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January, 2002

The Murder of Christopher Rousby, Part I

Christopher Rousby came to Maryland about 1666 settling in what was then called Calvert County, but is St. Mary's County. He brought with him his younger brother John Rousby and eight others for whom he claimed land rights. He was a merchant and lawyer.

Sometime between 1668 and 1670, Rousby married Elizabeth, the widow of Richard Collett who had died in 1668. Through this marriage he acquired "Susquehanna Point". He would eventually increase his land holdings to almost 3,000 acres in several Maryland counties. No one is sure when Elizabeth died, but she was deceased prior to 1684 and there were no issue from this, his one and only marriage.

Rousby held a variety of offices in the new colony of Maryland, including Sheriff of Calvert County (1669-1674); the Lower House, as a representative from Calvert County (1676-1682); and finally as the King's Collector of the Patuxent (1676-1684). This last position, to which he was nominated by Lord Baltimore and appointed by the King, would eventually put him at loggerheads with Lord Baltimore and would ultimately be his downfall.

For years, the relationship between Lord Baltimore and Christopher Rousby had been friendly. But in March 1678 several witnesses came forth and stated that Rousby had made disparaging remarks about Lord Baltimore. From the records, it would appear that problems had been simmering for some time. There does not appear to be one single cause as to why these two men came to dislike each other, and it may simply have been a clash of egos spurred on by the incessant gossip that flourished in St. Mary's City.

Whatever the reason, by 1681 Lord Baltimore wanted badly to have Rousby removed from the position of King's Collector and he began to accumulate evidence toward that end.

On June 6, 1681, Vincent Lowe deposed that the previous April he had been at Rousby's house and they had a discussion about political affairs in England. Lowe stated that during the course of conversation, Rousby (referring to the King and members of his Court) said to him "great men were great knaves and turncoats, and {had} begun to piss backwards."

The Archives of Maryland is replete with allegations being made by one individual against another and these were all dealt with immediately. Why was this allegation made two months after the incident supposedly occurred? Why was it made after Rousby sailed for England in early May?

Further, keep in mind that Vincent Lowe was the brother-in-law of Lord Baltimore. Jane Lowe, Vincent's sister, married first, Henry Sewall about 1654 and secondly, Charles Calvert in 1666.

On June 7, Lord Baltimore wrote to the Earl of Anglesey, enclosing a copy of the deposition of Lowe, reminding him that he had already requested, twice before, that Christopher Rousby be removed as the King's Collector. He stated that Rousby was a

"great knave to the king, and as great a disturber of the trade and peace of my province…..how seditious and wicked he is…..and that he is a great traitor, in his heart, to the King."

In this same letter, Lord Baltimore also alleged that Christopher Rousby and Nicholas Badcock (Surveyor of the Customs in Maryland) were erroneously attempting to collect the penny per pound tax on tobacco leaving Maryland when the ships' captains had certificates of bonds (which would have waived that requirement).

After Rousby's departure in May, Lord Baltimore and his Council approached Nicholas Badcock (Surveyor of the Customs in Maryland). Lord Baltimore instructed Mr. Badcock not to collect customs from those captains that had such certificates, unless he could affirm they were counterfeited. But Badcock (who was the King's appointee), wasn't backing down, because as Lord Baltimore further stated in his letter of complaint,

"yet he had the impudence to tell me before some of my Council, that he would complain to the Commissioners of the Customs, that I hindered his discharging his office."

True to his word, Mr. Badcock did complain about Lord Baltimore. Letters were written on May 26th and on July 10th stating that Lord Baltimore had

"obstructed the due execution of the Acts of Parliament relating to trade and hindered the said Badcock from performing the duty of his office."

Lord Baltimore concluded his letter to the Earl of Anglesey by stating

"By this your Lordship may see what hungry indigent fellows are appointed to service his Majesty here, such as would dishonor the King, cheat his subjects, and drive all manner of trade out of my Province."

He asked that the Commissioners of the Customs be directed to appoint

"some persons of good estates and livers in my Province to serve the King here; for such will be careful to discharge their trust faithfully and will also have some respect to the government."

Rousby, still in England, was provided with the correspondence from Lord Baltimore and required to respond to the allegations made against him. Christopher Rousby quickly responded, charging that the only reason Lord Baltimore wanted he and Mr. Badcock removed was so that he could put his own appointees in the positions, specifically his two sons-in-law.

Rousby may have had a point. Lord Baltimore had already nominated Capt. Digges ("who married one of his Lady's companies daughters" employed in the place of Rousby). He later changed his mind about Digges and asked for the appointment of Philip Calvert, "another is his Lady's sons-in-law".

He emphatically denied that he had made the statements attributed to him by Vincent Lowe and said that if Lowe had made such a statement about him, it must have been when he (Lowe) was drunk "which was a thing very frequent with him, as can be proved." He also pointed out that he found it remarkable that he was supposed to have made the statements attested to by Lowe in April, yet Lowe waited until June 6 to speak out and only did so after Rousby left Maryland for England. He also questioned why Lord Baltimore had not approached him directly. All of which were very good points.

Allegation: That Lord Baltimore had written to the Commissioners of his Majesty's Customs on several occasions to complain about Rousby, but that Rousby had intercepted his letters. Rousby denied that he had intercepted any letters, nor was it within his power to do so.

Allegation: That Rousby had caused Maryland to lose trade with New England. Rousby acknowledged that Maryland had lost some trade, but it was with some New England men (and perhaps others not qualified to carry tobacco out of the province) who were attempting to take the tobacco out of Maryland without paying any tax at all. "And now because I have used all lawful endeavors to suppress and prevent that course and trade of defrauding his Majesty's customs, and to reduce the traders and dealers in that Province to a compliance with the law, my Lord Baltimore goes about to persuade my Lord Privy Seale that this is a crime in me for which I ought to be turned out of my place to make room for his Lady's son-in-law."

Allegation: That Rousby was imposing fees unjustly, seizing cargo, and making unnecessary demands on ship captains. Rousby responded that he was following the instructions provided to him. He stated that he only interfered with those ships not having the appropriate certificates. He also denied that he had prevented the ship captains from carrying their certificates to his Lordship's officers.

Allegation: That Rousby was exceeding his authority.

"I utterly deny that I ever pretended to have other powers than what I really had from your Honors by commission and instructions or that I ever went about to wrest or strain them beyond their true and natural sense, or any ways thereby to thwart and oppose or as his Lordship terms it, to nose {in on} him or his government. But I confess I have ever had an awful regard to the instructions received from time to time from your Honors and thought it my duty as far as possibly I could to pursue the same always looking upon them as sufficient warrant to."

Allegation: That Rousby had expressed sentiments that were against the King (per the statement by Vincent Lowe). Rousby denied having made any such statements and said that

"none but a madman or a fool can be imagined to speak such idle words."

He stated again that neither Lord Baltimore nor any of his officers had called him to account for his supposed statements prior to his departure to England.

Allegation: Debauchery, lewdness, and villainy. Rousby responded that this was Lord Baltimore's way of trying to prove that he and Nicholas Badcock (now deceased) were

"too infamous to be capable of our employments…..and though his Lordship has no cause or grounds for same, he hopes that by casting much dirt, some might stick to work his ends against us."

Mr. Rousby remained in London during this time to defend himself, but he wrote regularly to his law partner, Robert Ridgely. In one letter, dated December 6, 1681, he stated

"You will doubtless think it strange to hear that I am not yet out of my trouble occasioned by my Lord Baltimore……and though the character given of me by his Lordship be as black as hell, yet am I not looked upon to be so profligate or despicable a rogue as he sets me forth but have met with fair, honorable, and just dealing and {have met}several unexpected friends and some not of the meanest rank."

In January, 1681/2, the Lords of the Treasury voted to report to the King that they had investigated the allegations made against Christopher Rousby by Lord Baltimore and stated that they found that Lord Baltimore had "proceeded in a very unusual manner" by making such serious allegations against Rousby but not telling him about them prior to Rousby's departure from Maryland in May. They also stated that Lord Baltimore had not provided sufficient proof to support the allegations. They recommended that the King instruct Lord Baltimore to allow Rousby to "execute his office and to afford him all the encouragement therein with the law requires."

The King, following the recommendations made, wrote the following letter to Lord Baltimore. It is dated February 8, 1682. .

"We are not a little surprised to find by a number of undeniable testimonies we have received as well as by the confession of your own letters that you have obstructed our service and discouraged our Officers in the execution of their duty. And although by several letters we have already directed you by yourself and your Officers to be aiding and assisting to the Collector and other Officers of our customs in our Colony of Maryland, in all matters relating to their respective offices; and particularly in the due collection of the impositions payable unto us by an Act of Parliament.

We are nevertheless informed that instead of being aiding and assisting to our said Officers in the due collection thereof you have hindered and forbidden them to receive the same.

We have been given to understand by Nicholas Badock that he did demand from the masters of the ships (Note: three ships had arrived in the St. George's River in May, 1681) the penny per pound due in such case for all tobacco which they should lade on board the said ships, but that he being refused by them he attended you several times and desired your assistance for the collection thereof but that you refused to give him any countenance or assistance therein and that our said surveyor pressing you several times in this matter and urging the said law you ordered him to appear before your Council at St Mary's which he accordingly did, and there in our name prayed and required your aid to levy our duties upon the lading of the said ships or to make seizure of the goods; but that he was absolutely denied the same, and told that he should not meddle with them for that he had nothing to do therewith.
And we are further informed that by a letter under your own hand to our Commissioners of our Customs bearing date the seventh of June last {in which}you acknowledged to have denied him the receiving of our duties on the said ladings and to have hindered him from molesting the said Masters by means whereof the said ships went away with their ladings of tobacco without passing any of the said duties to us whereby we are demnified in our customs to the value of 25OO lbs. sterling.
We have been also made acquainted with the complaints insinuated by you against our trusty and well-beloved Christopher Rousby, Collector of our Customs in our said Province as if he had behaved himself in such violent and unwarrantable manner as tended to the discouragement of trade, diminution of our customs, and disturbance of the public peace. It has been presented to us that you have proceeded in a very unusual manner by charging the said Rousby with so great enormities in his absence without giving him any notice of those accusations before his departure from Maryland, which was well known to you at least four months before he embarked, nor have you transmitted sufficient proof upon the matters complained.
{We} do hereby require and command you to permit the said Rousby, peaceably and quietly, to execute his Office, and to afford him all the encouragement which the law requires. And we do think {it} fit to give you this caution--that if you shall hereafter have any cause of complaint against the said Rousby or any other person you do first give him or them a particular charge thereof and receive his or their answer thereunto and then transmit the said charge and answer to us with the proofs thereof to the end we may direct speedy justice to be awarded according to the merit of the case.

And although your proceedings abovementioned in the obstruction of our officers and contempt of our laws are of such a nature as that we might justly direct a writ of quo warranto be thereupon issued out. We have nevertheless, out of our great clemency thought fit for the present only to require the Commissioners of our customs to charge you with the payment of the said sum of 2500 lbs. and to cause a demand to be made from you for the same and that you adjusting of what shall appear to be truly due to us to cause the same to be passed by you to our Receiver General and Cashier of our Customs for the time being residing in London.

And we do strictly command you for the future to take care that all our laws relating to the trade of our Colony and Plantations be duly observed and put in execution and that all encouragement and assistance be given to the several Officers of our Customs under your government And so wee bid you farewell. Given at our Court at Whitehall the 8th of February in the 34th year of our Reign."

To be continued.

NOTE: In the case of quotations from the records, I have corrected spelling, added punctuation, and added words, in brackets, to make the information more readable and understandable.

Prepared by: Linda Reno, January 2002


A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789 by Edward C. Papenfuse, Alan F. Day, David W. Jordan, and Gregory A. Stiverson.

Archives of Maryland.



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