Discover Little-Known History at the Thomas Stone NHS

Haberdeventure, Thomas Stone's mansion

Do you know who Thomas Stone Was? I didn’t until I visited the Thomas Stone National Historic Site. Uncover some fascinating and little-known American (and Maryland) history at this Southern Maryland national park. This park focuses on one of Maryland’s signers of the Declaration of Independence. Stone’s former plantation, Haberdeventure, and the mansion, which the NPS rebuilt after a fire in 1977, help tell the story of this little-known Founding Father.

During the Revolutionary War, Stone wasn’t a military leader. Instead, he was a lawyer during the American Revolution, who helped manage the Maryland Regiment’s supplies and logistics. Maryland soldiers heading into battle had the uniforms, food and ammo they needed because of Thomas and his family.

Stone purchased Haberdeventure in 1770 and began constructing his home in 1771. Originally, he planned a more modest home for him, his wife Margaret, and their children. But then as now, life has other plans. Before Stone completed the house, his father died. Five of his younger siblings came to live with him at Haberdeventure. During the 1780s, the Haberdeventure plantation probably supported about 25 to 35 people, including a number of men, women and children Thomas and his family enslaved.  

Haberdeventure remained in the family until 1936, when the Stone’s sold it. In 1977, the main structure was severely damaged by fire. The National Park Service purchased the property and restored it to its original plans. 

Thomas Stone’s Significance

Born into a wealthy and influential Maryland family, Stone was a planter, politician and lawyer who signed the Declaration of Independence as a Maryland delegate. He later worked on the committee that formed the Articles of Confederation in 1777. Stone served in the Maryland Senate from 1777 to 1780 and again from 1781 to 1787.

Initially, Stone, a pacifist who feared war, arguing instead for diplomatic talks with our colonial overseers to try to resolve the differences between the American colonies and Great Britain. But he was also a politician who understood the way the political winds were blowing. Despite this initial stance, he voted in favor of drafting the Declaration, even thought the Maryland Convention was against supporting it.

The park also tells the good, bad and ugly about Thomas Stone and his family. Stone was a husband who deeply loved his wife Margaret. In 1777, he stepped out of national politics and his role in the Continental Congress to return to Haberdeventure to care for Margaret, who was extremely ill (and getting worse) after receiving a small pox inoculation. When she died in 1787, his heart broke and Thomas died just four months later, in October. They are interred in the family cemetery not far from the mansion.

The Bad and the Ugly

Thomas Stone and his family also were enslavers. During the time leading up to and just after the Revolutionary War, they enslaved 35 men, women and children, either at Haberdeventure or at other properties the Stones owned.

After Thomas died, his younger brother Michael inherited Haberdeventure. Michael’s descendants were rarely on the right side of history. The Stones continued to enslave people at Haberdeventure until and during the Civil War. During the Civil War, Frederick Stone was a Southern sympathizer, participated in a Confederate spy ring and conspired along with John Wilkes Booth and others in planning to assasinate Abraham Lincoln.

Frederick, a lawyer like his slightly more famous uncle, was Dr. Samuel Mudd‘s defense lawyer, ensured that Mudd escaped hanging (although he did receive a prison sentence). After the Civil War, Frederick was a judge and one of the most powerful men in the region, known for his corruption.

The Experience at the Thomas Stone NHS

I loved the tour of the house museum — restored by the National Park Service after they purchased the property. Our tour guide, a NPS ranger and historian, shared with us his take on Thomas Stone’s time and an almost heretical view of American history, challenging the myths we learned in high school history class.

  • No, British taxes on the colonists really weren’t that bad — and actually did a lot of good for the colonists by helping fund British protection of American colonial maritime trade. Politicians of the time did what politicians today still do: adopt a sound bite topic that resonates (and often misleads) rather than take the time to explain complex issues.
  • Maryland actually had it quite good under British rule.
  • The Declaration of Independence was one of the most all-time successful press releases in history, as it was written to inform the world about the colonists’ grievances against the Crown.
  • The Fourth of July was when the Continental Convention voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence, versus the image we hold dear in our minds of a group of Founding Fathers ceremonially lining up to take up their quills to sign their names to the document. In fact, Stone and the other Maryland delegates didn’t sign it until August and many others signed it months later. Many of those who voted on the Fourth of July didn’t actually sign the document.

Our guide also explained why there’s very little discussion of those Thomas Stone enslaved on the property. Thomas enslaved 35 men, women and children, not all of whom lived and worked at Haberdeventure. (Although historians believe that 21 of those Thomas enslaved did live on the plantation.) Those who didn’t live there likely slept at Stone’s mill or other properties. Many of those who were at the plantation likely slept in the mansion’s attic.

There are ruins on the park property that may be of slave quarters, but it’s also just as likely that the ruins are from tenant farmers’ houses. A tenant house, dating from the late 1800s, still exists on the park grounds, although it’d not open. The park service does not know where or whether a slave cemetery even exists on the former plantation. I wonder whether there’s simply not the funding for archeological or historical research into a relatively obscure Founding Father.

Know Before You Go

There’s plenty of parking and picnic tables if you choose to have lunch at the park. There’s no entry fee. Trails are easy to follow even without blazes along the way. Wear walking shoes for the several short hikes around the park. In the summer months, take steps against ticks. Check the website below for house tour times.

Getting there: 6655 Rose Hill Road, Port Tobacco, MD
Hours: Open from April to December and is closed in winter. During the spring and summer, open Thursday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Website: national historic site

Can’t get enough of colonial and Revolutionary War-era history? Check out these articles about Revolutionary-related sites in the mid-Atlantic.

Looking for other great things to see and do in Southern Maryland?