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July 2001

The Story of Abraham Barnes


Colonel Abraham Barnes was born about 1715 in either Richmond County or Westmoreland County, Virginia. According to a deed filed in Westmoreland Co., VA in 1744, he was the “son and heir of Thomas Barnes, deceased”. He married first, about 1735, Mary King, daughter of Robert and Priscilla (Covington) King of “Kingsland”, Somerset County, Maryland. Mary (King) Barnes died October 25, 1739 and is buried at “Kingsland”. Her tombstone reads “Mary, wife of Abraham Barnes, Merchant, died 25th October, 1739 in the 25th year of her age.” There was one child born to this marriage, Mary King Barnes (1737-1771).

Mary King Barnes married Thomson Mason (1732-1785), son of George Mason and his wife, Ann Thomson of Stafford County, Virginia.

The second wife of Abraham Barnes was Elizabeth, daughter of Col. John Rousby of Calvert Co. whom he married sometime between 1740 and 1742. They had two sons, namely John Barnes (1743-1800) and Richard Barnes (ca1745-1804). Both sons died unmarried and without issue.

The first record found of Col. Barnes in St. Mary’s County was in 1736 when he served as a Justice. From 1745-1754, he was one of the delegates from St. Mary’s County to the Maryland General Assembly. In 1754, he and Benjamin Tasker, Jr. were appointed to represent Maryland at the Albany Congress whose resolutions, while not adopted, served as the forerunner of the Declaration of Independence some 22 years later.

In 1744, Col. Barnes bought 1,096 acres on Breton Bay in Leonardtown. He named this property “America Felix Secundus” probably to avoid to confusion with “America Felix”, 156 acres located in Beaverdam Manor that had been patented by Col. Thomas Truman Greenfield in 1720.

It can be surmised that although Col. Barnes owned many parcels of land in St. Mary’s County, he chose to build his home at this location because of its proximity to the courthouse. The house was probably completed in 1745-1746 and was probably small with a wide central hall, a room on either side, and had a second floor with dormered bedrooms. The view must have been breathtaking.

The house itself is now known as Tudor Hall. It was apparently given that name by the Key family who owned it after the death of Richard Barnes. This house remained in the Key family for over 150 years. Today Tudor Hall is owned by the St. Mary’s County Historical Society and serves as their headquarters.

Abraham Barnes, Elizabeth (Rousby) Barnes, an infant daughter of Mary (King) Mason and Richard Barnes were all buried near the house. The deed conveying the property to Philip Key in 1817 conveys the property in its entirety “always excepting from this grant, the graveyard in the garden attached”.

In addition to his primary career as a merchant, Col. Barnes also served as a member of the Colonial Militia of St. Mary’s County 1740-1748. He was an extremely active participant in the affairs of St. Mary’s County. As one of the Trustees of the Poor, he helped to select the location of the poor house and directed its construction and program. He also participated in the division of the Episcopal parishes resulting in the establishment of St. Andrew’s parish and helped to build the present church. He and George Plater rented pew #1. He had a mill at “Wranglefield”, a customhouse on McIntosh Run, and a variety of other business ventures.

By 1763, however, Col. Barnes had encountered some personal and business problems, was living in England, and had apparently given some serious consideration to remaining there. His wife had died and there had been a serious downturn in the price of tobacco. The records during this time period are replete with many farmers being jailed for debt. An additional incentive, at least for awhile, would have been the education of John and Richard Barnes who were then of school age.
The following letter dated May 2, 1763 from Cecelius Calvert in London to Governor Horatio Sharpe shows that, at that time, Mr. Barnes was living in England. It states:


“Here is a Col. Barnes, says he has been of the Assembly; thinks of returning. I should be glad to know his behavior and disposition to us, ‘tis here said, he is of good circumstances, request your opinion about his being Receiver General and will be acceptable, he speaks very respectable of you, no discourse has been material between us, I shall not hint to him unless you approve”.

The response from Governor Sharpe to Cecelius Calvert apparently had not been favorable as shown by the following:


“If a change of Receiver General must be, you seem alarmed about Col. Barnes. Now here, you say, ‘I do not suppose you will choose to encourage Col. Barnes to return hither with any such views’ and ‘you and he were upon very good terms’. Of Mr. Barnes, he nor I have sought one another, we have met by accident, (and) he informed his design was England, if he could establish his sons here, he expressed himself with the utmost regard and in the most obliging manner (of) you (in) public and private very respectfully, and said a better Governor than you could not be to the Province, he has since informed me that this project for his sons emolument here will not do, therefore (he) thinks of his return to Maryland, where he has a good settlement and where he has had success, (although) with (some) risque of ruin.

He’s very fond of his two sons, I am not surprised as they are of personage, very engaging and well accomplished, Maryland born, and the father has been a Representative in the Lower House as an unprejudiced man. In discourse I have observed him a person of good sense and his character is so and men speak of him of strict honour in all his dealings and knowing in commerce and well versed in figures; he is sober and well-spoken, appears not of a hasty temper and has by assiduity gained a fair substantial fortune. I can’t help expressing his appearance and characterics is of a person I believe well deserving, is polite and so are his sons. These marks of him are substantially proved, and (others) characterize him (as) a man of trust, confidence, and real credit entirely suitable of acceptance, especially in an office and employ these requisites center and points out and gives to his Lordship a fair opportunity and prospect of him in the station of his being his Agent and Receiver General and I shall recommend him unless you do point more suitable and contradictory of what is assented of him. .........I hope (for) Mr. Lloyd’s continuance, but the non-performance of the Receiver General and Office and his non-compliance with his Lordship’s instructions will eject him with my Lord”.

It should be noted here that the Mr. Lloyd spoken of here was Edward Lloyd of Talbot Co. who was a brother-in-law of Abraham Barnes. The wife of Edward Lloyd was Ann Rousby, another daughter of Col. John Rousby of Calvert County.

Col. Barnes was back in St. Mary’s County within the year. He and his son Richard both played prominent roles in St. Mary’s County during the Revolutionary War. But all was not well. His only daughter, Mary King (Barnes) Mason died in 1771 as shown in the following obituary:
Mrs. Mary Mason, wife of Thomas (also given as Thomson) Mason, Esq. of Loudon Co., Virginia died on Monday, October 21 at Westwood, the seat of the Rev. Mr. Scott in Prince William Co. on her return home from a visit to her father. (This is Rev. James Scott, the first pastor of Dettingen Parish, Prince William County, Virginia. His wife was Sarah Brown, the daughter of Dr. Gustavus Brown and his wife, Frances Fowke of Charles County, Maryland).

In addition, his son John Barnes became involved in a business venture with Thomas How Ridgate in Charles County that had apparently failed miserably. The will of Abraham Barnes dated June 29, 1773 reads:
“In 1764 I gave my son John a very sufficient quantity of goods to begin trade and merchandise. Contrary to my expectations, he has carelessly lost and sunk all I gave him and is more in debt than I am able to pay, he having stripped all the ready money I had and has involved me in a very considerable security to Osgood, Hanberry and Company, merchants in London, and others. On the whole, this will amount to an equal share of my estate, but above all, he has robbed me of my happiness and peace of mind at a time of life when I expected to be free from any disturbance or anxiety.
When he reflects on this and that this profoundly unhappy condition and misfortune is entirely owing to his own obstinacy in rejecting my advice and opinion in all things and at the same time not informing himself of the true state of his affairs and endeavors (and) to keep everything material from my knowledge. From this melancholy consideration, he cannot, with any reason, expect any further favor or indulgence from me. Therefore, I give all to my son, Richard Barnes”.

John Barnes moved to Washington County, Maryland and lived on property owned by his brother Richard. He died there in 1800.
Richard Barnes, the last surviving male heir of Abraham Barnes died in 1804 and devised the Barnes home and property to his nieces and nephews, the children of his sister, Mary King Barnes who married Thomson Mason of Virginia.

Richard Barnes stipulated in his will that his slaves, numbering almost 200 were to be freed with the proviso that they take the surname Barnes. Unfortunately, he failed to take into consideration that in 1796 the state of Maryland had enacted legislation prohibiting any slave over the age of 45 to be freed. He also neglected to make any provision for those slaves born after the making of his will. Consequently, only about half or 101 slaves were freed.

The story of Abraham Barnes really doesn’t end here. He was the ancestor, through his daughter, Mary, of many men of prominence who played a major role in the development of this nation. One would think from the histories that have been written, that their only ancestors were the Masons. Rarely have I ever seen the name of Abraham Barnes mentioned. To name but a few:

Gen. Stevens Thomson Mason (1760-1803) was a U.S. Senator from Virginia from 1795 until the year of his death. Grandson of Abraham Barnes.
John Thomson Mason (1764-1824) attained high rank at the bar but twice declined the office of Attorney-General of the U.S. when offered by Presidents Jefferson and Madison, and failed as election as Senator from MD by one vote. Grandson of Abraham Barnes.

Stevens Thomson Mason (1811-1843) the first Governor of Michigan. Known as the “Boy Governor”. He was appointed territorial secretary of Michigan in 1831 (at the age of 20); appointed Governor of the State of Michigan in 1835; reelected in 1837; and died in New York, New York where he was practicing law in 1843. Mason County, Michigan was named in his honor. Great grandson of Abraham Barnes.

Laura Mason (1820-1911) married Brigadier Gen. Robert Hall Chilton, who was chief of Gen. Robert E. Lee's staff until the last year of the war. In 1862, Gen. Chilton wrote Robert E. Lee’s Special Order #191 which fell into Union hands. This order detailed the detachments and orders of the march of Lee’s Army during its invasion of the North. Using this information, George McClellan was able to strike at Lee's scattered army which ended in the Battle of Antietam. This battle ended Lee's first invasion of the North and is said to have probably sealed the fate of the Southern cause. Great granddaughter of Abraham Barnes.

Mary Mason (1791-1813) married Benjamin Howard a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives; Congressman from Kentucky; Governor of Louisiana (Missouri) Territory; and Governor of Missouri Territory. Howard County, Missouri is named in his honor. Great granddaughter of Abraham Barnes.

Armistead Thomson Mason (1787-1819) U.S. Senator from Virginia, 1816-17. As the result of a bitter election campaign, was killed in a duel with his brother-in-law, William McCarty at Bladensburg, Maryland. Great grandson of Abraham Barnes.

John Thomson Mason (1815-1873). Member of Maryland state House of Delegates; U.S. Congressman from Maryland; Judge, Maryland Court of Appeals; and secretary of state of Maryland, 1872-73. Great grandson of Abraham Barnes.

Prepared by: Linda Davis Reno, July 27, 2001

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