Saturday, 6 August 2011

Charles Carnan Ridgely, Governor of Maryland and Priscilla Dorsey

Charles Ridgely of Hampton by Florence MacKubin
Charles Carnan Ridgely (December 6, 1760 – July 17, 1829) was born Charles Ridgely Carnan.[2] He is also known as Charles Ridgely of Hampton.[2] He served as the 15th Governor of the state of Maryland in the United States from 1815 to 1818. He also served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1790 to 1795, and in the Maryland State Senate from 1796 to 1800. Charles was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He was the son of John Carnan and Achsah Ridgely, sister of Captain Charles Ridgely. The Maryland Gazette described him as an aristocrat.

"As a Senator or Delegate, justly appreciating the merits and demerits of the human character, he always avoided visionary schemes and dangerous experiments." (Maryland Gazette)[3] Ridgely devoted his tenure to internal improvements. He devoted his attention to the state during the unpopular war with Great Britain. It appropriated ground for the erection of a Battle Monument in Baltimore, aided education, and chartered manufacturing and insurance companies, so that 'during his administration, the State enjoyed its greatest period of prosperity.' Ridgely passed an act which provided education for the poor in five separate counties; which was seen as important to the early development of public education in Maryland. A second act created the Commissioners of the School Fund. The act appropriated a fund to establish free schools within the state of Maryland.[1]


Hampton, Baltimore, Maryland
Carnan's uncle, Captain Charles Ridgely, willed his estate, Hampton, to him on the condition that he assume the name Charles Ridgely; he did so legally in 1790.[2] When Charles's uncle, Captain Ridgely, died in 1790, Ridgely became the second master of Hampton. The concept of Hampton was inspired by Castle Howard in North Yorkshire, England, owned by relatives of his grandmother.[4] He had 10,590 feet (3,228 m) of irrigation pipes laid in 1799 from a nearby spring to provide water to the Mansion and the surrounding gardens, which he was extensively developing.[5] Prominent artisans of the time were hired to design geometric formal gardens, which were planted on the Mansion's grounds between 1799 and 1801.[5] An avid horseman, Charles Carnan also began raising Thoroughbred horses at Hampton, where he had a racetrack installed. A 1799 advertisement promoted the stud services of his racehorse, Grey Medley. Another of Ridgely's racehorses, Post Boy, won the Washington City Jockey Club cup.[6]

Under Charles Carnan Ridgely, Hampton reached its peak of 25,000 acres (10,117 ha) in the 1820s.[4] The mansion overlooked a grand estate of orchards, ironworks, coal mining, marble quarries, mills, and mercantile interests. The vast farm produced corn, beef cattle, dairy products, hogs, and horses.[4] More than 300 slaves worked the fields and served the household, making Hampton one of Maryland's largest slave holding estates.[7] Six parterres were designed on three terraced levels facing the mansion, planted with roses, peonies, and seasonal flowers. In 1820, an orangery was built on the grounds.

Charles Carnan Ridgely frequently entertained prominent guests in the Mansion's Great Hall, such as Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Revolutionary War general, Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette.[4] Charles Carnan served as governor of Maryland between 1816–19. When Governor Ridgely died in 1829, he freed Hampton's slaves in his will.

His ancestral home, Hampton Mansion is now in the care of the National Park Service as Hampton National Historic Site.


Priscilla Dorsey Ridgely, attributed to Rembrant Peale
also attributed to Joseph Wright, c. 1790
Maryland Commission on Artistic Property, Maryland State Archives
As Charles Ridgely Carnan he married Priscilla Dorsey, daughter of Caleb Dorsey, Jr., of 'Belmont' and Priscilla Hill on October 17, 1782, at Old Saint Paul's Church in Baltimore, Maryland. Priscilla was the youngest sister of his uncle's wife, Rebecca Dorsey. While her husband attended politics, Priscilla was the sole mistress of 'Hampton' and attended to their thirteen children.

Of the thirteen children, two are separately noticed. John Carnan Ridgely (1790–1867) married Eliza Ridgely (1803–1867); he would inherit the mansion and 4,500 acres (18 km2).[7]

Sadly, just as Ridgely was beginning his tenure as Governor of Maryland, Priscilla died on April 30, 1814. Her body was interned into the family vault at 'Hampton'. Although she did not live to serve as First Lady of Maryland, her daughter, Prudence, would become First Lady to Governor George Howard of Maryland (1789-1846).

After his final term had ended on January 8, 1819, Ridgely retired to his estate at Hampton. There he devoted his attention to his farm and his iron works. In 1824, he suffered a paralytic attack from which he never fully recovered. Two later attacks caused his death on July 17, 1829. "At his death, his holdings amounted to about 10,000 acres of land in Baltimore County. He owned over three hundred slaves together with a library of about one hundred and seventy-five volumes, silverplate valued at over $2,300 and a total estate of nearly $150,000."[8] All slaves that had not reached the age of 45 were freed. It was also commented that 'from an early age, possessed of a princely estate, few individuals, perhaps ever more enjoyed what are called the good things of this life and abused them so little."[9]

He was buried with his wife, Priscilla, in the Ridgely family vault at Hampton.


  1. Archives of Maryland (Biographical Series): Charles Ridgely of Hampton (1760-1829), 31 Mar 2011. Maryland State Archives
  2. Gerson G. Eisenberg, Marylanders Who Served the Nation: A Biographical Dictionary of Federal Officials from Maryland (Annapolis: Maryland State Archives, 1992), 181.
  3. Maryland Gazette Collection MSA SC 3447; January 1, 1829 - December 31, 1835 M 1290. A Publication of the Archives of Maryland Online. Image 129
  4. Curtis, William Blair (2004). Hampton History. U.S. National Park Service.
  5. Gardens & Grounds – Hampton National Historic Site, Historic Hampton, 1989.
  6. McKee, Ann Milkovich (2007). Images of America — Hampton National Historic Site (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing) pg 7–9. ISBN 978-0-7385-4418-2.
  7. A Hampton Chronology, Hampton National Historic Site -- National Park Service.
  8. Niles' Register, August 1, 1829.
  9. Niles' Register, August 1, 1829.
 Re-written by 
Meg McGath
© 6 August 2011

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