; “Cockey’s” contained 130 acres.  Thomas purchased the lots from William Woodward, a Goldsmith of London, Mary Holmes of Newington Butts, late Mary Woodward of Newington Butts, Benjamin Baron and Elizabeth, Cornelius Kehown and Sarah for 52 pounds.  These trustees purchased the land from Amos Garrett who purchased it from John Wood.  The deed was witnessed by John Moffatt and Philemon Young.

  • ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY COURT (Land Records) RB 3, p. 0624, MSA_CE76_20. 10 March 1752.

In 1753, Thomas sold the 130 acres of “Cockey’s Addition” lying on the north side of the Maggotty(Magothy) River for 20 pounds to John Brice.  Benjamin Beall and Clark Rockhold witnessed the deed.

  • ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY COURT (Land Records) RB 3, p. 0641, MSA_CE76_20. 22 November 1753.

On 24 January 1755, Thomas sold “Owings Range” to Bazil Barry for 42 pounds and 6 shillings.  The land had received its original patent in 1696 to Richard Owing.  On this land two creek branches came together, and John Mash established a mill at their confluence.

  • ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY COURT (Land Records) BB 1, p. 0021, MSA_CE76_21.  24 January 1755.

On 29 July 1755, near the head of the north side of the  Maggotty(Magothy) River, Thomas purchased 100 acres for 16 pounds from George Conoway.  The land bordered the plots purchased in 1752 and was near Muddy Run or Bailey’s Branch.  Thomas, I presume, for a short time ran the “Maggoty Mill called Milford.”

In 1756, Thomas sold 50 acres of this lot named “Milford” and part of a tract called “Tailor’s Lott” to a James Norman for 9 pounds.  On the same day, he sold to Jacob Allwell for 20 pounds 150 acres of the same lots.  Recorded in this record are the following landmarks: “Carved Rocks” which is by the Magothy on the north side, Ketchenars Cove, a valley is mentioned as well.  Benjamin Beall, James Norman and Jacob Allwell witnessed the deeds.

  • ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY COURT (Land Records) BB 1, p. 0164; BB 1, p. 0168, MSA_CE76_21. 27 March 1756.

It is believed that a few years after Thomas moved with his son, Josiah to upper Baltimore County. Josiah stayed in Baltimore, while Thomas and Matthew moved to Virginia.

James McCullough, the Ministers, and the Baptist Church on the Gunpowder

Henry Sanderson. (1805-1880)  Woodland Baptism

Henry Sanderson. (1805-1880) Woodland Baptism

James McCullough’s of Middletown, MD involvement in the church gives a sense of the activity of his life. From land records we can see that he was a trustee of the church.  From the minutes of the Maryland Baptist Union Association we know he was a member of the Executive Board.  From the Baptist history we can know some of the spiritual controversies and the ebb and flow of Baptist spiritual life in the first half of the 19th century.

According to historians John Thomas Scharf and David Benedict the Baptist Church in Maryland got its start in the person of Henry Sater around 1709 (Scharf 552). Sater would invite the wandering preachers into his house and ask them to say a few words.  One minister who happened upon this threshold in the backwoods was a man with a thorn in his side:

Henry Loveall was another of these early preachers of Baltimore County. He was born in Cambridge, England, about 1694, and baptized in New England, probably at Newport, R. I., in 1725. He was in Newport in 1729, and had then begun to preach.  About that year he went to Piscataqua, N. J., where he preached for two years on trial, and was there ordained, but never administered the ordinances, for soon after his ordination he behaved in so disorderly a fashion that he was excommunicated. He was accused of shameful immorality, and it was discovered that his real name was Desolate Baker. After causing much trouble in Piscataqua he came to Maryland in 1742 and became the minister of the Chestnut Ridge Church.

                                                                   (Scharf 552)

There is no shortage of sources calling Rev. Loveall a licentious person, he may have been strong in the spirit but he was indulgent in the flesh.  A grain of salt should be added to these words: Loveall’s indulgences perhaps run scarlet, however, they do not run with blood, but simple passion and lust.  For every preacher of the worldly sort there was one whose name is constantly praised.  The Reverend John Davis stands in stark contrast to Henry Loveall.  In 1747, members of the Chestnut Ridge went on to form Winter Run, later to be known as Harford.

   Who was the first pastor of Winter Run Church is not now known, but two years after its organization Rev. John Davis became pastor. He was born in Pennypack, Pa., Sept. 10 1721. He was ordained in 1756, at Montgomery, Pa., and in that year became the minister of Winter Run, or Harford, or Baltimore Church, and remained pastor for fifty-three years, or until his death in 1809, in the eighty-eighth year of his age. He was a man of great usefulness and influence, of untiring energy, great piety, enlightened evangelical views, and consistent character. He traveled much, preaching in the woods, the barn, the school-house, the cabin, the parlor as well as in the meeting-house, or to the traveler alone. The law indeed, guaranteed protection, but Mr. Davis suffered no little persecution for the purpose of intimidation from ‘certain lewd fellows of the baser sort’…. (Scharf 553)

Davis was the sort to be fed by ravens.  Davis is credited with beginning the Gunpowder Baptist Church in 1806 at the age of 85, he would die in 1809 (Shepherd 391).  Gunpowder Baptist Church had its start in “Tipton’s Meeting House” or “Stump Meeting House” on August 16, 1806 (Adams 67). “In 1815, a division occurred, and about fifty members withdrew, leaving forty-nine” (Adams 67). The reason unknown, this was a serious breach of friendship and community. In 1816 the congregation numbered 52: 5 had been baptized, 2 dismissed, and one member had passed away.  Preaching occurred on the 3rd and 4th Sundays of each month (1818 “Minutes”).  In 1819 the congregation stood at 47. In that year, they were unable to send a representative to the Association meeting held in Washington D. C. The church remained without a pastor till 1821, when Rev. Thomas Leaman came to lead them for the next twenty years (Adams 67). “In 1833, they helped to build the Union Meeting House in Middletown, to which they removed in 1834, adopting the title at that time of ‘Gunpowder,’ from the river of that name” (Adams 67).  There is a land record indicating James’ involvement with the church during this time. 

    This church was a part of the Baltimore Baptist Association until 1836 when the Gunpowder and other churches left to form the Maryland Baptist Union Association.  A schism had begun to form in the association regarding missionary work. This schism was very serious in that the Association was to all purposes the only governing body of the Baptists.  At a meeting in Black Rock in 1836 the Baltimore Association adopted a new direction:

The anti-missionary members immediately forced the adoption of the following Resolution : ‘Whereas, a number of Churches of this Association have departed from the practice of the same, by following cunningly devised fables, uniting with and encouraging others to unite in worldly societies, to the great grief of other Churches of this body, there cannot be any fellowship between principles so essentially different’.

                                                        (qtd. Adams 13)

Those in favor of missionary work responded quickly:

His [God’s] object in raising his followers to this dignity and elevation is obvious. They are designed to be the medium through which he seeks to convey the most substantial benefits to man kind, by accomplishing the merciful purposes of his grace, in the conversion of the world.

(qtd. Adams)

Church historians George Adams and George Purefoy establish that before 1836 the Baltimore Association was supportive of missionary work including in the circular of 1819.

George F. Adams Gunpowder Baptist Church Preacher

George F. Adams Gunpowder Baptist Church Preacher, 1843-1845

George Adams, later preacher at Gunpowder and principal author of History of Baptist Churches, was instrumental in the establishment of the Maryland Union: “Rev. Messrs. G. F. Adams and S. P. Hill, appear to have been the principal movers in getting up this new concern” (Benedict 634).

   The controversy was not limited to Maryland.  Elder George Purefoy relates a similar divide in North Carolina and in several other Associations (48-61).   Evident from these histories and from the 1819 circular is a controversy that had been present for some time. On 27 October 1836, at the First Baptist Church in Baltimore the newly formed Union released a statement and Constitution instituting a policy of bold preaching and religious pioneering. Present were Thomas Leaman and Zachariah Alban2, a friend of James, though twelve years separated them in age.  The fracture of the Association led to a confusing set of labels: those in favor of missionary work were called “Regular” Baptists and those not in favor were termed “Old School” or “Primitive” Baptists (Purefoy 48).  (For a better understanding of the anti-missionary stance see Watt’s The Rise and Progress of Maryland Baptists beginning on page 28).

The schism was salt on the wound as attendance in the churches had fallen.  After John Davis’ death, there was a decimation of the congregation.  Healy in the 1819 “Minutes” admits as much, “Our churches, indeed, have not abandoned the cause of truth: but a time of coldness seems to have overtaken us.  Our increase is very small–and in some of our branches, many who once appeared to be walking in the ways of God, are turned aside into forbidden paths” (12-13). This stagnation and decline continued to the time of the schism:

Since his [John Davis] death, the churches which he planted have been steadily declining, and some of them are nearly extinct.  Harford, the mother church, has been reduced from 160 members, to from 40 to 50.  In a few years, it will, in all probability, no longer exist. Sater’s church is reduced to a few members, and is barren and lifeless.  (Allen 143)

The missionary cause was a practical necessity.  Allen writing in 1836, gives the congregation of Gunpowder as 42; the church had not grown since 1819 (143).  As James watched his church fracture and struggle, wrestling with itself, the time of a renewal was quickly coming.  The formation of the Maryland Union facilitated the entrance of James and Zachariah into roles of leadership in the Association.  The Gunpowder hosted the annual Maryland Union in its second year of existence; 1837. George F. Adams was Moderator as well as preacher, undoubtedly if able, James and Zachariah stood in attendance (Adams 16).  The minutes for the Maryland Union in 1838 show Alban again as a delegate (5).  In these minutes there is also a description of the efforts of one itinerant preacher, Brother Joseph Mettam who also preached at Gunpowder: “Brother Mettam has travelled upwards of 1000 miles, preached 110 sermons, distributed more than 7000 pages of tracts, besides some bibles and testaments, and baptized nine professed believers in the Lord Jesus Christ” (7).  It had been proposed by Zachariah Alban that each church would be visited by the Union Board.  The moveable governing associates reported that meetings were, “generally well attended, that apparent seriousness prevailed, and that in some instances, particularly at Gunpowder, the divine blessing was manifest” (1838 “Minutes” 7).  Later they give this state of affairs at Gunpowder:

Only two years ago, they were not unlike the poor man, who had fallen among thieves; but the Lord has been as the Samaritan towards them.  They are now with invigorated strength and freshed spirits, pursuing their way.  Brother Leaman, their worthy but afflicted pastor, still continues, through divine mercy, to labor with them in word and doctrine…. (1838 “Minutes” 9)

   Daniel B. Wilhelm, a contemporary of James McCullough’s and listed alongside James in the land records for the Gunpowder Baptist Church, gave a short history of the Baptist Church in the North Baltimore area. He titled it Recollections of “Uncle Daniel”3. He gives the years 1840-41 as a time of a great revival, “About the year 1840, the Lord sent two old farmers, Bro. Jacob Knapp and Bro. Wm. Laws” (5).  Adams begins the revival in 1839 and the Baptists grew from 565 to 1183 (17). In Gunpowder from 1839 to 1840 the church gained 119 for a total of 164 (1840 “Minutes” n.p.).  During the 1840 meeting J. McCulloch, Z. Alban, along with others were elected to the Executive Board (1840 “Minutes” 6).  Laws and Mettam began a season of preaching at the Gunpowder:

  They began their joint labors with a protracted meeting with the Gunpowder church, and at this meeting God began a work of grace, which to a greater or less extent has continued to the present time.

In the first monthly report of our missionaries, they say: ‘We arrived at Gunpowder on Friday morning, April 17, at 10 o’clock, and found fifteen or twenty persons present.  We commenced preaching day and night.  On Saturday evening there were evident signs of the Lord’s being with us.  The good work began from that time.  We continued to preach Christ till the next Thursday night.  The church awoke and came up to the work.  The Lord made bare his arm, and many found peace in believing.  We immersed sixteen, and left with a promise to return the following Thursday.’  On their return according to promise, their report says ‘we found a large congregation; one poor sinner, who had not been in a meeting house for many years, and had even prevented his family from going, was sitting outside weeping and trembling,  We preached three times and baptized twenty more.’


They also visited and preached at ‘the Stump, a meeting house belonging to the Gunpowder church.’

(1840 “Minutes” 9)

The Gunpowder had become something of a center for the revival.  Hereford Baptist Church was founded with the help of Gunpowder members, first meeting on John K. Rowe’s two acre lot in 1840, “Bro. Daniel. B. Wilhelm states that the active members of the Gunpowder Church held prayer and enquiry meetings in this building, and that a revival followed, which led to the organization of a new Church” (Adams 90-91). The “Minutes” sums up the two missionaries efforts, “Our two missionaries have travelled, one during the last six months, between 2000 and 3000 miles, have preached on an average about one sermon for each day, besides attending meetings for prayer and other purposes.  They have baptized 147 persons….” (1840 “Minutes” 10). These men must have wakened with a anxious desire each morning.  Putting hoof and foot to ground they traveled to the poor reaches of upper Maryland.  Their voices, preaching fiercely, were sated and renewed by the very water they washed the converts sins away.

   “During 1842, a camp-meeting was held by the members of this and the Gunpowder Churches. Ministers from Baltimore and elsewhere attended and preached with power” (Adams 91). One can only imagine the spirit and happiness of these revivals where converts came up and received baptism.  Neighbors convened, sailors left behind the sea, barkeeps left behind the drink, and doctors got their real medicine.4

There was none of this going to the Springs for recreation in the hot summer like there is at present. Baptists held Camp Meetings in those days….In those days there was no music used in the Churches; the brethren and sisters did all the singing; they sang in the spirit and prayed in the spirit; they had not to hire men of the world and pay them to lead the singing as some Churches do now. (Wilhelm 6)

Burbank, J. Maze. Religious Camp Meeting. 1839. Watercolor. New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford

Burbank, J. Maze. Religious Camp Meeting. 1839. Watercolor. New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford

Wilhelm gives some account of the Gunpowder Baptist Church in his colorful language:

I recall the meeting at Hardscrabble, a village in the sixth District of Baltimore County. As I said, Bro. Laws labored in the counties. He commenced one of his first meetings in connection with Bro. Mettam, with the Gunpowder Baptist Church. This was in 1840. This is a very hard place–it was called Hardscrabble at that time. There was, I believe some eight houses and four of these were grog shops. There was a great revival in that meeting.  It was held in the old Union Meeting House. Some of the Methodists joined in with the Baptists and a great work broke out with them too. This was the commencement of breaking down those grog shops in that place; but I tell you the old Devil got mad, for he sent his agents out and they cut our clothes and even some of our horses’ ears almost off. I say ours, because I was converted in that revival. This meeting laid the foundation for temperance in the sixth election district in Baltimore County. The Baptists and Methodist with some few exceptions put away whiskey in that place. Now it is the only District in Baltimore County where no liquors are sold. (Wilhelm 6-7)

It is not too difficult to see why Wilhelm became part preacher. His language is lively and forceful. One can imagine that he shared many stories at different tables in the sixth district. I had hoped when I found this little tome that James’ name would appear somewhere in it. Disappointed on that front, the reader (which I’m guessing there has been very few) is delighted by the prospect of Daniel’s recollections. To get a sense of the spirit that was running through those town’s and villages is invaluable. James McCullough’s name appears next to Zachariah Alban’s and Daniel B. Wilhelm’s among others in 1842 for the purchase of acreage for the building of the Church5. It is likely that James was a convert to the Baptist church, like Wilhelm, and so possessed the convert’s ardor.  Wilhelm describes a conversion that mixes reading superstitions into the random occurrences of country life:

   My father was very fond of hunting, so I became very fond of that sport too, especially fox hunting. A company of us fox hunters would go out on Sunday, taking our whiskey with us, and then make another appointment for two weeks ahead and we would have a hunt again. […] I had moved to myself, my wife felt anxious to go to this meeting, so we went up one night, but when we got to the church there came a pack of hounds along, so I sent my wife in the church and went out to see the hounds. […] We went to the meeting that night, and my wife and I both went forward for prayer. We went home praying. After we arrived home there came a pack of hounds through my place. I thought now the Devil has sent those hounds to get me to go fox hunting again. I there promised the Lord I would never go fox hunting again, so I never did. (Wilhelm 7-8)

Wilhelm describes a the fashion of the itinerant preacher:

   Bro. Laws put those men and women as soon as they were converted to work; he had us with him at nearly every place he went to hold meetings; he would hold an experience meeting for about a half an hour before he began to preach; he would preach about thirty or forty minutes, then he invited out seekers. In his experience meetings he would try to get up and ask the prayers of God’s people. 

   He did not take the seekers up from the bench and tell them they had religion; he let them remain down till they knew for themselves and not for another. He did not mind how loud they cried or how many tears they shed, he was not afraid of what people call excitement. (Wilhelm 9)

The religion of the Gunpowder seems not a quiet one. The excitement was allowed to jump through the hard wooden seats and give the farmers something to shout about. Up to this time the word was preached in the Gunpowder by the now blind and deteriorating pastor, Bro. Layman (listed above as Leaman). In 1841, the church greeted a new pastor, Rev. W. H. Dix, but had to depart with him on the 16th of May due to quick ravages of typhoid pneumonia (Adams 67).

The revival took Brother Laws and Brother Wilhelm into several hard looking places where the day’s wages went:

   I happened to be in Baltimore after that. At one time as some three of us brethren were returning from Church one night, we heard fiddling and dancing. One of the brethren said to me, ‘Bro. Dan, suppose you go in and rout those fellows,’ so we went in. The old man of the house had been to church and the boys had got up a frolic while he was gone. They had two colored boys to play the fiddle; I stepped up before them and said, ‘Play us a tune.’ They began, I said ‘Stop, let us have prayers first.’ With that they began to leave, and I called on a brother to pray. After he prayed, they were all gone. Prayer being ended, the old man of the house said, ‘I am glad you run the devil out of my house once.’ I will mention another case while I am on prayer, and the effects of prayer. There was an old man who kept a grog shop and was doing a great deal of harm. We went there and held a prayer meeting, and broke up the grog shop. He sold out and moved away to another place and commenced another groggery. He went on for some time. We sent him word that we would pray God to convert him at such a time and if not, we would have to pray God to kill him; but finally he sold out again and never kept any more grog shops. I tell you in those days there was power in prayer and men felt it and trembled. (Wilhelm 10-11)

This passage from Wilhelm describes the revival as devolving into a very real power struggle with bullying and threats all part of the preaching. If the district was rough as Wilhelm says than what they needed was a rough religion.

  We may assume that James McCullough shared the Baptist’s views on alcohol. Undoubtedly, he was a pious sort.  We do not know what James would have thought of his grandsons James Wesley and William N., the former playing the fiddle the later playing the banjo in the barn dances across the eastern states: having a “frolic”. It was no preacher who “run the devil out” of these two but a couple of women in Ohio where they settled6. From the short-lived musical profession of these two men, it’s not hard to see their father James W as being a lover of a good tune. His father, James, may have been antagonist to the night-time fiddling but in the church choir perhaps his voice rose a little louder than his neighbors or maybe he listened closely to the hymns and felt the spirit more powerfully than what the sermon had done.

    In 1843, fifty members of the Gunpowder, “took letters of dismissal and organized the Forest Baptist Church, building also a new meeting house” (Adams 68). This meeting house was partially built with boards from a dismantled distillery (Wilhelm 9).  The “Minutes” of 1845 take a somber tone.  Gone is the jubilant optimism and the Association seems unable to find sufficient funds.  James McCullough is still a member of the Executive Board (1845 “Minutes” 9).  The Gunpowder and its congregation was struggling, “They state that of the one hundred and one members on their list, many are absent at the West and elsewhere, and their efficient members do not number more than thirty or forty, and most of these are poor and in debt” (1845 “Minutes” 15).  The clerk for the Gunpowder is William McCullough, James’ son.  While James McCullough is listed as a delegate with Zachariah Alban and the acting pastor Vincent Palen.  James is listed as donating two dollars while Zachariah donated three dollars (19). 

George F. Adams was a preacher for Hampton Baptist church in Virginia when the Civil War began.  The congregation, in terms of race, consisted of 949 blacks and 187 whites (Malone 2). Curiously, despite his efforts of salvation for the African-American population, Adams joined the Confederacy and acted as preacher for those soldiers in Virginia (Malone 2).  In 1862 the Union arrested Adams for spying and imprisoned him “on the Rip Raps in Hampton Roads”[Fort Wool] (Malone 2).  These ambiguities became too much and the majority of the congregation separated to form their own church, the First Baptist Church (Malone 2).  From this confusing history, it is unknown during his tenure at Gunpowder whether Adams preached in support of slavery or left the matter unsaid, again concentrating on souls and little on bodies: taking monition from the example of Loveall.

   In 1855 the Gunpowder church had apparently continued to lose members, becoming “quite feeble…For a short time it would revive and then fall back into lethargy” getting so desperate that only a visit by the Holy Ghost would revive them (Adams 68).  In 1863, the Gunpowder did not have a preacher of its own, “All these Churches are too feeble to support their own pastors without aid from the Association” (1863 “Minutes” 11).  To maintain himself a pastor had to divide his time between three churches; the Gunpowder, Hereford and Forest Baptist Churches.  The Gunpowder has maintained itself through the years and is still in service.  James McCullough is buried in the church cemetery.

It is unknown who James McCullough’s father was.  The O’Donoghue line is affiliated through the marriage of Jackson McComas to Sarah McCullough, James’ daughter.

Works Cited:

Adams, George F. History of Baptist Churches in Maryland: Connected with the Maryland Baptist Union Association. ed. J. F. Weishampel. Baltimore: J.F. Weishampel Jr. Press, 1885. Print.

Allen, I. M. The Triennial Baptist Register: No. 2–1836. Philadelphia: Baptist General Tract Society, 1836. Web. Accessed 18 December 2013.

2Referred to as “Father Albin” in Adams’ History

4The son of Rowe was a sailor but gave in to all the preaching occuring around him (Wilhelm qtd Adams 90). Daniel B Wilhelm’s father owned a distillery but due to his conversion gave it up (Wilhelm qtd Adams 94). Also describes the conversion of John C. Orrick (Wilhem qtd Adams 90)

5 Baltimore County Court (Land Records).  Ephraim Bell to James McCullow, Murry Wheeler, John L Price, Daniel Wilhelm, Zachariah Alban. 25 February 1842. TK 317, 1842-1842, MSA CE 66-367, Annapolis, MD. 238-240. Accessed 1 August 2013.

Baltimore County Court (Land Records).  James Gane Mortgage to James McCullough, Zachariah Alban, Daniel B. Wilhelm, John Price, Murry Wheeler. 30 July 1844. TK 344, 1844-1844, MSA CE 66-394, Annapolis, MD. 361-362. Accessed 1 August 2013.

Baltimore County Court (Land Records). John Sauble and Wife to James McCullough, Henry Cooper, Philip Hair, Philip Frank. 1 March 1834. TK 235, 1834-1834, MSA CE 66-285, Annapolis, MD. 468-470. Accessed 1 August 2013.

Baltimore Baptist Association. Minutes of the Baltimore Baptist Association, Held by Appointment, at Pleasant Valley Washington County, Md., September 6th, 7th, 8th, 1816. 1816. Web. Accessed 20 December 2013.

Benedict, David. A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, and Other Parts of the World. New York: Lewis Colby and Co, 1850. Web. Accessed 1 December 2013.

Healey, John. “Circular Letter: The Ministers and Messangers Composing The Baltimore Baptist Association, To the Churches with Which They are Severally Connected, Send Love in the Lord Jesus.” Minutes of the Baltimore Baptist Association, Held by Appointment, at Alexandria, District of Columbia, May 13th, 14th, and 15th, 1819. Alexandria: Samuel H. Davis, 1819. Web. Accessed 20 December 2013.

6 Julian, Kay McCullough. “Re. James and William McCullough.” Message to the author. 19 September 2013. Email.

 James, I believe James played the fiddle and William the banjo. I don’t know about other musicians in the family back then but my daughter use to play the viola in school. She was pretty good and got some scholarships to collage. She went 1 year an dropped out. She loved playing music but hated to study. As good a she was, after one of her concerts my Dad told her that all that classical music was ok, but she would never be really good till she could play Turkey in the straw. She opened her case, got out her viola and played it. Dad laughed and said “now that is good fiddling. You should be doing that on that stage.”


Kay Julian

email September 19 2013

Malone, H. O. “Historical Highlights of Hampton Baptist Church.” Hampton: Hampton Baptist Church. 2001. Web. Accessed 1 December 2013.

Maryland Baptist Union Association. Minutes of the Third Meeting of the Maryland Baptist Union Association, Held at the Baptist Meeting House near Taneytown, MD., October 22d and 23d, 1840. Baltimore: Richard J. Matchett, 1840. Sabin Americana. Web. Accessed 20 December 2013.

—. Minutes of the Fifth Meeting of the Maryland Baptist Union Association, Held in the Baptist Meeting House, Pikesville, MD., October 18, 19, 20, 1838. Baltimore: John W. Woods, 1838. Sabin Americana. Web. Accessed 20 December 2013.

—.  Minutes of the Tenth Meeting of the Maryland Baptist Union Association, Held in the Meeting House of the First Baptist Church, Baltimore, MD., November 5th and 6th, 1845. Washington: Wm. Q. Force, 1845. Sabin Americana. Web. Accessed 20 December 2013.

—.  Minutes of the Maryland Baptist Union Association, Held in the Meeting House of the First Baptist Church, November 4th and 5th, 1863. Baltimore: J. F. Weishampel Jr., 1863. Sabin Americana. Web. Accessed 20 December 2013.

Purefoy, George W. A History of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association: From its Organization in A. D. 1758, to A. D. 1858. New York: Sheldon & Co., 1859. Web. Accessed 20 December 2013.

Shepherd, Henry Elliot. History of Baltimore, Maryland, from Its Founding as a Town to the Current the Current Year: 1729-1898. Baltimore: S. B. Nelson, 1898. Web. Accessed 18 December 2013.

Watt, Joseph T. The Rise and Progress of Maryland Baptist.  Baltimore: State Mission Board of the Maryland Baptists, 1953. Web. Hathi Trust. Accessed 21 December 2013.

3 Wilhelm, Daniel B. Recollections of “Uncle Daniel.” Baltimore: J. F. Weishampel, Jr., 1883. Print.

James McComas of Hampstead, Maryland: Prisoner of Andersonville

“Only those who are here will ever know what Andersonville is” (Ransom 81).

Image“Prison Detail.” Thomas O’Dea’s Print. As it appeared in August 1864. Drawn from Memory. Web. Accessed 28 November 2013.

When war broke out James and Jackson McComas enlisted as part of the 2nd Regiment Maryland Eastern Shore Infantry.   James joined August 21st 1862 followed closely by Jackson who joined on August 30th (Jarrett, Wilmer, Vernon 416-417).  Being poor farmers, they most likely joined for the money, although, it is tempting to say that the forty-seven year old Jackson joined to watch over his son.  They were both teamsters and most likely worked together on a daily basis: sharing the same type of homesickness.  Their unit joined Lockwood’s Brigade at Fredrick, MD., on July 6th 1863 and subsequently participated in the “Pursuit of Lee” July 6-14 1863 and the battle of Falling Waters on July 14th. It seems to be the first skirmish the unit was to participate in. Things seemed to be quiet for them for a year.  They were stationed at Maryland Heights guarding the B and O Railroad till April 1864, after which they joined Hunter’s Expedition to Lynchburg, VA, May 26th to July 1st, and the Advance on Staunton from May 26th to June 6th. It was during the time of “Hunter’s Raid up the Valley” that James was captured on May 29th. He was captured with Private Lloyd N. Kidd, Private Thomas Barrett, his Company Commander Captain Henry C Smyser, and Corporal Solomon Diffindaffer.1

According to affidavits in Sarah McComas’ pension application Solomon and Lloyd were captured with and suffered with James. They were the last men to see him alive. Captain Smyser being an officer was sent to a different prison but not before James gave him the last of his money for him to deliver to his mother.  It was most likely common knowledge that officers would receive better treatment, be less likely to be robbed, and were more likely to survive.  James last known act was one of filial duty with the apprehension of a stark reality.  These men had been part of a detachment working a wagon train guarded by 15th New York Cavalry. After their capture James, Henry and Solomon were first sent to “Charlottsville, Va from there to Lynchburg VA and thence to Andersonville, GA” (Henry C Smyser Affidavit 26 May 1880).

The Confederate who led the raid was a Marylander, Harry Gilmor. Later becoming police commissioner of Baltimore City he led a well-enough regarded life to prompt him to publish his memoirs entitled, Four Years in the Saddle.  Here he gives an account of the raid that captured James McComas and his wagon train.

XXXV. MAY, 1864.

   At length my scouts informed me that a train was about to leave Martinsburg, consisting of twenty-two medical wagons of great value, guarded by one hundred and seventy-five cavalry and eighty infantry. I sent word to Mose by that, if he would unite with me, I had no doubt we could capture the train, guard and all, and bring it out to the mountains. I received no answer, and was informed by my scouts that he had moved over to the pine hills near Middletown. I then determined to “try it alone” at all hazards.

Accordingly, I took position in a thick wood near Bartonsville, and next day, about 2 P.M., my scouts informed me the train was at Winchester, five miles off; they had exchanged shots with their advance, and the train had halted while their cavalry were making a reconnoissance. I kept a sharp look-out, but they did not come as far as my camp, and very soon the train came in sight, with cavalry in front and rear. There was no infantry in sight, but I felt sure they were in the wagons, ready to give us a broadside. This somewhat changed my plan of attack, and I concluded to let them pass by and enter Newtown, where I would charge them in the rear, stampede the wagons, and render the infantry useless in the coming fight.

When they came abreast of me I moved along parallel with the train, keeping out of sight in the wood until the rear guard entered the town, built on each side of the road, a mile long. As soon as the last of the rear guard had entered, I broke cover at a gallop, in column of fours, with my fifty-three men well closed up, but divided into two squads. I led the foremost, and Captain Burke the other, with orders to follow me steadily when I charged, and to act as a reserve in case I should be at first repulsed.

I had my ” best bower” Kemp with me. For a while they did not see us; not a word was spoken until they discovered us coming down at a charge. Then every man of us yelled as loud as possible, and kept on yelling, for it was the way to stampede the train, which by this time had got to the lower end of the town.

The officer in charge of their rear guard behaved coolly, but with no judgment, for he wheeled about, faced us, and formed in sections of eights, and, what is fatal to any body of cavalry, received us at a halt. They were all carbineers, and stood their ground manfully ; but, though our numbers were smaller, in the street our front, was as wide as theirs, and when we did get among them with our sabres, they gave way on every side, retreating across a deep muddy branch, and going to the rear of a large house of Dr. McLeod, at the extreme end of the town. Two wagons had upset across the bridge, and the rest of them were going at full speed toward Middletown. My horse had more devil in him that day than I had ever known, for he got beyond my control, carried me through the wreck of the two wagons, and dashed on after the rest of the train. With sabre in hand, I could not even turn his head to the right or left. As I passed Dr. McLeod’s, I perceived the rest of the cavalry drawn up, evidently expecting my column to charge by, when they would take us in flank. Twenty shots were fired at me, but they were so close and so high that they all missed. When they saw that I was alone, they ordered me to surrender, and, thinking I should soon be rescued, I saluted them with my sabre, dropped the point, and told them I would surrender. They stopped firing on me, but I did not stop ; in fact, I could not. I shouted to them that my horse was running away. He plunged by them all, and I got two or three sabre-cuts as I passed on. I called out again that my horse was running away with me, and, as these sabre-cuts did not look much like an acceptance of my surrender, I passed the whole party and got among the wagons, still going at full speed.

Here I made several narrow escapes from being crushed, but pushed on toward the head of the train. When about half way, a wagon-master put himself in the track and shot at me; the next instant I cut his ear and half his cheek off, and left him in a fence corner.

My horse was making for a space between two wagons fast closing together. Having returned my sabre, with a powerful effort I turned him just in time to avoid the collision.

After I had thus in some measure checked the speed of my horse, I saw a sergeant jump from a wagon and make for the fence. I drew my revolver, and, being near, had no difficulty in bringing him down. I shot him through the neck, and I am glad to say the ball missed all the arteries, making an ugly but not dangerous wound. I thought his face familiar, and he proved to be a sergeant in Captain Charles Bowen’s company, 18th Connecticut Volunteers, who had often been on guard over me at Fort McHenry, and was always polite and kind. I was sorry for the old man, but it was ” no time then to swap jack-knives,” and I could not stop to inquire after him. I gave him a crippled horse that would travel slowly, and, after having his wound dressed, sent him back to Martinsburg. He could not sufficiently express his gratitude.

All this, of course, occurred afterward. I did not stop at all, but, drawing my sabre, dashed for the head of the train. It was going at a furious rate, when I ranged up alongside the near leader, and, rising in the stirrups, gave him a hard blow on the crest, just behind the head-strap. This brought him down, and tied up the whole team in a knot across the road, with all the rest piled up behind them. This done, I plunged in the spurs, cleared the fence on my left into a large open field, and hastened back toward Newtown to see what the boys were doing. From a knoll I could see them all — that the advance party had been driven back, but that Burke was coming in with the reserve. The men all thought me killed or captured ; some even saw me fall ! I had scarcely reached the knoll when they recognized the gray, and my hat with a long black plume in it, which I waved to beckon them on ; but it was unnecessary, for they had already started with a yell, and though the enemy stood firm for a time, they were forced to yield to the impetuosity of the assault. We had it all our own way. But few of the cavalry were caught, their horses being so much fresher than ours. We took forty prisoners, including six officers going to their commands, and seventy horses. The wagons were loaded with medicines and commissary stores, and, in fact, every thing necessary for the establishment of a large field hospital. I burned every one of them, and sent the prisoners toward the Shenandoah, while I went to New town to look after the wounded.

Three Federals were killed and seven wounded ; among the former, Captain Brett, of the 1st New York Veteran Cavalry. He was shot in the body and thigh, and when I reached him he was still alive, but dying. I asked if I could do any thing for him, but he had already given his last words to Dr. McLeod, to whom I consigned his watch and money, directing him to give them to the first field-officer who should come along, and take a receipt for them. The receipt is in my possession. He died before I mounted my horse, and I left his body in charge of the citizens, who sent it next day to Martinsburg. Willie Gilmor’s horse threw him in the fight and got away, but he succeeded in capturing another.  General Hunter had issued a circular to the citizens, telling them that if any more trains were attacked or pickets captured, he would burn every house within reach of his cavalry. This seems almost incredible for the nineteenth century, but it is nevertheless true, and the printed circular is still in possession of the citizens. He had already burned the parsonage, and Mr. White’s, and two other houses in Newtown. When I rode into town, the people, although overjoyed at my success, were alarmed at the consequences to themselves, and with pallid countenances said, “We shall be houseless before to-morrow night.” This was more than I could bear ; so, seizing a pen, I wrote a communication to General Hunter, telling him that I held thirty-five men and six officers as prisoners ; that I would take them to a secure place in the Blue Ridge, and upon receiving intelligence that he had carried out his threat, I would hang every one of them, and send their bodies to him in the Valley. And Hunter knew that I would do it. [….]

The officers I had captured were very uneasy while with us, for they intimated that Hunter was just brute enough to carry out his threat. They occupied the same house I did, being on parole not to escape, and were as comfortable as myself. One of them was Lieutenant Smiser, who lived near my own home in Maryland. He said he had just been commissioned, and that my brother Charles advised him not to go up the Valley, for I might capture him, and sure enough I did so on his first trip.  (Gilmor 162-167)

The Lieutenant, Gilmor mentions was undoubtedly Lieutenant Smyser who would later testify for Sarah’s Pension. Whatever jovial rapport the two men shared, and whatever claim to military honor Gilmor stakes, the scene is perhaps in our eyes a stained image.  Gilmor would go on to become Baltimore’s first police commissioner, his name is respected and the man is entitled to some understanding and regard for his actions as an officer in a war. But close to the end of his memoir he excuses Southern prison camps, justifies the treatment of the men, and then unapologetically places the blame for many men’s deaths on their own heads as they did not have a manly constitution:

   At times our whole army was obliged to subsist on half rations, and even less, with flour only once a week, and corn-meal as a substitute for the rest of the time, yet the surgeons reported the army as never in better health or finer condition. These facts must sooner or later be made manifest, and the honest part of the Northern mind disabused of the many falsities so industriously circulated in this particular. If at any time there was privation among the prisoners at the South, it was caused by our poverty, not our will; the same scarcity frequently pinched our own soldiers.

It will come out before long that the large mortality in the Southern prisons must be attributed to other causes than the want of food — chiefly to the uncleanly habits of the prisoners themselves. Another cause was the want of moral courage. When taken sick, they made up their minds they should die, and in such cases seldom recovered. We had something of the kind among our own soldiers on duty — home-sickness some called it. In this malady they could not bear up under a severe wound or disease brought on by exposure, and, whenever attacked by these fits of depression, scarcely ever got well. (Gilmor 290)

Jackson went on with the burden of a captured son to see action at Piedmont and Mt. Crawford on June 5th, and to capture the cities and towns of Virginia including Staunton, Lexington, Buchanan, Liberty, and finally Lynchburg on June 17th to 18th.1 The unit retreated to the Ohio on June 19th to July 1st, moved to Salem June 21 and to the Shenandoah Valley July 1-17. Snicker’s Gap July 18th. Battle of Winchester on July 24th. Martinsburg 25th, Strasburg August 14th-15th. Bolivar Heights August 24. Berryville Sept 3. From there guard duty in WV.  The Regiment lost 10 killed in action and 62 enlisted by disease and One officer.

Several memoirs, diaries, as well as watercolors exist from Andersonville prisoners.  From them we may get a sense of James’ last months.  The following is the excerpted account given by John Ransom prisoner of Andersonville:

    Andersonville is situated on two hillsides, with a small stream of swampy water running through the center, and on both sides of the stream is a piece of swamp with two or three acres in it. We have plenty of wood now, but it will not last long. They will undoubtedly furnish us with wood from the outside, when it is burned up on the inside. A very unhealthy climate. A good many are being poisoned by poisonous roots, and there is a thick green scum on the water. All who drink freely are made sick, and their faces swell up so they cannot see. (Ransom 42)2

The pine which we use in cooking is pitch pine, and a black smoke arises from it; consequently we are black as negroes….A dead line composed of slats of boards runs around on the inside of the wall, about twelve or fourteen feet from the wall, and we are not allowed to go near it on pain of being shot by the guard.  (Ransom 44)

Lieut. Piersons is no longer in command of the prison, but instead a Capt. Wirtz. Came inside to-day and looked us over. Is not a very prepossessing looking chap. Is about thirty-five or forty years old, rather tall, and a little stoop shouldered; skin has a pale, white livered look, with thin lips. Has a sneering sort of cast of countenance. Makes a fellow feel as if he would like to go up and boot him. Should judge he was a Swede, or some such countryman….Wirtz wears considerable jewelry on his person–long watch chain, something that looks like a diamond for a pin in his shirt, and wears patent leather boots or shoes….(Ransom 43)

The questions and hopes of the prisoners centered on “exchanges”, prisoner exchanges which for many of them were the only hope of living. Fights between prisoners was common and even prison gangs called “Raiders” were formed.

Capt Moseby, of the raiders, is in the same squad with me. He is quite an intelligent fellow and often talks with us. We lend him our boiling cup which he returns with thanks. (45)

The men seemed drawn to those from their own state and congregating thus, so at one point tiny clusters would form of men from the same stock. On April 9th Ransom writes:

   They have rigged up an excuse for a hospital on the outside, where the sick are taken. Admit none though who can walk or help themselves in any way. Some of our men are detailed to help as nurses, but in a majority of cases those who go out on parole of honor are cut-throats and robbers, who abuse a sick prisoner. (48)

April 15.–The hospital is a tough place to be in, from all accounts. the detailed Yankees as soon as they get a little authority are certain to use it for all it is worth. In some cases before a man is fairly dead, he is stripped of everything, coat, pants shirt, finger rings (if he has any), and everything of value taken away. These the nurses trade to the guards. Does not seem possible but such is the case, sad to relate. Not very pleasant for a man just breathing his last, and perhaps thinking of loved ones at home who are all so unconscious of the condition of their soldier father or brother, to be suddenly jerked about and fought over, with the cursing and blaspheming he is apt to hear. The sick now, or a portion of them, are huddled up in one corner of the prison, to get as bad as they can before being admitted to the outside hospital.  (Ransom 51-52)

“A great many are terribly afflicted with diarrhea and scurvy begins to take hold of some. Scurvy is a bad disease, and taken in connection with the former is sure death.” (Ransom 46)

In spring of 1864 the prison was not yet complete, prisoners arrived to their horror as the year went on. In Ransom’s journal there are constant entries of exchange rumors, as well as day after day of prisoners arriving filling the walls. Even with a rate of “eighty or ninety” prisoners dead every day the outgoing rate could not keep up with the incoming rate. The ranks were filled with not only white Union soldiers but civilians and Native Americans, and soon African-Americans.  Perhaps, there were disguised women in their ranks as well. These failing men competed with each other and with the lice for a piece of ground. The weeks tallied and still more arrived, more fell eventually to scurvy and dropsy: diseases of malnutrition.

James McComas was captured on May 29, 1864 at Newtown, Virginia.  We can approximate a week’s worth of travel so that James entered Andersonville on or near June 5th.  He came as a new prisoner to a tabula already rife with old prisoners, disease, stagnant air and sewers, and a pile of dead at the gate by the afternoon that were buried in mass graves. Rumors of exchange were still common, and incoming prisoners were steady. Ransom had already been a prisoner for eight months. The weather was one of frequent rain making the filth rise: great clouds overhead from the coast. It was the approach of summer and the deadliest months of Andersonville Prison.

June 8th- The death rate rose to “100 to 130 per day” (65). Confederate guards hardly dared to walk the prison grounds for fear of the mob, instead watching the dead line for desperate actions, clumsiness, or madness. Men went mad, talked on their piece of ground with unshorn hair and nakedness.

ImageAndersonville Prison August 1864. Photo by A J Riddle. Web. Accessed 28 November 2013

  June 17th- Saw a new comer pounded to a jelly by the raiders. His cries for relief were awful, but none came. Must a few villains live at the expense of so many? God help us from these worse than rebels. (68)

A few weeks after James had arrived Ransom would write, “Old prisoners stand it the best” (71), men who would have been hardened gradually: been weened from daily sustenance and comfort. It is perhaps fortunate that James arrived a few weeks before the humidity of summer reached its peak.  Those few weeks may have given him some time to acclimate and maybe why he survived a little longer than others.

June 26- New prisoners come inside in squads of hundreds, and in a few weeks are all dead. The change is too great and sudden for them. (71)

June 29….Have had no meat now for ten days; nothing but one-third of a loaf of corn bread and half a pint of cow peas for each man, each day. Wood is entirely gone, and occasionally squads allowed to go and get some under guard.  (72)

June 30.– A new prisoner fainted away on his entrance to Andersonville and is now crazy, a raving maniac. (73)

During July 3 the Raiders were brought to heel. There had been some talk and grumbling before, but a robbery of the newly arrived West Virginia men brought fresh complaints to Capt. Wirtz who deputized several prisoners:

The police go right to raider headquarters knock right and left and make their arrests. Sometimes the police are whipped and have to retreat, but they rally their forces and again make a charge in which they are successful….Must be killing some by the shouting. The raiders fight for their very life, and are only taken after being thoroughly whipped. (76)

The raiders were tried by the men in the prison; a jury of men who had feared and been beaten by the prison gang: “[They] Had a fair trial, and were even defended, but to no purpose” (77). It provided some relief to the men, to see a handful of these criminals swing.  Still, as July began the number of dead per day was “over a hundred and fifty” (78). The attempts at tunneling were given up as the population became run-over with disease and weakness. The wood that was brought inside for the hanging, afterward, was taken down and robbed: disappearing into the camp for kindling as well as whittled down for wash boards.

The hospital was dreaded.  Men stayed in their hovels begging for the hospital at times but were soon convinced otherwise. They had to be carried to the gate where they were examined. Ransom describes his condition, “Am myself much worse, and cannot walk, and with difficulty stand up. Legs drawn up like a triangle, mouth in terrible shape, and dropsy worse than all” (89).  To be let in to the hospital usually meant they were too close to death to be saved.

ImageA faded Hospital Record showing the faint name of McCombs, J Cpl E Md. 3rd from the bottom entry.  Hospital Records vol 111 Prison Hospital register and index 1864 Feb- 1865 Apr, A-N pg 26[1]  “Georgia, Andersonville Prison Records, 1862-1865,” images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 27 Nov 2013), Hospital > vol 111 Prison hospital register and index 1864 Feb-1865 Apr, A-N > image 225 of 231.

The count of the dead rose steadily each week as the year was carried into the heat of August: one-eighty, two hundred, two hundred and twenty-five, faster now, three hundred every twenty-four hours. James survived the worst month that Andersonville would deal.  However, his health left him by and by.  James was admitted to hospital on October 23, 1864 suffering from Scorbutis or scurvy and returned to prison November 2 1864.  His return was short lived as the prison was being evacuated because of the advances of the Union army: “It is said all were moved from Andersonville to different points; ten thousand to Florence, ten thousand to Charleston and ten thousand to Savannah; but the dead stay there and will for all time to come” (Ransom 100).  We may presume that James was able to walk or may have had comrades able enough to help him when Andersonville was evacuated, those left behind had but one course, “Only the sick were left behind there, and it is said they died like sheep” (Ransom 106).

James was transported to Millen, GA or Camp Lawton on November 11th.1 He is listed as being a part of 1st Squad 4th Mess, most likely as a type of squad leader. Mulden, J. W, Merrydith, Geo. Mausberger, Thos; McCoy, Samuel[Lemuel] M. were within the same Mess.

Image1 McCombs Jas. Corpl. E. 2nd E.S. Md Squad 1 Mess 4 Millen Nov 11 Register of Departures Vol 3 1864 Feb -1865Apr L-Z First Entry pg 77. “Georgia, Andersonville Prison Records, 1862-1865,” images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 28 Nov 2013), Departures > vol 3 Register of Departures 1864 Feb-1865 Apr, L-Z > image 82 of 479.

As a response to Gimore’s apology for the prison camps and his stigmatizing of the prisoners, I rely on Ransom’s own words.  Ransom gives an inventory of the necessary vitals for surviving Andersonville: “I had an iron constitution that has carried me through and above all a disposition to make the best of everything no matter how bad, and considerable will power with the rest.” Of course had the prison not been evacuated when it did his diseases would have gotten the best of him, Ransom lost several teeth, some hair and more than seventy pounds. (108)

While no case is the same, we can infer that James’ condition was congruent to Ransom’s. All evidence is that James died in the prison camps, Diffendaffer testifies that, “Corporal James M. McComas was a prisoner at camp Loton, last of December 1864, in a dying condition and believes he never left that Prison but died there as he, Diffendaffer, was removed about that date to camp Florence and never saw McComas again” (Diffendaffer Treasury Affidavit).  News of their son’s death reached Sarah and Jackson with James’ comrades as they were released and returned to their neighboring farms. Jackson and Sarah on the 16th of November 1866 testified that James had died a prisoner of Camp Lotton Georgia on or about the 25th day of November 1865 (Jackson and Sarah Affidavit 16 November 1865).  Lieutenant Smyser fulfilled James’ request: giving Sarah the last of the pay that James had earned.

Image“The Dead at the Gate, A Daily Occurance.” Thomas O’Dea’s Print. As it appeared in August 1864. Drawn from Memory. Web. Accessed 28 November 2013.

   James McComas was born about 1843 in Northern Maryland, Most likely in either Hampstead, Carroll County or Middletown, Baltimore County areas.  His father was Jackson McComas and his mother was Sarah McCullough.  Before the war, he worked the farms with his father.


Gilmor, Harry. Four Years in the Saddle. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1866. Web. Accessed 28 November 2013.

McComas, Sarah. Civil War Pension for James McComas. Pension number 190836.

2Ransom, John L. Andersonville Diary, Escape, and List of the Dead with Name, Co., Regiment, Date of Death and No. of Grave in Cemetery. Auburn: John Ransom, 1881. Web.   Accessed 28 November 2013.

1 Wilmer, Allison. Jarrett, James H. Vernon, George W. F. History and Roster of Maryland Volunteers: War of 1861-5:  Prepared under the Authority of The General Assembly of Maryland. Vol I. Baltimore: Press of Guggenhiemer, Weil, & Co., 1898. Web.   Accessed 28 November 2013.