Sunday, October 30, 2016

Baltimore: October 1816

Baltimore: October 1816

A City of Promise on the Bay

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

Baltimore from York Road, ca. 1816

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

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

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

Ads for turtle soup, October 1816

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

Steamboat ad, October 19, 1816

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

[Poppleton’s map] (see also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

painted by a black artist from Fells Point, Joshua Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

Upon returning to Baltimore in mid-April 1819, Almeida was

arrested by the authority of the state of Maryland at the urging of the

Spanish consul on a charge of piracy for capturing property of subjects

of the King of Spain. He was soon released when the Judges of

Baltimore County court decided that the case was not under their

jurisdiction. He was then arrested on the same charge by authority of

the United States and held for bail. He was tried May 8th in Federal

Court and, after full consideration of the treaty between the United

States and Spain, a clause of which was the basis for the indictment,

the court directed that Almeida be discharged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The insurance policy graphically describes the building

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

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

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

Concert Hall and Dancing Academy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Monday, September 12, 2016

Trading with the Enemy, Shot by a Former Slave: Baltimore Merchant Samuel Goldsmith Griffith

Today, September 12, is Defender's Day, marking the defeat of the British at Baltimore in 1814, and the origin of our National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. The war did not deter Baltimore Merchants from trading with the enemy, and in at least one instance they got caught. That case reached the Supreme Court after the war was over.
Briefly stated, this is a case brought by Samuel Goldsmith Griffith, the consignor/owner of a cargo of flour shipped on the Hiram from Baltimore in the fall of 1812 (after war was declared) to Lisbon, Portugal to help feed the British Army. It was brought against the American privateer Thorn, which captured the Hiram on its way to Lisbon. The Theron claimed the Hiram and its cargo as a prize after discovering that the Hiram was a vessel operating under a safe conduct license from the British which was against American law in the time of war, and made the Hiram subject to capture as a prize of war. The owners of the cargo claimed they knew nothing of the license and sought to have their goods (the flour) returned. The court decided to uphold the lower court decision that even if the owners of the cargo were unaware of the license, it was the illegal action of the ship owner in obtaining the license that made the ship and cargo liable for capture by the American privateer, and that all the proceeds belong to the captors (the Thorn, its owners, captain, and crew). [1]
Samuel Goldsmith Griffith (1777-1820) is the subject of a more extensive study of Baltimore merchants and trade during and after the War of 1812. Griffith met an inglorious end. He was shot to death by a black man living in Pennsylvania, John Reed, who Griffith claimed was a slave and his property. The two trials of John Reed are examined in detail in Legal Practice and Pragmatics in the Law: The 1821 Trials of John Reed, “Fugitive Slave”, by
Linda Myrsiades, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 138, No. 3 (July 2014), pp. 305-338. Confined to jail under a sentence of 108 months for the killing of Griffith's accomplice, the fate of John Reed is to date unknown.
The surviving evidence and proceedings in the case of the Hiram are to be found in
1) the engrossed (polished) minutes of the U. S. Supreme Court from 1789- contained on National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm publication M215.
2) the dockets of the U. S. Supreme Court from contained on National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm publication M216
3) the surviving transcripts of case files submitted on appeal to the Supreme Court for the year 1815 contained on National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm publication, M214.
4) the record of when the attorneys in the case admitted to practice before the Supreme Court contained on National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm publication M217
Finding the minutes of the case is relatively easy because the printed report of the case is presented in the context of the term in which the case was decided, in this instance, February Term, 1816. The minutes of the trial of the Hiram are to be found as the last entry on the last day of term, March 22, 1816, an entry followed by a rule regarding further proof required by the Court, and the appointment of Henry Wheaton as court reporter.
Finding the docket entry for a case is more difficult as the dockets are in chronological order from the day the case was first brought to the Court's attention. For example the Hiram's docket entry is found on folio 805 for February Term 1815, meaning that the case was entered on the Supreme Court docket then and, as indicated in the docket, decided on March 22, 1816. Note that the docket contains a stamped number '752' added much later which refers to how the Supreme Court had filed the case papers from the lower court and the order in which the National Archives filmed those papers.
Because it takes a year or two on average, in the era of the assigned cases, from the entry on the docket to the resolution of the case by the Court, the hunt for the dockets in the assigned cases usually begins one or two terms before the year of decision in the case as reflected in the minutes and the printed reports.
Finding when the attorneys in the Hiram case were first admitted to practice before the Supreme Court from this e-publication is partially answered by the alphabetical index at the beginning of National Archives microfilm publication M217. For the Hiram, the lawyers who argued the case before the Supreme Court were William Pinkney, admitted February 8, 1806, and Samuel Dexter, who does not appear on the index to the rolls, but is well known from his friendship with Justice Story and appeared as opposing counsel in privateering cases with William Pinkney until his death from scarlet fever in Athens, New York, in May of 1816, following his win in the Hiram case.

[1] Note that without recourse to the minutes from the Massachusetts Federal Circuit Court, you would not know that the lower court opinion that was affirmed by the Supreme Court was written by Justice Story sitting on circuit with the Circuit Court judge Davis who, in 1808, had asserted Congress had the right to impose an embargo on trade, thus allowing for cases of infractions of Jefferson's embargo to go forward in his court. In all 40 such cases, many apparently argued successfully by Samuel Dexter, were heard by juries in Davis's court, in all of which juries found for the defendants, despite clear evidence that they had defied the Embargo.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Thomas Poppleton's Surveyor's Map that Made Baltimore, 1822

Thomas Holdsworth Poppleton and

the Surveyor’s Map that Made Baltimore,

or a story of minor intrigue and not so professional rivalry

in the City of promise


Edward C. Papenfuse, Maryland State Archivist, retired[1]

Poppleton’s Map of Baltimore, 1822, courtesy of

the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

In 1822 Thomas Holdsworth Poppleton published a large wall map of the City of Baltimore based upon a multi-year survey that he completed that year. On December 31, 1796, three areas, the original town, Fell’s Point, and Old Town, to the east of Jones Falls, were merged into one with a new City charter, but there was as yet no clear definition of the outward boundaries of the resulting City.[2]

Thomas Poppleton placed the earliest known survey of the original town, completed by Philip Jones in 1730, near the center of his map and colored it lightly in red.

Baltimore “old town” outlined and faintly shaded red on Poppleton’s map, 1822,

Library of Congress Geography and Map Division

Prior to Poppleton’s map there had been two other efforts to publish a map of the town, A. P. Folie’s 1792 wall map, which depicted the growth of all three communities that would be united four years later into Baltimore City, and Charles Varlé’s topographical map which was completed about 1797, and appeared as a reprint by Warner and Hanna in 1801.[3]

Detail from A. P. Folie, Plan of the Town of Baltimore, 1792, Library of Congress

[Charles Varlé], Warner & Hanna’s Plan of the City and Environs of Baltimore, 1801, Peabody Library Collection of the Johns Hopkins University, MSA SC 1213-1-172

Until 1822 the outer boundaries of the City remained unmapped without clearly defined and marked lines. The City’s jurisdiction was expanded in law to include Eastern and Western precincts, but the streets and property lines throughout lacked all but vague verbal descriptions. Then, in February 1817 by legislative fiat of the Maryland General Assembly, the official boundaries of Baltimore City were enlarged to encompass 14.71 square miles, with instructions that an accurate survey should be undertaken.[4]

From 1776 until 1820, the resident population of what was vaguely defined as Baltimore City in 1796, grew from about 6,000 to 63,000, of whom over 14,000 were slave and free blacks. In that period, as Sherry Olson and David Head point out, commerce was the mainspring of the City’s economy. It was fed by the constant stream of shipping in and out of the port, most of it legal, but some of it the product of piracy, and, as the City entered the 1820s, in its most adventuresome mode, it became dependent upon illegally feeding the revolutions in central and south America. Baltimore was a haven for risk taking merchants and sea captains, who with other townsfolk, also speculated in bank stock, precipitating a deep depression that lasted from 1817 to about 1822 ruining many of the commercial high rollers in Baltimore and elsewhere. Business losses, however did not impede the optimism of the City developers. They needed a map on which to build and Thomas Holdsworth Poppleton would be called upon twice to provide one.[5]

To land surveyors the decades between the American Revolution and the end of the War of 1812 were a profitable nightmare of sorting out who actually owned what property in town, including where the wharfs, streets and alleys should run amidst the building boom prior to the financial collapse. In 1784 the legislature tried to impose some order on the chaos by requiring that a correct survey of the City be made. As an 1812 City ordinance pointed out, it was never carried into execution.[6]

Maryland Historical Society, Cornelius Howard Papers 1659-1853,

MS. 469.5, Box 2, Field Notes of a Survey of a Part of Baltimore Town (1 vol.), 1785-86

A fragment of surveyors notes has survived, indicating that a valiant attempt was undertaken to conduct an accurate survey, probably by Cornelius Howard, but no detailed large scale map emerged until after the City began to tackle the task on the eve of the Second American War of Independence, better known as the War of 1812.[7]

Image of a successful effort at placing the Varlé map into an online GIS environment

Image from

Until then, the two general views of the City by French trained engineers A. P. Folie and Charles Varlé constituted the only maps available.[8] Charles Varlé’s map, which proved more popular, was included in the early City directories. It is a visually pleasing map that delineates the topography, the approximate location of the streets, and the urban sprawl circa 1801, when the last edition was issued by printers Warner and Hanna. It was useless in helping to determine accurately the existing and future street beds and it provided no indication of the administrative boundaries of the City.[9] What it does demonstrate is that any accurate surveyor would have his work cut out for him. He would have to make sense out of the existing streets on the ground and use the general outline of the existing blocks and streets as shown on the Varlé map as a guide in determining the size and accuracy of blocks. In the future the surveyor who got the job would be criticized for large empty blocks and not taking into account the hilly geography as the City expanded up and out of the tidewater into the hills and dales of the piedmont. That course had already been set before the surveyor got to Baltimore, however. His job, which he did well, was to accurately delineate on the ground the streets and alleys already there, and to extend them as neatly as possible in the direction they led, which for the most part already determined how large the individual blocks would be.[10]

By 1811, matters had gotten so bad with regard to where the streets actually were and where they were meant to go, including what limits should be placed on how far builders could intrude on their path, that the town leaders, including the legally constituted Commissioners for opening streets, desperately needed a detailed survey and plan to follow. Hence the City Ordinance of March 25, 1812 “for making a correct survey of the City of Baltimore," came to pass, and announcements were placed in the local newspapers soliciting proposals. Under the City charter of 1796, as the most recent definitive political and administrative history of the City by Matthew Crenson points out,

Five City Commissioners were appointed [by the Mayor and City Council] to take over the responsibilities of the five special commissioners for street paving. In addition to the commissioners’ existing responsibilities for paving streets and installing pumps, the new municipal commissioners also had to handle the contentious business of establishing the boundaries of City lots.[11]

It would take a decade until 1822 before the accurate mapping of the City was complete, and not after considerable wrangling, including a not so pleasant competition between a solitary scientific surveyor, and the well-established compass and chain land surveyors of Baltimore City. In the end science won out, but not without an acrimonious struggle.

When Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were hired by the Calverts and the Penns in the 1760s to survey their mutual boundary, no one challenged their methods and praise was heaped upon the results. The accuracy with which they established a degree of latitude and worked from there to run their line westward was a marvel. Their approach was to use the scientific method of surveying called triangulation and a transit (a form of telescope with excellent lenses) that permitted accurate sighting of line and direction.

Bird transit used in surveying the Mason Dixon Line, Independence Hall

The instruments and methods they used are illustrated and explained well by Edwin Danson, and the wonderfully restored Bird transit that Mason and Dixon used is now owned by the National Park Service at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.[12]

In 1798 the engineers surveying and laying out Fort McHenry utilized similar methods to Mason and Dixon’s, and what was probably a Ramsden theodolite, a great improvement on the transit, along with trigonometry to perfect their work in surveying the fort.[13]

Local surveyors in Baltimore ignored such advances in accurate surveying and did their best to prevent them being used in laying out the streets and boundaries of the City. That they would do so, probably came as a great shock to a recently arrived 47 year old English surveyor, Thomas Holdsworth Poppleton who was certain his scientific approach was infinitely better.

Saint George in the East, London, where Thomas Holdsworth Poppleton was baptised

Thomas Holdsworth Poppleton was baptised on July 14, 1765 at the Anglican Church of Saint George in the East in London, still in existence at 14 Cannon St Rd London E1 0BH (+44 20 7481 1345). At the age of 15 in 1780 he was apprenticed to a member of the Worshipful Company of Vintners whose motto is Vinum Exhilarat Animum, Latin for Wine Cheers the Spirit. How he got to surveying is not known, although laying out vineyards required considerable surveying skill. Perhaps he enjoyed himself along the way, although by the time he died in Baltimore in 1837, he was apparently a teetotalling member of the Methodist Protestant Church on Wilks Street, a church he would highlight in his efforts to map the City.[14]

By January 1799 Poppleton was married to an Ann Firth, of Kippax, York, England, perhaps the same Ann who was forced to open a confectionary shop in Baltimore in the 1830s to supplement her husband’s then meager earnings. Apparently they had only one child, Thomas Holdsworth junior, who probably died as an infant after his baptism in 1805.[15]

By 1805 Thomas Holdsworth Poppleton also had his own apprentice (apprentices had to pay for the privilege the munificent sum of £200 pounds-or about $15,832 in 2016 dollars[16]), set himself up in business as a house, land, and timber surveyor at the somewhat prestigious address of number 1, Bloomsbury Square, London. About the same time, he took on an architect as a partner which proved to be an unmitigated disaster. In 1807 the partnership was dissolved and Poppleton ended up in King’s Bench Prison as a debtor where, eleven years later, another surveyor of geological map fame, William Smith, would be incarcerated for the same reason.[17]'s_Bench_Prison#/media/File:Kings_Bench_Prison_Microcosm_edited.jpg, annotated

Fortunately for Poppleton, he arrived in prison just before debtors in Ireland and England were granted a reprieve by King George III and released if they owed less than a thousand pounds.[18]

He remained in the City for brief time, but was pursued by another apprentice who claimed that he had not fulfilled his obligation to train him in the trade. The apprentice describes his problems with his masters in a petition to have his apprenticeship annulled. The court granted his release from the Poppleton and Keeble partnership on the basis that both partners were in hiding (actually both ended up in debtors prison).[19]

Poppleton’s partner, Henry Ashley Keeble would emerge from debtors prison to go on to a modest career as a London Architect (a few of his townhouses are still extant) and even did some work from London for the wealthiest man in America at the time, Philadelphian William Bingham.[20]

Locations of Poppleton’s offices in Baltimore

Thomas Holdsworth Poppleton chose America instead to revive his fortunes, arriving in Baltimore by April of 1812 where he opened an office on North Howard Street, and offered to survey the City in response to a notice soliciting proposals that he had read in the newspapers.


(Baltimore City Commissioners) Administrative files

1812, BRG3-1-16-289[21]

How he came to choose Baltimore to revive his fortunes is not known, but it is possible that he was aware of John Eager Howard’s need for a surveyor of his extensive urban properties, and the City’s desperate need for an accurate survey of its boundaries, streets, and alleyways. The mystery figures in Poppleton’s attraction to Baltimore are the Quaker Assurance broker and friend of the Howards, Joseph Townsend, and Cornelius Howard, Jr., Governor John Eager Howard’s brother.

Joseph Townsend, initially a bookbinder and teacher by trade and an early opponent of slavery, established the most successful building insurance company in the City (Baltimore Equitable Insurance Society), running it to his and his family’s benefit for over fifty years from the same location on Baltimore Street. He, along with John Eager Howard, was also on the Commission created by the Legislature to oversee the mapping of the expanded City mandated by the Maryland legislature in 1817. He would prove to be Poppleton’s strongest defender and would oversee the completion of Poppleton’s map, paying the bills and lending his young, nearly blind, son, Richard H. Townsend to assist in the task of laying the permanent boundary stones of the City.[22]

Cornelius Howard, Jr., was the brother of Governor John Eager Howard, Revolutionary War hero and friend of Washington’s, who owned significant areas of the City and the surrounding countryside including what was to become Mount Vernon Square and the site of the elegant Robert Mills monument to George Washington.[23] Cornelius was a respected land surveyor of the old school of compass and chain who is probably best remembered as a gentleman farmer and breeder of horses who lived to the ripe old age of 90.[24] In the years before Poppleton, he had been called upon to sort out the ancient surveys of the land that encompassed the City and may even have participated in the abortive 1785 attempt to map the town. The surviving survey notes are among his papers at the Maryland Historical Society.

By 1812, a few years older than Poppleton, Cornelius Howard was well known for his surveys of land in the Illinois country, acting as land agent and surveyor of what would become Rochester, New York for Charles Carroll of Carrollton, and was well regarded as a surveyor by the powers that be in Albany, New York, when he was appointed to a commission to survey canal street in New York City. He would come to Poppleton’s defense. When Poppleton was in effect ridden out of town by a dissenting commissioner and a prominent local land surveyor, Howard recommended him as his own replacement for a prestigious, well-paying assignment in New York City.[25]

On April 10, 1812, from his office on North Howard street, Thomas Holdsworth Poppleton answered the call of the City Commissioners:

In pursuance of a notice date 3rd April which has appeared in the newspapers of this City, inviting proposals for “making a survey and correct plat of the City of Baltimore agreeably to an Ordinance passed 25th March last.” I offer myself to your notice as being disposed to exert my utmost abilities in performing all the duties imposed upon the artist by the above named ordinance….

I beg further to submit that having had much experience in that particular branch of Surveying, I feel myself amply possess’d with the requisite portion of skill.[26]

The requirement of an ‘artist’ surveyor to do the job has puzzled some historians who do not realize that surveying is an art as much as it is a skill, especially when it comes to depicting the product on paper. One of the most important works on surveying published in English (1688 and many subsequent editions in England and America) entitled his work Geodaesia: or, the Art of Surveying….[27] It is likely that Joseph Townsend and the Howards were also aware of the ‘art’ of the surveyor, as well as the obstacles to surveying in an existing City that Richard Horwood faced in the production of his well-known survey of London published between 1792 and 1799.

Horwood intended originally to show every house and its number but this was to prove impossible. Although every house is included the numbering was never completed.

Horwood dedicated this map to the Trustees and Directors of the Phoenix Fire Office, reflecting that the protection of London from fire was at this time the reserve of numerous independent company brigades. The map is coloured, describing parks in green and the London Wall in red. The Tower of London is shown only by outline; Horwood records that: 'The Internal Parts not distinguished being refused permission to take the Survey', evidence that a surveyor was not always welcome.[28]

Poppleton did not propose to show every house, but he did intend the map to be an accurate work of art. All but one of the Baltimore City Commissioners supported the adoption of his proposal. From the beginning Commissioner Henry Stouffer, who voted against Poppleton, and his ally Jehu Bouldin, a well-known local compass and chain surveyor set out to undermine Poppleton’s plan. Why is not absolutely certain, except that Bouldin wanted the job, and Stouffer appears to have been an adamant Jeffersonian Democrat/Republican, politically opposed to the Federalist party supported by the Howards.[29]

Poppleton was clearly taken aback by his critics. Hired by the City Commissioners, he began his work and soon found himself tricked into stopping to locate stones marking property lines on streets already laid. Although he complained that it was not a part of his contract and that his job was to say where the boundaries of the City lay on the ground and how the streets should run on the ground in the future according to the laws and ordinances that called for them, he agreed to try to find the boundary between James Carey and former Mayor James Calhoun’s property on Light Street. It proved a disaster for Poppleton. As his enemies put it “Mr. Poppleton not being able to find any point by course and distance for his compass & chain both appearing to be incorrect. …”[30]

Poppleton was livid and wrote a detailed rebuttal to the Commissioners in which he laid out in an eight page memorandum his ardent belief in the reliability of triangulation and the use of a theodolite (possibly a Ramsden) to produce an accurate survey of the town, all the while debunking the old method of compass and chain. He begins by asserting that

If I understand aright, the order for [my] survey [of Baltimore] originated in an idea that I possessed a talent for such an undertaking founded on an improved & scientific method now in general use in civil & military surveying in Europe… [I was] decoyed out, to perform operations with an instrument I condemn [i.e. the compass]-- in a way that is in principal & contrary to my practice… [That] this pitiful underhand mode of proceeding was to be the test of my abilities--to narrow minds it may be apparently correct--from all such I appeal.[31]

He then proceeded to lambast the practice of the compass and chain surveyors, particularly the method used by Jehu Bouldin, although not identifying him by name, and outlining in detail with examples his own.

After explicitly laying out the inadequacies of compass and chain surveying, especially the inability to close a survey and the vagaries of the compass, particularly in an urban setting with its magnetic variations, he detailed his method of triangulation using an instrument of which he was justly proud.

Maryland State Archives, S. J. Martenet Company Collection,

MSA SC 5087-1-1-1/7

What Poppleton describes as his principal instrument for accurate surveying is ironically very close, if not an example, of one favored by Thomas Jefferson and possibly purchased by Jefferson in London in the late 1780s when Poppleton was an apprentice.[32]

That the supporters of Jefferson who dominated the politics of the City in Poppleton’s day cared little about Jefferson’s views on surveying and his preference for the theodolite, if they even knew about them, is understandable. Jefferson was not hailed in Baltimore for his skills as a surveyor, but as the retired President and adamant opponent of the Federal party of Hamilton, Adams, and the Howards, Poppleton’s Baltimore sponsors. Besides, local surveyor Jehu Bouldin thought he knew where the boundary stones of the streets were buried, and felt no need to survey with anything other than a telescope to site a place, a compass to plot direction, and a chain to calculate distance. Indeed, who was this British transplant arriving at the outset of a war with Britain to tell Bouldin and his supporters how to survey?

In closing his assessment of the accuracy of his methods, Poppleton provides a specific example of how his survey of the streets will be more accurate than that of any compass and chain surveyor Commissioner Stouffer puts forth. He begins with the incident that led to his discontent, and the mounting pressure for cancelling his contract, explaining why he could not find the existing boundary stones on Light Street, and concludes with a sketch of his triangulated location of a street corner in Fells Point, across from the Methodist Meeting House on Wilks, near the corner of Apple Alley. It would be a church that Poppleton would feature prominently on his map (labeled no. 1) when at last it would be published for the world to admire, and the City to utilize in its expansion outward.[33]

Details from Poppleton’s map of Wilks street with the

Methodist Meeting House identified (no. 1), and survey notes showing the building and his triangulation

at the corner of Apple Alley and Wilks Street in Fell’s Point[34]

The City Commissioners, influenced by Commissioner Henry Stouffer’s skullduggery, and Bouldin’s supporters in City government, backtracked. The mayor, Edward Johnson, who first supported Poppleton, reacted as politicians often do, to Poppleton’s memorandum by suggesting that the City could not afford him (the City Commissioners had agreed to give him $3,000 for his map). In Johnson’s words:

This Gentleman has addressed a long letter to me, explanatory of his intended mode of procedure, which not embracing the provisions of the law [relating to resolving property line disputes], occasions a special reference to the wisdom & decision of the City Council [to hire Jehu Bouldin as the City Surveyor over Poppleton to carry out those functions].

Observing at the same time, that the expenditure of the sum of three thousand dollars (however anxious we may be to encourage artists of superior talent and abilities) unless it can be made to answer a useful & valuable purpose, is not expedient in the present state of the resources of funds of the City.[35]

In his efforts to unseat Poppleton, Commissioner Henry Stouffer even appealed to Cornelius Howard with regard to evaluating Poppleton’s condemnation of the use of compass and chain surveying. Howard in turn, tactfully as he could, given the political climate, agreed with Poppleton’s assessment of the use of the compass and chain, but the tide had turned against the scientific surveyor. Poppleton quit in disgust in the summer of 1812, as the City became consumed by the advent of war with Great Britain. Surveying the City, except for ideal locations for fortifications, was postponed.[36]

On the strong recommendation of Cornelius Howard, Poppleton, who remained a British Citizen, left for a prestigious surveying assignment in New York City, announcing that if the City fathers wanted all that he had already done, and wished him to complete the survey, all they had to do was to modify his contract, call him back, and leave him in peace to do his work.[37]

Poppleton’s map of lower Manhattan from the New York Public Library Collection,

Harvard College Library has georeferenced Poppleton’s map. See:

It will never be known for certain how the New York legislature came to pick Cornelius Howard to partner with two famous inventors, Eli Whitney and Robert Fulton, in an attempt to contain the open sewer that was known as Canal Street in lower Manhattan. What survives is a copy of a letter of Poppleton’s dated August 13, 1812, from his office on North Howard Street to William Coleman in New York. He informs the fiery anti-war Federalist editor that he will pursue the recommendation of Cornelius Howard, and a wealthy New York Quaker, Thomas Eddy, to replace Howard on the commission to address the problem of Canal Street. Eddy was a strong advocate of a canal through Western New York eventually known as Clinton’s ditch or the Erie Canal. Poppleton told Coleman that he could be in New York in two weeks time, once he finished another legislatively mandated project to survey Pratt Street, the plats for which have survived. William Coleman was the first editor of the The New York Evening Post (today known as the New York Post), chosen by founder Alexander Hamilton, and was outspoken in his opposition to the war against Great Britain. It is possible that Joseph Townsend, Poppleton’s Quaker patron and insurance broker knew Thomas Eddy and instigated his recommendation. Both were successful insurance brokers as well as nationally known Quaker businessmen.[38]

It took longer for Poppleton to reach New York than he planned. His principal contact for the project, Alexander Bleecker, another wealthy New York Federalist whose properties would be affected by the study of options for Canal Street, became anxious, but eventually Poppleton arrived and set up an office in his accommodations. It also took longer for his precious theodolite to arrive, but he did get down to business at once, meeting with his co-commissioners, Robert Fulton and Eli Whitney. While most of Poppleton’s Baltimore papers have long since disappeared, his journal for his first New York project has survived, purchased by the New York Public Library in 1905. In it he details his work with the other two commissioners over the period from October 7, 1812, until all three signed off on their plans and recommendations, submitting them to the City and to Governor Clinton in Albany. Poppleton did the survey and the accompanying plats. Robert Fulton prepared the perspective drawings. Whitney attended all the decision meetings and was consulted on the engineering aspects of the proposed solution to the open sewer that was Canal Street. They began with the idea that they would be proposing a canal with sewers underneath, but concluded that the best treatment was to abandon the canal and concentrate on an elaborate covered sewer. The City fathers found their proposal too expensive and over time all of the drawings and plats have disappeared from the City Surveyor’s office, although their advice was eventually taken. Poppleton’s work was exemplary, however, and landed him the post of one of the City Surveyors, and a partnership with another surveyor that brought him significant business including surveying and mapping parts of Brooklyn. It also provided the the opportunity to produce what proved to be the best ever survey map of Lower Manhattan, which he published in 1817, one that continued to be used in defining streets and property lines well into the 19th century. By the time his Manhattan map was published Poppleton had an office at no. 8 Wall Street and to all appearances was there to stay.[39]

Back in Baltimore, the political opponents of the Jeffersonian City administration convinced the the 1816/1817 General Assembly to expand the City’s boundaries to encompass the outlying precincts containing the majority voters who were democrats, eliminating their impact on Baltimore County politics. The first act of enlargement left the job to the City Commissioners to lay out the new boundaries, without explicit power of condemning land and naming streets. All the while Jehu Bouldin lobbied hard for the surveying contract.[40]

Maryland General Assembly, Session Laws, 1816-1817

Joseph Townsend and his friends in Baltimore were not pleased with the prospects of Jehu Bouldin undertaking the mapping of the City. They approached the Federalist controlled legislature the very next session (1817/1818) and secured new powers to name and layout streets, including powers of condemnation. Under both acts, the City administration was required to pay for the survey and map, but had no control over who did the survey, nor over what methods were used to produce it. The commission, headed by John Eager Howard, with Joseph Townsend and five others, decided to entice Thomas Poppleton to return. He eagerly complied, knowing that with the enhanced powers of the Commission, he would no longer have to contend with a Mayor and the two branches of the City Council.

Townsend supervised Poppleton’s work and advanced the money to pay for it out of Baltimore Equitable Society funds, expecting to be reimbursed by the City upon completion.[41]

The chronology of Poppleton’s progress on his survey and map survives among the papers of the Baltimore Equitable Society that were purchased at auction by the Maryland State Archives. He commenced his survey and the laying of the perimeter boundary stones in May and June of 1818, apparently uprooting those already planted by Jehu Bouldin. Four years and several hundred stones later the survey was complete, filed with the City, and his derivative wall map was offered for publication by subscription.

Maryland State Archives, Radoff Collection, MSA SC 4645-3-1-23

The map proved to be a work of art as well as an accurate depiction of Baltimore’s streets and blocks as they were in 1822, and as they were meant to be, laid out all the way to the new perimeter of the City. He had to contend with the chaos of existing streets, but straightened and mapped their extensions out as best he could with his trusty theodolite and reliance upon triangulation. What he accomplished lays well upon Google Earth and reflects an accuracy that he promised. The commission had the power to rename streets as the survey progressed, and the map reflected at least two private jokes of the surveyor.

Detail from Poppleton’s Map of Baltimore, 1822, noting the Methodist Meeting House

as the first among the Churches identified on the map

The first was to list the Apple Alley/Wilks Street Methodist Meeting House as the first among Baltimore Churches listed on the map proper, the church location and Wilks street that Poppleton had included as his example of the accuracy of his surveying method. The second was to obliterate the street name, Still-House street, just east of Jones Falls, on which his rival, Jehu Bouldin had long maintained his offices, renaming it a continuation of “Front Street.”

Instead of the original $3,000 that Poppleton proposed as the fee for his services and the resulting map, the project cost nearly $6500 with interest, much of the cost being advanced by Joseph Townsend and Baltimore Equitable. When the bills were submitted to the Mayor and City council for reimbursement, a firestorm erupted over the cost and the quality of the work which emanated from the Stouffer/Bouldin faction on the council.[42]

The reaction of the council was too much for Townsend and Poppleton. The milder response came from Poppleton who published his observations in the local press with a letter to the editor that omitted names found in the original manuscript:

Sir: by the Morning Chronicle of the Tuesday last [March 18, 1822], I learned for the first time at a doubt existed in your Branch of the City Council relative to the correctness of the Plat returned by the Commissioners, and made by me under their direction.[43]

He went on to explain that the issue was the scale used in the map, and that the accompanying plats filed with the City provided both accurate scale and explicit detail.

Joseph Townsend was not as gentle in his scathing letter to the council. The First Branch of the City Council was so taken aback that it recorded in its journal that they returned Townsend’s letter to the second Branch (Where Henry Stouffer’s relative served) with the comment

We beg leave to suggest the propriety of returning it to Mr. Townsend as being a paper unfit to be recorded in the journals of the City Council.[44]

Townsend had a right to be angry. Poppleton did what he said he would and produced a map that the City came to adopt as its own, with an amended edition in the early 1850s that was used for Baltimore’s unique system of land transfer and recordation, the block book system, whereby Poppleton’s City blocks were numbered on his map and all recorded land transaction from 1851 forward were recorded geographically by block.

Unfortunately over time the block book system broke down through poor administration by the court of record and the City, but for the rest of the nineteenth century until well into the twentieth it served surveyors and the public admirably. Recently it was supplanted altogether by an automated on-line automation of land recordation created by the Maryland State Archives that placed the surviving blockbooks and the related recordations on line making title searches for lot descriptions infinitely easier for developers and their surveyors, although the nightmare of ownership and title entangled in ground rents has not been effectively addressed and remains a thorn in the side of re-development of the streetscapes of the City. Baltimore like Birmingham in England used the leasing of property at interest (ground rents) to free capital for building on the property. As long as the ground rent was paid the buildings could be separately bought and sold. If it wasn’t, technically anything on the property reverted to the property owner. Over the years the ownership of the ground rents and the above ground property owners became a quagmire of who owned what. In some instances ground rents were being double charged because of overlooking property divisions within estates to the point that some property owners in a block, instead of being charged with half the ground rent for the block, were each charged the ground rent for the whole block. The Legislature once again tried to act in what it perceived the best interest of the City and tried to abolish ground rents altogether by legislative fiat. In 2014, the Maryland Court of Appeals found the law unconstitutional and the mess remains.[45]

Plates from Thomas Poppleton’s survey of the John Eager Howard Estate,

Maryland State Archives, MSA S512-8804

In the years after 1822, Poppleton did not have to worry about ground rents in his surveys. Instead he helped create them, particularly with the work he did in surveying the John Eager Howard estate. When Howard’s daughter contested the division of her father’s estate, by another act of the Legislature intended to resolve the differences, Thomas Poppleton was hired to survey and lay out a fair distribution with clearly defined streets including the Mount Vernon Square district that is today the home of Robert Mill’s monument to George Washington.[46]

Little of Poppleton’s post 1822 survey work has survived in print, save a reduced copy of his B & O survey, and elevations for a proposed canal.[47] By 1830, he had been forced to apply for relief under the bankruptcy law of Maryland which required him to apply for citizenship, where he was sponsored by his longtime friend and patron, Joseph Townsend.[48] The next year his fortune appeared to revive. He went on to work for the B&O Railroad and mapped its efforts to construct a main line on Pratt Street.[49]

A reduced version of Poppleton’s survey for the B & O

While his efforts to survey for the B&O were praised in the press, the original surveys have disappeared save for the reduced version that appeared in a B & O report. Poppleton Street that runs along one edge of the Mount Clare Station and B&O roundhouse, survives, however, just as he indicated on his 1822 map. It is not often, if ever, that a surveyor is able to name a street after himself, but why not? Surely he deserved it.

Detail from the 1851 revision of Poppleton’s map showing Poppleton Street, upper right

Maryland State Archives copy, MSA SC 1427-1-582

The Pennsylvania State Archives, MG 11-Map Collection, 156. A Topographical Map of the Route of a Proposed Canal and the Country Between Conewago and Baltimore. Drawn by direction of the Canal Commissioners by F. Lucas, Jr. Shows: length of canal, profile of Mr. Poppleton's series of levels from Baltimore to York Haven, n.d. Printed, in 4 colors. Laminated, 1 section

Poppleton did participate in the enthusiasm for canals to improve the City’s prospects for trade. He surveyed the elevations and path for a proposed canal from the Susquehanna to Baltimore for which Fielding Lucas, a local printer of fine maps ultimately drew upon for the copies now located in the Maryland and Pennsylvania Archives.[50]

Poppleton’s last years were spent in apparent near poverty. When he died of ‘old age’ at 72 in 1837, there were no surviving children. Only brief notice was made of his passing. By then his wife Ann had opened a confectionary shop as a means of support, and at his death there was not enough property for her to inventory and distribute as his administrator.[51]

From the Baltimore Sun, June 9, 1912, vertical file, Enoch Pratt Free Library, courtesy of Joel Leininger

What happened to Poppleton’s treasured theodolite and the bulk of his papers is unknown, although it appears that the Bouldin family acquired some, including the original of his plat of Pratt Street that he completed in 1818. Indeed by 1912, Jehu Bouldin’s granddaughters suggested they owned Poppleton’s theodolite, a picture of which was published in the Sun. It wasn’t. Instead it was a later model probably used by their father, Alexander Bouldin, who came to adopt Poppleton’s approach to surveying. The irony remains that the family would appear to think so highly of the memory of Poppleton by 1912, but his instrument remains at large, if not lost altogether.[52]

Anyone interested in plotting the history, growth and development of Baltimore from 1822 to the present cannot escape admiring and utilizing Thomas Poppleton’s survey map of the City.

It places well on the existing streets of Google Earth and can be used to aid in the geo referencing of the physical change of the City over time as well as the history of the homes, institutions, and businesses it locates and identifies.

Poppleton’s 1822 map placed on top of Google Earth with current streets shown in white and yellow. Poppleton’s office in 1822 is marked in the upper right corner and Jehu Bouldin’s near the bottom right

Around its border are inset illustrations of public monuments, fountains, churches, banks and businesses as of 1822, with historical images at its base of the first images and layout of the the town, and the bombardment of Fort McHenry whose battlements had been placed with aid of another theodolite a decade and half before Thomas Holdsworth Poppleton came to town to battle his land surveyor peers over how best to measure and delineate the City streets. [53]

1852 revised edition of Poppleton’s map,

first published in November of 1851,

Maryland State Archives copy, MSA SC 1427-1-582[54]

A decade and a half after Thomas Poppleton’s death, his map and building vignettes along the borders were updated, and used by the City for a geographical recordation system unique to Maryland, that recorded land transactions by his City blocks which in 1851 numbered 2073.

In the end Poppleton’s map triumphed as the base map upon which all future development of the City was directed. His was indeed The Map that Made Baltimore. May his reputation regain some of the lustre it deserves in the grand tradition of such scientific surveyors as Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, and the unheralded surveyors of Fort McHenry.[55]

[1] Edward C. Papenfuse, Archivist of Maryland from 1975 to 2013, has written extensively on the history of Maryland and Baltimore City. All of the maps illustrated here were imaged and placed in their historical context in Edward C. Papenfuse, and Joseph M. Coale, The Maryland State Archives Atlas of Historical Maps of Maryland, 1608-1908. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003, which was the greatly expanded edition of Edward C. Papenfuse and Joseph M. Coale. The Hammond-Harwood House Atlas of Historical Maps of Maryland, 1608-1908. Baltimore, Md: John Hopkins Univ. Press, 1982. For an assessment of the maps and plats relating to Baltimore City see: Richard J. Cox, “Trouble on the Chain Gang: City Surveying, Maps, and the Absence of Urban Planning in Baltimore 1730-1823; With a Checklist of Maps of the Period,” Maryland Historical Magazine, Volume 81, No. 1, Spring 1986. Cox provides a comprehensive list of known mapping of the City, but he does not always ascribe authorship accurately.

[2] Efforts had been made as early as 1773 to merge the three areas into one jurisdiction. For the story of this attempt see the first two chapters of Suzanne Ellery Greene, An Illustrated History of Baltimore, 1980.

[3] For the charter and description of the three united communities into Baltimore City see; Baltimore (Md.), and Samuel Young. Ordinances of the Corporation of the City of Baltimore: With the Act of Incorporation, and the Several Supplements Thereto : to Which Is Added, an Appendix, Containing an Abridgement of, and References to, All Such Acts of the State Legislature of Maryland, As Relate to the Boundaries, Police and Regulation of Baltimore, Before or Since Its Being Incorporated : with a Copious Index to the Whole. Baltimore: Printed by William Warner, 1816.

[4] See the text of the law at: The law was revised at the next session of the General Assembly to give the Commissioners greater power over the laying out of the streets and naming them. See: There would be no further annexation of territory to Baltimore City until after the Civil War.

[5] Head, David. Privateers of the Americas: Spanish American Privateering from the United States and the Influence of Geopolitics in the Early Republic. 2015, and Sherry H. Olson, H. Baltimore, the Building of an American City. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980. For the panic of 1819 and its aftermath see: Edward Papenfuse, Baltimore: October 1816 A City of Promise on the Bay, and Garrett Power, Baltimore After the War of 1812: Where Robert Mills met his Waterloo and When James A. Buchanan Broke the Bank. See also: Baltimore: October 1816, A City of Promise at:

[6] Ordinances of the Corporation of the City of Baltimore from 1803 to 1812, inclusive, Baltimore: John Cox, 1876, pp. 329-330, no. 28, adopted March 25, 1812.

[7] Maryland Historical Society, Cornelius Howard Papers 1659-1853, MS. 469.5, Box 2, Field Notes of a Survey of a Part of Baltimore Town (1 vol.), 1785-86. Howard’s papers contain the survey notebooks for 1727-1730, of Philip Jones, Jr., Deputy Surveyor for Baltimore County, as well as considerable detail on Howard’s surveying career. Cornelius Howard became a good friend of Poppleton’s and did what he could to advance Poppleton’s career.

[8] For Charles Varlé, a refugee from the revolution in Haiti, see: 1814: A Plea for Better Privies and a Cleaner life-Baltimore's Forgotten Civil Engineer and Map Maker, Peter Charles Varlé,

[9]The University of Richmond has geo-referenced the 1801 edition of Varlé’s map at Permalink: Barbara Wells Sarudy has used the Warner and Hanna/Varlé map to demonstrate the importance of gardens in the outlying ‘precincts’ of the City. See: Barbara Wells Sarudy, Gardens and Gardening in the Chesapeake, 1700-1805. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. There were gardens (largely vegetable and fruit) within the City. There was an extensive nursery and vegetable garden on the south side of Federal Hill for example, until late in the 19th century when the noxious fumes of the local chemical factory drove it out of the City. See Maryland Court of Appeals, 57 Md. 465, on line at:

[10] Sherry Olson, Baltimore, 1980, pp. 57-58, would become the chief critic of the consequences of Poppleton’s map:

The standard Baltimore block that Poppleton selected differed from New York, and his hierarchy of street widths—front, side, and alley—created a pattern for future construction and for differentials in social structure that persist to this day. Poppleton's solutions for stitching together the several pre existing street grids along the seams of through streets produced the modern traffic engineer's nightmare and the pedestrian citizen's delight. Dozens Baltimore streets jogged, or met in intersections of five streets. A street vista was often visually closed by an angled terrace, a steeple, chimney, or turret.

Sometimes triangular points of land were left, better suited to a statue, fountain, or garden than a house. The chief limitations of the plan stemmed from the fact that it was not a topographical survey. In order to save money, topographical survey was rejected, and the final plan was two dimensional. Its "striking regularity" was achieved at the cost of ignoring variations of terrain. This feature, too, contributed to the character of inner-City Baltimore: straight rows of houses step up and down the hills, and vistas surprise the driver at each rise or dip. But much of the costly bridging, filling, tunneling, storm sewering, and regrading for a century must be attributed to a cavalier attitude toward the relief. A two dimensional plot, as some citizens realized at the time, would not produce order in the hydrologic system, correct the nuisances, or minimize future public investments. It did, however, make possible the continuation of subdivision and private speculative development. Ads began appearing immediately that suggest why the plot met with the "entire approbation" of all the large landowners. Christian Mayer's estate was offered for sale: "In the late plan of the City a public square is laid out on it, with Baltimore street extended running through the estate, with a front of about 240 feet." Part of Edward Ireland's estate was subdivided along the newly plotted Chatsworth Street front. City planning of this kind was an essential tool for efficiency in the private exploitation of urban land. Public control of the proper sort stimulated the speculative system. Facilitating the circulation of money took precedence over facilitating the circulation of water. The contradictions were glaring. The means of developing and controlling the physical environment increased, yet, as I have shown, environmental problems loomed larger than before. The same thing was happening in the social environment: the resources were greater, but so were the disharmonies. The dimensions of poverty seemed to increase. Like smallpox and yellow fever, violence threatened to break into mob rule or anarchy. Everyone saw the visible signs of success and failure all around, and everyone experienced the pressures of boom and collapse. For the rich and the poor, both vulnerable, these experiences intensified the sense of disorder and produced a yearning for order. Each struggled in his own way to make sense of his world.

[11] from the manuscript to Mobtown Or Charm City?: Race, Politics, and History in Baltimore, by Matthew A. Crenson, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017, ISBN 1421422069, 9781421422060

[12] Danson, Edwin. From the Post Mark'd West: The Making of the Mason-Dixon Line. New York: John Wiley, 2001. For the restoration of the Bird transit see:

[14] London Metropolitan Archives, Saint George in the East, Register of baptisms, Oct 1749-Dec 1770. P93/GEO/002, available on http/ London Apprenticeship Abstracts on For a translation of the motto and a summary history of the Honorable Company of Vintners see: When Poppleton died in April 1837 he was buried in a Protestant Methodist graveyard in Baltimore. See: Maryland State Archives, Baltimore City Archives Record Group, BRG19-1-8-6, Report of Interments in the City of Baltimore, April 3, 1837. The Methodist Protestant Church to which Poppleton belonged and which had its origins in Baltimore was strongly in favor of complete abstinence from alcohol. See the resolution adopted in Baltimore and put forth by Thomas Stockton in 1830: 1. Resolved, That the efforts of the friends of temperance to promote entire abstinence from the use of ardent spirits, except as a medicine, meet our cordial Approbation, James R. Williams, History of the Methodist Protestant Church. Baltimore: Book Committee of the M.P. Church, 1843, p. 322. Stockton would have been Poppleton’s minister and would have buried him. In 1835 and again in 1861 Stockton was the chaplain of the House of Representatives and in 1863 gave the opening prayer at the ceremonies in Gettysburg where Lincoln gave his address.

[15] “England Marriages, 1538-1973,” database, FamilySearch ( accessed 4 September 2015), Thomas Poppleton and Ann Firth, 13 Jan 1799, citing Kippax, York, england reference FHL microfilm 496.807. For his only known child see:, 1805/12/11, St. Pancras parish. The mother’s name there is given as Rebecca, but perhaps her full name was Rebecca Ann?, or the clerk got her name wrong.

[16] Converted using, a website created by Eric Nye, Department of English, University of Wyoming.

[17] The London career of Thomas Holdsworth Poppleton and his partner Henry Keeble can be traced in the London Gazette which is online at, especially 24 April 1804, 28 July 1804, 20 June 1807, and the London City directories which are not on line and were consulted on microfiche at the London Metropolitan Archives. Poppleton’s stay in King’s bench prison is documented in the “London, England, King’s Bench and Fleet Prison Discharge books and Prisoner Lists, 1734-1862” which are indexed and accessible on For William Smith, the famous cartographer who created the most important geological map of England and also ended up in debtor’s prison, see Simon Winchester. The Map That Changed the World: A Tale of Rocks, Ruin and Redemption. London: Penguin, 2002.

[18] How to deal with debtors and bankruptcy is a complicated story in Britain and the United States. In Poppleton’s day in England there was considerable agitation for reform of the laws relating to bankruptcy and pressure was brought in Parliament to provide relief to those debtors who were in prison, Poppleton among them. The law that released him was enacted on June 19, 1809 entitled “An Act for the Relief of Certain Insolvent Debtors” which begins “Whereas it may be convenient in the present crowded State of the Prisons and Gaols in England and Wales, that some of the Prisoners confined therein, truly surrendering their Effects to the Creditors, should be liberated …” Original printing of the act in the author’s possession. According to one summary account, Poppleton would have been one of 15 prisoners incarcerated in King’s Bench who were freed under this act. James Neild, An Account of the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Society for the Discharge and Relief of Persons Imprisoned for small debts throughout England and Wales, London, 1808, p. 581.

[19]The details of this case are to be found in the Middlesex Sessions of the Peace records, papers for 1809 June Quarter Sessions, Petitions and Appeals, George Imms, apprentice, v Thomas Holdsworth Poppleton and Henry Ashley Keeble, late of Bloomsbury Square, ...., in the London Metropolitan Archives, labeled MJSP/1809/06/01.

[20] For what else is known of Henry Ashley Keeble’s career including his design for William Bingham’s gate see Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840. New Haven: Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press, 1995.

[22]Joseph Townsend deserves a biographer. Two promising scholars have been working on the story of his life, James Bigwood (see:, and Hannah Jones (see: His relationship to Thomas Poppleton is documented in the records of the Baltimore City Archives, especially BRG 3, and in Maryland State Archives special collections, MSA SC 5087. The transcription of the diary of his nearly blind son is at the Pratt Library: The Diary Of Richard H. Townsend, Compiled 1851-1879, Containing Historical, Biographical And Genealogical Information For 1683-1879, With And Index By John Shotwell Townsend; From The Original Manuscript In The Possession Of Mr. John S. Townsend, Transcribed By The Works Progress Administration Of Maryland At The Enoch Pratt Free Library, By: Townsend, Richard Hallett, 1804-1879. Call Number: CS71.T7T6 V.3 Publication Date: 1937 3.

[24] Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York), Tuesday,February 27, 1844, “On the 12th inst. At his residence in Baltimore County, Md., Cornelius Howard, Esq. in the 90th year of his age.”

[25] Maryland Historical Society, Cornelius Howard Papers 1659-1853, MS. 469.5, and an item in William Reese Co., catalog, 331: Carroll, Charles: [RETAINED COPY OF AN AUTOGRAPH LETTER, SIGNED, FROM CHARLES CARROLL OF CARROLLTON TO CORNELIUS HOWARD, CONCERNING THE SALE OF SOME LAND]. Annapolis. Dec. 23, 1789. [2]pp. Quarto. Old fold lines. Some light chipping and wear. About very good, which in part reads: “Sir, I should be glad to be informed whether you have made any progress towards completing the survey of Rochester, and whether you have sold any more parcels of land out of that tract, and to whom, and on what terms. Be pleased to furnish me with a list of the person's names to whom sold, if you have sold any land, since I saw you in Baltimore town, setting down in said list ye price p. an. & quantity of acres sold to each. I request you will receive for me the rent & arrears of rent of the man, who formerly paid Richd. Ridgeley....I wish also to be informed whether you have sold to Mr. Owings, the land which Macklefresh had agreed to buy of Richd. Ridgeley. I request you will receive for me of the persons underneath mentioned the respective sums due from each of them for a year's interest, and your receipt for the same shall be good against.” The letter

[27] Love, John, Geodaesia: or, The Art of Surveying and Measuring of Land Made Easie. . As also How to Lay out New Lands in America, or Elsewhere:…, (London, 1688), xxii, 196, 52 . Love published his first edition after returning from surveying in America. He was particularly concerned about the lack of knowledge exhibited by young surveyors in Carolina. Later editions of the book appeared for over a century with the 12th (1793) and 13th (1796) editions being published in New York. The work changed little over the years, even considering the later revisions of Samuel Clark. Instructions are given in use of a Gunter chain and measuring angles with the circumferentor, plane table, and semicircle. There are also directions for taking field notes and measuring and calculating the acreage for plots of land. George Washington (1732-1799) studied surveying from Love's Geodaesia which was widely used in America. .

[28] Quoted from:, an online exhibit of the 1792 printing of Horwood’s map of London.

[29] The documentation for the discussion of Poppleton’s relationship with the City Commissioners in 1812 and the specific quotes as noted are taken from the e-publication of the records in the Baltimore City Archives available at:, ff., and in a collection bought at auction with the income from the Morris L. Radoff endowment, Maryland State Archives, Special Collections, MSA SC 4645-3-1.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[33] The 1819 City directory lists a church at Apple Alley as African American. The location of this church is not clear. The church near the corner of Apple and Wilks is not subsequently identified as African in the City directories. While Mistress Auld attended class meeting at the Wilk street meeting house, Frederick Douglass stayed at home alone, learning to write. See: Douglass, Frederick, and Henry Louis Gates. Autobiographies: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave ; My Bondage and My Freedom ; Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. 1994, p. 45.

[34] Poppleton’s lengthy explanation of his surveying technique and his criticism of the then current method of land surveying is reproduced in Edward C. Papenfuse and Joseph M. Coale, The Maryland State Archives Atlas of Historical Maps of Maryland, 1608-1908. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003, p. 172, and are found in the S. J. Martenet Company Collection, MSA SC 5087-1-1-1/7.

[36] The whole controversy is detailed in the papers of the City Council and Mayor’s office that were inventoried by the WPA in the late 1930s. Some of the papers were scanned and placed on line beginning at: They are also catalogued as BALTIMORE City,

BALTIMORE City ARCHIVES, (Baltimore City Commissioners) Administrative files, 1812, BRG3-1-16, in the Maryland State Archives Guide to Government Records:

[37] Ibid. The documentation for Poppleton’s work in New York and his replacing Cornelius Howard as a Commissioner appointed in the Act for the appointment of Commissioners to ascertain the best method of conveying off the Waters from the Collect and Lispenard’s Meadow, in the City of New York, passed June 19, 1812 (see; Laws of the State of New York passed at the Thirty-fifth Session of the Legislature …, Albany, 1812, p. 419), is to be found in the Thomas Poppleton Papers, 1812-13, MssCol 4582, of the New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division, a digital copy of which was purchased by the author. See also The Iconography of Manhattan Island, vol 5, New York: 1926, for a number of references to Thomas Poppleton at work in New York. The most accessible copy is on line at:

[39] Minutes of the Common Council of the City of New York…, v. 9, 1817-1818, p. 279, and Thomas Poppleton Papers, 1812-13, MssCol 4582, of the New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division.

[40] Jehu Bouldin’s proposal to survey the City was announced in the Baltimore Patriot, February 11, 1818.

[41] Maryland State Archives, Radoff Collection, MSA SC 4645-3-1. Sadly almost all of the original Poppleton survey plats no longer exist, with the exception of a portion of the proposed extension of Pratt Street over the existing wharves, dated May 1818, Baltimore City Archives, BRG 12-s3-66.

[42] The controversy is documented in the minutes of both branches of the Baltimore City Council, which are on line through the Baltimore City Archives. See: The accounting for the cost over-run for the surveying is to be found in Maryland State Archives, Radoff Collection, MSA SC 4645-3-1.

[43] Baltimore American & Commercial Daily Advertiser, April 3, 1822.

[44] Baltimore American & Commercial Daily Advertiser, March 27, 1822.

[46] Maryland State Archives, MSA S512-8804.

[47] It is possible that other Poppleton surveys will be found among the equity records of Baltimore City and the State Chancery Court, but to find them would entail a long and arduous search until those records are scanned and placed on line.

[48] Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, December 4, 1830, and Baltimore County Court (Naturalization Docket) Declaration of Intent of Thomas Holdsworth Poppleton, 7 July 1830, Volume 1, p. 161, Maryland State Archives, MSA C389-1. The bankruptcy proceedings cannot be located and there is no evidence that Poppleton completed the naturalization process.

[49] Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, February 8, 1831.

[50] The Pennsylvania State Archives, MG 11-Map Collection, 156. A Topographical Map of the Route of a Proposed Canal and the Country Between Conewago and Baltimore. Drawn by direction of the Canal Commissioners by F. Lucas, Jr. Shows: length of canal, profile of Mr. Poppleton's series of levels from Baltimore to York Haven, n.d. Printed, in 4 colors. Laminated, 1 section

[51] Maryland State Archives, Baltimore City Archives Record Group, BRG19-1-8-6, Report of Interments in the City of Baltimore, April 3, 1837, documenting burial in the Protestant Methodist burial ground.. See the Baltimore City Directory for 1831, where Thos Poppleton, Surveyor, has an office on Hill st. w of Light and Mrs T. H. Poppleton is a confectioner at 4 North Calvert Street. Letters of administration were granted to Ann Poppleton with John Beary and Robert Skillman as sureties on November 30, 1837. There was no will and no inventory taken which indicates that there was nothing of value in his estate. See Baltimore County Administrations, 1835-1840, vol. 10 at

[52] From the Baltimore Sun, June 9, 1912, vertical file, Enoch Pratt Free Library, courtesy of Joel Leininger,.

[53] The art of Poppleton’s map is in the quality of its execution and the images of the architecture of the City which surrounds it. Through the two editions and on the Klemm derivative, the buildings of 1822 were replaced by newer structures (6 between 1822 and 1852). Jeremy Kargon has written about the vignettes of buildings that surround the Poppleton and Klemm maps in an article for the Maryland Historical Magazine, Volume 104, no. 2 (Summer 2009), pp 185-207, and as a word document on line entitled A Closer Look at Poppleton’s Map of Baltimore Thirty-Seven Vignettes of a City’s Self-Image, without illustrations at:

[55] From its publication in 1822 until the Bromley atlas in 1896, Thomas Poppleton’s map remained the standard reference map for the City. In fact, when the block-book system of recording property transfers was instituted in 1886, Poppleton’s map, updated in 1852 was used as a base map on which block numbers were assigned. In 1894 L. M. Duvall explained the new method in his Practical Points for Conveyancers, a. volume that still remains useful for anyone searching City land records. Duvall noted that after 1886 the City was divided into 2073 blocks, or squares (Poppletons Map being used for the purpose). Each of these blocks or squares is bounded by well-defined streets and each is given a number. . . . The index books each contain a certain number of pages, numbered to correspond with the block numbers on the map. L. M. Duvall, Practical Points for Conveyancers (Baltimore, 1894), p. 9. In 1897 the City published the results of a detailed topographical survey conducted between 1894 and 1896. It consisted of thirty-seven plates prepared under the direction of H. T. Douglas, Chief Engineer, City of Baltimore Topographical Survey. The Sanborn and Bromley atlases were more manageable in size and more widely used by banks, real estate agents, and tax assessors. For on line copies of the Sanborn and Bromley atlases see and e-publication by the author: