Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Susquehanna Plantation (formerly known as Susquehanna House)

(The pictures herein reflect the home as it is presented now, showing life here in the 1850's and 1860's)

Welcome to the Carroll Home!

The Susquehanna Plantation from Maryland has a long and interesting history to it - not just in itself but while inside of Greenfield Village as well.

The house was tagged to be razed by the U.S. Navy. As quoted from a 2005 Baltimore Sun newspaper article: The Navy was taking over what had been the crossroads of Cedar Point; eviction notices were tacked to front doors, with some owners given 30 days to leave.
Samuel Young, who lived in Michigan, had bought Susquehanna at the behest of his late wife, a St. Mary's County native, King said. When they were told to leave, Young offered the home to Henry Ford.
Young apparently told Ford of the property's connection to Christopher Rousby (an affluent colonial tax collector of the 17th century) and life in Maryland a century before the American Revolution. The house could be Ford's for free. All he had to do was come and get it.
Included in the package, by the way, was a tombstone belonging to Christopher Rousby as well as his bones buried beneath!

When Ford's architect Ed Cutler arrived to inspect it, the building was intact but run down. Inside he had to wade through 18 inches of grain to take measurements. After viewing the drawings and photographs that Cutler brought back, Ford decided to acquire the home. The building was moved in March 1942 and erected by that following August. An interesting fact here is that it is situated exactly in the same position and direction in Greenfield Village as it had been in Maryland.

Originally built on the bluffs of the Patuxent River in the Tidewater region of Maryland, initially it was thought that the house was constructed around 1650. So, for years, presenters in colonial clothing at the Village told the story of the house, Rousby, and of Rousby's death at the hands of a cousin of Lord Baltimore, and showed off the tombstone/grave situated behind the home.
This was how the presentation of this house had been told up until the late 1980's when historians realized that this was not Christopher Rousby's house.
As the Sun article explains: ...historians became suspicious of claims that the house dated from the late 1600s. In the 1980s, a group from St. Mary's County told museum officials that there were only two buildings from before 1700 standing in Maryland -- one in Anne Arundel County and one on the Eastern Shore.

This alerted the staff at Greenfield Village that something was amiss.

Again, from the Sun: Soon the staff realized there were major flaws in the story of Susquehanna. After doing tree-ring dating on the beams of the house and doing archaeological work on the home's Maryland site, it was determined the house wasn't so old. It likely dates to the 1830s. That meant it couldn't be Rousby's house. He had been dead more than 150 years when it was built.The Village staff knew they had to make changes.

Two photos of the kitchen / warming room in the Susquehanna House

The tombstone was removed and put into storage and the bones were exhumed to be examined by a mortuary scientist, who found that the collection of bones were from three different people! And none were even Caucasian males! The museum received permission from the local court to have the bones cremated. They did and held a funeral as well, with the ashes reburied at Susquehanna.
In 2002, a Rousby historian from Maryland named Joan Kocen was able to have the tombstone returned to its home state where she has it packed carefully away until she decides what she can do with it. No one has any idea of what became of Rousby's body.

Now, how did this mix up originally occur? The Sun article states that: The tombstone, clearly dating to the 1680s, was automatically linked to the house. Oral histories perpetuated the error. The Carroll family (Henry and Elizabeth), who built the house in the 19th century, knew how old it was, but their descendants either had died or moved, leaving no link to the past. Meanwhile, a prominent historical architect of the early 20th century, Henry Chandlee Forman, helped solidify the myth when he dated the house to 1654.

Instead, the historians of Greenfield Village un-earthed the true history of the Susquehanna House.

The following two photos are of the middle dining room

Henry and Elizabeth Carroll and their family built this house in the mid-1830's, where it sat upon 700 acres, and enjoyed a prosperous life, including hosting extravagant parties. They had five children.
Their 75 slaves, however, did not enjoy the same good life; they slept in 13 small, wood shacks with dirt floors and were made to work brutal hours in the fields, especially during harvest time.
The Carroll family was one of the wealthiest in St. Mary's County - the slaves alone, according to the 1860 census, were valued at $49,000. Among the slaves were skilled craftsmen, including blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, shoemakers, and seamstresses.

The front parlor

The Carrolls fed themselves and their slaves from the abundant crops grown on their land: wheat, corn, oats, as well as hay and tobacco.
Farm animals, including pigs, sheep, chickens, oxen, horses, and mules were also part of the plantation.
Inside of Greenfield Village, the Susquehanna House is always open for visitors where period dressed presenters show cooking and crafts as they might have done in the mid-19th century. At Christmas, preparations for a New Year's Day wedding take place.

"Slaves" tell of their lives at the Susquehanna Plantation - an excellent presentation detailing the horrors of slavery.

This structure has quite the colorful history, one that may never had happened had Henry Ford known the real truth behind the home. It just might have been torn down and lost to history, like so many others. And the way the folks at Greenfield Village utilize this house in the many different presentations gives a wonderful history lesson of plantation life in the mid-19th century.
I believe Mr. Ford would be proud.



anthonyink said...

I wanted the thank you for the time I know you have spent in research and making this wonderful article about Susquehanna. My grandmother was born in 1913 Doris Pilkerton and lived in this house with her parents who were share croppers at Susquehanna. Her picture is on a sign at the old home site on the navy base. She told me many fun childhood stories of her life there and how much she loved that place. So I always am interested in the history of the house.
thanks again,

Historical Ken said...

You are very welcome - it's a labor of love.
I appreciate you taking the time to write. I would love to hear some of the stories your grandmother told related to the house - I'm sure the folks at the Village would as well.

Greg said...


Thanks for this website. I recently returned to Greenfield Village after a renewed interest in the old simple life and agriculture as a means of self-reliance and went looking for the grave behind this home and was shocked to see it gone. None of the people I spoke with seemed to know what I was talking about, but your blog has cleared this up. Thanks

Historical Ken said...

I'm glad I could help Greg.
Thank you for the kind words.

Terry said...

Thank you for this website. My wife and I try to get to the village a couple times a year. It is such a joy to see the simple life revisited. I am a woodworker by hobby and would love to get the plans for the table in front of the susquehanna plantation. I am interested in making some of the older and more rustic furniture to help show how life was back then.
Thanks again,

Historical Ken said...

Thank you for the kind comment Terry. If you ever make one of these tables let me know...I may be interested in purchasing one.

Unknown said...

Very interesting. I am from St. Marys County Md and love learning new and exciting facts about my county. I do feel a little heartbroken about the 3 different sets of bones found (someones ancestors) that were cremated and scattered. With technology and DNA advances they may have been able to be traced to a specific county family I'm sure.