Featured Article and Did You Know That?.....

This month's feature article:
March, 2002

The Murder of Christopher Rousby:Part II

In Part I of this article, we discussed the events surrounding the controversy between Lord Baltimore and Christopher Rousby. This controversy eventually led to King James becoming involved

One would have thought that the dispute might have ended here, but it did not. In a letter to Sir Lionel Jenkins dated May 31, 1682, just three months after King James had already issued, what can only be construed as a strong admonishment of Lord Baltimore, Baltimore persisted and wrote that, "Badcock was never called before my Council about that difference with me which he affirmed he was (as it appears by His Sacred Majesty's letter of the 8th day of February 1681/2.)".

Other documents were also provided including an extract which had been prepared of a letter from Christopher Rousby to Robert Ridgely dated December 6, 1681 "so that I would not trouble you with a copy of the whole"; the latter part of which he seems to resolve to follow his old practice of taking an easy penny, as he terms it, by which his Majesty must be indemnified in his customs, for if Rousby did not compound with (ship) masters, all the tobacco exported from here would certainly be carried directly to England, of this I am certain. I humbly beg that when His Majesty's Collector shall come, he may be commanded to give me (a) copy of his instructions, and of all orders from time to time which may anyway relate to His Majesty's interest and service, and then I shall not doubt but to approve myself a faithful observer of all commands as well as a dutiful subject to my king. I beg you will please to present my humble petition to His most sacred Majesty ".

So time went on and Christopher Rousby continued to stop and sometimes seize ships to ensure payment of the King’s customs while Lord Baltimore continued to complain. Rousby wasn’t an angel either. Arrogant and insolent were the terms most often used to describe him.

On October 31, 1684, Christopher Rousby was murdered while aboard the "Quaker Ketch" commanded by Capt. Thomas Allen. The perpetrator was George Talbot, a first cousin of Lord Baltimore (son of Helen Calvert and James Talbot) who Lord Baltimore had appointed as Surveyor General of Maryland in 1683.

By all accounts, Christopher Rousby had been aboard the "Quaker Ketch" with Capt. Allen when George Talbot arrived. An argument ensued which ended in the death of Rousby. Unfortunately, there is not much information available about the murder itself.

The indictment presented by the Grand Jury stated that Rousby was unarmed and that Talbot "with a certain dagger made of iron and steel of the value of one shilling" stabbed Rousby in the right breast". Rousby died instantly.

Capt. Allen immediately placed Talbot in irons, but refused to surrender him to the Maryland authorities, stating that he would carry him to Virginia for trial. Despite the protests of the Marylanders, Governor Effingham of Virginia also refused to surrender Talbot. In the meantime, Lord Baltimore was attempting, through the Privy Council, to have Talbot sent to England for trial.

Mrs. Talbot took matters into her own hands and managed to free her husband the following February. Talbot went into hiding near his home on the Susquehanna River, but finally surrendered to the Maryland authorities the following April. Governor Effingham immediately demanded that he be turned over to Virginia authorities. In October, 1685, a year after the crime, Lord Baltimore, who was still in England, directed the Marylanders to turn Talbot over to the Virginia authorities who had been directed to return Talbot to England for trial.

However, the following April, the King directed that the trial of Talbot be held in Virginia. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Before the death sentence was carried out, however, Talbot was released on his own recognizance and soon thereafter, the King pardoned him!

Christopher Rousby was buried at his home, coincidentally called "Susquehanna" in St. Mary’s County. His tombstone, marked with a skull and crossbones was inscribed as follows:

"Here lyeth the Body of Xpher Rousbie Esquire Who was taken out of this world by a violent death received on Board his Majesty’s Ship the Quaker Ketch, Cap’ Thos. Allen commander the last day of Oct’r 1684. And alsoe of Mr. John Rousbie, his Brother, who departed this Natural Life on Board the Ship Baltimore. Being arrived in Patuxon River the first day of February 1685 ‘memento mori’."

With Christopher Rousby out of the way, one would have thought that Lord Baltimore would be satisfied, but that was not the case, probably because he was still unable to have one of his kinsmen appointed as King’s Collector.

King James named Nicholas Blackistone to take over Rousby’s duties, presumably until a replacement could be found. On April 20, 1685, Blackistone felt compelled to write a "letter of complaint against Lord Baltimore’s officers." His letter states:

"I hope my letter of the 10th of November last sent via Virginia and my duplicate of the same in another ship is come safe to your hands since which I met with divers testimoniesand experience of the truth of what intelligence I therein gave to your Honors. The most horrid murder of His Majesty’s Collector here hath been and is daily seconded with very apparent tokens of approvement both from Talbot, the bloody malefactor, and all his adherents who are busy in extenuating his crime and have conspired and procured his escape from prison in Virginia and from thence transported him to Maryland where he remains publicly known at his own house.

There is little hope of his being brought to justice that he may receive condign punishment, there being a literal intercourse and correspondence between him and some principal magistrates of this Province, and no effectual course taken for apprehending him which I humbly conceive may be a strong argument and signal taken to your Honors of the ill and wicked carriage of things here.

Since Mr Rousby's murder, I have been continually discountenanced and obstructed in my proceedings in his Majesty's Service by the chief persons left and deputed for the Government of this Province. They have condemned and disowned my commission, torn and burnt my certificates to masters of ships and have diverted and dissuaded masters of ships from applying themselves any ways to me and so have entered clear and dispatched ships without my notice or privity by which means I am certain several transgressors have escaped and many frauds pass undetected.

My Lord Baltimore's Council have also assumed a power to themselves to depute another to be Collector in several rivers to levy and receive all His Majesties rates, duties and impositions payable by the Act of 25th year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord, the King and for my disowning and not complying with those appointed (and I hope your Honors will not blame me for saying spuriously empowered) Collectors and for my dissenting from their proceedings, I have been served with warrants to appear before some of them and they threatened me with bringing me to the Provincial Court and with infliction of several punishments, banishments and utter ruin of me and my family.

One of them especially, by name Col. William Diggs, domineers and tells me I shall not maintain my commission here unless by great guns as Captain Allen does, whom he and the rest try to calumniate and ignominiously term him a pirate and endeavor to throw all such like base, scurilous aspersions against him me and both our commissions, but notwithstanding threatenings and difficulties, I shall proceed to the best of my knowledge and endeavors to execute the duties of my place and commission especially in what I see may (be) most conduce (conducive) to His Majesty's interest and service in the present circumstances and exigency of affairs here.

I humbly beg your Honors mediation for his Majesty's true information that a course may be taken to repel and remedy those growing and intolerable insolences and illegal doings under which His Majesties officers heretofore have ever been sufferers and now, after them, I expect the same or as bad usage to complete the hard measure I met with alreadyunless speedy care be had for prevention of the dangers and mischiefs that certainly impend (impede) me in (the) prosecution of His Majesty's service in this country.

I am confident his Majesty is prejudiced several thousand pounds by the obstruction andconfusion that's caused in His Majesty's Affairs and concerns here and I doubt his revenue from the duties of the penny per pound for tobacco will prove but small this year by reason many masters and merchants bound for other of His Majesties plantations would have carried tobacco, but have been threatened by the aforesaid Col. (Diggs), to seize their ships and be sued if they paid any duties but to themselves.

They being discouraged and frightened, (and) have declined carrying any tobacco. I know as yet but of two entries made with me or my deputies for tobacco to pay the duties in the whole Province. I hear (that) some of the said (Baltimore’s) collectors have lately clandestinely cleared and received His Majesties duties of some tobacco and as to that I shall make (a) thorough inspection.

Maj. Nicholas Sewall, one of the aforesaid Council and Collectors at Patuxent, entered some Irish and some other ships which, upon my suspicion of their being transgressors of the Laws of Trade, I told him of the irregularity of such proceedings in giving entries and permits of trade without the knowledge and assent of the Chief Officer of His Majesty's Customs for the time being and demanded the certificates to be brought in by the masters of those ships but the said Sewall deferred delivery thereof and suspecting that either I or Capt. Allen by my order would seize on them immediately sent notice to those masters of their dangers and promised them all favor upon their submitting their ships to their seizures, which was complied with and accordingly prosecuted, and the ship brought to condemnation by a private court appointed for that purpose and all this is done as appears and can be fully proved to prevent our proceedings and just executions of our commissions in behalf of His Majesty.

NOTE: Nicholas Sewall, the brother-in-law of William Diggs, was also involved in the murder of John Paine, Christopher Rousby’s successor, in 1691.

In like manner, there were some prohibited goods put on shore near St. Mary’s from a ship that fled from me out of the Patuxent River. The said goods, with all speed, were seized by the said Maj. Sewall and Colonel Darnall who appointed a trial for the same in which business they might have had witnesses enough besides there was the depositions of some persons who are still resident in the Province whose proof could have effected the condemnation of the said goods, but the said goods notwithstanding, all this which they well knew were cleared and acquitted and those material witnesses (were) never summoned in the business.

The ship which imported these goods and commodities was soon, after the landing of them, met with and seized by Captain Allen to whom I sent directions to that purpose and when the ship was so seized and a trial demanded in His Majesties behalf, which was denied him by one of the principal ministers and officers of this government, Captain Allen then carried the said ship to his Majesties court in Virginia where I was forced todismiss (dismiss in this case meaning to proceed with) my prosecutions against her and took the master’s bond in His Majesty's behalf".

A copy of Blackistone’s letter must have been provided to Lord Baltimore, as his response to that letter is dated the same day.His response:

"It plainly appears, by a letter from the Governor of Virginia to the Deputies of Maryland that the escape made by George Talbot out of prison, was occasioned by the corruption of the guard, and not procured by any persons of Maryland as is falsely suggested in the letter of the said Blackistone, and that as soon as the Governor of Virginia had given notice to the Deputies of Maryland of the said Talbot's escape, special care was taken immediately by them for his apprehension as appears by the hue and cry sent out into all parts of the Province, besides what other ways and means could be used for the speedy beginning (apprehension) of the said Talbot, who never was publicly seen at his own plantation (though the contrary is affirmed by the said Blackistone, but always kept himself out in the mountains to the northward, until at last he resolved to surrenderhimself to the Deputies of Maryland where now he is under a strong guard to be disposed of as His Majesty shall think fit.

His Lordship is very confident Mr. Blackistone has no just cause to complain of his being discountenanced in the execution of his place, for that he (Baltimore) very well knows his officers dare not presume to offer any contempt nor show the least disrespect either to his person or commission nor would they presume to dissuade masters of vessels from presenting themselves and their certificates to His Majesty's Officers, his Lordship having long since ordered that they should apply themselves to the King's Collector as well as to his own and such was the practice while Mr. Christopher Rousby was living and the truth of this may be easily known from several masters of ships and others now in town, after Mr. Christopher Rousby was so unfortunately killed by George Talbot.

The Deputies of Maryland did presume to appoint Col. Wm Diggs and Maj. Nicholas Sewall (both of them persons of good repute and estates) to officiate as collectors for His Majesties duties, until another person could be appointed by the Commissioners of His Majesty's Customs, and this they thought their duty to take care to do, that His Majesties Officers might receive the less prejudice by that wicked act of the said Talbot and hisLordship doubts not, but the said persons so appointed will give a just account of their proceedings to the Commissioners of His Majesty's Customs.

His Lordship cannot believe that Mr. Blackistone has been served (as he alleges in his said letter) with any warrant or has been threatened in that manner as he has written and therefore humbly begs that enquiry may be made of such persons as are lately come from those parts of whom the truth of all this may be easily known, though it may very possibly be that he has been arrested at the suits of his many creditors, it being known to many he is much in debt and has been so for many years.

Col. Wm Diggs, one of his Lordships Collectors, is known by several eminent merchants here to be a person of so much loyalty as that he would not be guilty of those foul things laid to his charge in the said letter, and it were to be wished that Mr. Blackistone had at all times expressed his loyalty to the King as amply as the said Diggs has always done both in Virginia and Maryland.

T'is not possible for any person that understands the trade of Maryland to believe his Majesty should be prejudiced several thousand pounds, if his Lordship’s Officers should be as malicious and as wicked as the said Blackistone doth endeavor to represent them for while Christopher Rousby lived, who understood the office well and knew as much as any person, how to make the most of it, there never was much above 100 pounds in one year received by him, for so he often declared to his Lordship.

T'is strange therefore to his Lordship, as also to all dealers and traders thither, that MrBlackistone should find out that it is possible for his Lordship’s Officers by any obstruction which he says is given by them to prejudice his Majesty in so high a measure, were they so undutiful and impudent as to do it in any matter whatsoever. But Mr. Blackistone takes care to signify that he doubts he shall receive little tobacco this year, and gives this as a reason that his Lordship’s Officers threaten the masters of vessels that in case they pay not the penny per pound duty to them, they shall be sued and their vessels seized, and yet notwithstanding this complaint, His Lordship is ready to make it appear that the said Blackistone had received several thousand pounds of tobacco, even before he had written that letter, and (with) the same had paid away to his creditors, who never had any hopes of being satisfied by him until he had obtained His Majesty's commission.

This will be proved if required, so that Mr. Blackistone had no other way this year to make up his accounts with the Commissioners of His Majesty’s Customs but by pretending great obstructions from his Lordship’s Officers.

What Mr. Blackistone has mentioned concerning Maj. Sewall is as untrue as the rest of his letter, for when the said Sewall had given him notice of several Irish vessels he intended to seize, the said Blackistone neglected to assist him in it and so the said Sewall was forced to proceed without him and after those vessels were seized, the said Blackistone persuaded Capt. Allen to send boats and men to secure them, who finding his Lordship’s Officers on board were disappointed which gave great trouble to them both and is the cause of his writing that he was prevented in the discharge of his office, some of the said vessels were condemned at a special court and the rest more likely to receive the same condemnation as his Lordship has been informed and a faithful account will begiven suddenly by his Lordship’s Officers to the Commissioners of His Majesty's Customs and his Lordship is assured they will be also ready and able to clear themselves in all particulars when they shall know and understand what Mr. Blackistone hascharged them with, for his Lordship doth not doubt but it will, in the end, appear some prejudice and ill will the said Blackistone has been guilty of in his office and of which his Lordship has given notice to the Commissioners of his Majesties Customs.

Therefore his Lordship humbly begs that the said Blackiston may be required to prosecute his great charge contained in his said letter that in case Col. Diggs and the rest of the officers in Maryland be found guilty they may suffer, but if innocent as his Lordship hopes and believes they are, that then they may be cleared."

Final notes:

The following quote comes directly from the Maryland Archives:

The murder of Christopher Rousby, and, in 1691, the subsequent murder of John Paine, his successor, tended to "represent the Province (of Maryland) as the seat of lawlessness and disaffection, and the insinuating (William) Penn was ever at the King's ear. Breaking charters was congenial work to James, and he took steps to have that of Maryland revoked; but before the case could come to trial, an indignant and disgusted people had hurled the worst of the Stuarts from the throne."

With Lord Baltimore falling out of favor with the King and with William Penn having the King’s ear, Maryland would eventually lose all property south of the 40th parallel which includes present day Delaware and that part of Pennsylvania south of Philadelphia.

But Maryland wasn’t finished losing yet. In 1942, when the U.S. Navy took over the land which encompassed "Susquehanna", the Rousby property, Henry Ford bought the house located on that site (called by the same name), had it dismantled, and moved it to Dearborn, Michigan where it is now on display in Greenfield Village, a part of the Henry Ford Museum. I guess, to complete the deal, it was thought necessary for him to have the Rousby graves moved as well. St. Mary’s County has not always done such a fine job of protecting its treasures.

There is a another bizarre twist to the Christopher Rousby story. There are some who believe that none other than Captain Kidd, who was supposed to have been hung for piracy, actually escaped and assumed the name of Christopher Rousby, and lived out his days in New Jersey. But that’s another story…..

Prepared by: Linda Reno, 3/20/2002



Did you know that...

Col. Athanasius Fenwick of St. Mary’s County (1780-1824) had a son named James Athanasius Fenwick (1818-1882), who, after being orphaned by both parents in 1824, moved to Philadelphia to live with members of his mother’s family? He bought property in Burlington Co., NJ in 1844 and named it “Fenwick Manor”.

--James Fenwick cultivated his land for cranberries and by 1912, “Fenwick Manor” was the largest cranberry operation in New Jersey.

--Elizabeth White, granddaughter of James Fenwick, is credited with the cultivation of blueberries in the U.S. or anywhere else for that matter. Prior to 1916, blueberries could only be found growing wild.

--James Fenwick and his sisters had the body of their father moved from his home in St. Mary’s County to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Mt. Holly, New Jersey. His tombstone reads: Col. Athanasius Fenwick. A soldier of the War of 1812. Born in St. Mary’s County, MD, A.D. 1780. Died A.D. 1824. These remains were removed from Cherryfields, St. Mary’s County, MD, their original burial place, by his surviving children, A.D. 1874.

--“Fenwick Manor” is still owned by descendants of Col. Athanasius Fenwick.

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