Tag Archives: Wicomico County

Auction Finds: Worcester Land Documents and a Peculiar Ledger

Last week I bid on a few items in an online auction held by Allen & Marshall, and managed to win four lots of Worcester County (and/or Wicomico County) land documents, as well as a ledger which was advertised as containing the names of Civil War soldiers from Dorchester County, but which turned out to be something rather different — and no less interesting.

In the interest of making the content of the documents available to the public (and I hope the winners of the other lots will do so as well), I’m sharing the following scans of some of the documents, as well as a little bit of information about each. Two, an 1810 deed from John and Elisha Parker to Billy Parker, and an 1882 deed to James Oliphant, are too large to scan.

I. Parker’s Delight Enlarged, 228 acres, surveyed for Elisha Parker in 1760

Parker’s Delight Enlarged, Elisha Parker, 1760, page 1

Parker’s Delight Enlarged, Elisha Parker, 1760, page 2

The original Parker’s Delight was surveyed for Elisha in 1756, and consisted of 54 acres. The addition of 175 acres of vacant land resulted in the a 228-acre tract appropriately named Parker’s Delight Enlarged. The description mentions “the Head of Wilkins’s Branch” as well as a tract named Mathvin’s Chance.

II. Platt of Elisha Parker Sen., his land

Lands of Elisha Parker, Sr., 1787

The above plat is dated April 11, 1787, the same day on which Elisha made his will. He died within the next few months, for the probate date is December 7, 1787. At that time, witness Ebenezer Handy was also said to be deceased.

III. Lands of Booz Walston and Levin Haymon

Lands of Booz Walston and Levin Haymon

This document was actually included with the certificate for Parker’s Delight Enlarged, but I’m not sure whether they’re related. A 40-acre tract named Canada was surveyed for Boaz Walston in 1771, and patented to him in 1773; it was described as being in “wicicomico forrest on the south side of a tract of land formerly granted unto David Smith and about two hundred yards to the westward of the aforesaid Walstons dweling Hous…”  In 1815, a rather large tract named Gibralter was surveyed for Walston, including parts of tracts named Canada, Canaan, Pea Patch, and Goshen.

IV. Deed: Billy Parker from John & Elisha Parker, 1810

Too large to scan, this indenture “between John Parker and Elisha Parker (both of Elisha) of Worcester County in the State of Maryland of the one part and Billy Parker (of John) of the same place of the other part…” is dated February 24, 1810. The land in question is part of a tract named Forrest Grove, which had been the property of the late Elisha Parker, and is described as:

Begining at the end of fifty eight and one quarter poles from a lightwood post (it being the bounder of Elisha Parkers resurvey called Conclusion and standing about twenty poles to the southest of Elisha Parkers Dwelling house) in a straight line from said lightwood post to a marked red oak notched with six notches on each side and being nearly north nine degrees east from the afsd post and not fare from Brewingtons land and from thence running straight to and by the said marked red oak till it Entersects the [origl?] lines of said Parkers land which said line is to be fixed as a permanent division line between the said Billy & Elisha Parker and from thence to follow the courses of forrest Grove [illegible] to the eastward and southward till it Entersects the east end of a division line between John Parker and Samuel [F?] Parker and from thence by and with the said division line south eighty [nine?] degrees west it being with a line of marked trees marked with three notches on either side to [the] first Begining containing in this parcel one hundred and sixty two acres of land…

V. Deed: James Oliphant from Samuel A. Graham

This deed describes the sale of a 7-acre lot known as or including “the Walsten Steam Mill Lot” located “on the north side of and binding on the County road leading from Salisbury to Parsonsburg and about five miles from the first mentioned place, and in Parsons District Wicomico County Maryland, and near Beave Dam Branch…”  The previous owner, George M. Richardson, had purchased the lot from Stansbury W. Smith.

VI. The McCready-Hurley Ledger

The sixth and final item, which was incorrectly described as a ledger containing the names of Civil War soldiers from Dorchester County, but which I’m calling the McCready-Hurley Ledger for the sake of convenience, is very interesting, and is going to take some time to research. Though one Winfield Hurley wrote “Drawbridge Dorchester County Maryland” next to his name on the inside front cover, and the first page is signed by M. J. McCready and dated 1868, the next few pages consist of a list of names (first and middle initials, and last names), followed by each man’s rank, company, regiment, and abbreviated remarks. The order seems to be random, and the men belonged to various companies in various Confederate regiments. So far I’ve been able to match a dozen or so to documented Confederate soldiers from Georgia. The first name I looked up, E. S. Mitchell, turned out to refer to Eugene Severn Mitchell, who was captured in Petersburg, Virginia, in 1865, and imprisoned at Fort Delaware. Mercer University holds a few of his personal letters, as well as a splendid dagguerrotype depicting the young man. Sadly, he died in 1871 at age thirty.

E. S. Mitchell is the second name listed in the ledger. At one point he was imprisoned in Fort Delaware before returning to Georgia after the war.

The coded or abbreviated remarks after each name are a bit difficult to read, and I confess that I have no idea what one of them — “CB” — means. Hopefully some knowledgeable person will remedy my ignorance. Other remarks like “Fur” and “Ret” probably stand for furloughed or retired, respectively.

The list goes on for a few pages, after which the ledger becomes even more interesting, in my opinion, including a sort of prayer journal written by Meshack McCready, notes about the weather, many pages of penmanship practice, and a number of poems and songs. Various items are signed by various members of the Hurley family. A bit of digging revealed that both McCready and the Hurleys were from Dorchester County, but moved to Northumberland County, Virginia, prior to 1867 (when McCready began writing in the ledger). McCready was living in the household of Joel and Sarah Hurley in Burgess Store in 1870. Sarah’s maiden name was McCready, so it’s likely that she was his sister.  Although I haven’t been able to discover his fate, the Hurleys moved back to Dorchester before 1880, and, apparently, kept the ledger and continued to write in it infrequently.

I plan to transcribe and publish as much of the ledger’s contents as possible (though some of the soldier’s names, in particular, are difficult to read), and hope to learn more about the family that preserved it for many years.

– Chris Slavens

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Filed under Dorchester County, Maryland, Maryland history, Virginia, War Between the States

Finding Quaacoson Ridge in Northeastern Wicomico

Recently I’ve mentioned a tract named Quaacoson (or Quaacosan) Ridge in a couple of articles, one about roofed graves, and one about local quiacason house sites. This particular tract consisted of 39 acres, and was surveyed for Isaac Mitchell on May 20, 1758, and patented to him on the same day. Previously he had acquired the 170-acre tract Hogg Yard, and would later acquire a 100-acre tract named Beach Ridge; all three were located in Worcester County.

The tract was described as follows:

…all that Tract or parcell of land called Quaacoson Ridge scituate lying & being in Worcester County back in the Forrest bounded as follows Beginning at a marked scaley barkt white oak standing near the south end of a ridge known by the name of Quaacoson Ridge & a few miles back in the woods from Pocomake River on the West side thereof thence running South twenty poles thence West sixty six poles thence North thirty poles thence East fifty six poles thence North East forty poles thence East one hundred poles thence South thirty eight poles thence with a right line to the first bounder containing & now laid out for thirty nine acres of land more or less to be holden of the Manor of Worcester

Quaacoson Ridge, 1758

This admittedly vague description tells us a couple of important things:

  1. The tract was named after a geographical feature known as Quaacoson Ridge, and its first bounder stood near the southern end of the ridge.
  2. The tract and the ridge are located a few miles west of the Pocomoke River, placing them in today’s Wicomico County. Hogg Yard and Beach Ridge are located in the same neighborhood. (Of course, initially I couldn’t ignore out the possibility that they were located north of the Transpeninsular Line, in today’s Sussex County, Delaware, but that turned out not to be the case.)

A casual reading of other surveys associated with Isaac Mitchell, and then other families in the general neighborhood, including Wests and Whaleys, told me that the site is located in northeastern Wicomico County, relatively close to the state line. But there are quite a few points of high elevation in this area, and however well the name Quaacoson Ridge might have been known at one time, it doesn’t seem to have made it onto any maps.

Fortunately, a great deal of land in the neighborhood was patented to James Whaley in February 1850, and Quaacoson Ridge (the tract) turns up in these records. Even more fortunately, one tract in particular — West Level, which included land formerly surveyed for Henry Spears in 1770 — bordered the state line, making it relatively easy to place it and the adjoining tracts, including Quaacoson Ridge, on a modern map.

West Level, patented to James Whaley in 1850, incorporated elder tracts Spears Venture, Addition to Spears Venture, and portions of Quaacoson Ridge and Beach Ridge.

West Level, patented to James Whaley in 1850, incorporated elder tracts Spears Venture, Addition to Spears Venture, and portions of Quaacoson Ridge and Beach Ridge.

The following map was created with Plat Plotter, a free, fun, and very useful app that anyone can use to plot property boundaries. This is by no means exact, but it’s accurate enough for our purposes, i.e., locating the ridge for which the tract was named.

Approximate location of West Level and Quaacoson Ridge, plotted with Plat Plotter.

Approximate location of West Level and Quaacoson Ridge, plotted with Plat Plotter.

It would seem that the white oak which served as the first bounder of the tract stood on the northeast side of the waterway known as the South Fork Green Run (a curious name; South Fork of Green Run might be more accurate), but considering the likely margin of error, it’s not especially important which side of the branch the tree stood on. It’s obvious that it stood quite close to it, probably at the water’s edge. Although this point might not seem to be at the south end of a ridge, it does lie to the southwest of an area of slightly higher elevation, which would have been much more significant during the 1750s, when the land would have been much swampier. This feature, encompassing the intersection of Tingle Road and New Hope Road, is the most obvious candidate for the ridge due to its proximity and the fact that the tract includes a significant portion of it. Let’s call this feature Candidate A.

Candidate A. U.S. Geological Survey, 1992.

Candidate A. U.S. Geological Survey, 1992.

However, we must consider the possibility that the ridge is actually located a bit further away. After all, “near” is a very subjective term, and “near” in the context of a swampy forest in the 1750s might allow for a greater distance between the tree and the south end of the ridge than a modern researcher might assume. As it happens, the first bounder is, indeed, “near” — roughly 2,500 feet from — the south end of a much more prominent geographical feature which certainly seems very ridge-like. If this feature, which we’ll call Candidate B, was known as Quaacoson Ridge in the 1750s, one can see how a surveyor, lacking other landmarks, might reasonably have described the first bounder as lying near it (though why a tract would have been named after a ridge it didn’t actually touch is a mystery to me). One problem with this possibility is that other tracts associated with the feature in question, such as West’s Luck (which overlaps it), make no mention of Quaacoson Ridge. But they don’t mention any other ridge, either. Since West’s Luck bordered the state line and was surveyed in 1817, the surveyor might have felt that there was no reason to mention any other landmarks. Older tracts might include helpful references; further research is needed.

Candidate B, spanning the state line. U.S. Geological Survey, 1992.

Candidate B, spanning the state line. U.S. Geological Survey, 1992.

Wherever Quaacoson Ridge was, it’s clear that the name survived in some form into the early 20th century. When the new 14th election district was erected out of the 4th election district in 1906, its boundaries were described as follows:

Commencing at the Delaware and Maryland line at a point on the county road leading from Bethel Church to Whitesville, Delaware, about two hundred yars west of the residence where Enoch Truitt now resides; by and with the centre of said county road to interesect county road leading from Cobb’s Hill to James H. West road at or near Quackinson School House; by and with the centre of said road to intersect the county road known as the Radcliff Farlow road; by and with the center of said county road to old Burnt Mill known also as New Mill…

“Quackinson” is almost certainly a corruption of Quaacoson; Quackinson isn’t a local surname, and I can’t think of any other reason for such a name to appear in the neighborhood in question. The location of this school is a bit unclear. Two nearby schools appear on the 1877 Lake, Griffing, and Stephenson Atlas, unhelpfully labeled School No. 1 and School No. 2, but neither is especially close to the possible Quaacoson Ridge sites, and it’s unclear which, if either, was called Quackinson. A similar name, Quackison, appears in land records pertaining to Benton H. Whaley, dated 1899; a plat of lands known as Whaley’s Quarter depicts a road from Quackison to Pittsville intersecting with a road from Quackison to Cobb’s Hill.

The Quaacoson Ridge neighborhood, 1877,

The Quaacoson Ridge neighborhood, 1877.

Identifying Quaacoson Ridge would be a valuable contribution to local historical knowledge for several reasons:

  1. Place-names and specific sites associated with the local Indian tribes are relatively rare. Aside from a handful of settlements (mostly reservations) mentioned in late 17th to mid-18th-century sources, we don’t know of all that many specific places that were important to them.
  2. We know even less about Indian activities in this particular neighborhood, or in the neighborhood of the Pocomoke Swamp in general.
  3. Like us, Indians used relatively permanent routes to travel from one place to another. Locating such sites can help us to identify the routes used to get to them. Was there a path leading to Quaacoson Ridge? Could it be the basis of a modern road? Or — perhaps more likely — was the ridge reached by water?
  4. Determining the approximate location of Quaacoson Ridge contributes to our understanding of local Indian mortuary customs (or at least it raises more questions for us to attempt to answer). The site is far from any known Indian settlement, in one of the last neighborhoods to be developed by Europeans. Why? Did the local tribes always build quiacason houses on the outskirts of their societies, unlike others who are known to have built them in or near their villages? Or did the choice of location reflect a desire to conceal quiacason houses from the colonists, who had been known to damage or rob them on more than one occasion?
  5. The location of the ridge could also shed light on the origins of the local roofed grave custom. If Candidate B is Quaacoson Ridge, then it’s very likely that the ancestors or close relatives of John C. West (1814 – 1858), who was buried under a roofed grave near Trap Pond, lived on a ridge associated with Indian mortuary houses. That wouldn’t prove anything, but it would be very interesting. Even if Candidate A is the correct feature, it’s still close enough to the Bethel Church cemetery, as well as some of the oldest local West lands, to be related to the roofed grave custom.

– Chris Slavens

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Filed under Delmarva Geography, Maps, Maryland, Maryland history, Wicomico County, Worcester County

The Roofed Graves of Delmarva

This article was first published in the Laurel Historical Society‘s latest newsletter.

In the 1930s – 1940s, several sources reported the presence of old, roof-like, wooden grave covers or shelters in cemeteries in lower Sussex, notably at Bethel M.E. Church on the east side of Gumboro, the John C. West family cemetery near Raccoon Pond, and King’s M.E. Church near Trussum Pond. Their age, origins, and purpose were a matter of speculation. Additional sources published in the 1960s – 1970s indicate that the shelters were also used across the state line in eastern Wicomico County.

However, the mysterious shingled structures were documented only sparingly, and never seriously investigated. None are known to have survived to the present, making a handful of 20th-century sources and photographs the only evidence that such a custom ever existed.

Although the earliest known description is found in Delaware: A Guide to the First State (1938), compiled by members of the Federal Writers Project, Frank R. Zebley’s The Churches of Delaware (1947) is more helpful in that he mentions three specific sites, as well as two specific graves, those of John C. West (1814-1858) and his first wife, Mahala B. Truitt (1822-1852). Zebley also photographed some of the structures. Other sources include Graveyards and Gravestones of Wicomico by John E. Jacob, Jr. (1971) and Folklore of Sussex County, Delaware by Dorothy Pepper (1976). Usually called “roofed-over graves” or “A-frames,” the structures featured cypress or cedar shingles and gabled ends. Most were in poor condition even in the 1930s.

At this time, there are five known sites in Sussex County:

  1. Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church in Gumboro.
  2. King’s Methodist Episcopal Church near Laurel.
  3. The John C. West family cemetery on Wootten Road, near Raccoon Pond.
  4. The Daisey family cemetery on Wilgus Cemetery Road, between Roxana and Bayard.
  5. A cemetery associated with the Timmons family near Lowe’s Crossroads.

Jacob did not specify any sites in eastern Wicomico, but they were most likely located in the area between Pittsville and the state line. No sites are known to have been reported in Worcester County.

The grave of Elijah Daisey (1888-1891) near Bayard, Delaware, photographed in 1947. Courtesy of Joan Howard.

The grave of Elijah Daisey (1888-1891) near Bayard, Delaware, photographed in 1947. Courtesy of Joan Howard.

The available evidence suggests that the custom dates back to the 1840s, but it is unclear whether it developed locally, or was inspired by similar traditions in the South. Stone, peaked grave shelters known as combs are found throughout the Upland South, and have been dated to the 1810s, while shelters made of metal roofing have been erected even in the 21st century. (Dr. Richard C. Finch’s extensive studies of comb graves can be found at graterutabaga.com). All of the styles of shelters seem to be intended to protect graves, whether from animals, weather, or both. Different materials might simply reflect what was available; though stone slabs were rare and expensive on the peninsula during the early 19th century, durable cypress shingles were readily available, especially in the neighborhood of the Pocomoke Swamp. Cypress slabs were also used as grave markers, some of which still survive.

Locally, the custom’s association with John C. West and his family might prove to be important. Some of his descendants are buried at the King’s Church site, while some of his relatives and ancestors lived in eastern Wicomico County, relatively close to the Bethel Church site (but closer to Line Church, where, disappointingly, no roofed graves were ever reported). Interestingly—perhaps importantly, perhaps coincidentally—there is an area of high elevation in this neighborhood which was known as Quaacosan Ridge as early as 1758. Native American quacason houses were crib-like wooden structures which protected human corpses while the flesh decayed, after which the bones were removed. Although there is no obvious link between quacason houses and roofed graves, it is certainly fascinating to consider that the early English settlers encountered Native American “cemeteries” featuring above-ground wooden structures all over the peninsula, and used them as landmarks for decades.

Although the origins and purpose of the roofed graves of Delmarva are still unclear, it might be possible for us to learn more. They disappeared between the 1940s and 1970s; surely there are living locals who remember them. I am especially interested in learning about any additional sites, specific graves, or photographs, and hope to publish a much more detailed article about this mysterious custom in the future.

– Chris Slavens

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Filed under Delaware, Delaware history, Laurel, Laurel Historical Society, Maryland, Maryland history, Sussex County