by John R. Bohrer
An inheritance quickly gained at the beginning
will not be blessed at the end.
May 13, 1773.
The river grows louder at twilight. The fading light
amplifies the noises that go unnoticed when all your
senses are about you. The lull of creaking ships and the
waves that softly crash about them are clearest when
your eyes cannot see them.
Will Harding stands on Cannon Street, leaning with one
hand on a post, patiently waiting. Five men on horses
round the corner of Princess Street, and continue toward
the servant man along an impressive new brick tenement,
attaching to an older, similarly remarkable brick home.
They stop along the home’s southwest entrance, where two
of the men quickly dismount to tend to the other men’s
horses with Will. The others step down and move towards
the door. The third is much taller than the other two,
and lowers his head, as not to hit it on the doorframe.
He straightens his neck and looks up at the beautiful
home he has just entered.
A pair of stairs flanks the guests, ascending to a
landing that further leads to the sleeping quarters.
There is a Persian rug that had been ordered from a
friend of the owner—another merchant—that not only
softens steps but also pleases the eye. The room has a
muted glow from the candles that rest upon two tables,
placed next to both stairways. Two small paneled doors,
one at each side of the entrance, are used to store hats
and sometimes coats when the weather calls for it.
The tall visitor is greeted by the son and namesake of a
late friend and business acquaintance named Thomas
Ringgold and his young wife, Mary Galloway Ringgold
originally of Tulip Hill. The visitor is familiar with
the young Mrs. Ringgold, as he also did business with
her father and welcomed him, along with the elder
Ringgold, at his home in Virginia. The tall visitor had
even been entertained at Mary’s childhood home, but not
as much as the visitor’s teenage step-son, who had seen
many celebrations in the Galloway household in
Annapolis, for he wished to see more of Mary’s young
A servant named Sue entered the room through a hallway
to the visitor’s left to take his hat. Without as much
as a word, the visitor bent his wrist, angling it out to
the servant who does not lift her eyes from the floor as
she collects the hats, placed them in the right closet
and disappeared back down the northeast corridor. The
Ringgolds’ young children poured down the stairs,
closely shadowed by their old nurse named Betty, looking
curiously at the large man who stands in their home.
Even children were awed by the presence this man
possesses—his ability to attract all attention to
wherever he stands. The visitor offers them a half-smile
and compliments Mr. Ringgold on his home.
“It truly is a magnificent place we have constructed
here,” Mr. Ringgold said. “We have held this home for
six years though the room we stand in now was erected
only two years prior. My father acquired what is the
original structure from one Dr. William Murray who
constructed the first section facing the Chester in
1743,” though the young Ringgold dared not to brag about
the price—a hefty 800 pounds sterling—in front of the
visitor, who is a far wealthier man than Ringgold. He
dismisses the thought and continues, “when our family
refashioned it, besides adding these wings, the center
wall dividing the original northeast rooms had to be
felled, along with the joint fireplace. We then bricked
the garden door, and constructed a new fireplace along
the rear wall. It was quite a task but well worth the
effort. The home was pleasant, but not marvelous. To
speak plainly, the prior conditions were not as wide
as I would have liked, but I enjoy it presently.”
“Certainly,” said the visitor’s stepson with the
overdone charm of a young man.
Mary invites, “Please, you must see for yourself and
join us in the parlor.” The group obliges and walks
through the doorway on the right, as Thomas notes that
it was once the stairwell to Murray’s home. After the
Ringgolds fashioned a doorframe to the extension
(another for the tall visitor to duck through) and fixed
the ceiling, they had patched the cellar door with brick
and lined the attic with wood panels. The servants did
not dare not to use the main stairs, and now use a
passage along the northeast side of Ringgold’s new
building to a staircase that takes them to the cellar to
fetch goods or to the attic to fetch sleep.
Moving through another similarly decorated but smaller
entryway with a door facing the Chester River, the
company enters the northeast parlor. The visitor thinks
it is beautifully paneled, admires the large windows and
decoration in the fashion a man of his wealth is
accustomed to. His eyes then fix upon Mary’s garden with
spring’s flowers still in bloom and ballast stones
resting against the property wall facing the river. As
close as the water is to the home, the visitor thinks of
the wall’s protective purpose, imagining water crashing
up against it in a storm. In a short while, the talk
turns to the reason the men were passing through: to see
the visitor’s young stepson off to King’s College in New
York. Education becomes the subject, which the visitor
does not have much knowledge of, but leads into a
discussion of the Kent County Free School and its former
instructor, who happens to be the father of a favored
painter of his.
“We all do admire Mr. Peale very much so,” mentions
“I sat for him in full colonel’s dress less than a year
ago,” says the visitor. “I was very well pleased with
Mr. Ringgold then invites the colonel and his party to
the southwest parlor, to enjoy some drinks and another
room. It has grown dark out, and two women servants
silently move about, drawing the striped imported
curtains and lighting more candles. The group continues
their conversation past them, seemingly oblivious to the
servants who scurry by.
Decorated in a similar style, the southwest parlor is
also paneled and painted with a golden tint, a color
that pleases the colonel. Through the large windows, the
party can hear the day’s end at the wharf, as men return
further into town along Cannon Street’s dirt path. One
of the two cupboards is open, displaying the latest
trend in glassware on its shelves—well, that is to say,
the second latest trend, for the plates that are usually
in the other cupboard and presently setting the dining
room table are the newest and fanciest style to be had
anywhere in Maryland.
After a short time, a servant named Milford enters and
stands to the right of the doorframe to signal the party
that their dinner is prepared and ready. Led by Milford,
they exit the parlor and return to the Ringgold’s
constructed building. They walk past the antler stairs,
named for their likeness when fully taken in, enter a
hallway, and after a few steps, enter a doorway on the
To the colonel’s surprise, this room is modestly
decorated, or at least he first thinks it is. It is much
darker than the parlor rooms, and he cannot see very
well. Only two imported candelabras sit atop the table
covered by a superfine diaper tablecloth. The colonel is
impressed but not surprised by the silver Mr. Ringgold
owns or his affluence in general, due to the man his
He could remember the elder Ringgold’s ambition and
drive. In his memory, Thomas Ringgold was an attorney
who eagerly participated in the Stamp Act Congress and
more so a merchant who expanded his fortunes through his
keen senses for networking and trading. In his presence,
Thomas Ringgold is the heir to a name and fortune, but
not a spirit. The colonel takes a sip of his wine and
makes a silent toast for a man departed, dismissing the
“Please, sit,” the young Ringgold invites. “Let us give
thanks for our blessings here today.” Thomas becomes
enveloped in the recitation of a psalm, which, probably
due to the parlor drinks, becomes another psalm that
becomes another psalm. Just as the guests are oblivious
to the servants who pass through a door on the rear
wall, presumably leading to a kitchen, they are
similarly oblivious to the eyes the visitor’s young
stepson is making with the young Mary. If the room had
more light in it, the other guests could see the
reddening blush of Mary’s cheek and the growing
excitement of the college-bound teen.
The group settles down to dine on Eastern Shore
waterfowl and drink the colonel’s favorite Lisbon wine.
The colonel listens to Thomas talk on and on about the
dealings with his father’s real estate and trade. He
boasts of a business trip he made to Baltimore while
still under his father’s supervision. The colonel nods
his head to indicate he is listening but it is actually
simply minding his manners and attempting to not fall
asleep. The dim lighting, wine, and especially the
conversation did not help to keep him awake.
After a short supper, the colonel decides it is best to
retire for the evening. The long day of travel is making
its presence known on his senses, for even though he is
not much in the mood for talking, he can no longer
listen to Ringgold’s stories. The colonel wishes to seem
appreciative of his hosts, so he stands and offers them
thanks for their hospitality. He then expresses his
wishes to sleep, and decides his stepson, still distant
in his excitement with Mary, will do the same.
Will Harding now stands at the northeast door of the
dining room. The colonel thanks his hosts again and
follows Will through the hallway and up the antler
stairs. This second floor is identical to the first but
too dark to see much detail, and the colonel is led to
the room above the northeast parlor. His first
impression is that the bed is smaller than he would like
but the room is quiet, so it is good. There is an
enameled snuffbox made from what appears to be shells on
a small table next to the bed. The colonel runs his hand
across the silk sheet and is very pleased.
He disrobes, leaving his garments on standing blinds in
the far corner of the room. It is dark, and the colonel
can now only faintly hear the sounds of the river out
his window. He cannot see the water, but can only
1. Baumgarten, Linda. What Clothes Reveal: The
Language of Clothing in Colonial and
(Yale University Press
2. Bourne, Michael O. Historic Houses of Kent County
(The Historical Society of Kent(The Historical Society
of Kent County, Inc, 1998).
3. Duvall, Elizabeth S. Three Centuries of American
Life: The Hynson-Ringgold House
(Washington College, 1988).
4. Kohl, Ben.
Another “Washington Slept Here?” Did Washington’s
Stay in the Hynson
Ringgold House on May 13-14, 1773?
(Kent County Historical Society).
5. Land Records, Lib. DD 2, fol. 453.
6. The Maryland Gazette. 26 November 1766. (Jonas
7. Washington, George. The diaries of George
Washington 1748-1799. Vol. II, 1771-1785 (Houghton
Mifflin Company 1925).
8. Wills, Lib. 5, fol. 73.
9. Wills, Lib. 5, fol. 230.
10. Wilstach, Paul. Tidewater Maryland: Its History,
its Traditions, its Romantic
Plantation Mansions and the Celebrated Personages Who
Give It Glamour