Tales of Three Families at Homewood Farm

Homewood was the summer family home of the Carrolls. Patriarch Charles Carrol Sr was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Charles Sr gave his son, Charles Jr, the property as a wedding gift. Today, the gorgeous Federal-style mansion has been carefully restored, although it’s surrounded by the lovely Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Homewood campus.

I really enjoyed this house museum tour. The mansion, which features period furnishings that complement its architecture, is an interesting both for its history, its Federal-style architecture and the stories it tells. JHU research has discovered not just the stories of the privileged family who dwelled inside the historic home, but also the families they enslaved, who maintained it and lived alongside them. There’s enough drama to fill a novel!

Harriet and Charles Carroll Jr were a remarkably modern couple: they married in 1801 when they were 25 years old. They immediately began building themselves a summer home: Homewood. Charles Jr missed his calling — he should have been an architect. He designed Homewood. But his father was among the richest men in America at the time: Charles Jr could afford to do nothing.

The house also was the birthplace of John Lee Carroll in 1830, second son of Charles Carroll III, who would become Governor of Maryland.

After having five children and because of Charles Jr’s drunken misbehavior and violence, Harriet and Charles Jr separated after 16 years. Charles III spent a year with his mother in Philadelphia, before returning to Homewood. But he soon left his father to stew in Homewood and headed to his grandfather’s estate and plantation, Doughoregan Manor, in Ellicott City. Carroll descendants still own Doughoregan Manor, which, during the Civil War, was a hub for Southern sympathizers and traitors to the United States. So much for the Carrolls.

The House Tour

Although the city of Baltimore now entirely surrounds it, Homewood was once rural countryside and a summer respite from the city. The house sats proudly on a hill surrounded by 140 acres of farm.

In 1897, Homewood House became the first Gilman (Boys) School. Then, Johns Hopkins University acquired the property by 1902 and in 1916, the house became a faculty club. The university converted the house into faculty offices in the 1930s. Designated a national historic landmark in 1971, the university started restoring the house to the Federal period (although it has electricity and air conditioning). Homewood Museum opened to the public in 1987.

Harriet and Charles Jr entertained lavishly and designed Homewood as a very comfortable party house. They began building it in 1801, finishing it in 1808. They designed with a luxurious budget for the time. Originally their budget was $10,000 — a pretty significant sum in the early 1800s. But they ended up spending more than four times that amount. Charles Sr was not amused; he viewed his son as a useless spendthrift.

But the museum tour focuses on three families, not just one. As you explore the rooms, you’ll hear about the Connors, the Ross’s and, of course, the Carrolls. It is clear the house museum is trying to get the language correct. Those the Carrolls enslaved are usually referred to as “enslaved individuals,” versus “slaves” or “servants” (although our docent did, once, call them “servants” and at least one sign uses “slaves”). There was, in fact, one servant at Homewood. The housekeeper followed Mrs. Carroll from Philadelphia and supervised the work of the enslaved individuals in the house.

The house museum also focuses as much on the history of two families the Carrolls enslaved as it does on the Carrolls themselves. So while we’re admiring the fine furniture (only a few pieces are original to the house, however) and the decoration, we hear about Izadod and Cis Connor and William Ross, who was the butler.

The house museum displays a number of pieces of “painted furniture,” which was in style during the Federal period (the early 1800s). Most of this furniture was either made in Baltimore or New York City. There are several pieces, not original to the house, manufactured in Baltimore, which was pretty cool.

The Ross’s at Homewood

While we’re in the butler’s pantry, we met William Ross, a young man the Carrolls enslaved. He originally was from a Carroll property in Annapolis, where he was born. He was the Carrolls’ butler, responsible for setting the table, managing the silver, serving drinks and taking care of Charles Jr’s person.

Becky served as a house maid, doing chores around the house and serving Harriet in particular.

We also learn how, when Harriet separated from Charles and returned to Philadelphia, she risked losing her enslaved labor. Then, the laws stipulated that if an enslaved individual was brought into Pennsylvania, they would be freed after 6 months. But Harriet found a loophole. She sold them into indentured servitude. Thus, she retained their labor for another 7 years, and William and Becky’s children, for another 21 years!

The good news, I guess, is that a 1850s census lists William and Becky Ross as freedmen. They endured enslavement and then indentured servitude and at last, experienced freedom.

The Connors at Homewood

We also learn about the Carrolls’ treatment of those they enslaved. While we’re in the back entry way, admiring the beautiful fan windows over the doors, the docent reads a letter from Charles Sr to Jr, admonishing him for striking a slave and hurting himself. Instead, Charles Sr advises, Jr should have had his overseer Ben, another man he enslaved, whip Izadod Connor between 20 and 39 times.

We don’t know what Izadod Connor did that angered Charles Jr. Izadod was a gardener who mowed and took care of the formal gardens at Homewood, and tended the orchard between about 1805 and 1816.

Cis Connor was Izadod’s wife. Her work was as housemaid to Harriet. Prior to coming to Homewood, Cis was a spinner at Doughoregan, Charles Sr’s plantation, where she spun flax and wool into thread and yarn. Together, Cis and Izadod had 13 children, all enslaved by the Carrolls.

In 1815, the Carrolls shifted the Connor family from Homewood to Doughoregan, although when Harriet went to Philadelphia in 1816, she took two of their eldest children, Mary and Joseph, with her. Eventually, like the Ross’s, Harriet indentured and then eventually emancipated Mary and Joseph Connor.

But there’s a particularly sad aspect to the Connors’ story too. In 1836, the Carrolls sent most of the Connor family to Lousiana, where the Carrolls leased them to a plantation owner. They were returned less than 2 years later. All but Izadod made it back to Maryland; it is presumed he perished.

The Carrolls enslaved the remaining Connors through 1861.

Know Before You Go

Homewood, along with Evergreen Museum & Library, make up the Johns Hopkins University Museums. There is a small parking lot near the museum. However, the address below leads you to a parking garage. If you park in the parking garage, you will have a short walk across Johns Hopkins’ lovely campus to reach the Homewood Museum; you may obtain a campus map in the building above the garage. On your 10-minute walk across campus, note that Homewood inspired the “look” of the campus buildings.

Getting there: 3400 N Charles St, Baltimore, MD
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Website: Homewood Museum

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