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Full text of "The Ross home in Bladensburg, Maryland / by John P. Huebsch"

THE ROSS mm IN BUDSNSBIJRG mRYLATID 



A TISSIS AS AH IKITIATIOIT REC^IRSI^NT FOR TAU B^.TA PI 



By 



JOmi P.HUSB3CH 



APRIL S,1932 



Table of Contents 

.i-ummary pagel 

Introduction page 2 

Mistory p'^ge 3 

Construction pG.ge 7 

Bibliography page IC 

Photographs page U 

Floor plans page 12 



-1- 



SUlJg^lARY 

The Ross Home in Bladensburg, Iferylend, h&s housed no prominent men; it 
is comparatively umtnown; yet it should have some ijlftce in the annsls of fifery- 
land by right of its age and historic signif icance. 

The house was bi,ilt in the year 1749, by Dr. David Ross, for hirasslf and 
his bride, Mj.ss Ariana Brice. '^or the reinai'':rier of his life, he occu^^isd the 
house t.rid on his death, the property passed into the hinds of his sons, David 
and Horatio. And so the house passed from f father to son until! 1833, when it 
was purchased by Mr. Levi, Sheriff of Bladensbuig, From this time until 1878, 
the house was rented out to various tenants. In 1873, it was ^urc^iaesd by a 
negro by the naen] of Sameul R. Lee. The property now belongs to William Lee, 
Saii.eVjjl 's son. 

Perhaps the peas in the histoi7 of this house was ret-ched in 1814, when 
the Battle of Bladensburg tooK place before its very door. During the bt-ttie, 
the house was used as a hospital for the wo. nded British soldiera, end it is 
said thtt those that died were buried in the garden at the retr of the house. 

The house is not impressive f-t first s^ght, due to a need of repair; but 
on closer inspection, the sturdy construction and sffj-Cient wor<traanship becoiaes 
apparent. It is of brics, made in England and laid in ^leirish Bond, about 
forty feet long by th.rty feet deep. The house is two stor-Les in heighth and 
has a pitched roof, truncated at the gable ends with deep Qorraer windows and 
massive bricn chj-mneys at either end. 

The interior is simple in plan, being typically Colonial; the fireplaces, 
seven in number, are particularly Interesting, for thsy are of great size and 
excellent design. 



-2- 



INTRODUCTION 

In the little town of Bladensburg, in the shadow of the nation's 
capital, there stands a house, forgotten and n9gl9ct9d,yet mbintuining not- 
withstanding, an air of dignity and aloofness, by right of ite age and his- 
toric significance, 

^or nearly two hundred years, this house has been a silent wit- 
ness to the writings in the pages of the history of this nation. It jias seen 
the immortal '.Vashington pass by on his duties as father of this country; 
seen the people rise in the cause of Independence, and shsd their life blood 
to maintain that cause, Later, at the threat of a nation, has witnessed a grsat 
battle, and sheltered within it the dead and the wounded ;&nd after the buttle, 
watched as the victorious enemy marched on the nation's capital, and dese- 
orated the ii.einory of its founder with smoKe and flame. Then in the years to '.^ (^ 
see the drama and the tragedy in the moulding of our country as it stands 
today. 

These are the things that the house has obviously witnessed, but 
who ranows or can tell the drama, the pfithos and the iove that it enfolds in 
its personality forever. 

Today it stands at the intersection of two great highways, watch- 
ing the flux of human beings who pass unnoticeing,and no doubt smiling in- 
wardly at their hurried passage in pursuit of life, oblivious of so ancient 
and learned a personage. 

This house, the Ross home, is seemingly jealous of its history, end in 
the pages that follow, there are gaps that cannot be filled, through a laoit of 
interest in those that have lived within and around it. 



-3- 

HI3T0RY 

In the early part of the eighteenth century, the Kastsrn branch cf the 
Potomac river, on whose banss the town of Bladensburg is now located, was quite 
a busy shipping center, Vessels from the Old World unlofcdad their cargoes of 
building materials, liquors, and all those articles that this country was not 
as yet producing, and carried away agricultural products, principally tobacco 
and oorn,bacis to their home ports overseas.The village of "'Brrison's Land- 
ing, now Bladensburg, was one of the main shipping points. 

In the year 1742, in the Acts of the fJiaryltind Assembly, apps&rs an act, 
giving a charter to certain residents in the vicinity of fJarrison's Land- 
ing, empowering them to incorporate a town in the vicinity vif this place, to 
be tcnown as Bladensburg. One of the^;'was Dr. David Ross, 

The next reference to this gentleman appears in the 'teryland ''^.azette 
for the year 1749, It is an announcement of his rcarriege to f.'iss Ariana 
Brice.The year 1749 is the year generally believed to be the date of con- 
struction of the Ross house in Bladensburg, for this reason, and also because 
this date appears on two iron fire baciis in the house. 

It is very liicely that the newly-weds set up house keeping here, and in 
the next few years prospered, Dr, Ross evidently became of some prominence, 
for the records at Tlarlboro show hira to have been appointed raagietrtite of 
tiie community, and gives quite a list of his convictions. 

The name of Dr. Ross again appears in the Acts of the Iteryland Assem- 
bly for the year 1773. It is an act designating certain public warehouses 
for the inspection and taxation of tobacco, and for Bladensburg, naming the 
land of Dr. David "oss. 



-4- 
This house end the land around it then became the scene of busy ac- 
tivity, as the farmers from the surrounding country, brought in the great 
hogsheads of fragrant tobacco to be inspected and assayed, and the lines of 
slaves, loading and unloading the sloops from the Qld World passed by its 
doors, ■ 

As far as the records show, two eons were born to the ?.qss'8 in this 
house, Horatio and David, into whose hands passed the house and the property 
belonging to old Dr,P.oss,when he died in 1779, This date is aij.ittie uncer- 
tain, but the acts of the 'Jaryland Assembly for the year 1779 contain an act 
to enlar^i,e the powers of Ariana aobs, executrix of Dr, David loss deceased. 

The house was occupied for the next few years by the son riBvid,who 
becerae of some importance as a political figure, writing several boois on 
foreign relations, and being at one time a member of the Lferyland Legisla- 
ture, In the year 1798, he was appointed one of a coiiirnittee to audit the ac- 
counts of the city of Washington by rreneral -jashington.At his death around 
the year 1815, the house and property passed into the hands of his son 
'ii'illiam Hosa, 

The only reference to this ^^entleirian, appears in the records at 'irl- 
boro, wherein at his death in 1S2S, hs loft the property to his heirs, who 
they were no one seems to snow. 

This period in the history of this house, is most probably t;.e high- 
light in its history, for at its very doors the battle of Bladensburg took 
place, August 24, 1814, The story goes that General Ross and Atmiral Gocfcburn 
the commanders of the invading column, that had come overland from Benedict 
on the Ffetuzent River, took breakifast in this house, on the day of the memor- 
able fight, and that after the engagement, many of the British wounded were 
talsen into the house, and those that died were buried in the garden at the 
back of the house, there are some difficulties in the way of that belief 



however, because according to most sccounts,th9 battle v.-as openad by nhglish 
cannon from Lowndes hill east of the house, at about noon, "he action devel- 
oped rapidly, the JUnylish line soon left the house to its r9ar,th9 cr-jssing 
of the Eastern Branch, where it is narrov/ and fordable,waa forced, and the 
main fighting toos place on lands about a mile and i. half southvtsst of the 
Ross house. The English had not conie up with the Ross house when the engage^ 
meat opened, and after the opening of the battle, it is not liiiely that Gen- 
eral Ross and Admiral '^ockburn stopped to eat.^'o view of the main field of 
action is to be had fron: the Ross huuse,snd it is not probable that the 
English opened headquarters in rear of their SDiail force. It is liisly that 
it was used as a hospital however, as it was well protected, iind the buttons 
and other accouterments of British soldiers have been dug up in the garden 
at the rear. 

This period in its history seemed to be the peak, and fron; then on 
little can be found concerning it .After the death of William Hoss, there is 
a gap in the records as to who owr;ed the house. In 1833 a ,;9ntlei:ian by the 
name of Levi 5herriff,who had been a merchant in Bladensfaurg.and who v/as 
then seesing active retirement from business at the age of fifty-six, bought 
a great deal of property in and around Bladensburg, this purchase included 
the Ross house and the property surrounding it.'^rom this time until 1878, 
the house was rented out to various tene,nts,one of these the eccentric 
Judge Purcell occupied it for many years. 

In the year 1878, the Ross home was purchased by a negro, Samuel K, 
Lee, who came to Bladensburg from the Pohick neighborhood of X''irginia. Samuel 
left the house to his son I'/illiam O.Lee, who recently died in 'iVest Virginia, 
Uit the present time, the house is a tourists home, end is occupied by William's 
cousin, Mrs .Alberta Cfunn. 



^ 



-6- 

In Green Hill cemetery in 31ad ens burg, there is a tall monument, with 
the followiUf; inscription: 

V/illiara Ross died April 16,1828. 

Harriet Ross died April 24,1854, 

I.fabeJ.ine Ross died April 17,1865, 

3arah P>oss died Ho v ember 6,1870, 

f-fery Ross died January 21,1883, 

ffery Louisa Ross Thompson died October 25,1896, 

Robert t.Ross died T^ebruary 22,1901, 



-7- 

30N3TRUGTION 



i^rom a disiance the Ross home is not iraprgssiva in its appaaranoa, 
due to neglect on the part of the tenants, but on closer inspection, the 
sturdy construction and manifestation of care in qoostructior) beconjes ap- 
pai ent. 

It is very liiiely,that the material used in its construction came 
from England, as there were no briok kilns or iunfoer inilis in exietance in 
this country at the time of its erection. Due to this relative scarcity of 
material, and the fact that unsitilied slave labor was used in ereciint/ it, 
the house is simple in design, following the gener&l run of eerly colonial 
architecture. 

The house is of brick, remaritably well preserved for their age, laid 
in Flemish bond. Thai ■ is, instead of in the modern way, where the b^ icis tire 
laid end for end through the thioKness of the wall, every other brict: is 
laid cross-wise, leaving Jj space, and a projecting surfaee to which the inner 
wall materiol may be attached. In this way a wall is produced with the s&me 
strength and durability, but which represents a great saving in material. 

In general, the house is about forty feet long by thirty feet deep, 
two stories in he ii;;ht, having a pitched roof , trunciitad at the gable ends, 
with deep dormer windows, and massive bricit chimneys at either end, In the in- 
terior, the mantle pieces are of particular interest, There are seven in the 
house, four on the first floor, and three on second .They are very large and 

typically colonial, The window seats are of wood, narrow and deep, and the 

\ 
ceiling mould ing,^are alipf wood, made and framed in England. 



-8- 

The porch at the present ti;3© is not the original, in fact photographs 
and sketches liiade at different periods, all show a different one. The porch 
at the present time is of stone end mortar, overlaid with concrete, extend- 
ing almost across the entire front, In the floor plans that follow, rjade in 
1925 by j*'r,Srb,a '.Vashington archetect,the porch is small, giving it & more 
marlied colonial appearance. 

The entrance to the house is at the center' of the front, the front 
door being equipped with brass Knocner evidently very old. The entrance hell 
is long and narrow, about five by thirteen, from which three doors open, one tt 
either side, and one at the extreme end. 

The rooms to either side of this hall t.re of tha same size, fifteen by 
thirteen, having three windows, two at the front and one et the side. Just what 
these rooms icight be designated, is a matter of speculation, for the only door- 
way to the rooms is in the entrance halljthsy being entirely segregated from 
the rest of the house. Both of the rooms are equi.-jped with fire places, and in 
the bacic of the fire place in the left room as you enter, there is an iron 
fire-bacit or backplate, which has long been the object of curious speculation. 
They are about thirty inches in length by twenty-four inches in height, and 
bear the following inscription: 

ROOS R003 

OTVXSm— 1749 

Just what it is or what it means has never been determined, but it se9;j;s 
to indicate the year 1749 bs the date of its erect ion, The character between 
the R and 3 is shaped line a heart, and may be intended for a double 0,R003, 
or possibly ROSS. It is just possible, that the inscription OTVXKNT, is some 
form slightly obliterated, of the word Patuxent, Particularly liiieiy, since 
at that time, there was an iron works of thai, name. 



1 



-9- 



The doorway at t^ end of the sntr&nce hall lesds into & large room, 
fifteen by eightseri'; in the right axtreiiie corner is iocited the st&irwsy. This 
room waa probably the dining room, as the room to the right wl,s vsry li^ey the 
Kitchen, smce it cont&ins a huge fireplace, the aiantle of which j.s ten feet 
long end six feet h-gh. The room to the left is similitr to th© ititchen, being 
about ten by twelve, and lighted by two wi-'idows. 

The stairway is of wood, having a ninety degree turn to the front four 
ste^-js from the first floor. At the tor of the stairs ther?5 is a sreali hallway, 
six by twelve, on vifhicn til of the roonis on this -floor open. Directly to the 
right of the stairs there is a saiall roon, six by eight, thtt tod;.y would have 
been the b&th, but at the time of construction was cr-lled a linen-closet. 

The front of the house on th^-s floor is divided into three rooii;s, one 
large one and two smaller ones. The larger room, perhaps the icaster'a bedroom, 
is twelve by fifteen, equipped with a large fi^epiace and well lighted hy two 
large windows. The other two rooms, possibly guest rooms, are nine by ten and 
ten by fifteen, respectively. No doubt the guests were a little cold in the 
winter, for these are the only rooms in the house not equipped with some means 
of heating. 

The two rooms to the rear are both eleven by fiftsen, both have fire- 
places and were r]Q doubt the mistress's bedrou;. and the nursery. 

The general jlt-n of the house is obviously Sj.:.^>L9, even as is the exterior; 
the only ornate part of it is a suall frieze thfct runs around the front of the 
roof edge. 

In the tax bills for 1798, preserved in the library of the T^ryland 
Historical Society, there is evidence that this house wag, <t one time, sur- 
rounded by quite a tract of land and boasted several outbuildings for housing 
the slaves and storing tobacco; the evaluation v/as twelve hundred dollcrs. 
Today it is worth little more and is flanited by a barbecue far^d a nur-ber of 
sheds. 



-10- 
BIBLICGIi- PKY 



The Rambler in the Washington Post 



..cts of the ''"aryland /ssembly 

/rchiteGture,; pril 1925 

Bicentenial i'.iotopy of ^'^aryland 

Pecnrds '-.t t' e Courtho-use in rarlboro 

Personal ;'id Rendered by 

f.iiss.Flunkett Library of Congress 

'■>.: Ibert Vrb /'rchitect "^asn.ington D,G. 

r.^aryland Historical Society Baltimore "aryland 



-12- 



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