History, Close to Home

Because of the demands of the real world, I have been neglecting this blog shamefully fora while, now. But I thought that I would share a little of what I discovered over the past few weeks. No, it doesn’t have to do with the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, or even with France or the French Revolution or the ancien regime.

The old Farmhouse in the snow.

It’s the history of the old house I grew up in. I have always known the old farmhouse was built before the Civil War. Many years ago, my mother did some research on the house that my father bought in 1978. She couldn’t finish the research then, so that’s where the research stood for about twenty years.

Having a historically curious mind, I decided I wanted to know how old this house is. I could guess from the size, style, and height of the windows at its approximate age. I’m no expert, but I put it in the early 1800’s. It has an almost Federalist style to it. But I wanted some facts, so I began at the beginning by going to the old Cecil County courthouse in Elkton. In the land records archives, I started with my parents’ deed from the 70’s. From there, it was easy to trace it backwards in time. Each deed states that the land being conveyed to so-and-so by so-and-so is the same land conveyed to so-and-so by so-and-so as recorded in such-and-such a book on such-and-such a page. So I moved back in time, through the 20th and 19th centuries……..

The house was owned by several different people during the 20th century. Seven different families, not including my own, lived in the house during the 1900’s. Only one of those seven families lived here for more than 11 years. There were a few interesting points. I found out which family put in the plumbing in the 30’s and decided to slice and dice joists to put in toilets and pipes. I also found that in the 40’s, a couple lived here, but when the woman died, the husband was in debt so the house was sold off at auction by the sheriff. Although the land records didn’t show it, in the 60’s, the man who owned the house had health issues and built a log cabin next door, where out neighbors currently live. This man also sold off a lot of the 110 1/2 acres that the farmhouse was attached to. A large portion of that became a housing development, another chunk became three building plots along the road, and most of it was sold along with the log cabin. Today, the old farmhouse only has 2 acres of land, a granary, and a barn.

At the very beginning of the 20th century, the Rogers family owned this house. It was the Rogers family who originally owned the land and built the house. Smith H Rogers was the last of the Rogers family to own this house, which he sold in 1912. He and Isaac Rogers, presumably his brother, received the house in 1867, and in 1875 Isaac sold his half-share of the property to Smith. Smith H Rogers owned this property for 55 years and probably lived here much longer. He received the property from Jeremiah Rogers, who was presumably the father of Smith and Isaac. Since it was his father’s house, Smith probably lived here all his life. He probably is responsible for the addition to the back of the house, built sometime in the late 1800’s.

Going back from the 1867 deed in which Smith H Rogers received the house from Jeremiah Rogers, I found that Jeremiah had received it from a shadowy fellow named John Rogers in 1845. I say he’s shadowy because this deed didn’t lead to another deed. The trail ran cold. I was forced to look at the indexes of the land records. These covered decades of and transactions and were only roughly in alphabetical order. I had to scan through every deed made out to a person with a name beginning with “R”. The Rogers family was pretty prolific in its land dealings, too. There were dozens of deeds and bonds, many of which don’t seem to be related to this property. None of them said anything about a John Rogers. Who was this John Rogers and where had he gotten this land and house?

After skimming through lots of nearly-indecipherable 19th-century handwriting, I finally found a document having to do with the death of a Thomas Rogers. I’m still not sure when old Thomas died, but this document was dated 1825. Thomas left a gaggle of children. Some of his daughters were married, so they were grown. This document basically laid out the provisions of the will, in which all the children were to receive a certain portion of money. However, John Rogers was granted land in lieu of his portion of the money. The land isn’t described. It’s difficult to be sure whether that land was the same land he gave to Jeremiah Rogers in 1845, but it’s a fair assumption to make.

Interestingly, the document does mention improvements and a mill. Now, it’s important to note that the language might just be standardized–that “improvements” is meant to include anything that might possibly be on the land, not that there necessarily is anything on the land. There was a mill, though. Our house is near a creek, the Little North East, and the property used to extend down to a road that leads off of our road. At that corner, there was once a mill, in what is now a cow pasture. There was also, apparently, a store, according to a map from 1860 that I found. I find this fascinating. Right now, that corner is trees, cows, and pasture. Nothing more. A hundred and fifty years ago, though, it was a productive little corner.

But was there a house on that land in 1825? The land deeds don’t really tell us for sure what’s on the land, just that the land was sold. I also haven’t been able to find out where Thomas Rogers got the land.

Skimming through the deeds, though, I did find something interesting. The deeds gave very little indication of who these people were. But one particular document was included in the land records regarding Catherine Rogers, one of old Thomas’s children. At mid-century, she was feeble in mind and body, according this document, and had sold her land to someone from Pennsylvania. She now wanted her land back. Someone such as a nephew was trying to get her land back for her. It sounds like someone took advantage of her and some younger relatives stepped in to help. The really interesting part, though, is that Catherine was a Quaker. The document says she was a member of Friends Meetinghouse. The house is only a few miles from the Pennsylvania borer, which is of course Quaker country. I think it’s fascinating to think that Quakers lived here. Hell, it might even be true that they really did hide runaway slaves in the old root cellar. Alright, so there really isn’t anywhere to hide down there, but an eight-year-old can come up with some great stories.


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