Blandair
 

Link to the Past

Blandair, The Past
 

The history of Blandair is rich and varied, both architecturally and in terms of its occupants and owners.  The earliest record of the site can be found in 1757[1], when Blandair was part of a larger tract of land that was transferred as the patented "Talbott's Resolution Manor."  This larger tract was comprised of approximately 300 acres along what is now Route 175, in Columbia, Maryland.

By the early 19th Century, John Crompton Weems took possession of La Grange, the portion of Talbott's Resolution Manor that would one day be known as Blandair.  Frequent name changes for farms and estates were not uncommon at the time, as families acquired land and then attached names with historical or family significance to them.  The tax records of 1798 report the existence of a large brick home on the site, as well as several substantial outbuildings, similar to today.  It is believed that the "old stone house" noted in the inventory is one of the outbuildings on the Blandair site today.

From its earliest days, Blandair served as home to prominent citizens of Maryland.  John Weems, for instance, was elected to fill the Congressional seat vacated by John Kent, the newly elected Governor of Maryland, in February of 1826.  Weems was subsequently reelected to the House of Representatives, serving in Washington until 1829[2], and working as a gentleman farmer at Blandair when Congress was not in session.  Upon leaving the State Legislature, Weems returned to his family home, "Loch Eden," on Maryland's shore.  He had spent much of his life in the Southern or Eastern counties of the state and was eager to return, and thus sold La Grange as he prepared to return to a farming life near Maryland's Chesapeake Bay.

The next purchaser of La Grange, Theodorick Bland, acquired it in 1836[3].  Theodorick Bland served in a number of private and public positions throughout his career, advancing rapidly in Maryland politics.  In his early adulthood he traveled through Virginia and Kentucky as an attorney, but by 1808 he was serving Baltimore City as an elected State Legislator in a special session of the House of Delegates.  By 1812, Bland was an Associate Judge of the Sixth Judicial District, serving until 1817[4], when he was commissioned by President James Monroe to serve as the Consul to Brazil.  At the top of his profession by 1824, Bland became the Chancellor of Maryland, the highest paying judicial post in Maryland[5] at that time, and one he would occupy under ten Governors, resigning just shortly before his death in 1846.  It was during Theodorick Bland's stewardship of LaGrange that the site and manor house became known as Blandair.  The current manor house, which was extensively repaired after a fire, thought to have occurred in the early 19th Century, is believed to date to the years during which Bland served as Chancellor[6].

Other prominent citizens associated with Blandair's history include his son-in-law, John Stuart Skinner.  Skinner was a well-regarded journalist and author of the first regularly published American magazines on agricultural and sporting pursuits[7].  Appointed by President James Madison as the prisoner of war exchange agent for the United States government during the War of 1812, Skinner accompanied Francis Scott Key in that capacity during the Battle of Baltimore[8].

Another Bland son-in-law, Isaac Mayo[9], joined the family in 1835.  A nephew of American Admiral Joseph Mayo, Isaac had a remarkable naval career of his own, serving in the War of 1812 and again in 1840 in the Seminole War.  Isaac Mayo fought with honor at Vera Cruz during the Mexican War and was subsequently appointed Governor of Alvarado.  Blandair became Isaac's home, first by marriage and later by inheritance, when Theodorick Bland died and bequeathed the property to his daughter Sarah and her husband.  Isaac-would help to determine the location of the Naval Academy at Annapolis[10].

Many of Blandair's occupants and owners have served in elected political positions and appointments, and thus gained prominence or an historical footnote.  They were present at meetings of historical significance and their names were signed on documents that set law and policy for hundreds of years to come.  However, studying the history of Blandair and its occupants also illuminates many historical examples of the American spirit and commitment to democracy that occurred well out of the limelight.  These acts of defiance - from resistance to the Crown in the 1700's to the underground fight against slavery through the 1800's - helped to shape and create the Democracy of the New World in its earliest years, and Blandair served as an important backdrop to the courageous people and acts that contributed in this way.

Such an event occurred in 1850, when at the height of his career, Isaac Mayo was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the United States naval forces in the Mediterranean and west coast of Africa.  Mayo was in command of the U.S.S. Macedonian, a frigate flagship serving as the protective escort of a schooner returning freed slaves to Liberia.  During the voyage, Mayo was involved in capturing a suspected slave ship.  At considerable risk to himself and his crew, Mayo regardless decided upon a demonstration of force which resulted in the negotiation of a truce between the ships and the successful return of the freed and captured slaves.  When Mayo attempted to resign following the incident, in protest of the related 1861 Federal policy of coercion, President Lincoln refused the resignation and dismissed Mayo, instead[11].  A scrapbook and personal journals from these voyages to West Africa are located regionally, and serve as examples of the history associated with Blandair.

Following Isaac Mayo's death, which occurred shortly after he was dismissed, Blandair became the property of his son-in law and daughter.  Sarah Battaile Mayo, Isaac's daughter, had married Thomas Henry Gaither, the son from the neighboring estate, Oakland (today known as Oakland Manor, a site that has been restored to its former glory).  Although it is known that Thomas Gaither's father had the dubious distinction of serving as Captain of Gaither's Troopers[12], the local militia unit which supported the Confederacy at the dawn of the Civil War - thereby leaving Ellicott Mills, then the County seat, largely unprotected - only a limited amount is known about Thomas Gaither.  He is believed to have pursued farming, primarily, although he did serve as a Howard County Commissioner in 1879.

In the second half of the 19th Century, Blandair once again changed hands, this time becoming a working dairy farm under the ownership of Henry & Emma Stern Brossene, who sold their products at another regional landmark, Baltimore's Lexington Market[13].  When Henry Brosenne, Jr. retired from farming in the 1930's, he continued to live at Waverly[14], which he had purchased as a home in 1909, while maintaining his dairy operations at Blandair.

The final private purchasers of Blandair were Mr. and Mrs. Henry Smith, who lived on the farm with their daughter Elizabeth, known to many as Nancy. Miss Smith remained at Blandair throughout her life, not marrying. When she died in testate in 1996, the property transferred to her two surviving and non-local relatives, both of whom chose to sell Blandair.  The most recent and final transfer of the property was to Howard County, Maryland, which purchased the property from the heirs of Elizabeth C. Smith.

A Note on Research Methodologies and Results

Fact-Checking/Accuracy of Information
Due to the very recent acquisition of Blandair by the County, extensive research of its history is in process.  It appears that there exists no definitive published or private history of the property or owners beyond those referenced within this history.  The facts, including dates, political positions held by occupants, events and the like are cross-referenced wherever multiple sources exist; where single sources exist such fact-checking has been conducted as is feasible, and only those facts that appear to have a reasonable likelihood of accuracy are included.

Several collections of original documents, some of them quite large, pertaining to the Weems, Bland and Mayo families, have been identified.  These collections are located at universities and historical societies throughout Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC.  A search of this material, currently underway, is expected to provide further verification of facts gathered and resolve conflicting published accounts of the history of Blandair and its inhabitants.


Additional Research Underway/Planned
In any given area of research of historical properties, there are specialized methodologies for locating and fact-checking data.  This is clearly the case with historical residential and/or agricultural properties.  As we use the methods above to determine the social and architectural history of the known occupants of Blandair, we are also engaged in a major research effort to determine what is often the "silent" history of residential/agricultural properties from the 18th and 19th centuries: the truth regarding slave populations, contributions, culture and more.

In our early research we have determined through slave schedules and first-person diary accounts from the time, that there was a slave population on the property throughout approximately the first half of the nineteenth century.  The County intends to conduct an archeological study of the section of the Blandair site that has been preliminarily identified as the location of the slave quarters; the first part of this study - identifying the area of the site to be examined - is now complete.  In addition, research of slave schedules, newspapers and slave jail holdings will also be conducted to assist in identifying the African-American labor force that was essential in establishing Blandair as a successful farm.  The diary from the time offers fascinating insight on the diverse, individual skills needed to run a large farm, even as it provides a record of the improving agricultural machinery being produced at the dawn of America's Industrial Revolution.  Entries also detail the social strata observed in terms of work assignments - house versus fieldwork, for instance - and glimpses of the interactions among educated, upper-class landowners, enslaved and free African-Americans, lower-class Anglo- and Celtic-Americans, and the others it took to keep the fields, mills, looms, manor house and more running smoothly at a time when today's simple chores were backbreaking labor.

Further study of diaries, journals, personal letters and other documents - many as yet not transcribed - will provide further insight into the lives of the wide range of people in the immediate area, the surrounding counties and the larger world in the early nineteenth century.  Blandair and neighboring estates such as Oakland [Manor], long since surrounded by or even converted into modern twentieth century neighborhoods, community centers and shopping centers (i.e. Savage Mill) were once a microcosm of life in Maryland and beyond.  In securing these buildings and the land that supported them, we secure our heritage - locally, regionally and nationally - as a people.


[1] Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties by J.D. Warfield; Kohn & Pollock; Baltimore, MD 1905, p. 380.
[2] Biographical Directory of The American Congress 1774-1949, USGPO, 1950, p.145
[3] Oral recollections of Robin Emerich of Columbia Archives, on reading in volume two of the original diary of George Cooke, 1826-1849, housed at the National Agricultural Library; Beltsville, MD.
[4] Maryland State Archives and www.fjc.gov website of Federal Judicial Center, created by Congress in 1967 to further develop and improve judicial administration in U.S. Courts. Presidential appointment, James Monroe.
[5] "Why Judges Resigned," by Emily Fried Van Tessel, p. 16; Federal Judiciary History Office 1993 Federal Judiciary Center. Source: The Bicentennial history of the US District Court for the district of MD 1790-1990 by HH Walker Lewis & James F. Schneider p. 28 from The Bench & Bar of MD 1901 Conway F. Saris, p. 268.
[6] George Cooke's diary mentions a shell of a brick house circa 1836. A large portion of the tin roof was recently dated as having construction techniques of the 1840's. The Bland Papers (1757-1860) are stored at the Maryland Historical Society. MS 134 contains approximately 150 Bland and Mayo documents, the vast majority not transcribed.
[7] American National Biography, Oxford University Press, NY 199 Vol 20 p. 69-70. Born in Calvert Co., MD 1788. Educated at Charlotte Hall Academy. Baltimore Postmaster 1816-37. Century, p. 852. J.S. Skinner was born Feb. 12, 1788. The American Farmer established in April of 1819; The American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine in September of 1829, The Plough, the Anvil and the Loom. Died in 1851 from injuries of a fall at his Baltimore home.
[8] Fort McHenry website & The Darkest Day: 1814 by Charles Muller pp. 199-200. "Thus behind the advanced line of bomb-ketches, Francis Scott Key and Dr. William Beans and Col. John Stuart Skinner on 13 September watched the enemy attack Ft. McHenry." It was during this fateful night that the lines of the "Star Spangled Banner" were written.
[9] A portrait of Isaac Mayo by Wm. E. West, circa 1838, hangs in the Senate Office Building, First Floor, President' Conference Room. MD State Archives, Special Collection 1545-1196. They married on Oct 5, 1835 in Washington City, Intelligencer.
[10] www.Selbyonthebay.org from History of Mayo, Maryland, 1996 by Caroline L. Britt Mullins, Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD.
[11] www.Selbyonthebay.org from History of Mayo, Maryland, 1996 by Caroline L. Britt Mullins, Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD.
[12] Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, by J.D. Warfield; Kohn & Pollock; Baltimore, MD 1905, p. 394.
[13] Old Homes & Families of Howard County by Celia Holland, 1987, private printing, p. 163.
[14] Waverly is the restored home of Governor George Howard located in Marriottsville, MD, and is maintained and operated by Howard County Department of Recreation & Parks.