Featured Article and Did You Know That?.....

April 2001

Confiscation of Southern Maryland Plantations


"The Plains"

In 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.

"The 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 to Virginia.

Elizabeth (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".

Mrs. 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".

Apparently, 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".

Col. Sothoron stayed in Virginia until just after President Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865 at which time he fled to Canada.

In 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.

For 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.

Everything 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.

I 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".

Although 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.

On 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".

In 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.

"Bald Eagle"

The 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.

As 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 sick."

The 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.

That 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 his way.

As 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.

Realizing 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.

They 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

Elizabeth 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.

Col. 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.

Early 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 1864.

Meanwhile 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.


I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to Cynthia Shockley who wrote the section of this article pertaining to "Bald Eagle" and for contributing the photographs of these two beautiful Waring women. It had originally been my intent to post a picture of the cemetery at "The Plains" which is all that remains, but these photos were just too good to let pass.

It is extremely interesting that Cynthia mentioned Zarvona Thomas. At some point in the future, an article will be written about him. He became famous during the Civil War for his many exploits and became known as "The French Lady".

Cynthia writes:

Cynthia (Waring) Shockley, although a distant cousin of the family of John Henry Waring, has enjoyed doing genealogy research on all branches of her family for several years. The heroine of the story -- Elizabeth Margaret Waring -- who was married to Richard Duckett had a family nickname of "Weddie." As a consequence of doing her research and communicating with Waring relatives who are direct descendants of John Henry Waring she experienced one of those "magical moments" in genealogy research. After pointing out Weddie's nickname to one of her descendants the individual exclaimed (via email): "I have a picture of "Weddie." I didn't know who it was! It just has "Weddie" handwritten on the back." That revelation made me estatic! And that picture is the one of those incorporated into this story.

Did you know that...

Dr. Gustavus Brown of Charles County was George Washington's personal physician? Dr. Brown and Dr. James Craik, also of Charles County, were two of the three attending physicians present during President Washington's final illness. At the time of his death, Washington was taking his own pulse!

Elizabeth Biscoe (1780-1857), daughter of George Biscoe and Araminta (Thompson) of St. Mary's County married Edward Henry Calvert (1766-1849)? His sister was Eleanor Calvert who married John Parke Custis, the son of Daniel Parke Custis and his wife, Martha Dandridge (who married second, George Washington).

George Washington Parke Custis, son of John Parke Custis and Eleanor Calvert, was adopted by George Washington and that he married Mary Lee Fitzhugh and they were the parents of Mary Anne Randolph Custis who married Robert E. Lee?


Dr. Samuel Mudd who set the leg of John Wilkes Booth was from Charles County? Many say that his surname led to the phrase "your name is mud", but that saying had been in use at least 60 years before the Civil War.

FatherJoseph Thomas Jarboe, son of John Jarboe and Dorothy Hill (who were originally from St. Mary's County) served as a Chaplain in the Second Tennessee Confederate Regiment? During the Civil War, he escaped death twice. First, at the Battle of Shiloh when preparing to cut away the boots of a young soldier to anoint his feet, the knife he was holding was shattered by a bullet and secondly, when he crossed the Federal lines to administer the last rites to Union soldiers and was arrested as a spy. As the Union soldiers were preparing to execute him, General Philip Sheridan (who had served Mass for Fr. Jarboe in Ohio before the war) happened to ride by and ordered his immediate release. (Contributed by Randy Dunavan)


2001 Linda Reno.

.Copyright 2002 .Linda Reno.Leonardtown, Maryland. 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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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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