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Reverend John Donaldson and Some of Our Other Early Episcopal Clergymen

John Donaldson was born in Scotland prior to 1688 and was presumably married there to his wife, Elizabeth.  He came to Maryland and was inducted as rector at Somerset Parish in Somerset County, Maryland on February 12, 1711/1712 where he served until 1715.  His next assignment, obviously a very brief one, was at Westminster Parish in Anne Arundel County as he was inducted as rector of King and Queen Parish of St. Mary’s County in the same year--1715.  From then until his death in 1748, he served parishes in both St. Mary’s County and in Charles County.

Rev. Donaldson received supervision, such as it was, from England.  Periodically, the clergy in Maryland would be visited by representatives from the Bishop in London or they would be required to report on the status of their congregations.  In 1722, one of the English church representatives described Rev. Donaldson as “A Grand Tory and a Rake." Unfortunately, no further record exists to tell us why this observation was made but in later years perhaps that might be explained. 

In Rev. Donaldson’s defense, he did receive a slightly better evaluation than Rev. James Williamson, Rector of All Saints Parish in Calvert County, who was described as "An Idiot and a Tory."  Rev. William Maconchie, Rector of Port Tobacco and Durham Parishes in Charles County, seemed to have fared best of all as it was stated only that he was "A mighty stickler for the present establishment."

In 1722, probably in lieu of a visit, the Bishop provided Rev. Donaldson (and his fellow rectors) a list of queries.  The questions and answers of Rev. Donaldson follow.

Rev. John Donaldson, King and Queen Parish, Saint Mary and Charles County:

Q:  How long is it since you went over to the Plantations as a Missionary? 

A:  About 12 years.

Q:  Have you had any other church, before you came to that which you now possess; and if you had, what church was it, and how long have you been removed? 

A:  At my first arrival I was inducted into Somerset parish in Somerset county from thence removed to Westminster Parish, from thence 9 years ago removed to King and Queen Parish. 

Q:  Have you been duly licensed by the Bishop of London to officiate as a Missionary, in the Government where you now are? 

A:  I have been duly licensed. 

Q:  How long have you been inducted into your Living? 

A:  Nine years. 

Q:  Are your ordinarily resident in the Parish to which you have been inducted? 

A:  Ordinarily resident. 

Q:  Of what extent is your Parish, and how many families are there in it? 

A:  About 36 miles long and seven broad, and contains about 200 families. 

Q:  Are there any Infidels, bound or free, within your Parish; and what means are used for their conversion? 

A:  Negroes and Mulattoes.  Some of them that understand English come duly to church, where the means of Instruction are to be had. 

Q:  How oft is Divine Service performed to your Church?  And what proportion of the Parishoners attend it? 

A:  Every Sunday and Holyday, most part of the Parishoners attending. 

Q:  How oft is the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper administered?  And what is the usual number of communicants? 

A:  12 times a week yearly, the number of communicants sometimes more sometimes less, but generally between 60 and 80. 

Q:  At what times do you Cathechise the Youth of your Parish? 

A:  On all Sundays and holidays. 

Q:  Are all things duly disposed and provided in the Church, for the decent and orderly performance of Divine Service? 

A:  Yes. 

Q:  Of what value is your Living in sterling money, and how does it arise? 

A:  I can't ascertain the value of my living, it being paid in Tobacco, which is an uncertain commodity, and the number of taxables; sometimes more, sometimes less. 

Q:  Have you a House and Glebe?  Is your Glebe in Lease, or Let by the Year?  Or is it occupied by yourself

A:  I have a Glebe which I let by the year. 

Q:  Is due care taken to preserve your House in good repair?  And at whose expense is it done? 

A:  It has been repaired at the parish charges. 

Q:  Have you more Cures than one?  If you have, what are they?  And in what manner served? 


A:  I have one parish, but 2 churches, in which I preach alternately. 


Q:  Have you in your Parish any public School for the instruction of Youth?  If you have, is it endowed?  And who is the Master? 


A:  There are some private, but no public schools in my parish. 


Q:  Have you a Parochial Library?  If you have, are the books preserved and kept in good condition?  Have you any particular rules and orders for the preserving of them?  Are those rules and orders duly observed? 


A:  I have a small library, the books are kept by me in good condition and according to act of assembly, twice yearly visited by the vestry. (Historical Collections Relating to the American Colonial Church, Vol. IV, Maryland.  Edited by William Stevens Perry, D.D.)


Two years later, Rev. Donaldson and other local ministers were paid a visit by a representative of the Bishop of London.  The report wasn’t good.


Extract from a letter from Mr. Giles Rainsford, from Maryland to London dated April 10th, 1724:


"I am sorry to acquaint you, that we have among us men of our Robe of 'most lewd & profligate lives', men that have been presented and fined for 'drunkeness and swearing', & are carrying on the interest of the Devil and his Dominion with all their might, among the number of which was Mr. James Williamson, Rector of All Saints' and Mr. John Donaldson, rector of William and Mary Parish, the former of which his own parishoners design to petition against to my Lord of London.  I have a large field of discourse open before me on this melancholy subject, but must beg of you to conceal what I offer from the Bp. of London, till you hear again from me which shall be some time this summer." 


Extract from a letter from Rev. Mr. Rainsford to the Secretary.  Patuxent River, Maryland, August 16th, 1724:


Mr. Williamson is grown notorious and consummate in villainy.  He is really an original for drinking and swearing.  His own parishoners design to petition my Lord of London on the occasion and a presbyterian minister is now gathering a congregation out of the disaffected part of his flock.  Mr. Donaldson is so vile that the other day, being sent for to a dying person, came drunk, and the poor dying soul, seeing his hopeful parson in that condition, refused the Sacrament at his hands, and died without it.  He's notorious for lying and sins of the first magnitude.  His own people can best describe him.  Mr. Mackonchie is a mere nuisance and makes the church stink.  He fights and drinks on all occasions and as I am told, alienas permolet uxores.”  (Historical Collections Relating to the American Colonial Church, Vol. IV, Maryland.  Edited by William Stevens Perry, D.D.)


Regardless of what Rev. Mr. Rainsford may have reported, these men were never removed from their posts, staying until their deaths.  In every case, either they or their children married into some of the best families in Southern Maryland.


As far as we know, they never approached the level of Rev. Richard Brown, Rev. Donaldson’s successor.  In 1773, he was forced to resign by his parishioners for a number of reasons, up to and including murder.


Rev. Richard Brown had been "lately accused of murdering one of his Slaves & actually fled thereupon to Virginia where he remained several Months till his Son, who could be the only positive Witness against him could be ship't away thence to Scotland ... his Parishioners consider him as a very bad man none of them will even yet attend Divine Service at his Church" (Archives of Maryland, Vol. XIV, pp. 480, 507).


The immoralities of the Reverend Richard Brown, a native of Charles County, Maryland, are also to be found fully narrated in the report upon him by the Committee on Aggrievances and Courts of Justice, filed in the Lower House on June 22, 1768.


It appears that Brown, who had become Rector of King and Queen Parish, in 1751, had lived out of his parish for more than three years, and this without employing a curate to officiate in his stead.


Lately returned to his parish his long course of immoral conduct and his being under a prosecution for the supposed murder of a negro has determined his parishioners universally not to hear him; that the growth of Popery and superstition are, as may be expected, attendant consequences of such remiss and immoral conduct on the part of a clergyman.


The committee concluded by saying that their attention had been directed to the matter so late that it could not make as full an inquiry and examination as was called for, but that it felt a ‘strict inquiry into the causes of the apparent decay of the established religion in the Province should be made’. It will be remembered that St. Mary's County was the stronghold of Roman Catholicism in the Province.” (Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly, Archives of Maryland, Vol. 61, Preface 70).


The will of Rev. Donaldson was made in St. Mary’s County on December 20, 1747 and was probated on April 6, 1748.  His will devised all of his land to his wife, Elizabeth “having provided for all of my children.”  He then devised 247 acres of unnamed property to his daughter Mary Magdalene Cooke where she was then living and to his daughter, Sabina Stoddert and her heirs, e.g., Elizabeth Stoddert, Mary Magdalene Stoddert, and Ann Stoddert, the remainder of his land.  Although the abstract of his will in the Maryland Calendar of Wills does not state this, it must be assumed that the land was devised to his daughters after the death of his wife.


Elizabeth, the widow of Rev. Donaldson died between 1753-1756.  Her will was also made in St. Mary’s County and was dated December 14, 1753.  The Maryland Calendar of Wills does not note a probate date, but she was living as late as 1754 and the first administration accounts on her estate do not appear until October 10, 1756.


The will of Elizabeth Donaldson:


Will of Elizabeth Donaldson, St. Mary’s County, 12/14/1753, no probate date.  Grandson: John Donaldson DeButts a negro boy called Sam; a negro girl called Patt; a negro wench called Jenny; a negro boy called Jimmy; 1/2 of all my estate exclusive of my other negroes hereinafter named.  If he should die, then to my daughters Elizabeth Barber and Magdalin Cook and my granddaughters, Sarah Stoddert, daughter of Thomas Stoddert and Jennet, his wife and Elizabeth Stoddert, daughter of Benjamin Stoddert and Sabina, his wife.  Granddaughters: Sarah and Elizabeth Stoddert, daughters of Thomas and Jinnet his wife and grandson, Richard Donaldson Cook, my negro boy called Adam and negro wenches Lucy and Rachel and other estate.  Executor: Daughter, Elizabeth Barber.  Wit: William Harrison, Notlar Loyde. (Maryland Calendar of Wills).


Children of Rev. John Donaldson and wife, Elizabeth:


1.  Mary Magdalen Donaldson, born 1708, probably in Scotland.  She married Dr. Richard Cooke before 1734. 


Dr. Richard Cooke, 1695-1765.  Dr. Richard Cooke married Mary Magdalene Donaldson of Chaptico, St. Mary’s County, dau. of Rev. John Donaldson (d. 1748) and his wife, Elizabeth (d. 1756). 


On 8/20/1745, Dr. Cooke leased 103 acres in Chaptico on the lives of Dr. Richard Cooke, age 50 and Mary Magdalene Stoddert, age 20.  The property was sold to Philip Briscoe.


In His Lordship's Manor of Monococy in Frederick Co., MD in March of 1754, Dr. Richard Cooke leased 183 ac. on the lives of Richard Cooke, 50; Mary Magdalene, 46 (crossed out); and Richard Donaldson Cooke, age 20. 


On 6/13/1754, Dr. Cooke advertised in the Maryland Gazette that he had a stray horse on his plantation in Frederick County.” (Doctors of St. Mary’s County, Maryland, 1634-1900, by Margaret Fresco). 


NOTES: in 1754, Dr. Cooke’s age would have been 58 as he gave his age as 50 in 1745.  Mrs. Fresco also has the incorrect year of death for Dr. Cooke.


Dr. Richard Cooke may have left Frederick County and returned to St. Mary’s County by 1760.  On November 12, 1760 he was mentioned in the administration accounts of John Walter and again on December 9, 1769 as owing the estate of Philip Key.


It is not known when Mary Magdalen (Donaldson) Cooke died, but no record of her has been found past 1765.


By 1768, Captain Richard Donaldson Cooke (son of Dr. Richard Cooke and Mary Magdalen Donaldson) had moved to Granville County, North Carolina.  He married, prior to1773, Priscilla Bullock, also born in St. Mary’s County, a daughter of James and Sarah Bullock.  James Bullock, Priscilla’s father, died in Granville Co., North Carolina on November 8, 1782.  (Research of Ethen Cooke).


Dr. Richard Cooke either accompanied or followed his son to North Carolina.  Dr. Cooke died in Granville County in 1785 at the age of 90.  His will:


Will of Dr. Richard Cooke, Feb 26th 1785.  This day appeared before me William Green and Susanna Hancock and made oath that Doct. Richd Cooke then being in his perfect senses at the same time on his death bed gave to his son Richd D. Cooke his shop of medicines. At the same time Susanna Hancock & Amy Wade made oath that it was his desire that his Son Richd D. Cooke should pay to his Daughter Rebecca Cooke twenty five pounds extraordinary, More than her equal share of his personal estate. He at the same time being in his proper senses also he gave to his grand daughter Mary Magdalene Cooke his book titled Harvey's Meditations -------------Sworn before me this day & Year Above written.  Granville County May Court 1785.  Proved in open Court.  Teste: Reuben Searcy.  (Provided by Ethen Cooke).


The only other child of Dr. Richard Cooke and Mary Magdalen Donaldson was Rebecca Cooke, named in her father’s will in 1785.  She, more than likely, never married and died without issue.


2.  Sabina Donaldson was also likely born in Scotland prior to the migration of her parents.  She married, prior to 1725, Benjamin Stoddert (son of James Stoddert and his wife, Elizabeth Bishop).  Sabina Donaldson and Benjamin Stoddert had three daughters:


Mary Magdalen Stoddert who some say married Edward Smoot, but proof is lacking and this may be incorrect; Elizabeth Stoddert who married  Robert Slye on June 3, 1773 at Trinity Parish in Charles County (her surname is listed erroneously as Haddert); and Ann.  All three of these girls are named in the will of their grandfather, Rev. John Donaldson in 1747.


3.  Elizabeth Donaldson was the second wife of John Johnson Sothoron (his first wife was Mary Ann Jowles).  Elizabeth’s second husband was Baptist Barber (d. 1752), son of Luke Barber and Rebecca White.  Elizabeth’s children:  Rebecca Barber (married first, Meverell Locke, Jr. and second, Reuben Craig); Archibald Donaldson Barber (wife was Ann) who died ca1789 without issue; and Baptist Barber, Jr. (d. 1784) who married Ann Locke (daughter of Meverell Locke and Elizabeth Edwards and sister of Meverell Locke, Jr., husband of Rebecca Barber).


4.  Janet Donaldson who married Thomas Stoddert, son of James Stoddert and Elizabeth Bishop, and brother of Benjamin Stoddert who married Janet’s sister, Sabina Donaldson.  This family lived in Frederick County, Maryland.


August 1755: Governor Horatio Sharpe calls out the Maryland Militia and orders Lt. Thomas Stoddert with 15 men to build Fort Tonoloway near present day Hancock, Maryland (also known as Stoddert's Fort).” www.fortedwards.org


As an outpost on the frontier, the area known as ‘Tonoloway Settlement’ was subject to the ravages of Indian raids. At the height of these raids, Maryland Provincial Governor Horatio Sharpe ordered a series of forts to be built along the Potomac. In 1755, Lt. Thomas Stoddert, with a crew of 15-20, was sent out to build a stockade fort in the ‘Tonoloways’ (now Hancock). It was completed by July of 1755. In 1756, the stone fortress ‘Fort Frederick’ was completed twelve miles to the east, and Fort Stoddert was abandoned. Letters preserved from the era depict a gruesome picture of the massacres that occurred in the areas surrounding these forts.” [4] www.hancockmd.com/history.html


Thomas Stoddert and Janet Donaldson had at least three children:  Sarah Price (her middle name was probably Priscilla) Stoddert who married Christopher Haw (son of John Haw and Mary Briscoe of Charles County); Benjamin Stoddert (first Secretary of the Navy) who married Rebecca Lowndes; and Elizabeth Stoddert.


In my previous article about Uriah Forrest, I had also stated that Benjamin Stoddert was the son of Thomas Stoddert and Janet Donaldson, but I was challenged as to the accuracy of that statement.  The correspondent indicated their belief that Benjamin was the son of Thomas Stoddert, but that there was no proof that Janet Donaldson was his mother.  Since that time, I believe that I have found evidence to conclusively prove that Janet Donaldson was indeed the mother of Benjamin Stoddert.


Benjamin Stoddert was born in 1751. That fact is not in controversy.  Some say that he was born in Charles County, but I think it’s more likely that he was born in Frederick County as his parents were there by 1747.


In 1747, Thomas Stoddert sold his estate "Friendship" in Montgomery Co., Md. and removed to Frederick Co., Md. (See Quit Claim Deed 5/4/1782 in Montgomery Co., Md.).  The records of his military service refute the tradition that he was killed in Braddock's Defeat, July 9, 1755. “Officers and soldiers wounded and killed at Braddock's Defeat on Banks of Monongehela--no Stoddert mentioned.” (Pennsylvania Archives, Vol. I). 


NOTE:  Thomas Stoddert was living in Frederick County as late as 1764.  It is estimated that he died between 1764 and 1766.


5/9/1749:  Deed from Thomas Stoddert, planter, of Frederick Co. to John Clagett, Jr. for 3,250 lbs., "Pritchett's Purchase", 32 1/2 ac.  On the back of the deed:  Thomas Stoddert acknowledged the within premises to be the right of John Clagett, Jr.  Also, Jannet, "ye wife of ye said Thomas Stoddert", being privately examined before us, relinquished her right of dower.  (Cross-Howell, Glover-Stoddert and related families : records, Emporia, Kan.: K. Vandervelde, 1959, 125 pgs. Heritage Quest.)


From this deed, we know that Thomas Stoddert was married to Janet Donaldson prior to May 9, 1749 (at least two years prior to the birth of Benjamin Stoddert).  He was still married to Janet in 1755 (four years after the birth of Benjamin Stoddert) when this deed was executed:


4/28/1755:  Deed from Thomas Stoddert of Frederick Co. to Rev. Samuel Hunter for 2,000 lbs. tobacco, "Hog Path", 43 ac.  On the back of the deed:  Janett, the wife of the said Thomas Stoddert, relinquished her right of dower.  Cross-Howell, Glover-Stoddert and related families: records, Emporia, Kan.: K. Vandervelde, 1959, 125 pgs. Heritage Quest).


5.  _______Donaldson, wife of Robert DeButts.  The first name of this daughter has not been found.  Robert DeButts was a brother of Rev. Lawrence DeButts, rector of William and Mary Parish.


In 1721 Rev. Lawrence de Butts received the customary bounty of 20 lbs. to sail to Virginia and soon after reported to Gov. Spotswood who assigned him to Washington Parish, Westmoreland Co.  He also served in St. Stephen's Parish in Northumberland, Farnham in Richard and Cople Parish in Westmoreland.  In 1735 Mr. de Butts removed to Maryland, and describing himself as "of the parish of William and Mary in St. Mary's County, in the Province of Maryland," he in 1752 made a deed for 450 ac. in Prince William Co., VA to Wharton Randsdell (Pr. Wm. Co. Records).  In the same year, Robert de Butts of Frederick Co., in Maryland, gave a power of attorney to Henry Lee, stating that his brother Rev. Lawrence de Butts, late of St. Mary’s County, Maryland had died intestate”.  (Northumberland Co. Records).  (CD #186, Family History, VA Genealogies #2).


Robert DeButts died in Frederick County in December 1752.  He was married at least three times but appears to have only one child by his Donaldson wife (she was his second), namely John Donaldson DeButts who was named in his father’s will and that of his grandmother, Elizabeth Donaldson.  In Frederick County in March 1754, Elizabeth Donaldson was appointed as the guardian of her grandson, John Donaldson DeButts,  with Robert Perle and her son-in-law, Dr. Richard Cooke as her securities.


Prepared by:  Linda Davis Reno, April 18, 2005



Copyright 2002 Linda Reno, Charlotte Hall, Maryland and Marcella Jehl Dawson, Houston, Texas. All rights reserved.. No part of these pages may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without written permission of the author(s).

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