July 1862, Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act that allowed
for the confiscation of property and freed the slaves of persons
engaged in or assisting the rebellion and of those who were deemed
as disloyal citizens. This article will address two of these properties,
one located in St. Mary's County and one in Prince George's County.
Plains", located in St. Mary's County, was one of the properties
seized. This plantation was owned by Col. John Henry Sothoron and
had been in his family for generations. While the stories varied
over exactly what took place, the basic facts, not in contention,
were that on October 19, 1863 Lt. Eben White went to "The Plains"
attempting to recruit the slaves of Col. Sothoron into the Union
Army. An altercation took place and Col. Sothoron shot and killed
Lt. White. Col. Sothoron, along with his son, Webster Sothoron fled
(Somervell) Sothoron, the wife of Col. John Sothoron, and their
children were placed under house arrest. On November 22, President
Lincoln wrote a letter to Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War stating,
in part, "It is represented that the family [Sothoron] are substantially
imprisoned in their house by our soldiers and are on starvation.
I submit that perhaps some attention better be given to the case".
Sothoron and her children (at least 7) apparently were living with
friends or family by March 1864 when President Lincoln again wrote
to Secretary Stanton stating "He [Col. Sothoron] fled, and his family
are driven from their home without shelter or crumb, except when
got by burdening our friends more than our enemies. Southern had
no justification to kill the officer and yet he would not have been
killed if he had proceeded in the temper and manner agreed by yourself
and Gov. Bradford. But this is past. What is to be done with the
family? Why can they not occupy their old home and excite much less
opposition to the government than the manifestation of their distress
is now doing? If the house is really needed for the public service
or if it has been regularly confiscated and the title transferred,
the case is different".
after being chastised by President Lincoln, government officials
apparently took further action as Mrs. Sothoron received official
notification on May 5, 1864 that "the estate belonging to John H.
Sothoron in St. Mary's County, Maryland is seized in the name of
the United States under the Confiscation Act".
Sothoron stayed in Virginia until just after President Lincoln was
assassinated on April 14, 1865 at which time he fled to Canada.
September 1865, Mrs. Sothoron wrote to President Johnson as follows:
"Suffer me to impose upon your notice in behalf of myself and my
seven suffering innocent and unoffending children. I have observed
your magnanimous pardon to prominent Rebels in the Border States,
the Army, and Navy and amnesty to all. I see no reason by the same
should be denied me and my helpless family.
months I was guarded by the military. A part of the time held as
a prisoner in my own house. I received all kinds of taunts and indignities,
was not allowed even the necessaries of life. I lived upon the bounty
of my neighbors. Knowing there was no cause for deserting my home
and having none other to seek, I bore all uncomplainingly, before
being ordered to leave, my servants were all taken and in mid winter
I was left without a living soul to provide me even a stick of wood,
but for the timely succor of friends I know not what would have
been my fate.
has been taken from me [and] to give you all the particulars would
be beyond the limits of a letter. For nearly two years I have been
a homeless wanderer without means of support, my children suffered
and living upon the charity of the world and my life a living death.
have no friend to whom I can apply for aid in this my hour of need
and great destitution. I now crave Mr. President your clemency and
humbly ask the restoration of my home and property and you will
ever have the grateful thanks and prayers of a miserable and suffering
woman. I have always been unerring and do now faithfully promise
to abide by and sustain the government. Praying this may meet your
approval and sanction. May God in Heaven bless you".
there was no official response to this letter but on February 16,
1866 another letter was written to President Johnson, this time
by Barnes Compton, the husband of Margaret Hollyday Sothoron, the
second daughter of Col. Sothoron, which stated that President Johnson
had ordered the return of "The Plains" to Mrs. Sothoron five months
before. President Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant endorsed the letter
of Barnes Compton and it was ordered that the property be returned.
Mrs. Sothoron took possession of "The Plains" some time between
March and May of 1866.
November 27, 1866, Col. John H. Sothoron was indicted by the Grand
Jury of St. Mary's County for manslaughter in the death of Lt. Eben
White. Regardless of his guilt or innocence, it is obvious that
the legal system had been manipulated in Col. Sothoron's favor.
For instance, he was indicted on the basis of the testimony of his
own daughter, Mary Sothoron! The trial must have been held that
same day or the next as the verdict of not guilty was announced
in the November 29 issue of the "St. Mary's Gazette".
early 1868, Col. Sothoron filed a claim against the government in
the amount of $98,638 for losses and damages to "The Plains" during
the time it was in Union hands. The fact of the matter was that
the government had, in fact, plundered the estate and sold off crops,
furniture, cattle, farm equipment, etc. Col. Sothoron's claim was
pursued until 1875 when it was finally rejected.
second case involves "Bald Eagle," a plantation consisting of thirteen
hundred acres lying on the Patuxent River south of Nottingham, and
originally known as "Marsham's Rest." The plantation had been in
the Waring family for over 250 years and was willed to John Henry
Waring, youngest son of John Waring, Jr., by his grandfather Richard
Marsham Waring, Sr. He changed the name of the property to "Bald
Eagle." John Henry Waring was born in Nottingham, Prince George's
County on March 19, 1809 and his wife was born Julia Maria Worthington.
They had eleven children. Mr. Waring was a vestryman of St. Paul's
Episcopal Church for many years and was generally known as "Colonel"
Waring. He was a Southern sympathizer. When it was discovered that
his two eldest sons had entered the Confederate Army and that he
had been visited by Capt. Walter Bowie, a well known Mosby raider
who was escaping arrest and capture, the authorities in Washington
ordered his arrest.
Julia Victoria Waring, the fourth child born in 1839, described
in her account of the seizure: "My two younger brothers were students
at the Agriculture College (now the University of Maryland). They
took their horses with them and joined Company B First Maryland
Cavalry, Captain George Emack. On the 28th of December 1863 my brother
Robert Bowie Waring died of typhoid fever at Strausburg, and my
younger brother [William Worthington Waring] who was only 17 was
event that really triggered the seizure of "Bald Eagle" occurred
in May 1863 when Walter Bowie crossed the lower Potomac with Mr.
Hume of Washington. They were captured and were taken to Point Lookout.
Walter snatched a gun from one of the guards, fired and killed him.
Hume was killed. Walter, uninjured, made his escape in the confusion.
A few days later, when Col. Waring was away from home, Walter Bowie
arrived at "Bald Eagle." He was very tired. Mrs. Waring asked Walter
to not stay since "it is so dangerous, you are tracked every where,
and Billy [William Worthington Waring] is with us." Walter insisted
he had not been recognized and had eluded the troops attempting
to capture him.
night the family was awakened by loud knocking at the front door
coupled with the demand "Open in the name of the Government! If
you don't, we will burn the house over your heads!" All five doors
of the home were guarded by Federal soldiers. Billy Waring put on
his uniform and went down stairs to open the front door. He was
arrested. Meanwhile another major concern was getting Walter Bowie
- the true focus of the search - out of the house and safely on
the soldiers searched the bedrooms, Walter hid in the kitchen. One
of the eldest Waring children, Elizabeth Margaret (who figures prominently
in this story), colored his face and hands and disguised him as
a black woman slave. She also took from him plans of the fortifications
of Washington, which if found on Walter would mean certain death
for him. Walter walked out the door with Peggy (a tall black nurse)
pretending to go the well. Once out of the house Walter was able
to retrieve his horse and escape.
that Walter Bowie had escaped, the detectives and soldiers locked
up everyone in Mrs. Waring's bedroom. There the women burned Walter's
fortification plans as well as mail that was to have been sent South.
As Julia further recounts events through the night and the next
morning: "Pa was expected home that night and Matilda our cook ran
a long distance to stop him, but when he heard we were arrested
he would come home. We did not know he was there until daylight,
when we saw him a prisoner in the yard. The detectives ordered our
handsome large carriage to the door and my three sisters, Mrs. [Elizabeth
Margaret Waring] Duckett, Priscilla [Mackall Waring] and Alice [Maria
Waring], and Ida Brooke, were put in it. Pa was made to ride on
the boot with John our driver and Billy was on horseback. I was
the only daughter left at home with Ma." The carriage and its entourage
started to make its way to Washington. They passed a tavern kept
by the to-be-infamous Mrs. Surratt. Mint juleps were brought out
to the prisoners, and at Col. Waring's request, the soldiers were
fed within the tavern.
reached Washington late in the afternoon. The women were taken to
the Willard Hotel and placed under guard. Col. Waring and his daughter
Elizabeth Margaret were imprisoned at the Old Capitol Prison.
back at "Bald Eagle" just after the carriage left with its prisoners,
as Julia records "Walter [Bowie] jumped up on the terrace by the
greenhouse and began dancing. He was still black and dressed in
Peggy's red calico dress and her bandanna on his head. We were all
too full of sorrow to join in his merriment, although we were very
glad he had escaped. He came in and washed and then while I really
never saw him again." Then as she continues "the detectives arrived
in the night in our carriage and told us Alice [Julia's older sister]
was very ill in Washington, and the next morning they let Ma go
up with our nurse Peggy in the carriage with two detectives. I then
stayed there until the following Saturday. Every night the detectives
came and carried off what they pleased. They took all the riding
and driving horses, all the work horses and mules and wagons and
carts. They said to prevent us leaving or sending for friends."
Then soldiers were sent up from Fort Lookout with orders to transport
everyone back to the fort. After getting the silverware out of the
house with the help of relatives, Julia, under guard with a stop
at Mattaponi in St. Mary's County at the home of Zarvona Thomas,
was taken to Point Lookout and then on to Baltimore. The younger
children were taken to Washington by friends of the Waring family
and reunited with their mother.
Margaret Waring Duckett remained in the Old Capitol prison for a
month. She found out that her brother was in danger of being shot
or hanged since he was tried and convicted as a spy. She wangled
an audience with President Lincoln and began a long campaign to
save her brother and free her father. Lincoln gave her a handwritten
note to take to Secretary of War Stanton. When she gained access
to Stanton he tore up the note and refused her request to go to
Fort Delaware. Through Walter Bowie she obtained assurances from
Col. Robert Ould, Confederate Commissioner of Exchange of Prisoners,
that if her brother was harmed in any way, he would hang General
Cochran - a friend of Stanton. As a consequence, William Waring
was sent to Point Lookout where he exchanged identification with
another prisoner and made his way back into the Confederate Army.
Waring was tried by court martial on three charges - his own children
were sworn to be witnesses against him. He was then transferred
to Fort Delaware were he remained for the rest of the war. Via Baltimore,
his wife and daughters were banished to the Southern States. Crossing
the Potomac they were dropped off on the open road near Winchester
and made their way to Martinsburg, West Virginia. Elizabeth Margaret
was able to visit her father twice at Fort Delaware - the second
time taking her six-year-old daughter. On their way back during
the second trip, while near Martinsburg, the train was held up by
Confederate raiders. Elizabeth, her daughter and servant ended up
walking three miles in a cold rain that night with their belongings
to reach Martinsburg where her mother was staying.
in 1864, Archbishop Hughes of New York, wrote to President Lincoln,
requesting the release of Col. Waring [this branch of the family
were devout Catholics]. Several prominent Marylanders added their
petitions and President Lincoln was convinced to sign his release
from Fort Delaware. He immediately made his way to Martinsburg where
the family was reunited. They then traveled to Baltimore. Then Col.
and Mrs. Waring, with the assistance of Montgomery Blair, obtained
an audience with the President to ask to have their property restored
to them. The family relocated to Elizabeth Margaret's home which
was the Duckett family homestead known as "The Valley" where her
mother, overcome with the hardship of these events, died in November
President Lincoln directed that "Bald Eagle" be restored to Col.
Waring together with what furniture and other property he could
swear to in a warehouse in Alexandria. Even though the Government
restored to him his land, his personal property, estimated at seventy-five
thousand dollars, was a total loss. The family was finally able
to return to "Bald Eagle" in the Spring of 1865 after the surrender
of Lee and Johnston.