(Part 3)Sidestepping a Color Barrier: The first Black Residents to be buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery
The year was 1913. As the defunct All Saints’ Cemetery of Frederick was being eyed as an eminent site for business and industry along Carroll Creek, the Greenmount Cemetery property on the northwest side of town was becoming increasingly more important and attractive—especially to people not looking to purchase a burial plot. Although major real estate development was being planned for this suburb of downtown, Greenmount also represented a strategic opportunity for a burgeoning young medical facility.
The Frederick City Hospital organization had been formed in 1897 with the aim of establishing, and maintaining, a central place of care for the surrounding community. This became a reality on May 1st, 1902, when a 16-room structure opened on Park Place, a long-gone, house-lined street that once paralleled Trail Avenue. Miss Emma J. Smith, first president of the Frederick City Hospital, graciously gave seven acres of land—land that bordered Greenmount Cemetery.
The hospital grew rapidly over its first decade of existence. Wings were added, boasting the name of Hood, a tribute to James Mifflin Hood and wife Margaret Scholl Hood, Frederick’s “benefactress extraordinaire.” A nurses’ school and home would be built in 1911-1912 on a neighboring site in close proximity to both the hospital and cemetery. The Frederick Boy’s School would simultaneously be constructed as a public secondary school for boys. This structure served as such until 1938 when it would be converted into a junior high school which would carry the moniker as the Elm Street School. The Building backed up to the south edge of Greenmount.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, Greenmount had much more land than possibly needed. Developers knew this, and so did the hospital. This could also be the reason to explain why the Working Men’s group changed from a beneficial order to a stock company. Whether an offensive maneuver, or a defensive stand to stave off other uses, the Frederick City Hospital made the Greenmount trustees a purchase offer for their unused parcel—roughly half of their property. This happened in 1913, for $3,000.
The Greenmount land sale did nothing to deter plans for the willing acceptance of bodies from the “Old Hill” colored burying ground in early 1914. I’m assuming the Vestry of All Saints’ Church was required to purchase re-interment lots, as they had done the year before with Mount Olivet. All in all, 380 bodies were moved to Greenmount in April, 1914.
Seven years after the Working Men’s Stock Company sold half of Greenmount’s Cemetery land to the Frederick City Hospital, an offer was made by the hospital to purchase the entirety of the largest black cemetery in Frederick’s history. Expansion was of key importance, but there was also a psychological component—most of the hospital's patients were happy to look out their window and see a beautiful green mountain, but not a cemetery. Forty years in business had netted nearly 1,000 burials, not to mention the bodies reinterred from the All Saint’s colored burying ground in 1913. Many of the families related to burials at Greenmount are said to have moved away from Frederick in order to find to work in metropolitan areas such as Washington, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Other families, pardon the pun, simply “died out.”
The talk by many in both the black and white communities back in 1913 forecasted the future of both Greenmount and Laboring Sons as one day becoming abandoned cemeteries. Articles in the local newspapers shared the demoralizing view. But Frederick had seen earlier white cemeteries fade in time, their land used for other purposes like that of the All Saints’ Cemetery.
In 1920, the Working Men’s group sold their burial ground to the hospital, described as 146' 6" along the south side of W. Seventh St. and 689' back, adjoining the Boys High School lot (later Elm Street School). I strongly believe that the subject of openly allowing blacks the opportunity to be buried in Mount Olivet had to be broached in 1922-23. Although I have yet to see a published account, it’s hard to imagine the question not being asked in light of the climate of growth taking place. The City of Frederick, Frederick City Hospital and real estate developers likely thought about the potential need to relocate the deceased residents of Greenmount, not to mention the urgent need of finding a new burial ground.
Laboring Sons Cemetery was not an option. It had been in freefall for years. Articles of Laboring Sons unkempt and deteriorating condition, peppered with occasional brush fires and trash dumpings did not make this “burial ground” an ideal choice at this time. It would languish for another 25 years until something was done with/to it.
Couple the need of a suitable new location for blacks to be buried with William Jarboe Grove’s folksy local history book (The History of Carrollton Manor) which must have been read by many in town upon its release in 1923. The importance here was that Mr. Grove had let the proverbial “cat out of the bag” so to speak, by publishing the fact that Mount Olivet allowed a black person in Hester Houston, be buried within the cemetery’s gates in 1896. This wasn’t a reburial or charity case, but a one-time slave/domestic with an at-need burial.
Whatever the case, something prompted the Mount Olivet Board of Managers to issue the following resolution during one of their quarterly meetings, held November 7th, 1924:
The resolution plainly stated that Mount Olivet was a place for white burials only. As I said earlier in Part One of this article, the original bylaws of the cemetery did not contain any written restrictions based on the race of the deceased. I also could not find anything in the cemetery’s Board meeting minutes book as well—these dating back to 1852. The cemetery was simply set up as a non-denominational, community (of shareholders) owned cemetery. I believe there was a silent push to allow blacks, or possibly reinter blacks (from Greenmount) at hand. The resolution of November 7th firmly set out to put that talk to rest—or better yet, “bury it.” At the same time, perhaps this language was designed to send a firm message to the cemetery’s superintendent and lot-holders thinking they could freely dictate what could be done with funerary property.
Keep in mind that the time period between 1915 and 1925 was especially turbulent for black-white relations. The D.W. Griffith film “Birth of a Nation” came out in 1915 and played to sold-out crowds across the country, including a multi-night engagement at Frederick’s City Opera House. Local theaters were segregated, having separated entrances and seating areas for black patrons, if indeed, they were allowed entry at all. “Colored” soldiers returning from Europe and military duty after World War I found newfound hostilities back home, as many whites refused to acknowledge their equivalent role in protecting the country. This began with the “red summer” of 1919, in which racism and brutality against blacks soared all over the country, both north and south. Incredible riots broke out in Washington DC during the summer of that same year.
Frederick had not been immune to lynchings and Klan activity, it happened here, and not just rural settings out in the county. Jim Crow was real, and the climate of Frederick was not ready to abolish the “separate but equal” policies that were a way of life. Schools, hospitals, stores, restaurants, and municipal parks were all segregated here in Frederick—even places like the YMCA. This was only 50-60 years removed from the mixed emotions and sympathies portrayed here through the white citizenry during the American Civil War.
Back to the Frederick burying ground dilemma, a formidable solution was gained by a group of active and progressive religious, business and social leaders of town. A new cemetery association was formed, and its name borrowed from a nearby thoroughfare within a stone’s throw of Greenmount Cemetery was utilized. This was Fairview Cemetery.
The Fairview Cemetery Association of Frederick County, Inc. was established in 1923. A committee of Rev. John W. Townes, M. E. Jenkins, and Dr. Charles E. Brooks was assembled to find and purchase an appropriate lot of ground. Another committee, comprised of William R. Diggs, Dr. U. G. Bourne, Dr. Charles Brooks, Thomas Clark, Albert Dixon, George Norris, M. E. Jenkins and Rev. Townes, was tasked with raising the funds to purchase the lot. On October 12th, 1923 the Association paid $500 as down payment on their $5,500 purchase from L. Edgar Betson and his wife Dora. The 6-acre property was located on the eastern approach to town on E. Church Street extended, better known as Gas House Pike.
The land deal would be completed in 1924, interments began in late 1924. Burials in Greenmount would continue through 1926, however the hospital had decided the previous year that no more burials would be allowed here. With Greenmount’s closing, people of color looked at their new cemetery with hope and adoration— filling rapidly in those infant years thanks to as many as 284 Greenmount burials moved to the Fairview Cemetery in 1927. One of which was Greenmount cemetery founder Richard Jackson (died 1910) and his wife Emily (died 1899). Interestingly, twenty years later (1945), the family of the last official president of the Laboring Sons Cemetery Association, John Makel, would choose Fairview over his own cemetery to serve as his final resting place. Through all of this, the trustees of Laboring Sons would fail to move any of their cemetery inhabitants to Fairview.
As Mount Olivet represents the sum of the city’s earliest burying grounds, Fairview has carried the “tongue in cheek” moniker of being "the Mount Olivet of the black community. " Historic monuments, pleasant looking grounds and “a who’s who of Frederick” go far to prove that point, while black residents of Frederick have continued to make Fairview the largest and leading black burial ground for 90+ years.
“A Bird in Hand”
In 1952, a 70-year-old black woman named Bird Smith breathed her last. Uterine cancer would take her life, one that had mostly been spent working as a life-long domestic/maid for a local farm family living just south of town near the local landmark of Evergreen Point.
Ms. Smith actually served multiple generations of the Ransom Rush Lewis family on their 200-acre farm, named Locust Level. This property is only a short distance south of Mount Olivet. In fact Mr. Lewis, Sr. delighted in purchasing lots for his family that were in clear view of his farm.
We know this location today by commercial landmarks replacing the former manor farm first established in the 1700’s. Here one can find Costco, Interstate 70, plus properties located off Francis Scott Key Drive: the Econo Lodge, Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Sheetz.
Aerial view of the Lewis family's Locust Level manor estate from August, 1934. A fire had engulfed the main barn on the property. Note the location of Evergreen Point in the upper right of the photo. This is the intersection of MD355 and MD85, today a major interchange located roughly a quarter mile south of Mount Olivet on S. Market Street.
Before we get to the few details known about this woman of color boasting an interesting name, let’s talk about her employer. Mr. R. Rush Lewis had a successful career as a leading farmer and prominent businessman. His father, Jacob Lewis had originally moved to Frederick from Chester County, Pennsylvania and purchased Locust Level in 1854.
Born in 1864, R. Rush Lewis spent his youth on the family farm and stayed active in agricultural pursuits, particularly dairy farming. In addition, he was chosen president of the First National Bank of Frederick in 1909, and served as president of the G. & L. (Garber & Lewis) Baking Company, vice president of the Borough Peoples Fire Insurance Company, and a director in the Central National Bank.
I haven’t found anything substantial on Ms. Smith other than the fact that she was a Maryland native, born in April 1881, and never married. Her unusual name was written as Bertie in an early census, perhaps giving a hint that her real name was possibly Bertha or Roberta. Bird Smith faithfully served three generations of the Lewis family. She was a true part of the family, playing a “nannie” type role to Rush and Laura Lewis’ two children—Ransom Rush, Jr. (b. 1896) and Elizabeth (b.1897).
Unfortunately, Bird Smith would not leave the nest of Locust Level farm site after her passing. Ransom Rush Lewis had gone to Mount Olivet, in order to make burial arrangements for Bird within his pre-purchased family plot (Area E Lot 89). His request would be rejected by the cemetery’s Board of Managers. They referenced the minutes of the November 7th, 1924 resolution upholding “white only” burials. The policy was again written, verbatim, within the Mount Olivet minutes book in early November, 1952, nearly 30 years after it s first writing.
The Lewis family was deeply upset in seeing their lifelong friend and family member denied access for burial. The cemetery was literally a next door neighbor to the Lewis farm. R. Rush Lewis had already buried two wives here, first wife Laura Yerkes Lewis in 1924, and Margaret Duvall Lewis (second wife) in 1947. Lots had been purchased for R. Rush’s children and faithful Bird.
R. Rush Lewis didn’t settle for help and memorialization in Fairview Cemetery, as you would expect. Instead, he had Bird Smith buried in the yard of Locust Level Farm. It must have been extremely frustrating for Mr. Lewis, a man of considerable wealth and influence in Frederick, but powerless in this particular situation involving race discrimination. All the while, Mr. Lewis took out a scathing classified ad in the Frederick News, made to look like an obituary. In doing this, he directly called out Mount Olivet’s Board of Managers, chastising them for not allowing the burial of Bird Smith based solely on the color of her skin. It was a bold and historic move. I’ve heard that he started a litigation process against the cemetery, but did not follow through because the cemetery had the right to enforce its own rules because it was a private cemetery.
R. Rush Lewis died in 1958. Years passed as Bird Smith would eventually be the last reminder of the Lewis family on the property. The farm had been deeded to the Frederick Home for the Aged and City of Frederick in 1858 before Mr. Lewis’ death. However, it was subsequently sold by the Home for the Aged to developers in 1964. The property became bisected by a superhighway (US70) in the late 1950’s.
The proud Locust Level Farm had traded in its dairy parlors for gas pumps— the Pure Oil Truck Stop was opened on the north side of the former Lewis property in December, 1965. The grand manor house of the 1700’s was demolished, to make room for an Exxon gas station. Evergreen Point and MD routes 355 and 85 sprouted into a major commercial cluster of car dealerships, fast food restaurants shopping venues anchored by the Francis Scott Key Mall, opened in the late 1970’s.
Bird Smith’s “cemetery of one” remained, about 30 yards from the highway to the rear of the gas station, next to an asphalt parking lot. Her gravesite, outlined with bricks, was buttressed by stanchions to safeguard it from being hit by lawnmowers. A small 2’x1’ granite monument stood at the head of the grave and boasted a Bible passage from Revelations 2:10. It read:
“In loving memory of Bird Smith who has served on this farm for seventy years. Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.”
In 1986, a representative for a company called Beckmont, Inc. out of California visited cemetery superintendent J. Ronald Pearcey at his office. Beckmont was the development company that owned the present property that once belonged to the Lewis family. The representative explained to superintendent a quandary he had on his hands. There was an opportunity to build a motel on the former farm site on the parcel immediately behind the gas station, and along the highway. However, there was one small problem, Bird’s gravesite. It had to go. Superintendent Pearcey was in his fourth year at the helm of Mount Olivet, but had originally started back in 1966. He immediately recalled hearing the story of Bird Smith from his predecessor Robert Kline.
Mr. Kline was not the superintendent in 1952, but was on the cemetery staff. He explained to Pearcey that he felt very guilty with the stand made by the cemetery’s board against the Lewis family’s wish to bury Bird Smith in the family lot. Mr. Kline reiterated that there were sympathetic members on the board, as well as staff members like himself. However, there were also strong lot holders who helped in pressuring the board to hold firm to a “white only” policy. On a personal level, Mr. Kline grew up in an environment in which he had many black friends and a cerebral approach to "separate but equal." Kline’s father once ran a canning factory in town, boasting many black employees, many of which became close friends and confidantes of the Kline family.
There were now no obstacles in place as there had been three decades earlier. Pearcey shared Bird’s story with the Beckmont representative, and suggested that he would attempt to make contact with Elizabeth Lewis Peters, daughter of R. Rush Lewis. Pearcey thought to himself that this could be an opportunity to make things right after all these years. He subsequently met with Mrs. Peters, who lived on the corner of Record and W. Church streets in downtown Frederick. The 88-year-old woman immediately supported the idea with Pearcey’s assurance that the job could be handled correctly and with dignity.
Tuesday, October 28th, 1986 began as a somewhat pleasant day with showers forecasted for the afternoon. The gravesite in Mount Olivet had been opened and sat ready to receive its long overdue decedent. The special day was October 28th, 1986. Superintendent Pearcey, current-day foreman Tyrone Hurley and other staff members journeyed the quarter-mile to the Locust-level site and Bird Smith’s grave with necessary tools needed for rare occasion of grave removal, not placement. The team carefully exhumed the burial vault that had been placed within the ground of the old Lewis home place. They placed this within a van for transfer up the Georgetown Pike to the cemetery.
Thirty-four years, and fifteen days after her death at Frederick Memorial Hospital, site of the former Greenmount Cemetery, Bird Smith’s body made its way through the large iron-gated entry of Mount Olivet Cemetery. The lifelong black servant was finally placed where she was supposed to be, amidst her extended Lewis family, in plain view of her former home of Locust Level. Over this duration, the Civil Rights movement had conquered “separate but equal,” opening the gates for equality.
The staff placed Bird Smith in her new resting place and it came time to close the grave. The gravestone from Locust Level was brought as well and awaited its final placement atop the head of the grave. There was just one final step left, which involved a promise made by Superintendent Pearcey to Mrs. Peters. She wanted to inspect the grave before.
It was afternoon, and the skies had opened-up, drenching the area with steady rain. Pearcey ventured downtown to the Court Square area of Frederick to pick up the widowed octogenarian. He recalls she was particularly quiet and somewhat pensive. The superintendent drove her to the nearest spot that the grave could be seen from a cemetery lane. The rain continued to fall, and Mrs. Lewis was familiar with the location as she had been attendance for other funerals here including her parents and brother who had died in 1972. Pearcey was taken aback when Mrs. Peters asked if she could inspect the grave from up-close. He gladly obliged, grabbing an umbrella from under the seat then rushed around to open Mrs. Peters door. Holding the umbrella over the diminutive woman, Superintendent Pearcey escorted Mrs. Peters to Bird’s open gravesite.
Once there, Mrs. Peters stared intently down the hole, saying nothing. Ron says that a sense of great relief seemed to be-fell the senior, perhaps releasing the weight and emotional pain associated with the initial burial rejection, her family’s disappointment/anger and a 34-year time passage before Bird’s mortal remains could reunite with the rest of her former family members here at Mount Olivet. After about a minute, Ms. Peters told Pearcey that she was satisfied and it was time to head back home.
Less than three years later, Elizabeth Peters would take her place beside Bird and the others. She had witnessed the “righting of a wrong” in today’s context. Segregation was a practice that was a known part of life, and in this story’s case—death, in earlier times. The story of Bird Smith is a fascinating one. It is also a painful and embarrassing moment in the cemetery’s rich story. But such is the history of any person, place or thing—a collection of trials and tribulations, successes and failures.
The cemetery is richer to have Bird Smith, Hester Houston, Maria Harper, Martha Snowden, Abe Brighton and Julia Hill among its interred population. These individuals somehow triumphed the institution of “separate but equal,” to be laid to rest in Mount Olivet, either by accident or design. This is especially important when viewed in context to cemeteries and burial places—distinct places where the journey of life is complete, and our God judges us not by the color of our skin, but simply by our earthly good deeds and charity toward others.
We gladly invite any further information and, or, photographs pertaining to Bird Smith.
(Part II)Sidestepping a Color Barrier: The first Black Residents to be buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery
In part one of this story, I explained the preface of searching for the earliest Frederick residents of color to be buried in Frederick’s Mount Olivet Cemetery. The rural cemetery opened in 1854 and specifically catered to Frederick’s white community, an unspoken and understood practice not only here and the Deep South, but in many places in the North as well. Separate burying grounds, or sections within established graveyards, had been set up by churches or beneficial societies for the black populace. This was no different with how churches had evolved, marking a color divide with religion (ie: the Methodist Episcopal Church vs the African Methodist Episcopal Church). The same was true here in Frederick as well. From before the time of the Civil War up through to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, many cemeteries would remain segregated with “unwritten” and, in some cases, “written” rules to back the claim.
Today, Mount Olivet is the largest cemetery in Frederick County, open for over half a century operating without discrimination in burying people regardless of color, creed, religion, sex and national origin. At the same time, Fairview Cemetery, located on E. Church Street extended/Gas House Pike continues a proud tradition of service as the predominant “black cemetery” of town. This is more of a historical and cultural precept in the time following the civil rights movement. The cemetery continues to cater to black citizens, especially those with long family ties to the community. Within its gates, the visitor can find outstanding leaders of our past such as Dr. Ulysses G. Bourne (Frederick’s first doctor), John W. Bruner (Frederick’s first Superintendent of Colored Schools), Rev. J. W. Townes (Faith and Community leader/First Baptist Missionary Church), Esther E. Grinage (Educator and Kindergarten Foundress), William O. Lee (Frederick’s First Alderman) and Albert V. Dixon (Frederick’s First Black Undertaker). Although Fairview’s monuments may not be as grand as many found in Mount Olivet, the ”life’s work” of what each of these gentlemen did for our Frederick community certainly rivals, if not surpasses, that done by some of our gilded heroes—particularly the big three—Francis Scott Key, Gov. Thomas Johnson, Jr. and Barbara Fritchie.
And speaking of the Thomas Johnson, in the last article I talked at length about Mrs. Maria Harper, associated with the extended family of Maryland’s first governor and Frederick’s All Saint’s Church congregation. In 1913, the mortal remains of Gov. Thomas Johnson, Maria Harper and over 300 others were removed from the colonial-era All Saint’s Cemetery in downtown Frederick, and reburied in Mount Olivet. This was certainly a historic occasion as Maria gained entrance into Mount Olivet Cemetery and became one with thousands of white residents resting in peace since the cemetery first opened its gates nearly sixty years earlier.
And speaking of the Thomas Johnson, in the last article I talked at length about Mrs. Maria Harper, associated with the extended family of Maryland’s first governor and Frederick’s All Saint’s Church congregation. In 1913, the mortal remains of Gov. Thomas Johnson, Maria Harper and over 300 others were removed from the colonial-era All Saint’s Cemetery in downtown Frederick, and reburied in Mount Olivet. This was certainly a historic occasion as Maria gained entrance into Mount Olivet Cemetery and became one with thousands of white residents resting in peace since the cemetery first opened its gates nearly sixty years earlier.
Maria Harper may have been the earliest-born black female resident to be buried in Mount Olivet, but she was not the first. To seek out whom that distinction belongs to, I have had to dig deep (no pun intended). Due to many factors such as lost or missing records, we may never have the true answer to this question. But we also may be sidetracked due to a record that was deliberately lost, or deliberately “unwritten.” I will explain this statement further into our discussion. No matter the situation, I am pleased to report that my total findings of known early black residents in Mount Olivet has doubled over my last few weeks of research—from three to six definitive cases bearing proof. Because of this increase, I have decided to turn a two-part article into a three-part article. I seek not to overwhelm you the reader, as I regularly push internet blog and etiquette norms with regard to article length.
First off, I want to give a little more context into the history of black burial as it pertains to Frederick City. In part one of this article, I discussed the myriad of slave and family cemeteries which could be found across the county. I also presented information regarding isolated burials of blacks in the older “white church congregation” graveyards of town—places such as St. John’s Cemetery and the fore- mentioned All Saints Cemetery, with adjoining “Old Hill” Burying Ground.
Re-interment of bodies that were originally buried in the latter “Old Hill” ground (also referred to as the “colored people’s graveyard”) followed that of the whites once buried in All Saints. While the whites, plus one black (Maria Harper), headed south of town to Mount Olivet in fall of 1913, the black bodies were transferred “uptown” to a new home—Greenmount Cemetery.
Greenmount Cemetery was incorporated for the purpose of aiding Frederick's black residents under the leadership of The Working Men's Association of Frederick. This occurred in 1880, as the black beneficial society purchased a "lot of ground for burial purposes" from Gideon and Julia Bantz, situated on the south side of Montonqua Avenue, today’s W. Seventh Street. A gentleman named Richard Jackson signed the deed as the association’s president. In the 1880 census, Jackson is listed as a black shoemaker, born in Virginia, and living with his wife and three daughters on W. All Saints Street.
Greenmount Cemetery as captured in this zoom from an 1899 photo taken from the atop Trinity Chapel, looking nw across Court Square. The white house to the immediate right of center was the cemetery keeper's house that once sat on the south side of W. 7th Street (which bisects the photo left to right heading nw.) Greenmount Cemetery and its monuments can be seen below and to the left of the house as the property stretches to the southwest from this particular angle. Note the hedgerow separating the cemetery property from Groff Park to the west (future Hood College) and Emma Smith's purchased parcel to the east (future City Hospital site).
In 1898, The Working Men’s Association changed its name to The Working Men's Stock Company. The Greenmount Cemetery quickly overtook another beneficial society-formed “colored cemetery” located roughly six blocks to the east, between E. Sixth and E. Fifth Street, on Chapel Alley. This was the Laboring Sons Cemetery, formed in 1837 by a group of free black laborers and craftsmen residing in and around Frederick. This group had purchased their cemetery property in 1851, and burials soon commenced after. A schism of some sort occurred in the early 1860’s within the Beneficial Society of Laboring Sons, apparently causing two-thirds of the members to defect. In turn, many of these folks were responsible for establishing the Working Men’s Association and subsequent rival cemetery.
All the while, Maria Harper had been buried in All Saints Cemetery in 1884, and would make her way into Mount Olivet less than 30 years later in 1913. However, there are at least three other documented cases involving black women being buried in Mount Olivet before this time (1913). In addition, a fourth incident involves the first burial of a black male.
Martha and Abe
An entertaining article in the May 19th, 1904 edition of the Frederick News announced that the remains of the Shriver family had recently been successfully reinterred within Mount Olivet cemetery. A family plot belonging to Judge Abraham Shriver (1771-1848) and son Gen. Edward Shriver (1812-1896) was located along N. Bentz Street, specifically on the west side, just south of today’s Rockwell Terrace thoroughfare. The Shriver family graveyard was an addition to the existing German Reformed Burying Ground, and was said to have been “a quiet, pretty plot, enclosed with an iron railing, and shaded with tall pine trees.”
Gen. Shriver was associated with a local militia unit and the Union Army’s Potomac Home Brigade during the Civil War. His home was only a block and a half away in Courthouse Square. Another family member buried here was Charles Edward Shriver. Charles fought with the Confederacy, falling in battle in August, 1863 at the tender age of 18.
At the time of the article’s writing, a plan was in effect to extend W. Third Street to the west from Bentz Street (today’s Rockwell Terrace). The namesake home of Elihu Rockwell was originally positioned on the west side of Bentz in the street bed that exists today—it had to be moved to the south of its present location.
Thus came the need for the Shriver family and others to be moved. Since these bodies had to be re-located anyway, why not re-bury the inhabitants in the newer, prime cemetery location of town in Mount Olivet? Ever since the new cemetery's opening, the traditionally white city cemeteries (with the exception of St. John's) had been slowly falling out of favor for burial. The German Reformed Burying Ground would become Memorial Park by the mid 1920's.
The Shriver family cemetery plot consisted of Judge Shriver’s children and grandchildren. Along with these, were included two interesting extended family members that served as slaves and servants for this wealthy family. The article mentions both of these individuals, Martha Snowden and Abe Brighton.
Martha Snowden, along with her ancient tombstone, was moved into the cemetery on May 11, 1904. Her marble stone reads:
“Martha Snowden/faithful colored nurse of children of Edward and Elizabeth Shriver/died 25 Nov. age 28.”
The same story holds true for Abe Brighton who died in 1847. His grave marker states:
“Abe Brighton/1847 age 60/a faithful servant of the Shriver family”
Sadly, I could not find anything further on these individuals, except for a brief reference in Jacob Engelbrecht’s diary, dated December 5, 1820, in which he recorded a list “of the different Negroes” in Fredericktown.” Engelbrecht simply mentions the “Shriver’s Abraham Brightwell” among his tally. I wonder if the name could have been confused by Engelbrecht—Brightwell instead of Brighton? Or was it possibly changed by the family over time?
(NOTE: A Daphne Brighton (d.1893 age 75) can be found among those buried in Greenmount, but there are also multiple burials of Brattons. Two other Brightons are among the burial record of Laboring Sons Memorial Ground—Francis Brighton (d. 1874 age 41) and Harriet Brighton (d.1894). If Abe’s name was indeed Brightwell, a likely relative named Hannah Brightwell is also in Laboring Sons Memorial Ground. Hannah Brighton died in November 1907 at the age of 100.)
The new Shriver lot in Mount Olivet is located in Area MM, placing Martha and Abe within twenty yards of the Johnson family vault holding the remains of Maria Harper. Other nearby friends include Jane Hanson (wife of John) and Dr. Philip Thomas, noted upper class residents and former slaveholders in their own right. Again, these two burials predate Maria Harper by nine years. Maria is the oldest known/earliest born woman of color in Mount Olivet, but Abe Brighton now holds the title for being the oldest known black individual resting here.
Interestingly, the names of both Martha Snowden and Abe Brighton could not be found in the cemetery’s database and record books of Mount Olivet. The database is understandable as this system relies on the written record at the time, in this case 1907. Was this done deliberately, to hide the fact that people of color had knowingly been transferred into the cemetery? The white Shrivers can be found on their corresponding lot card for Area MM Lots 22 & 23, but not Martha and Abe. I assure you that I will duly add this info, albeit 110 years later.
The Strange Story of a “Stranger”
On the flipside of the situation with Martha Snowden and Abe Brighton, our Mount Olivet computer database shows the burial of a “colored” individual on July 24th, 1902. There is scarcely any detail in the official records, however, the information was likely added in recent years based on the finding of an obituary for the deceased. The burial card simply says that a female named Laura Hill was buried in lot 136 within the Stranger’s Row area of the cemetery. Stranger’s Row was a potter’s field area of Mount Olivet, reserved for early visitors to town, unknowns and indigent persons. This was the charity card for the cemetery, a norm in the old days of the funerary business. Dated July 25th (1902), a brief newspaper article mentions the death of Laura Hill, colored, who died at the Montevue Hospital and was buried at Mount Olivet. The actual space of Ms. Hill’s final resting place is lost to time, unmarked and unknown. But we have reason to believe this was no mistake by the paper. We also haven’t found her in other cemetery records.
While we are here, I’d like to explain another burial option of the time that relates to “strangers to town,” tramps, elderly residents and the indigent. The Montevue Hospital was the treatment place of record for Frederick’s black population, even for decades after the establishment of the Frederick City Hospital at the turn of the 20th century. The “hospital building” and later Montevue Home structures replaced the original Frederick Almshouse, where the indigent and insane were housed. Usually, when these full-time residents (black and white) died, they were buried in a “potter’s field” located on the property. Some of those who expired at the Montevue Hospital from sickness, wounds or surgery were buried here as well, but most having means were buried at the city’s established white and black cemeteries including Greenmount and Laboring Sons. The case of Laura Hill is quite puzzling. I’m really not quite sure how, or why, she ended up here in Mount Olivet.
I found one lone reference to “Laura Hill” in the census records. In 1880, she was listed as an 18-year-old mulatto working as a wash woman, and living on East Third Street, apparently in an apartment. A number of newspaper incidents of the late 1800’s mention Laura Hill. These were generally related to fighting and disturbing the peace. I can’t prove that our Laura Hill was a “rough and tumble” wash-woman, but there certainly is a possibility. No Laura Hill could be found in the 1900 census, but a Martha Hill was the closest match. This 36-year-old woman was living in the infamous tenement complex of Shab Row on East Street, with an 18-year-old daughter named Mary. Martha’s birthdate is listed as January, 1864, and profession given as a cook with daughter Mary as a wash woman. Looking back further, Martha Hill can be found in the 1870 census, but not that of 1880 where I found Laura. Martha in 1870 is shown as the daughter of Henry and Maria Hill. Could these be the same lady? Regardless, it still doesn’t answer the question of how she got to Mount Olivet. The cemetery records fail to show a burial on this date as well. Perhaps this was another stealth burial of a person of color.
"Houston—We have our First Burial"
That brings us back to the year 1896, and a definitive first-time burial of a black female, in a documented lot site within the cemetery, and, best of all, capped with a monument. She was Mount Olivet's 6,237th burial on record. But most importantly, the name of this woman, who I believe to be the first black individual buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, is Hester Houston.
I have been familiar with this individual for roughly 25 years, all due to a book entitled The History of Carrollton Manor by William Jarboe Grove. I mentioned Mr. Grove’s magnificent narrative of southern Frederick County in an earlier piece written about Clara McAbee, a young resident of Lime Kiln (near Buckeystown) who was named “Maryland Prettiest Girl” in 1915. William Jarboe Grove was onetime president and treasurer of the M. J. Grove Lime Company. The noted philanthropist grew up on Carrollton Manor and published his memoir laced history book in 1922. On page 48, Mr. Grove speaks of Hester Houston (whom he misnames Easter Houston) a slave once-owned by his aunt Margaret Lauretta Jarboe(1838-1900):
“It was not unusual that some respected colored slave was buried beside her master. I will mention one, Easter Houston, who was owned by William Eagle, she was given to his daughter, Lauretta, the wife of Thomas R. Jarboe, who is buried by their side in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.”
My curiosity with this woman has been piqued ever since. Hester lived with the Thomas R. Jarboe family on their spacious Gayfield Manor estate at Lime Kiln, having the Monocacy River as its eastern border, and the Buckeystown Pike as a western border. More recently, Gayfield was the 145-acre home of US Congressman Roscoe Bartlett. It was a fine plantation during its heyday, full of social entertaining which surely kept Hester on her toes. That’s all that can be gleaned about Hester Houston in this book, however 19 pages later, Grove tells a story about another one of William Eagle’s slaves with the last name of Houston—perhaps a husband or brother to Hester? Grove writes:
“Jonah Houston, who I remember well, large and a powerful man who was looked upon as being the champion fighter in the neighborhood. He was quite an athlete, fond of dancing and fond of liquor, for a drink he would sing and dance the following which usually brought down the house.
“This way buzzard and where you ‘gwine crow,
I am ‘gwine up the river to jump just so,
First upon my heel tap, then upon my toe,
Every time I jump around, I jump Jim Crow.”
The routine performed by Houston was "Jump Jim Crow", a song-and-dance caricature of blacks originally made famous by white actor Thomas D. Rice in blackface. It first appeared in 1832 and was used to satirize President Andrew Jackson's populist policies. As a result of Rice's fame, "Jim Crow" had become a derogatory expression meaning "Negro” by 1838. When southern legislatures passed laws of racial segregation directed against blacks at the end of the 19th century, these statutes became known as Jim Crow laws. We also know these as the “separate but equal” status of blacks up through 1965, following the monumental Civil Rights movement and legislation passed the previous year.
I could not find anything further on Jonah, but in Hester Houston, we have definite proof of a major color boundary “having been jumped.”
Hester Houston was buried in the Jarboe family lot in Area R, lot 94. The record book is well over 121 years old and yellowed from age. Mrs. Jarboe met with the cemetery Superintendent (or Secretary) on November 20th, 1895. Hester’s name appears in the log book as the decedent, however there is no notation signifying Houston as being black, mulatto, colored, or Negro. I find this odd, especially for the times, as it seemed common practice to differentiate people of color. As for the public written record, Hester Houston’s obituary/funeral report appears in the Frederick News on November 20, 1895, however it does not mention place of burial. The bulk of the arrangements in those days were handled by the undertaker. Mr. Marshal R. Etchison was that undertaker, and a known friend to the black community. No one from the cemetery would have had a need to open the casket, so they wouldn’t know.
I became curious after seeing this allowance of four blacks into the cemetery over a nine-year span between 1895-1904. I checked to see who the cemetery superintendents were during this time and was fascinated to learn that it was only one, Daniel Jerome Michael (1840-1908). Mr. Michael served as the third superintendent of Mount Olivet. It was only a nine-year term which began in 1893 and lasted until late 1907. Michael was forced to resign due to health reasons, and died eight months later.
Daniel J. Michael knew two things very well: 1.) the Buckeystown/Carrollton Manor Area of which he grew up; and 2.) the institution of slavery. However, he knew the latter by never being a slaveholder himself, and the same held true with his father Henry S. Michael as far as I can find. The irony lies in the fact that his paternal grandfather and uncles were known slaveholders, as were many of the neighbors that lived around him. Is it possible that he had been raised with abolitionist ideologies?—or simply an admiration for the bond existing between some white families and beloved former slaves and employees of color? Did he, or someone else on the cemetery’s Board of Managers, purposely look the other way, allowing Jim Crow to trip and fall? We’ll never know, but I have a weird hunch that Superintendent Michael may have played a part in these burials, and the surreptitious manner in which each took place, or were recorded. If anything else is telling, Daniel J. Michael’s grave is only 20 yards distant from that of Hester Houston.
Stay tuned for next week’s final part 3—I promise. It’s a sad story that relates to segregation and Mount Olivet, but offers a positive ending tied indirectly to the Civil Rights Movement.
If you have any information, corrections or photographs to add to our stories, we are greatly interested. Please comment or contact me via this website's contact page. Many thanks in advance!
In honor of both Black History Month and Women’s History Month, I offer a two-part story to bridge February to March. I went in search of the first known burial of a person of color within Mount Olivet. In my research, I came upon three such interesting past residents, all women—and all of whom came into the Mount Olivet Cemetery in unorthodox ways.
Of the three, one is the oldest known person of color here. Another was the first to be buried in the cemetery. Finally, the third remaining lady had the most controversial and arduous route ever taken to Mount Olivet, as it would entail a 34-year journey to travel a very short distance. I will share with you the story of one of these ladies this week, and the other two next week. First off, I must provide you with some important context about the times in which these women lived.
Mount Olivet Cemetery was dedicated in 1854, ten years prior to the official state sanctioned abolishment of slavery. At this time, the population of Frederick County looked as follows:
Total population Slaves/(%) Free Blacks/(%)
1850 40,987 3,913/(10%) 3,243/(7%)
1860 45,591 3,243/(7%) 4,957/(11%)
Maryland lawmakers would meet in 1864, with the American Civil War continuing to rage. This was an effort to address, and strengthen, previous principles on how the state was to be governed. Actually, the 1864 Constitution was more so the product of strong Unionists, who had seized control of the state at the time. The document outlawed slavery, disenfranchised Southern sympathizers, and reapportioned the General Assembly based upon the number of white inhabitants. This provision further diminished the power of the small counties where the majority of the state's large former slave population lived. The framers' goal was to reduce the influence of Southern sympathizers, citizens who almost caused the state to secede in 1861.
The constitution did emancipate the slaves, but this did not mean equality. The franchise was restricted to white males. Additionally, the Maryland legislature refused to ratify both the 14th Amendment, which conferred citizenship rights on former slaves, and the 15th Amendment, which gave the vote to blacks.
Frederick, county and city, had the unique situation of boasting both free and enslaved blacks living here during the Civil War era. By and large, the northern and north western reaches of the county had fewer instances of slavery due to the original settlement of German peoples in the prior century. These folks generally practiced family operated farms. This was counter-balanced by English/Scots-Irish settlers moving in and settling on the eastern, southern and southwestern areas of the county. Many of these people came from the original 17th century settlements of tidewater/southern Maryland. Slave plantations would take hold in places such as Carrollton Manor, Petersville, Urbana, New Market and Libertytown.
As for Frederick City, this was a mixed bag. Household slaves could be found working in small industry and working in homes of wealthy Courthouse Square area English stock families such as the Potts, Murdochs, McPhersons and Tylers. In some instances, upper crust German families can also be found owning slaves. Examples include founding families such as the Getzendanners, Schleys, and Brunners. Even Barbara Fritchie owned slaves—the woman made world famous by the pen of one of the leading abolitionist in the land, John Greenleaf Whittier.
The original bylaws and articles of incorporation for Mount Olivet say nothing about excluding burials of blacks within the cemetery. However, there was an unwritten rule of the times here in segregated Frederick. The community, itself, dictated that this not be attempted.
Before emancipation, most slaves were simply buried on the plantations where they lived and labored. Distinct slave cemeteries were prevalent. A surviving burial ground of this kind exists on the grounds of the Claggett Center in Adamstown, just below Buckeystown. Twenty years back, I began my video documentary entitled “Up from the Meadows: A history of Black Americans in Frederick County, Maryland” with video scenes of this humble burying ground, which certainly had more beneath the surface than above. A few field stones were evident, but nothing resembling an official grave marker or tombstones to be found. This is the site of the Hosselboch family cemetery, with provisions for at least two known family-owned slaves. The larger plantation would eventually turn into the Buckingham Industrial School for Boys, a boarding school for white youth, operated by the Baker brothers.
A more pronounced “slave cemetery” in Frederick County can be found in north county at Catoctin Furnace, below Thurmont. A roadway project associated with US 15 construction unearthed a cemetery containing nearly 35 souls associated with the iron furnace that began in the colonial era under the ownership of Thomas and James Johnson. Archeological study by the Smithsonian Institute on the remains is ongoing as the managing entity of the project is the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society.
There were many other private slave and farm cemeteries across the county, most lost forever to residential and business development. Fortunately, we have several surviving black cemeteries that started to appear in post-emancipation communities and enclaves. These are most commonly located adjacent early rural Black churches such as Hope Hill, Sunnyside, Oldfields, Silver Hill and Ebenezer. Here you will find former slaves buried alongside freedmen. Luckily, community interest and activism has kept many of these burying grounds in satisfactory and respectable condition, especially in the light of longtime burial inactivity and the discontinuation of churches. However, just as many of these need help and protection.
As for the smaller towns of the county, separate black cemeteries exist in places such as Middletown, Brunswick, New Market and Libertytown. More times than not, these cemeteries are/were associated with nearby black religious congregations. In other cases, blacks could be found worshipping in traditional white congregations, thus allowing for potential burial in those respective cemeteries. This usually took place in a designated “colored subsection” within a larger cemetery. Examples include Catholic cemeteries such as St. Mary’s in Petersville, St. Anthony’s (atop Catoctin Mountain behind Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg), St. Timothy’s in Libertytown, St. Joseph’s on Carrollton Manor near Buckeystown, and St. John’s Catholic Cemetery in downtown Frederick.
Back in 1996, an old mentor of mine, Marie Erickson, pointed out to me the grave of Amos ”Tecumseh” Lucas (1848-1917) in Thurmont’s Weller United Brethren, (now United Methodist) Church cemetery. Lucas was well-known by his nickname of “Tup” and served as a tonsorial expert (barber). He practiced his trade in Thurmont for nearly 40 years. The former slave came to town after the Civil War, from Lovettsville in Loudoun County, (VA) with Dr. J.J. Hanshew. He was the only self-proclaimed man of color to live in the Mechanicstown District for nearly 30 years, and serves as an overwhelming minority within the cemetery. "Tup" Lucas was buried in the Hanshew family lot upon his death in 1917. One other black individual, Ms. Helen Hammond, a popular camp counselor on the mountain, would also have Weller UM cemetery as a final resting place in 1977.
In Frederick City, four cemeteries were utilized as exclusive burying grounds for black residents. In eras of slavery and segregation, beneficial societies also formed in order to provide burial opportunities for persons of color. The oldest known burying ground for blacks in Frederick City was the All Saints' Church Cemetery, once located on the northern slope of the "Old Hill," between Carroll Creek and East All Saints Street. Today, the Maxwell Place Condominiums occupy the former burial site, and the hill is virtually gone at this site, however can be found again with the creek amphitheater area just to the east.
This locale was the original site of the All Saints' Protestant Episcopal Church structure. Many of the leading members of town (along with their slaves) worshipped, and were buried, here. Graves would eventually surround the original church structure. When the All Saints' congregation moved out in the early 1800’s (to locate closer to the Courthouse Square area), a new worship place for blacks and whites was constructed just west of the former location. This became known as the "Old Hill Church.” It sometimes gets confused for the original All Saints' church building, however, that structure was dismantled around 1813 with elements being used for a new home for the All Saint's parishioners on Court Street. Over time, the "Old Hill" congregation eventually came under total black leadership and evolved into Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church (around 1870).
Adjacent the church, was a ground lot that contained earlier burials of slaves which had been placed outside the brick-walled All Saints' Cemetery. These dated to the 1700's. When the All Saints' congregation left, free blacks and others began being buried here and around the Old Hill Church structure.
By the 1860’s, most burial activity had ceased at the white East All Saints' burying ground. The new Mount Olivet “garden design” Cemetery provided a welcome alternative for All Saints’ white parishioners. Almost immediately, families of means bought lots at Mount Olivet, and had loved ones reinterred—dug up, moved, and reburied. The All Saints' Cemetery started its steady descent, as did other congregational graveyards located downtown.
The Old Hill burial situation would also be impacted at this time by the creation of two, new cemeteries, started by local black beneficial groups in the mid to late 1800’s. As for the "Old Hill" church, the Asbury ME congregation purchased land in 1912 at the northwest corner of West All Saint’s and Brewer’s Alley. Here is where they would build their new house of worship (which opened in 1922).
In 1913, the All Saints' and Asbury ME trustees put their neighboring properties up for sale, as this was highly coveted real estate. Bodies of the dead had to be moved elsewhere. One such was a former slave and later emancipated woman. Her name was Mrs. Maria Harper.
Maria Harper was no stranger to funerals and cemeteries during her lifetime as she was one of the five founding members of the “African Female United Society of Frederick,” known to many as simply "the Mothers." Incorporated in 1868, the aim of this benevolent association was to “take care of the members of the Association when sick, and for burying the deceased members of the Association.”
Mrs. Harper’s own burial took place in All Saints' Cemetery on October 3rd, 1884. She had been placed in one of six vaults that resided on the grounds. Her supposed “final resting place” would be the crypt associated with Col. Thomas James Johnson (1777-1815), son of Col. James Johnson of Springfield Manor near Lewistown (and the original furnace master of Catoctin Furnace). This would make Thomas James Johnson the nephew of Frederick’s favorite son, Gov. Thomas Johnson, Jr.
Interestingly, our vault owner would also refer to Maryland’s first governor as not only an uncle, but also his father-in-law because he had married TJ’s daughter Rebecca Johnson. Let’s not judge here as this kind of thing happened regularly in those days. Plus it had its benefits such as making family holidays more manageable, not to mention the hassles associated with legal name change, etc.—but I digress. The couple of Col. Thomas James and Rebecca Johnson lived on the Loudoun County shore of the Potomac, operating the Bush Creek Forge, directly across from Point of Rocks.
Entitled Ancient “God’s Acre,” a local newspaper article about the All Saints' Cemetery appeared back in November of 1894, and reported Maria Harper’s placement within the Col. Thomas James Johnson vault, after which it was “sealed forever.” (An excerpt of that article appears below)
Apparently, forever would be short-lived (pardon my pun), as the tomb would be re-opened in the fall of 1913. At this time, 324 bodies in the All Saints' burying ground were in the process of being removed by the Vestry of All Saints'. They were destined for Mount Olivet, where the All Saints' vestry had purchased multiple lots within Area MM for reburial.
Unfortunately, due to earlier vandalism of tombstones, coupled with the problem of missing or incomplete records, only 70 bodies could be properly identified. In addition, individuals placed within family crypts had become co-mingled, in some cases vandals were to blame. As a result, all members of the Johnson family, along with Maria Harper, were re-interred together within a new, large vault at Mount Olivet. This crypt lays underground and directly in front of the large Gov. Thomas Johnson, Jr. monument, and adjacent tombstones of Col. James Johnson and wife Margaret (to the right of the monument).
Thankfully a careful documenting of the All Saints' Cemetery was performed by the congregation’s Ernest Helfenstein before the reburial process commenced back in 1913. He was able to record the contents of a number of tombstones, many of which were broken and required Helfenstein to piece together sections in an effort to decipher the information. One of the stones captured at that time belonged to Maria Harper and read as follows:
Born Dec 23, 1806
Died Oct 1st, 1884
Aged 77 years 9 months
And 8 days
Only about 10 headstones were re-erected in Area MM at Mount Olivet along with associated known bodies. Most of the remains were reburied in a mass grave. This mound area lies a few yards beyond the Gov. Thomas Johnson monument. The balance of the tombstones from All Saints' were said to have been buried along with the remains, here. The cemetery apparently objected to the deteriorated condition of these stones, and required them below, and not above, ground—out of public view. Unfortunately, Maria Harper’s monument was one of these.
Mrs. Harper’s death was quite noteworthy at the time. Her obituary, and other related articles affectionately refer to her as “Aunt Maria.” At the time of her death, Maria resided at 50 West All Saints Street. She was listed as a “wash woman” in the 1870 census and was noted in her obituary as being one of the oldest members of the All Saints' Protestant Episcopal congregation. It seems that she was beloved by Frederick residents, both black and white.
The executrix of Mrs. Harper’s estate was Anne Grahame Ross, a luminary from Frederick’s past. Mrs. Ross was the wife of Worthington Ross and lived on Record Street. She had grown up in the Courthouse Square area on adjacent Council Street in the large mansion built by her paternal grandfather, Col. John McPherson. Mrs. Ross’ father, Col. John McPherson II, had married Frances “Fannie” Johnson, granddaughter of Gov. Thomas Johnson, Jr. To come full circle, Fannie’s father was Thomas Jennings Johnson, an older brother to Rebecca Johnson, whom I introduced you to earlier as the wife of Col. Thomas James Johnson—namesake for the funerary vault that Maria Harper was originally buried within.
The best I could glean with researching local papers and census records is that Maria was classified as a mulatto, and had married William Harper, three years her junior. This appears in the 1860 census. The All Saints’ archives report this gentleman as Wilson Harper, and records show that the couple was married by Rev. Joshua Peterkin on March 18, 1847. Within the 1860 census, Maria and William(Wilson) are living in Frederick City with 15-year old Georgeanna Butler and 7-year old son John Harper. By the next census in 1870, Maria appears as a widowed head of household, living with 16-year old son John Harper and 72-year old Alice Fowler.
The All Saints' archives show that Maria had been a member of the congregation since 1816, and was actually married twice within the church. She had originally come to Frederick from Montgomery County in the year 1816 as Maria Waters. The ten year-old was a slave, the property of Rebecca Johnson. You may recall that Rebecca’s husband had tragically passed the previous year in 1815, leaving her with three small children.
It’s likely that young Maria could have worshipped from the East Gallery of All Saints’ Church's second home, built on Court Street. She also may have participated in the congregations’ “Colored Sabbath School” as well. Maria Waters would marry the first time in February, 1832. Her first husband’s name was Robert Smith, and it is thought that the couple lived in Loudoun County with the Rebecca Johnson family.
Upon Rebecca Johnson’s death, Maria would return to Frederick in 1837, likely sans Robert Smith, who may have died. I venture to guess that she became the property of the McPherson family, but I have no concrete proof other than the 1840 census shows that the McPhersons had three female slaves living with them at the time, and Maria fits the age range perfectly. Maybe she was brought in to serve as a nanny to Ann Grahame McPherson, who would have been 10-years old in 1837? Maria remarried in 1847, as Miss McPherson turned 20. Was husband William(Wilson) Harper a slave of the McPhersons as well? I bring this up only due to the existence of a female slave named Ruthie Harper in the McPherson family. (She was written about by legendary Underground Railroad conductor William Still, having escaped slavery and Mr. McPherson in 1858. )
Anne Grahame McPherson would marry Worthington Ross in January, 1850. I assume Maria must have had an equally strong relationship with Anne’s aunt, Rebecca Johnson. This all can explain the indelible bond between these women, with major differences reflected by age and race. It would also give credence to the “Aunt Maria” moniker, not to mention the tremendous clout needed to have a former slave buried within the white All Saints' Cemetery and the prominent Johnson family crypt of her former owner. And to think, for over the past 100 years, Maria's remains reside alongside Gov. Thomas Johnson, Jr. within the same vault.
Whatever the case, I pronounce that Maria Waters Harper is most likely the oldest/earliest born black resident of Mount Olivet Cemetery—but I need to caution that she wasn’t the first.
Stay tuned for Part II to be published next weekend.
You won’t find a gravestone or monument. No interpretive wayside panel or mention in a brochure. Not even a portrait or likeness can be found. Regardless, Mount Olivet is the final resting place for a gentleman who personally knew several of our founding fathers and early US presidents. As a matter of fact, he was even a father-in-law to one of them.
Joshua Johnson was born on June 25, 1742 at his father’s plantation located on St. Leonard’s Creek and the Patuxent River in southwestern Calvert County (Maryland). His parents were Dorcas and Thomas Johnson, Sr., the latter a name that may sound a little familiar to Frederick residents. Joshua was one of 10 children, half of which are buried in Mount Olivet. His brother, Thomas Johnson, Jr., holds the distinction of not only having a local high school named after him, but was Maryland’s first elected governor. A member of the Continental Congress, Thomas Johnson, Jr. should have been a signer of the Declaration of Independence, however he was back home in Maryland raising troops and supplies for the war effort, or so the story goes.
Joshua’s elder brother did plenty of great stuff and boasts a pretty impressive resume that also includes starting the Catoctin Iron Furnace, supervising the building of the Hessian Barracks, leading Maryland troops into battle during the Revolutionary War, laying out Washington, DC, and serving as one of the country’s first Supreme Court justices.
Joshua Johnson was certainly no slouch himself. By the age of 25, he had firmly established himself as one of the leading merchants of Annapolis. Four years later, he entered into a partnership with two other men to establish Wallace, Davidson and Johnson, the first American tobacco firm to operate independently of British middlemen. He would also play a role in expanding the tobacco trade to France, in turn, marketing French goods to the colonies in the waning years of the American Revolution.
Joshua Johnson had gone to London in 1771. While there, he met Catherine Nuth and apparently married the teenage Englishwoman in 1772. Or at least we think so, as existing documentation shows that the two did not officially marry until 1785. Whatever the case, Johnson and his young bride were blessed with a daughter named Anne in January, 1773—the first of seven children. Another daughter named Louisa Catherine would be born two years later in February, 1775. After the birth of a third child, named Carolina Virginia Maryland, Joshua felt it was in his family’s best interest to leave Great Britain. It was 1778, and the three namesakes for his recently born daughter, along with ten other American colonies, were entrenched in war against the mother country. The Johnsons went to France, and would make their home in the port city of Nantes.
While here, the Johnsons lived quite well. They entertained many Americans, including leading merchants, expatriates, allies and diplomats. One such guest to visit the Johnson household was the famed John Adams of Massachusetts. Adams had served on the Continental Congress with Joshua’s brother, Thomas. As a diplomat in Europe, he would help negotiate the eventual peace treaty with Great Britain and acquired vital governmental loans from bankers in Amsterdam (Holland). Adams was accompanied on his European journey by his son, then-twelve year old John Quincy. This was the first encounter between children who would be future “man and wife,” as John Quincy Adams would marry Joshua’s daughter Louisa.
Following the American Revolution, Joshua Johnson and his family came back to London, where he again took up the merchant profession. As the colonies would further evolve into the United States under the guidance of the Constitution, Johnson would receive an important correspondence written in late summer, 1790. It came from his home country’s first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, writing on behalf of George Washington from the new nation’s capital of New York:
August 7th, 1790
The President of the United States, desirous of availing his country of the talents of it’s best citizens in their respective lines, has thought proper to nominate you Consul for the U.S. at the port of London. The extent of our commercial and political connections with that country marks the importance of the trust he confides to you, and the more as we have no diplomatic character at that court. I shall say more to you in a future letter on the extent of the Consular functions, which are in general to be confined to the superintendance and patronage of commerce, and navigation; but in your position we must desire somewhat more. Political intelligence from that country is interesting to us in a high degree. We must therefore ask you to furnish us with this as far as you shall be able; to send us moreover the gazette of the court, Woodfall’s parliamentary paper, Debrett’s parliamentary register: to serve sometimes as a center for our correspondencies [with] other parts of Europe, by receiving and forwarding letters sent to your care. It is desireable that we be annually informed of the extent to which the British fisheries are carried on within each year, stating the number and tonnage of the vessels and the number of men employed in the respective fisheries: to-wit the Northern, and Southern whale fisheries, and the Cod-fishery. I have as yet no statement of them for the year 1789. With which therefore I will thank you to begin.—While the press of seamen continues, our seamen in ports nearer to you than to Liverpool (where Mr. Maury is Consul) will need your protection. The liberation of those impressed should be desired of the proper authority, with due firmness, yet always in temperate and respectful terms, in which way indeed all applications to government should be made.
The public papers herein desired may come regularly once a month by the British packet, and intermediately by any vessels bound directly either to Philadelphia or New York. All expences incurred for papers, and postages shall be paid at such intervals as you chuse either here on your order, or by bill on London whenever you transmit to me an account.
There was a bill brought into the legislature for the establishment of some regulations in the Consular offices: but it is postponed to the next session. That bill proposed some particular fees for particular services. They were however so small as to be no object. As there will be little or no legal emolument annexed to the office of Consul, it is of course not expected that it shall render any expence incumbent on him. I have the honor to be with great esteem, Sir Your most obedient & most humble servant,
[Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 17, 6 July–3 November 1790, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965, pp. 119–120.]
Joshua Johnson would hold the post of US consul to London from 1790-1797. Life seemed to be very good to Joshua until 1796. It was at this time that he would experience a series of professional and personal “ups and downs.” His daughter Louisa had become recently re-acquainted with an old family friend—John Quincy Adams. The son of John Adams, current sitting vice-president under George Washington, John Quincy was serving as a US diplomat to the Netherlands, often going back and forth between the Hague (Netherlands) and Great Britain. He proposed to Louisa and the couple duly married in London in July, 1797.
Though John Quincy Adams wanted to return to private life back home in Massachusetts at the end of his appointment, President Washington had made him minister to Portugal in 1796, where he was soon appointed to the Berlin Legation. Though his talents were far greater than his desire to serve, he was finally convinced to remain in public service when he learned how highly Washington thought of his abilities. Washington called Adams "the most valuable of America's officials abroad.”
On the eve of his daughter’s marriage, Joshua Johnson’s business failed. He had lost a large East India Company trading ship at sea, plunging him into financial disaster. The proud Marylander found himself in the embarrassing situation of owing heavy debts, not to mention not having the ability to provide the dowry promised his new son-in -law, a rising star on the world stage. Add to this the fact that his daughter’s new father-in-law won the US presidential election of 1796, and would become the country’s second president in 1797.
While the Adams family may have found it necessary to work to improve Joshua’s image, daughter Louisa adored her father and was proud of him. Amanda Mathews Norton of the Massachusetts Historical Society wrote:
“Louisa entered marriage with the anxiety and shame that her husband and others would think that she and her father had conned John Quincy into marrying her with false promises; it was a sensitivity that never went away. But for Louisa, her father had been entirely blameless, and this belief she also carried throughout her life. Fortune was unkind. His partners had cheated him.”
The best option for Joshua Johnson at this time was to resign his post as consul and return to his native home. He moved to Georgetown within the confines of the District of Columbia, the new national capital. He had the support of his brother Thomas and others from nearby Maryland, along with his new family thanks to daughter Louisa. President John Adams appointed Joshua Superintendent of Stamps, the overseer of the US General Stamp Office.
Some citizens and politicians saw this as a form of nepotism, harboring distrust and dislike of Johnson who they thought had taken the easy way out during the American Revolution. After all, Joshua had made a fortune trading with the enemy (Great Britain), married an English woman and lived the high-life in Europe while others put their lives, and fortunes, on the line during the “great revolution.” He seems to have had an awkward relationship with Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote to offer him the US consul position a decade earlier. In 1800, it was Jefferson, then sitting Vice President, who cast the deciding vote in Congress to break a tie vote, thus renewing Johnson’s appointment as Superintendent of Stamps. One year later, Jefferson would hastily dismiss Johnson of this position. Some claim that this fall-out-of-favor was the catalyst for Johnson’s severe depression and subsequent death the following year at the age of 60.
Suffering from a severe fever, Joshua Johnson died on April 17, 1802 while here in Frederick.
Birdseye view south of the Old All Saint's Church burying ground as it appears to the left of this inset from the Sachse 1854 lithograph image of Frederick. The Johnson crypt was said to have been on the eastern (left) side of the colonial era cemetery once located near the present site of the Carroll Creek amphitheater. (Note Market Street on right side of image.)
Joshua Johnson would be laid to rest in the burying ground of All Saints Episcopal Church, adjacent Carroll Creek and East All Saints Street. In 1913, the Vestry of All Saints Church would reinter bodies from this cemetery to Mount Olivet Cemetery. The co-mingled contents of the larger Johnson family crypt would be buried within a vault that now lies in the cemetery’s Area MM, under the large memorial monument placed to honor Thomas Johnson, Jr.
Unfortunately, Joshua’s sudden passing left little provisions for his family. His wife Catherine died in her mid-fifties, less than a decade later in 1811. She is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery, located in northwest Washington, DC.
Joshua would not have the chance to witness his daughter Louisa faithfully assist husband John Quincy in the decades following his death. Back in America, Louisa’s husband entered congressional politics, elected as a US Senator for Massachusetts. After a few terms, the Adams’ would return to Europe in 1809 as John Quincy would fulfill duties as the first US minister to Russia, followed by an appointment as envoy to Great Britain. John Quincy (and Louisa) came back to the United States after being appointed to the position of Secretary of State in 1817 under President James Monroe. He held this position until 1825, when he was elected as the 6th President of the United States. In doing so, Joshua Johnson’s daughter became the first-lady of the nation.
At age 65, Louisa Adams wrote her memoirs entitled “Adventures of a Nobody”—she was the “first” first-lady to do such a thing. The following passage from Joshua Johnson’s well-known daughter seems a most fitting tribute to a man of worldly experience and family values—yet forgotten to time.
“The qualities of the heart and of the mind, excited a higher aim; and a romantic idea of excellence, the model of which seemed practically to exist before my eyes, in the hourly exhibition of every virtue in my almost idolized Father; had produced an almost mad ambition to be like him; and though fortune has blasted his fair fame; and evil report has assailed his reputation; still while I live I will do honour to his name, and speak of his merit with the honoured love and respect which it deserved—As long as he lived to protect them, his Children were virtuous and happy—amidst poverty and persecution.”
Louisa Johnson Adams
It was about 25 years ago when I stumbled upon a certain yellowed publication within the boundless stacks of the Wonder Book & Video Store. It was the History of Carrollton Manor written by William Jarboe Grove in 1922. I had a tough time figuring out what it was in rough shape and devoid of a cover, held together by just a few rusty staples. As I flipped through the nearly 300 pages, I instantly became mesmerized by this history of southern Frederick County, as told by a lifelong resident.
William J. Grove wrote this book while in his late sixties, colorfully recounting stories related to his childhood memories of events and neighbors on the manor. Included were stories relating to farming, industry and the Civil War. The Grove family were quite prominent during the late 19th century, as William’s father, Manassas Grove was a successful industrialist. The elder Grove was responsible for the quaint hamlet of Lime Kiln, aptly named after the booming lime production operation he created. Son William would carry on management after his father’s death, and stayed quite active in Frederick affairs and politics.
Sufficed to say, I bought this tattered book and was excited to start exploring a part of the county I hadn’t known much about. It still remains my personal favorite Frederick history book.
One of the “Carrollton Manor characters” introduced to readers is Clara McAbee—proclaimed as “Maryland’s prettiest girl.” The short passage on her by Mr. Grove reads as follows:
May 17, 1915, Lime Kiln loomed up through the United States when Miss Clara May McAbee was selected as the prettiest girl in Maryland, and was given a trip to California where she entered the nationwide beauty contest, and there came out second after a close contest.
In a letter written May 18th, 1915, by William J. Grove to the Baltimore News, he says: “The beauty contest put the little village of Lime Kiln, Frederick County, on the map, nestled as it is on historic ground, Carrolton Manor, once owned by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the signer of the Declaration of Independence. Why should not this beautiful girl win out, surrounded by the beauties of this old historic manor and softened by southern breezes from the Potomac?” S.C. Malone, the leading fine art engraver of America says of Miss McAbee, “I am frank to admit as an artist of international reputation that she is indeed beautiful in every sense of the word. It seems as if Mother Nature has enveloped her in all the patriotic panorama that has made the natural scenery of Frederick County famous.”
About five years after buying this book, I found myself pecking around an antique store in Emmitsburg, busily looking for local history collectibles. I soon came upon some World-War II era ration books from Frederick. I did a double-take when I read the name of the owner of these items—Clara McAbee Leon. It took me a minute to conjure up Clara McAbee, “the prettiest girl” I had read about back in Mr. Grove’s book years before. Examining these documents, I discovered Clara’s married name of Leon, and a residential address of 326 Lindbergh Avenue, located in the College/Baker Park area northwest of Downtown Frederick. She was in her late forties at this time.
Twenty more years go by, and I now find myself in the employ of Mount Olivet Cemetery, writing weekly blog posts on interesting inhabitants of the cemetery. A few months ago, I consulted The History of Carrollton Manor while helping a cemetery patron conducting family research. The first page I opened up to was page 46, the one about Clara McAbee which jogged my memory. I simply looked in our burial database and found that Clara McAbee Leon is buried here at Mount Olivet in Area GG, Lot 29! So that is the magical inspiration behind my quest for attempting to learn more about “Maryland’s prettiest girl.” Unfortunately, I must confess, I didn’t find a great deal as Clara would not have any children of her own. She served as a step-mother to her husband’s son from an earlier marriage—but as you will soon see, that must have been a complicated relationship at best.
“Maryland’s Prettiest Girl”
Clara Mae McAbee (Leon) was born October 3rd, 1896 in the vicinity of Lime Kiln, a small village that sits adjacent the original route 15 south, today known as Maryland route 85/Buckeystown Pike. The once booming industrial complex can be found just south of English Muffin Way, and roughly one mile north of Buckeystown. Clara was the daughter of Joseph F. McAbee and Eliza C. Funk, the second of eight children. The McAbees operated a general store out of the front of their Lime Kiln household, located north of Lime Kiln where the old B&O railroad intersected the Buckeystown Pike.
In 1915, twenty-year old Clara was chosen by a local newspaper to participate in a competition to pick Maryland’s most beautiful young lady. It’s interesting to point out that this was one of the first “beauty pageants” of this kind, held six years before the first “Miss America” pageant was held in Atlantic City in 1921. The Maryland event occurred May 16th in Baltimore, and was hosted by the Sun Newspaper Company. Clara Mae was chosen the winner from a large field of 500 contestants, half of which hailed from Charm City. This was quite an accomplishment from a small-town girl, and that’s even a stretch to give Lime Kiln credit for being a small town.
Newspapers near and far tried to describe the young lady in words. One such offered the following:
“a black–haired beauty, with oval features, and Latinish mold of expression.” S. C. Malone went to work on behalf of his home state. He joined with the Frederick News in fundraising efforts to send young Miss McAbee to Los Angeles, California where a nationwide pageant was slated for mid-June. This competition was being sponsored by the Universal Film Company, known today as Universal Studios. For the motion picture pioneer, the event presented a great opportunity to gauge “visual talent” from across the land—the winner promised to receive a high-salaried film contract. Of course, visual appearance was “paramount,” (over straight-up acting ability) in this era of silent movies.
Instant stardom was on the line for attractive young ladies representing nearly all the states in the country. When she departed Frederick on June 3rd, Clara’s reputation had preceded her to California, as she was listed among the favorites to win. As for the trans-Atlantic trek, the young Frederick Countian went first to New York City to meet with fellow Eastern contestants. From there, train travel took Clara and other contestants to Chicago to rendezvous with Midwest state champions. The caravan departed thence to the west coast.
The contest was maintained to be decided by merit, as the bulk of the judges were artists. Many of the competition categories were held at Universal City during the second week of June, 1915. All the while, the girls were treated to lavish dinners, shopping trips and excursions to nearby California sites and cities.
The winner was announced June 12th after a lavish parade of the beauties. Washington DC’s Ruth Purcell won with a score of “93.45% perfect.” Clara McAbee was the runner-up with a score of “93% perfect.” Rounding out the top six were young ladies representing New Jersey, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Nebraska.
As a consolation, the Frederick belle was also offered a motion picture contract. The top girls chosen next embarked on a goodwill tour across the country. Along the way, Clara began receiving marriage proposals. This was reported in Moving Pictures Magazine at the time. One matrimony offer came from a mine owner living in Las Vegas, another from a rancher whom she met at the Grand Canyon. On the subject, Clara playfully told a reporter: “I have been receiving letters from every city at which we have stopped and telegrams are also coming in from them. I’ll have to marry one of them to get rid of both.”
Once back in Maryland, Clara was treated as a celebrity. She drew crowds, whenever, and wherever, she appeared in public. She was invited to many parties and dances throughout the region. In fact, the beauty queen was given a year pass of free movies from the Empire Theater in Frederick. The owners knew it would be good for business.
Unfortunately, not much more is documented about Clara’s foray into the film industry. But what is known is that brown-haired beauty would play a starring role in a local drama to be played out in area courts and papers less than three years later. These events would feature all the love, scandal, and intrigue usually found in a Hollywood box office smash hit.
This was his second such offense.A trip to the Dentist
Not usually pegged for a role in movies, our story’s leading man was a dentist by profession. His name, Dr. Albert K. Leon, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed native of Philadelphia, born in 1890. The son of Russian immigrants, Leon and his siblings had relocated to Washington DC. Dr. Leon’s father was a tailor and successful inventor who imparted on his children the importance of good dental hygiene. Like Albert, the bulk of his siblings (including an older sister) took up the dental profession. Albert was the youngest son and a bit of a rebel. Whether willingly of not, he completed dental school at Georgetown in 1911 and set out to start his career. That’s about the time he met Agnes V. St. John, a stylish young lady of the District of Columbia.
Young Albert was “playing with fire” with Miss St. John. She was a devout Catholic, a “no—no” for a boy of Jewish faith for the times, not to mention his parents being even more strict to tradition as first generation immigrants. Whatever the case, Albert would bring embarrassment to the family in more ways than just a religious faux pa. In January of 1912, he was caught practicing dentistry without the necessary license needed in the nation’s capital. He did this while using the Washington, DC office of his older brother (Benjamin).
Just a few month’s later, he eloped with girlfriend Agnes after telling his family he would be taking in a movie in Baltimore. The bi-religious couple were married on Easter Eve by Monsignor C. F. Thomas. This wedding would be kept secret by the couple for eight months, at which time the duo learned that Agnes was pregnant. The news shared with family was not well received well by either set of parents.
Albert’s family simply cut the cord on their youngest son, perhaps indirectly instigating his next big misstep by year’s end. Albert opened a dental office in Baltimore on West Lexington Street in October. In the early morning hours of December 2nd, Dr. Leon was caught in the basement of a candy store located below his office. He was arrested and charged with burglary, made even more sensational through newspaper coverage and the irony of a dentist caught robbing a confectionary. He claimed that he was simply investigating a noise, however the access for Dr. Leon required the help of a ladder placed within a dumb waiter chamber between floors.
Albert Leon successfully sidestepped a candy store conviction to encounter two new life changes in 1914. First and foremost, Agnes gave birth to a baby boy in late August. He was named Albert K. for his father. Three months later (November of 1914), Dr. Leon announced in the Frederick newspaper that he had opened a dental office at 10-12 N. Market Street. He continued to boast locations in Baltimore and Washington, but Frederick would become his base of operations.
Whether by design or not, Albert convinced Agnes that it was in the family’s best interest to have him firmly establish his practice in Frederick. This would require him to live in Frederick, while leaving his wife and son in DC with her parents. He claimed this would give him the time necessary to build a proper home for his wife and child. Leon’s innovative advertisements began appearing in the Frederick papers almost immediately. Interestingly, these included a self-photograph, something that strikes one as odd, especially done by a dentist. Perhaps there was an ulterior motive?
Dr. Leon seems to have been progressing well in Frederick by the size and scope of his advertising throughout 1915, the same year Clara McAbee was competing in pageants. Albert continued staying in Frederick during the week, and likely went home to Agnes and Albert Jr. in Washington on weekends. However, the long weeks could certainly open the doors of temptation—especially for a guy with a track record of proven sly behavior, getting caught with his hand in the candy jar, both literally and figuratively. However, this was nothing compared to what was to come.
Somewhere along the line, Albert Leon became smitten with a young, vivacious patient named Louise M. Claybaugh, an employee of the Union Knitting Mills. Plenty of dental-themed double entendres could be used here, but I will refrain. Let’s just say that Louise received more than “a routine cleaning” from the good doctor. Claybaugh claimed later that Dr. Leon had misrepresented himself, claiming to have been unmarried. She made this discovery when Agnes and Albert, Jr. came to live in Frederick sometime in 1917. Claybaugh was enraged and threatened to bring suit against Albert. He calmed her with hush money, offering to pay her a weekly stipend for her silence and cooperation. She relented.
Reports claim that Frederick residents had marveled at the stylish, big-city fashions worn by Agnes when visiting her husband at his workplace. However, not to be outdone, a jilted Louise began copying the fashions of Mrs. Agnes Leon, obtaining and modeling many of the same outfits. The competition was on, however Louise would find out that she had more than one rival for Dr. Leon’s heart.
Well, as if a love triangle wasn’t enough of a challenge for Albert Leon, the cunning periodontist decided to up the ante. Somehow, “Maryland’s prettiest girl,” Clara McAbee, would wind up in his dental chair. With his lack of self-restraint and love of teeth, it seems unfair that he could pass up the “prettiest” smile he would ever lay eyes on. One thing led to another and now he was successfully cheating on his mistress with the lovely girl from Lime Kiln. However, it was him who was about to go into the “kiln” as the jealous Miss Claybaugh was tracking his movements.
She caught Dr. Leon and Miss McAbee in a compromising position in his office on October 12th, 1917. Claybaugh attacked Clara in a fit of rage. Claybaugh admitted that if it hadn’t been for the intercession of Dr. Leon, she would have inflicted serious bodily harm on “the prettiest girl.” After stewing a bit on what to do, Louise Claybaugh wrote an apology letter to Albert for her actions—then decided to make an unholy alliance with Agnes Leon. She confronted Albert’s wife on the subject. Oh to be a fly on the wall for that conversation. Louise divulged her role with the doctor, and then brought up his recent episode with “prettiest girl in Maryland.”
Agnes was devastated and on Christmas Eve, packed up her stuff and Albert, Jr. to head to her parent’s house in Washington, threatening to never return. A few days later, Albert apparently received a draft notice in the mail (as this was the height of World War I). Dr. Leon was no dummy, and persuaded Agnes and the draft board that his wife and son were dependent on him. It worked, and Agnes gave the seemingly repentant dentist another chance. She and Albert Jr. returned to Frederick.
Everything was going as swimmingly as possible until late April 1918—that’s when “the toothpaste hit the fan,” so to speak. The Frederick and Baltimore papers were afire with the scandal of a “love quadrangle.” Agnes had issued a bill of complaint with the court outlining the altercation between misses Claybaugh and McAbee the previous October, and a titillating new wrinkle from March, 1918. On March 16th, Dr. Leon and Miss McAbee had “registered as husband and wife and remained at a hotel in Rockville all night occupying the same room.”
Mrs. Leon had hired noted attorney Leo Weinberg and sued for court costs, that of her counsel and demanded a $100/month alimony payment starting immediately. This was duly granted by Judge Hammond Urner. She openly shared her story, and frustration (with her three-timing husband) with the newspapers. Once again, Clara McAbee found herself on the front page, but for the “unprettiest” of reasons.
Dr. Leon gave his side of the story a week later, not admitting or denying his guilt. He said it was simply a big misunderstanding. He pledged to Agnes that he would sever all ties with Claybaugh and McAbee. And somehow, it worked, the couple once again reconciled. It must have been divine intervention, but of a more technical kind. I’m thinking it was Agnes’ dedication to Catholicism and the sacrament of reconciliation, compounded with the church’s firm standing on divorce.
Louise Claybaugh gave up the ghost and actually received positive attention for her role played in the affair. She also received marital offers E. Roy Kaufmann of Washington DC. The couple married just a few months later on September 11th, 1918.
Forgiveness is a great virtue and Agnes Leon should be given all the credit in the world. But, alas it wouldn’t last. The Leon family of three persevered for a time, as they can be found living together in Frederick in the 1920 census, on South Market Street. Meanwhile, Clara Mae McAbee can be found still living at home in Lime Kiln within the same census. However, Agnes would find that she could not keep her husband and Clara apart.
In 1923, Agnes Leon and 9 year-old son Albert, Jr. left Frederick once and for all. She sued for divorce, stating that her husband could not keep his pledge of fidelity to her. The guilty accessory to Dr. Leon’s downfall was not announced at first, but soon would be revealed as Miss McAbee.
In April, Agnes was granted an absolute divorce. She had returned to Washington and would live with her parents, raising young Arthur, Jr. as a single mother. She would never remarry, dying in 1969. Son Arthur K. Leon, Jr. followed in his father’s professional footsteps, becoming a successful dentist, last serving in Boca Raton, FL.
I guess you could say that “Maryland’s prettiest girl,” was once again victorious, beating other beautiful contestants! Clara Mae McAbee had won Dr. Leon’s heart, and would marry him in the mid 1920’s. The couple resided at 326 Lindbergh Avenue, but would have no children together. Dr. Albert K. Leon continued his successful dental practice in Frederick for over 50 years. He was noted in his field, serving as president of the Frederick County Dental Society and presented with a life membership in the Maryland state Dental Association. He also busied himself with charitable and civic work. The couple remained together, without known issue, until Albert’s death in April, 1966 at the age of 74. Dr. Leon’s passing made front page news in the Frederick paper, but this time he was duly heralded for his many contributions to the Frederick Community over his lifetime.
As for Clara, I know she did her part during World War II in respect to rationing, but outside of that, not much more. She died on March 20th, 1983, nearly 65 years to the day of her infamous night spent with Dr. Leon in a Rockville hotel.
Clara was 86 years old. Her obituary appeared in the Frederick News a few days following her death. It mentions her late husband, described as Albert K. Leon, prominent Frederick dentist.
A bevy of nieces and nephews are mentioned but nothing else. No mention of her one-time title as “Maryland’s prettiest girl.” No mention of the honor of runner-up for Universal Film Company’s national beauty competition in 1915, or potential film foray. Sadly the obit just tells readers that there would be no visitation hours at the funeral home, and graveside services would be private. She was laid to rest beside Albert on March 24, 1983 in Mount Olivet’s Area GG, lot 229.
I was surprised to find that Louise Claybaugh (Kaufman) is also buried in the cemetery, about 150 yards away in Area S. She died in 1949 at the age of 52.
Louise Claybaugh Kaufmann would live in Washington most of her adult life after marrying E. Roy Kaufmann. Upon her death in October, 1949, her body was returned to Frederick and buried in a lot next to her parents (Area S/Lot 10)
Corinthians 13:4-8 reads “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not.” I don’t know how to exactly apply this bible passage to this sordid story, as it may be more fitting to take inspiration from song titles such as “Love is a many splendored thing,” “Love is strange,” and best of all “Love is a Battlefield.” In this case, pain and heartbreak was unfortunately experienced, but Dr. Albert K. Leon and Clara Mae McAbee were destined to be together. Their love for each other took hold in 1917 and would withstand the test of time.
It just goes to show that true Valentines belong together. However, I would strongly advise that love is a great deal sweeter if you can spare the pain and embarrassment to ex-lovers, family friends and self—and 4 out of 5 dentists should be able to tell you the same.
Special thanks to Paula Feldman of the University of South Carolina. Ms. Feldman is a literary historian, English professor and great niece of Dr. Albert K. Leon, Sr.
If you have anything to share, especially photographs or reminisces of Clara McAbee, Dr. Leon et al, please leave comment or contact the author. Thank you!