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One of the Smothers Plots at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Petersville, MD

From Slavery to College Graduation: The Journey of a Lifetime

by Marilyn K. Smith

It is only 60 miles from Burkittsville to Westminster, MD, but for former presumed slaves Lucy Smothers and Edward Holland, it would take their heir about 130 years to make this journey. Lucy Smothers’ great-great-grandson, Joseph Daniel Smothers, completed the trek for them by becoming one of the first two African Americans to graduate from Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) in 1969 with a degree in physical education. He was also a Distinguished Military Graduate from the ROTC program at the college.

So what does a search of historical records reveal about Joe Smother’s ancestors? On the Smothers side of the family, census data from the state of Maryland shows that the earliest listing of a probable Smothers ancestor is for a ‘Lucy Smothers’ in the 1840 Federal Census. She is listed as freed, colored and head of a household in Petersville, MD in Frederick County, with 1 male under age 10, 1 female under age 10, 1 female 10-24, 1 female age 24-36 (Lucy) and 1 female age 55-100 residing with her (most likely her mother). So was Lucy married and, if so, who was her husband? In a later census she is listed as a widow, but her husband remains unknown. By 1850, Lucy (age 47 and black) is listed with children Martha Ann (age 11), Sarah C, age 8, Shealton, age 6, and Luther, age 4. [Two other children, Simon and John (the ancestor of note) were not listed in this census. However, according to the 1860 Federal census, where they were listed, Simon would have been age 15 in 1850 and John 2.] Note at this point that Lucy seems a bit old to have children quite so young since her birth date appears to be around 1803. As to why the town of Petersville, only Lucy knows the answer to this question. However, it is known that in 1850 one quarter of the population of the Jefferson and Petersville areas of Frederick County, Maryland were made up of slaves (Gazette newspaper MD/BR, 14 Feb 2008) and free blacks that worked on the plantations in the area.

By the 1860 Federal census, it was recorded that Lucy, age 50, owned real estate valued at $300 and had children Simon, age 25, Martha, age 21, Sarah, age 17, Shelton, age 15, Luther, age 13, and John, age 12, living with her. By 1870, at age 65, Lucy, mulatto, was living with a black clergyman and his wife, Jacob and Catharne Hatton and their children, and is listed with real estate valued at $500 (1870 Federal census). A map of Frederick County in 1873 (Atlas of Frederick County, MD, Frederick County Landmarks Foundation, 1985) shows an L. Smothers living in a home near the base of South Mountain, along the road from Petersburg to Burkittsville. However, a search of the county land deeds reveals that the earliest recorded purchase under her name was on March 24th, 1877, when she bought a 1 acre parcel of land called “David’s Purchase” from Tobias Horine for the sum of $70 on the road to Burkittsville (TG 7-304). She sold this property again on Oct 21st, 1882 for the sum of $360 to Simon Perkins, with the stipulation that Lucy be allowed to remain in the house for the rest of her natural life (AF 5-607). In the 1880 census, Lucy Smothers is 77 years old, listed as widowed (thus we can assume Smothers is her married name), and is still living in Petersville with 2 grandchildren with the last name of Boice, ages 12 and 7 (US 1880 Federal Census). Also in this census, Sarah (Smothers?) Boice, is listed as a servant of Oscar Crampton, is reported as married, and has two children living with her, Gertrude, age 9 and Samuel, age 4. So perhaps grandma is taking care of two of Sarah’s children? It is not known when Lucy died or where she is buried, but by the 1900 Federal census, there is no further record of her.

There are a few interesting questions that have arisen that, to date, have no answers. The first of course, is where was Lucy born and where did she spend her childhood? Second, where did the Smothers surname originate? Perhaps from a former slave owner? Third, how did Lucy obtain her “freed” status; was she born free or freed at some point before 1840? And lastly, who was Lucy’s husband if Smothers was her married name? While some data has been obtained on these questions, the answers remain uncertain.

As mentioned, John Smothers, the son of Lucy Smothers of Petersville, MD, is thought to be the direct ancestor of Joe. John, a farm laborer, married a woman named Julia Ann Howard in 1876 and by 1880 they were living in Petersville, MD with two children, John Emanuel, age 2, and Lucy, age 1 (1880 US Federal Census). Julia was born in 1854 to Othello and Lucy Howard in Frederick County, MD. The Howards were slaves of William Lee (1775 -1854), son of the second governor of Maryland, Thomas Sim Lee (October 29, 1745 – November 9, 1819). William Lee’s will of November 11, 1843, gave his daughter, Mary Digges Lee Gouverneur, the slaves Othello and Lucy Howard and their three children, Jean, Daniel, and Julia Ann (C. Koenig, “As it Was in the Beginning, is Now and Can Be”, 2009).

Thomas Sim Lee served twice as governor, from 1779 to 1783 and again from 1792 to 1794. Thomas was born in 1745 in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, the son of Thomas (d. 1749) and Christiana (Sim) Lee and was descended from the “Blenheim” branch of the Lee family of Virginia. In 1771, Thomas converted to Catholicism when he married Mary Digges (1745–1805), a Catholic, and they had 8 children. After retiring from political life in 1794, Governor Lee focused his attention on his estate, Needwood, in Frederick County, Maryland, near Petersville, where he owned about one hundred and ten slaves including one named Nelly, manumitted June 5, 1818. At the time of his death, his estimated value was $13,325.79, including books and slaves.

As a part of his will of 1819, Gov. Lee provided funds for a Catholic church to be named St. Mary at Petersville (C. Koenig, “As it Was in the Beginning, is Now and Can Be”, 2009). He wanted to replace the old log building used as early as 1810 with a permanent brick building where slaves and their masters and free blacks in the area could worship (Archives, Maryland Society of Jesus, Woodstock Letters, Vol. 5, 1876, p.107). The blacks sat behind their masters in the rear of the church. It was built between 1826-1828 by dedicated slaves and free black laborers from the nearby Merrywood and Needwood plantations, who made and carried the bricks for the structure (C. Koenig, “As it Was in the Beginning, is Now and Can Be”, 2009). In 1873, it was renovated to the current structure. Parishioners came from plantations and farms in the area. Among these worshipers were several generations of the Smothers and Holland families. Associated with the church was also a school for black youngsters started by Father John Gaffney in 1873; in 1874 approximately 100 children attended this school (C. Koenig, “As it Was in the Beginning, is Now and Can Be”, 2009). This may have been the first officially organized school for black children in Maryland. The school was reported in the parish papers until 1912 (C. Koenig, “As it Was in the Beginning, is Now and Can Be”, 2009).

John and Julia Howard Smothers would go on to have a total of 11 children, at least three of whom, Thomas A., who died June 25th, 1893, Cecelia E., who died June 19th, 1898 (Names in Stone, Volume II, Jacob Mehrling Holdcraft, 1966), and Lucy, who died in October of 1970 (tombstone picture) are buried in the Petersville Catholic Cemetery. By 1900, John was a stone mason (1900 US Federal Census) and the family is living in Burkittsville, MD with 4 of their children, including Emanuel J., age 22, Frederick Sylvester, age 13 (born , October 14th, 1886), Charles J., age 11, and Albert J., age 6. It was known that Charles played baseball in the Black Baseball League for the Yales of Brunswick, MD (C. Koenig, “As it Was in the Beginning, is Now and Can Be”, 2009), was a Railroad laborer by 1920 when he was 30 years old, married to Emma with 2 small children. He died after age 40 and is buried in Petersville Catholic Church (Names in Stone, Volume II, Jacob Mehrling Holdcraft, 1966). On May 5th, 1900, John E. Smothers bought land from Oscar P. and Martha Crampton for $100 that lay along the eastern side of South Mountain in Burkittsville (DHH 11-114) and on March 9th, 1901, he purchased 10 acres of land on the eastern slope of South Mountain from W. Scott and Ruth A. Kefauver for $152.81 (DHH 11-41). Julia, called Aunt Julie by the Lee family, was the baby nurse to Joseph Jenkins Lee and his 10 siblings. She apparently walked from her home near South Mountain to Needwood Forest to work and to Petersville for mass on Sundays (C. Koenig, “As it Was in the Beginning, is Now and Can Be”, 2009). In the 1910 Census, John E. and Julia, both 57, are reported to own their own home and have 11 children, 7 still living. Fred (age 23) and Albert (age 16), both farm laborers, still live with them. Julia is not listed in the 1920 Federal census, but in 1930 she is 76 years old, a widow who owns her own house valued at $200 and her son Emanuel J., a carpenter, lives with her. It known that she is buried at the cemetery at St. Mary in Petersville, having died in 1954 (tombstone picture). There is no record of John after 1910 and it is not known when he died or where he is buried. John’s brother, Luther Smothers, was also a stone mason in Burkittsville, owned his home free and clear, and lived with his wife Mary C. and nephew James Boist, age 13 (1910 Federal census). By 1920, Luther is shown to be 73 years old and a truck farmer.

Frederick Sylvester Smothers, one of the sons of Julia and John Smothers and the grandfather of Joe Smothers, Jr., worked on the transfer shed on the railroad according to the 1920 Federal census. He married Sarah Mary Ray (born August 16th, 1894 in PA) in 1916 and had 3 small children, Lawrence F., Elizabeth Christine, and Lucy M. (born 2/22/1919, baptized 4/20/1919). In 1920 they lived about 4 doors from Luther Smothers in Burkittsville. By 1930, Frederick was a farmer and they had 2 more children, Margaret Cecilia (born 10/6/1920, baptized 11/14/1920) and Joseph Daniel (born April 22, 1922, baptized 5/28/1922), who was the father of Joe Jr. Frederick died July 29, 1972 at age 85 in Baltimore, MD and is buried in St. Mary Cemetery and Sarah died on August 12, 1968 at her home is Burkittsville and is also buried in St. Mary Cemetery. (Church record information provided by Faye Holland Williams).

As for the Holland side of the family, Edward Holland (born about 1788) is first listed in the 1840 Federal Census in Clarkburg, MD. He is the head of a household of 8 free colored, with 3 males and 5 females in the household, His son, Edward, would have been less than 10 yrs old in this census, being born in 1833. By the 1850 Federal census, the son Edward is listed as 17 yrs old, living and working as a laborer for Luther King, a miller in Clarksburg, MD. In 1860, Edward, a 26 year old mulatto and a laborer, is married to Eliza, age 25, and they and their 3 children, Eugenia, John, and Dorsey (born in 1858 and the direct ancestor of Joe), are living in Mt. Pleasant, Frederick County, MD. There is no information, to date, on the origin of the Holland name and if Edward was born free.

By 1870 Edward, Eliza and the family had moved to Burkittsville, MD (1870 Federal Census) and had a total of 6 children. They are listed as having real estate valued at $3500 and Edward is listed as a distiller. First of all, let us look at the real estate holdings. According to deed information, Edward and Eliza bought two pieces of property in 1863, a 5 acre portion of a tract called “Araby” along the road from Frederick to Georgetown in Urbana District for $250 (BGF 9-13) and another from Adam and Sarah Diehl for $900 for 102.5 acres called “The Standing Stone” (BGF 9-324_325). In that same year, Edward and Eliza then sold part of their Araby tract to Fanny M. Albaugh for $775 (BF 9-305). In 1865, they sold part of tract of the “Standing Stone” to Solomon Fletcher, a free colored man, for $168.43 (JWLC 3-215). On March 28th, 1876, they paid $750 to buy the 7 acre “Weddle Lot” including two roads in the Petersville district on the road from Burkittsville to Brownsville from Warren and Ann Priscilla Garrott and J. Jesse and Virginia Moore (TG 6-71). Finally, in 1900, Edward and his second wife Rebecca sold this property to Outerbridge Horsey (see below) for $30 (DHH 5-705). So it is clear that Edward Holland was a land owner in the Petersville area despite the fact that he is not shown on the 1873 map.

So, where would he be working as a distiller in Maryland? Two possibilities suggest themselves. The first and most well known is the Needwood Distillery, the producer of world-famous Old Horsey Rye. The distillery was started in the 1840s by Outerbridge Horsey IV (1819-1902), a native of Frederick County. He was the son of Outerbridge Horsey III (1777-1842) who married Eliza Lee (1783-1862), the daughter of Govenor Thomas Sim Lee. On October 25, 1806, Eliza received four slaves from her father for the price of $650. On April 16, 1812, she wed Outerbridge Horsey in Washington, D.C. Her husband was a long serving official from the state of Delaware, serving in the United States House of Representatives from 1800-1804, as the Attorney General of Delaware from 1806-1810, and as a United States Senator from 1810-1821. On November 11, 1812, six months after Eliza and Outerbridge married, a deed of manumission was signed by Outerbridge Horsey in Washington, D.C. for 14 slaves. Four of those slaves were the same ones Eliza inherited from Governor Thomas Sim Lee; all had lived on the Needwood property. ( Outerbridge was only 19 years of age when he started the distillery at the Needwood Estate and when the business was destroyed during the Civil War during the battle of Comptom’s Gap (J. Thomas Scarf, History of Western Maryland, Vol. 1, p. 622), he set up a new brick warehouse building (C. Koenig, “As it Was in the Beginning, is Now and Can Be”, 2009). He reportedly used only the finest ingredients, preferring Tennessee rye to the local Maryland rye. He piped water down from Catoctin Mountain with the goal of producing the highest quality spirit made anywhere. ( He traveled to Scotland, among other places, to learn the art of distilling. The distillery closed shortly after Horsey’s death in 1902.

The second major distillery was called Ahalt’s distillery. In the same area as Horseys, Ahalts opened much later. The property at first was used as a flour mill in 1848, then as a saw mill, and finally as a distillery in 1879 by J. D. Ahalt. He also used only the choicest ingredients and his whiskey was shipped to Rio Janeiro to benefit from the sea voyage (J. Thomas Scarf, History of Western Maryland, Vol. 1, p. 622). This distiller closed in 1920 with the start of prohibition (C. Koenig, “As it Was in the Beginning, is Now and Can Be”, 2009).

So, where did Edward work or did he have his own distillery? Recall, his real estate holdings were worth $3500 in 1870. It is most likely he worked for Outerbridge Horsey, since the Ahalt distillery was not yet open at that time. Since no other distillery is listed as a business in 1870, the most reasonable conclusion is that he worked for Horsey and his considerable wealth derived from his land holdings. By 1880, Edward’s 1st wife Eliza died and he was remarried (on March 9th, 1876) to Anna Rebecca Belt, age 21 (b. 1864) by Rev. Alfred Valentine (Marriage Records of Frederick County) and they had at least one child. He is still listed as a distiller (1880 Federal Census). In 1900, Edward is an invalid, but Rebecca is reported to have had 12 children, with 7 living (1900 Federal Census). In 1910, she is a widow with 2 children living with her (1910 Federal Census). It is not known exactly when Edward Holland died and where he is buried.

Luther Dorsey Holland (b. 1858), the son of Edward and his 1st wife Eliza, was married on March 30th, 1880 to Anna Rebecca Brooks, age 18, by the Rev. Arthur Jones (Marriage Records of Frederick County), and by 1880 they had an 8 mo old daughter, Mary. At that time, Dorsey is listed as a farm laborer and the family lived in Petersville. They would go on to have 13 children, including Luther Columbus Holland, born on August 25th, 1900. By 1910, Dorsey was 50 years old and he and Anna had 5 children living at home, including Luther. According to Frederick County land deeds, on November 18, 1912, Dorsey Holland bought 9 acres of land, including 3 roads, from W. Scott and Mattie E. Kefauver for $88.65 (land on the eastern slope of South Mountain obtained from Oscar Crampton in 1900) (HWB 306-363) and on this same date, Luther D. and Anna R. Holland sold 4 acres of land in Burkittsville on eastern slope of South Mountain, west of the Burkittsville-Brownsville Rd to Albert G. (his nephew) and Dora A. Holland for $57 (HWB 306-423).

Earlier, at the age of 18, Luther obtained a WWI draft card and listed his occupation as trucking freight for the B&O railroad. By 1920, Luther was still living with his family, but in 1924 he married Ray Minnie Marie Anderson (b. 1906) and by 1930, they had two children, Una Marie, age 4, and Luther C., age 2. They would go on to have one more child, Louis Quenton, born in 1931. At the time of the 1930 census, Dorsey was now a widower living with Luther and his family. In 1974, an accident at the PEPCO plant in Damascus claimed the life of Louis (age 43), who had married Evelyn Onley and had 3 daughters and 2 sons. The death dates and places of burial of Dorsey and Luther (possibly Fairview Cemetery in Frederick) are unknown.

Finally, Joseph Daniel Smothers, Sr. and Una Marie Holland were married in St. Mary Church, Petersville, April 28, 1946, and Joseph Daniel Smothers, Jr. was born January 7th, 1947, in Baltimore, MD and was baptized 3/23/1947. Joe Jr. married Mary Ethyl Jones on June 7th, 1969 at St. Pius in Baltimore. He has one sister, Sharon Eloise Cecilia Smothers Tucker, born April 18, 1949 in Baltimore, Md, baptized 5/8/1949. Joe Jr. would later attend Western Maryland College, graduating in 1969 along with Victor McTeer as the first two African American graduates of the college. Joe currently resides in Columbia, MD. His story reveals an interesting heritage and somewhere up there, Lucy Smothers and Edward Holland are beaming with pride at the accomplishments of their descendant.

copyright © Marilyn K. Smith, 2010