Historic Structures

The Ridgely family Hampton Mansion, Towson Maryland

The Ridgely family of Baltimore County descended from Robert Ridgely who is thought to have come from Lincolnshire, England. Robert, a St. Mary's County attorney, died in 1681. His son, Charles, "the Planter," died in Anne Arundel County in 1705. It was the Planter's son, known as Colonel Charles Ridgely "the Merchant," who migrated to Baltimore County and settled on the middle branch of the Patapsco River. Colonel Ridgely acquired the "Northampton" tract from Clement and Ann Hill in 1745 and thereafter acquired two adjoining tracts, "Hampton Court" and "Oakhampton." By 1750 Colonel Ridgely owned twenty-six various tracts of land in Baltimore County which.he had either purchased or patented, totaling over 7,000 acres, and including land within the present city of Baltimore.

Charles Ridgely, son of Colonel Ridgely, was, by the age of twenty-eight, captain of the ship, Baltimore Town, which was engaged in the London trade. Captain Ridgely made seven trips to England in seven years in the employ of Russell & Molleson of London transporting tobacco as cargo from Elkridge Landing to London and returning with manufactured goods. Captain Ridgely's letter of resignation to the company stated that his father wished him to remain in Maryland and assist in the growing Ridgely family enterprises, particularly the Northampton ironworks. Captain Ridgely did not retire completely from the sea when he established himself in Baltimore and purchased a house at Fell's Point shortly after marrying Rebecca Dorsey of "Belmont." The Captain continued to load ships for English markets and sell imported items through his Baltimore store. He acquired four additional stores and three businesses in the city and in Baltimore County including Ridgely-Lux and Ridgely-Goodwin.

In 1760 Colonel Ridgely acquired 100 acres lying north of Northampton on Peterson's Run for the purpose of establishing an ironworks near iron ore deposits. The ironworks was officially organized on October 8, 1761, under the name "Northampton Works" with Colonel Ridgely, Captain Ridgely and John Ridgely as the controlling partners. John, the eldest son, who died in 1771, sold his share to Captain Ridgely in 1770 after it was advertised in the Maryland Gazette September 10 and 20 for sale with a description of the operations. Colonel Ridgely, who died in 1772, left his one third share of the ironworks to his three married daughters and the remaining property to Captain Ridgely, who then controlled the forge, the foundry, a mill and the gigantic estate. Captain Ridgely had apparently moved from Baltimore to the estate by 1772 when his day book entries recorded the activity at the "Plantation in Forrest." It is presumed that many of the entries between 1772 and 1775 pertain to the Overseer's House.

The Ridgely furnaces and forges produced pig iron and castings such as stove plates and hollow ware. Substantial amounts of iron were exported, often as ballast for tobacco ships. The industry at Hampton, which ceased around 1850, is one of the pioneers of the Industrial Revolution in Baltimore and America.

During the Revolutionary War Captain Ridgely sided with the American cause. In May of 1774 he was a chairman of the Baltimore Committee of Correspondence. His schooner, Camden, was commissioned as a privateer on November 9, 1778. During the war the Northampton Works provided various items, including ordnances, which were purchased by various defense groups, pig iron was supplied to gunmakers as far away as Massachusetts. The Northampton Works made substantial contributions to the war effort, however, much of the dealings remain obscure. Immediately after the war Captain Ridgely converted the production to domestic markets and advertised in the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser in 1783 the availability of various items including kettles, skillets, flat irons and stoves.

In addition to the ironwork industry during the war, Ridgely also acquired considerable amounts of confiscated lands. Charles Ridgely and Company, which included Samuel Chase and William Paca, invested over 40,000 pounds in confiscated British property. Ridgely was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates ten times between 1777 and 1787 and led the legislative fight for cheap paper money to pay for the land. Ridgely, who also was indebted to British merchants before the war, took advantage to pay his debts in depreciated currency. Thus, at his death in 1790 Captain Ridgely possessed over 24,000 acres of land.

Charles Carnan Ridgely, who acquired Hampton in 1790 after his uncle's death, continued the prominence of the Ridgely family. Charles Carnan was a representative in the Maryland legislature from 1790 to 1795, a senator from 1796 to 1800, and governor from 1816 to 1819. Governor Ridgely, as he was known, appears to have maintained a winter-summer, city-country cycle of residence as Baltimore city directories list several addresses within the city prior to his death. In any event, Governor Ridgely appears to have established Hampton as a grand country seat with the addition of the parterre gardens and the various outbuildings which are attributed to his ownership.

It is interesting to note, with respect to Hampton's industrial history, that an Englishman, Benjamin Henfrey, discovered mineral coal on Governor Ridgely's land and conducted experiments on its use there which resulted in a U.S. patent.

Upon the death of Governor Ridgely in 1829, his personal property was liquidated. Sales continued for more than a year. The sale of October 1, 1829, listed in sixty-four pages, gave the disposition of the furnishings of the mansion, which was inherited by the Governor's second son, John, who was the first child born in the mansion. His first son, Charles, had died in 1819. John Ridgely married Prudence Gough Carroll in 1812. She died in 1822. His second marriage was to Eliza Eickelberger Ridgely (1803- 1867) in 1828, the daughter of Nicholas Greenberry Ridgely, a Baltimore merchant, who was descended from Colonel Henry Ridgely of Anne Arundel County. The 1830-1851 Memorandum Book of John Ridgely provides considerable information concerning the rehabilitation of the estate after the devastating auctions of 1829. It appears that Eliza Ridgely was instrumental in maintaining the grandeur of the estate during her lifetime. Her portrait. The Lady with the Harp by Thomas Sully, was acquired by the National Gallery of Art. Its acquisition led to the preservation of the mansion by the National Park Service and to the establishment of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.