I'm still posting about art at Alchemy of Clay.
My own life and my opinions are shared at When I was 69. I am adding my travels and Black Mountain notes there now.
This blog will continue, as I do family genealogy research, but probably just every other day for now.

REMEMBER: In North America, the month of September 1752 was exceptionally short, skipping 11 days, when the Gregorian Calendar was adapted from the old Julian one, which didn't have leap year days.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Trying to unravel an ancestor...

Spencer Rogers...who was he or they really?
It's just that there were 2 big families (different wives, different towns, different children)

It's not that his name was Jack Smith or anything either.

And the different families were 10 years apart on census records...but the children were too old to have been his (supposed) wife's.

They were Rogers - maybe.  And they were my cousins. So I thought maybe I could straighten their history out.

And hoorah for checking out every possible census of those wives.  There were two men named Spencer Rogers. One was my uncle Spencer Clack Rogers. The other was Spencer Joseph Rogers, who as of now doesn't seem related to me.

There are still many entwined records to clear out. I've worked on this off and on for over a month. And I'm just going to post what I have so far...and add another post as I learn more. (Don't hold your breath.)

This all started by my reading a letter my great great grandfather Micajah Clack Rogers wrote to his youngest brother Spencer Clack Rogers, who apparently was a printer.  Grandpa Micajah asked about his only living offspring, William the 1867 letter, and spoke at length about the recent Civil War.  Since Uncle Spencer lived in Tennessee, and Granpa Micajah in Texas, there were questions as to what Spencer's roll had been during the war.  His wife and children weren't mentioned.I've not found a mention of William Rogers on either of the Spencer Rogers' lists of census.

I have no idea when the last time Micajah might have heard from his brother. There's no address on the letter, except where Micajah lived in Huntsville, TX. Micajah does mention Tennessee, but both the Spencer Rogers lived in that state.

The one in Chatanooga, Hamillton County, is probably not my Uncle Spencer.

So I'll try to focus on the one who was most likely my Uncle.

Spencer Clack Rogers, lived most likely in Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee.   I'll be back again soon to give whatever facts I might be able to discern.

M.C. Rogers
 Micajah Clack Rogers (1795-1873)

Micajah Clack Rogers was the oldest of children of Rev. Elijah Rogers and Catharine Clack Rogers of Sevierville TN.  Spencer Clack Rogers was the youngest. This is the information given in the Rogers Family Bible and transcribed in the 1950s by my grandfather George Rogers.

Catharine Clack Rogers was a daughter of Lt. Spencer Sterling Clack and Mary Beavers (deBeauvillers/Beiber) Clack.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Handsell House summary

YouTube video in 2010 about Handsell House...HERE
"Indiantown Road in Vienna, MD seems unassuming at first glance. Open fields of farmlands, trees, and houses at distant intervals, no one would have guessed it has one of the only remaining colonial plantation houses left in the state. This structure is known as the Handsell House, named for the term "handsell" which means "honest money." This name was given to refer to the area's function as a trading post with American Indians. The house, when it was built, changed hands several times in its early life. It became a site of much strife through the 1700s, first because of more and more Englishmen encroaching upon the natives' territory, and also because of British raids taking place there around the time of the Revolution.
"When I visited the house, I met the restoration crew in the midst of their cleaning operation and study of artifacts. They were working towards their goal of developing an accurate picture of the original house, which they hope to utilize when they restore it to its former beauty. Hopefully in a few years, after the work is finished and word gets out, the house will be top on the list of visitors to Dorchester County. (from YouTube description)

Jamboree at Handsell House a video

The link above goes to a video from 2012, where lots of things were happening at the Handsell House in Vienna, Dorchester County, MD.
2nd Annual Nanticoke River Jamboree held at Handsell, the historic site near Vienna, MD. The event featured groundbreaking on a Native-American lodge, War of 1812 reenactors, talks about Harriet Tubman and local African-American history, a program on Native-American life skills, nature walks, Colonial-era blacksmiths, and tours of Handsell. The Jamboree was sponsored by the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance (NHPA).
The Nanticoke River Jamboree is an annual event held at Handsell  to celebrate the natural and historic resources of the Nanticoke River watershed area and three cultures who have occupied this land.  Each year the Jamboree features exhibits and demonstration by regional environmental and historic groups, a variety of living history performers and demonstrations by spinners, sheep-shearers, wood turners, open hearth cooks and more!  In addition you will find music, food and activities for the whole family. 

The 2019 Jamboree was held Oct. 12 of this year, (2019) before I (your blogger) even knew about it! Here was their preview, with lists and descriptions of the demonstrations:

Historic Handsell to Host Nanticoke River JamboreeOctober 12 (2019) @ 10:00 am - 5:00 pm

Visitors to Dorchester County’s largest living history event will enjoy hands-on interaction with a variety of activities on October 12 at the 9th annual Nanticoke River Jamboree at the historic Handsell site near Vienna.
Designed as an event for families, the Jamboree will feature open-hearth cooking as experienced by African American slaves, displays and hands-on demonstrations by Native Americans who once lived on the site, and crafts of early European settlers who built the house at Handsell hundreds of years ago.
In addition to displays and demonstrations by people in period dress, this year’s Jamboree will showcase model boats crafted after historic vessels of the Chesapeake as a tribute to Dorchester’s 350th Anniversary and the Smithsonian Water/Ways Exhibit. Examples include native dugout canoes, skipjack, deadrise oyster boat, crab scrape, log canoe and skiff, among others.
“The Jamboree is a way to take people back in time, to partake in a fun variety of historic skills and craft activities that African-Americans, Native Americans, and European settlers engaged in during three centuries in America,” said Midge Ingersoll, a trustee and president of the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance, which owns and maintains Handsell.
Handsell honors three cultures that made up its history: Native Americans who lived in a sprawling Chicone Village at the site, European settlers who built the house at Handsell around 1770, and African Americans, who worked as enslaved and free people at Handsell. The Jamboree’s purpose is to educate visitors through living history presentations.
In the kitchen at Handsell, Jerome Bias, of the Slave Dwelling Project, will be demonstrating activities from a 19th century plantation kitchen while discussing life as an enslaved cook. Dontavius Williams will be performing The Chronicles of Adam,” an interpretation of life as an enslaved person of the 19th Century. Noah Lewis will portray “Ned Hector,” a Revolutionary War soldier. Nearby, Roberta Perkins, a “laundress,” will be discussing 19th century life as an enslaved woman, recently freed, for the family at Handsell.
Living history interpreter Rachel O’Connell will demonstrate many favorite 18th century activities such as: trapball, croquet, Game of Graces (hoop toss), Shut the Box (dice game), lawn bowling, mirror box, Newtons Inertia toy, tablecloth pull trick, friction tug o war, bed of nails, and singing wine glasses.
Antique doll specialist Carolyn Hoiler, of Crisfield, will display and discuss early period dolls. In addition to the new performers, traditional crafts people and living history interpreters will also be exhibiting at the Jamboree as they explore life in the 18th and 19th centuries. This year there will be more craftspeople than ever and will include basket weaving, wood lathe turning, doll making, spinning, rug-hooking, wool dyeing and broom making.
Representatives from the Pocomoke Indian Nation, the Lenni-Lanape of Delaware, Hermann Jackson of the Nanticoke of Delaware and Nause-Waiwash Band of Indians as well as Handsell’s own Village Volunteers will explore many life skills of the Native people who once lived at Chicone. These demonstrations include fire-making, weaving, pottery, chipping of implements, and techniques used for the building of the longhouse. These demonstrations occur in the Chicone Village (longhouse, garden and work shelter) and are ongoing through the day.
Drew Shuptar-Rayvis, a new addition to the Jamboree family travelling from Connecticut, whose traditional name is Pekatawas MakataweU (Black Corn) is an Algonkian living historian of the 17th and 18th century of Accomac and Pocomoke descent. He has interpreted Algonkian life for a multitude of institutions and will be interpreting late 17th century Pocomoke life on behalf of the tribe for the Jamboree. Acclaimed flutist Ron Warren will be entertaining visitors with his mystical native-inspired music throughout the day.
Handsell is located on the site of the pre-historic Native Village at Chicone, later set aside as an Indian Reservation (1721-1769). Today it is a State and National Register Listed Historic site, held with a Maryland Historic Trust Preservation Easement on a Maryland Scenic By-Way and listed on the Michener Chesapeake By-Way and John Smith Historic Water Trail.
Partner organizations for the 2019 Nanticoke River Jamboree are the Harriet Tubman UGRR Visitors Center and State Park, National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, and the National Park Service. Business sponsors include NRG Energy, Healing Hands Animal Hospital, Dorchester Center for the Arts and Chesapeake Country 106.3 FM.

And of course Handsell House has a FaceBook site as well.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Handsell House as African American historic site

The Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance Marker image. Click for full size.By Don Morfe, June 1, 2013

1. The Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance Marker

The Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance Marker image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, June 1, 2013
2. The Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance Markers

The Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance Marker image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, June 1, 2013
3. The Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance Markers
Handsell-Original Land Grant 1665-A Restoration Project of the Nanticoke Historic Preservation

Inscription.   The Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance Inc. is a non-profit 501(c) 3, all volunteer organization that was formed in December of 2005 to purchase, study and restore the brick house at the Handsell plantation site and make it available for public tours and special education events in celebration of the Native American, Colonial and African American connections to the Indiantown-Vienna area.

Further up-to-date information and membership forms can be found at: or by contacting

The Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance, Inc. shall research, restore and preserve document, artifacts, and sites important to the history and heritage of the Nanticoke River watershed; shall promote community awareness of history through education, and shall cooperate with and support all other groups with a similar mission for the benefit of all people.

VisionArmed with knowledge of what the Indiantown has been and how the history was lost over the centuries, a dedicated group of volunteers in committing their time and talents to telling the forgotten story. Here on this site the NHPA celebrate the saga of the native people and their village at Chicone, the 17th century trading post known as “HANDSELL”, the early settlement of the Steele and Henry families among others and the important contribution of the African Americans who worked this soil and called the Indiantown their home.

ArchaeologyWith grants from the Bartus Trew Foundation and support from the Maryland Historic Trust, Mid-Shore Community Foundation and others, the NHPA began and will continue archaeological study of the property surrounding the brick house at HANDSELL. Keenly aware of the sensitive nature of the precious, irreplaceable and sacred artifacts that may remain in the Indiantown soil, every effort is being made to protect those historic resources and safe guard their survival now and in the future.

RestorationThe restoration of the “old brick house at Chicone” as Hansell has been known locally for many years, will take several years and a great amount of resources, heavily relying on local volunteerism and financial support. In every way, the restoration of this house is a community effort and everyone who joins the NHPA is helping to insure the preservation of not only the house, but the story.


African American Story at Handsell
One of the missions of the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance is to pay tribute to the people of African descent who worked the fields and labored at Handsell for 300 years as both free and enslaved people.  As a commitment to this goal, NHPA has produced a 25 minute documentary film with video interviews of those who grew up in the Indiantown area around Handsell who were the children of Sharecroppers.  Families with the names of Pinder, Jackson, Chase, Robinson have stories to tell of what life was like growing up in rural Dorchester County in the early to mid-20th century during a time of segregation.  These stories tell of the schools and churches attended and chore and jobs done on the farm that lead to further education and professional careers in adulthood.  NHPA is proud of this endeavor to capture these voices from the past to ensure they are heard in the future!
Life in Indiantown, a Work in Progress - a video link here 
Interviews with former Indiantown residents about the history of sharecropping and farming at the Handsell historic site near Vienna, Maryland. The footage is part of an NHPA film project, produced by Doug Sadler and the Pocket Media Group. (Indiantown is an African American Community.)

TV interview in 2016 video link here 
about Delmarva Treasure - Handsell House. 

Harriet Tubman was born in Dorchester County, MD, as mentioned in an interview as part of the Black History Month celebration.

And one of the main people in the organization, "Restore Handsell House" is Margaret Wright Ingersoll, who wrote the following:

The Old Brick House at Chicone

 She slept so long under ivy shroud
That all who knew her passed.
So far gone in a village’s thoughts
There was no one left to ask.
Alone but strong, yet still she stands
Her walls at last are showing
The tilt and stress of weakened knees
And mortar cracks are growing.
Ancient hopes and dreams are hiding,
Sorrows, still, are lost to dust.
Plaster walls hide memories here
 As stairways sag and hinges rust.
Oh heal with mortar and patch with nails
And bless the ground below!
A thousand years she guards for us
And begs for us to know!
Find her a mason!  Call her a Carpenter!
She has not died, she waits and more
To see sunlight though new glassy eyes,
And feel breezes through her door.

by Margaret Wright Ingersoll, 2012

I apologize to only giving links to videos. I still can't get blogger to post a video directly. All this information was sourced from

Sharing again with Sepia Saturday.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Where did Frederick Andrew Williams live?

My great times 4 grandfather was born in Orangeburg SC 13 Feb 1764, and  I've been exploring where he lived. He is on my mother's family tree.
Orangeburg SC - 18th Century: European settlement in this area started in 1704 when George Sterling set up a post here for fur trade with Native Americans. To encourage settlement, the General Assembly of the Province of South Carolina in 1730 organized the area as a township, naming it Orangeburg for William IVPrince of Orange, the son-in-law of King George IIof Great Britain. In 1735, a colony of 200 SwissGerman and Dutch immigrants formed a community near the banks of the North Edisto River. The site was attractive because of the fertile soil and the abundance of wildlife. The river provided the all-important transportation waterway to the port of Charleston on the Atlantic coast for the area's agriculture and lumber products, and for shipping goods upriver. The town soon became a well-established and successful colony, composed chiefly of small yeomen farmers.
Orangeburg's first church was established by a German Lutheran congregation. It later identified as an Anglican Church, which was the established church and exempt from colonial taxation. The church building was erected prior to 1763 in the center of the village; it was destroyed by fighting during the Revolutionary War. A new church was built; during the Civil War...
After the American Revolution, the character of the county changed dramatically. Invention by Eli Whitney of a mass-produced cotton gin for processing short-staple or "green seed" cotton made this type of cotton profitable. It was easily grown in the upland areas, and the county was rapidly developed into large cotton plantations. Agricultural labor was provided by enslaved African Americans.  SOURCE: Wikipedia
In 1780 Frederick Andrew Williams lived in Saxe-Gotha, listed on "the Petit Jury List for the "District of Orangeburgh." SOURCE: US Census Reconstructed Records, 1660-1820.
In 1785 Frederick married Casandra Tate (Casiah) in Orangeburg County, SC, and they had their first daughter's birth in 1785, recorded in present day Pickens County SC. It had been known as "Cherokee Territory. During the American Revolutionary War, the Cherokee sided with the Kingdom of Great Britain. (w)hen Great Britain was defeated in the war, the Cherokee were forced to surrender their land. In 1791, the state legislature established Washington District that comprises present-day Greenville, Anderson, Oconee, and Pickens County." (Wikipedia)
Their second daughter's birth in 1787 was recorded in Orangeburg County SC. 
By 1790 they lived in Kentucky where their daughter Nancy was born. Logan's Trace (trail) had led to Crab Orchard KY, as an offshoot from the Wilderness Rd. forged by Daniel Boone in 1775. Coming from South Carolina, I wonder if they would have come on the Wilderness Rd, which led from Virginia into Kentucky.

Their son, Richard Frederick Williams (soldier in War of 1812) was born in 1792 in Crab Orchard KY. There was another son Shadrack Waite Williams, who was born about the same time, but his life didn't get into any records, so he may have died young, while another Shadrack was born a few years later. And a daughter, Elizabeth Williams, was also born about the same time.
Daughter Mary Ann (Polly) Williams (Short) was born in Somerset, Pulaski KY in 1794. Somerset was founded by Thomas Hansford, another of my ancestors, and wasn't named Somerset until 1798) She married Rev. Samuel Short, who served in the new Friendship Baptist Church with his father-in-law, Frederick Andrew Williams, in Tennessee.

"Friendship Baptist Church was established June 8, 1826, only seven years after the Indians were removed from the area under the Hiwassee Cession of 1819.That makes Friendship the oldest church in what is now known as Polk Co., Tn.
"Frederick Williams, was the father in law to the first pastor of the church, Samual Short." Source:  Information from Brown Family Tree Robinwarner 1
Before 1820 Casaih and Frederick Williams had 6 more children in Somerset, Pulasky KY.
Then in the 1830 census, 66 year old Frederick Andrew Williams was lliving in McMinn County TN with his wife only. However, he is listed as owning 13 slaves. 
There was another Frederick Williams living in South Carolina and this Williams has (by a bill of sale) sold a slave, and received a South Carolina land grant...but those happened at the same time Frederick Andrew was farming and having his children in north central Kentucky, so I've deleted those records from my tree.
He wrote his will in 1831, August 21, in McMinn County TN. (It borders Polk County, TN) His surviving children were (in the will): Lavina Copenhaver, Elizabeth Prather, Richard, Polly Short, Robert, Daniel, Sally White, Patience Gardner, Shadrack, and Cassie Baker.  My records indicate his daughter Susanna Williams Hawkins was still alive and living in Polk County TN as well, but she wasn't mentioned in his will. His son Richard Frederick was to become my third great grandfather.
He died in Linsdale, Polk County, TN, (Nov. 18, 1831) and some records exist in Cleveland, Polk County, TN. He was buried in Linsdale, Polk County TN, near Benton, TN, in the Friendship Baptist Church Cemetery.
Casiah Williams was interred next to him when she died in 1851.

He has no parents that I've discovered on Ancestry, so I call him a primary ancestor.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Chicone Village Project at Handsell House

Daniel Firehawk Abbott, current Coordinator of Native Programming at Colonial Williamsburg

The Nanticokes and the Chicone Village Project

“We honor the Native American People of Delmarva at the Chicone Village at Handsell”

photo credit: Rev. Karis Graham

Chicone Village Logo copyright of the NHPA.
The Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance is proud to honor the Eastern Woodland Native People of Delmarva by constructing and maintaining the first authentic replica of a single family homestead using the materials and techniques available to prehistoric people circa pre-1600.  Now that the longhouse is complete, a waddle fenced garden has been installed and is planted each summer with plants appropriate to a garden of the native people.  In 2016, our “Village Volunteers” have completed a lean-to “workshelter” to even further enhance this project. The Chicone Village at Handsell may be visited at any time during daylight hours year round.
At special events like the Chicone Village Day in the spring and the Nanticoke River Jamboree in October, there are native historic interpreters and representatives from Delmarva Native tribes who come to Handsell to celebrate their history.  Our events are not Pow-Wows, but educational events held to teach of the ways of the ancient Eastern Woodland people who inhabited the Chesapeake Bay region and Mid-Atlantic coast.  Experimental archaeological techniques are explored and ancient skills demonstrated at these events.  For more on this project and the history of the Nanticoke People, scroll down this page.

Local tribal groups are invited to participate in our events by exhibiting or demonstrating special skills or crafts which reflect the ways of the ancient Eastern Woodland People of this continent.  Participating last year were: the Pocomoke Indian Nation, the Mid-Atlantic Cherokee Tribal Group, the Lenni-Lenape Manetu, the Cheswald Lenape and Nanticoke descendant Daniel Firehawk Abbott, current Coordinator of Native Programming at Colonial Williamsburg.  Please contact us at if you are interested in participating in our events in the future.

SOURCE: Restore Handsell

A Garden  Tour posted this in 2015:


Step back to the 1500’s before the English arrive and you are in the Chicone Village at Handsell.  Located on the site of the pre-historic native village encountered by John Smith in 1608, this thatch and reed lodge home is a functional replica of those used by the Nanticoke people on the Eastern Shore.  Built from material harvested from county fields and forests, it was constructed by volunteers who logged in 2500 hours.  Accompanying the longhouse is a native garden surrounded by a “waddle” fence  as well as a new Work Shelter currently under construction.  You will be greeted  by living history interpreter Daniel Firehawk Abbott when you arrive at Handsell, a National Register Historic Site.  

Another more recent article about the Handsell House in Jan 2019:

Handsell historic site is attacked by vandals

Submitted to the Dorchester Banner The Handsell Plantation House shows bullet holes after vandals fired at a number of displays on the site.
Submitted to the Dorchester Banner
The Handsell Plantation House shows bullet holes after vandals fired at a number of displays on the site.
VIENNA – Vandals have attacked a local historical site, using firearms to damage displays. A statement from the Nanticoke Historical Preservation Alliance, operators of the Handsell historic site, said on Sunday, “Recent incidents at Handsell involve shooting at the building and longhouse exhibits, including damage to a newly installed window. Persons responsible are subject to criminal prosecution, as vandalism to a National Register Historic Site is covered Under the Maryland Malicious Damage Law.”
Penalties include:
* Damage of less than $1,000 – Misdemeanor, up to 60 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500
* Damage of $1,000 or more – Misdemeanor, up to three years in prison and/or a fine of up to $2,500
“We have discovered a total of more than 20 bullet holes on the signs, doggie station, house and trailer,” the statement said. “Some idiots really had a field day with their guns at Handsell. Any information about this incident can be reported to the Maryland State Police.”
On Monday, Alliance President Midge Ingersoll contacted the Banner on Monday with an update. “It looks like they used more than one gun,” she said, raising the total number of bullet holes to as many as 30.
After a further inspection of the area, it was determined that perpetrators also were in the longhouse – a recreated Native dwelling – though no damage was found there. But it seems clear this wasn’t a quick, drive-by shooting.
“They spent some time there,” Ms. Ingersoll said.
It isn’t the first time vandals have visited the site, the main sign outside having been damaged in 2017. “Somebody tried to set fire to it,” Ms. Ingersoll said, adding with a rueful laugh why the attempt failed, saying, “It’s made of plastic.”
Not only were outdoor signs, brickwork and other displays damaged over the weekend, but particularly hurtful to volunteers is a broken window. The alliance recently spent $34,000 on a replacement project.
“The windows were $2,000 a piece,” Ms. Ingersoll said.
As a registered site, Handsell is defined as “the location of a significant event, a prehistoric or historic occupation or activity, or a building or structure, whether standing, ruined, or vanished, where the location itself maintains historical or archaeological value regardless of the value of any existing structure.”
Edith Knoblick heard the news online, and responded, “This is very sad news. However, it demonstrates the vitally important work that still needs to be done in this country. It is important to remember, I think, that many of the historical issues that this great site brings forward, both physically and on cyberspace, are extremely relevant today. It highlights the work still needed, more difficult perhaps than replacing the beautiful windows, in the hearts and minds of people. Keep at it. Don’t despair. The real work is ongoing and education of such ignorance is a most difficult task. Sites like this are the best chance for change to take place.”
Handsell is located along the Nanticoke River two miles north of Vienna. It is owned and maintained by the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance.
The site is connected to a prehistoric village named Chicacone or Chicone. It was once inhabited by thousands of Native people.
After the area was taken over by Europeans, African people worked as slaves on the property. With such a rich background representing these ethnic and racial groups, Handsell occupies a special place in Delmarva’s history.
A statement on the alliance’s website says, “History lives at Handsell, as we tell the story of these three cultures and how they blended to build a uniquely American experience.”
Members of the alliance are asking for tips leading to the arrest of the vandals. “Thank you for your help,” their statement said. “Please help us protect Handsell.”
The incident has been reported to the Maryland State Police (MSP) and the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office.

Sharing with Sepia Saturday this week.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Handsell House, Vienna, Dorchester MD

I've easily found more information about that house which used to be called the Webb/Handsell House.

I included it in my great grandfather's story, Samuel James Webb HERE.  And I included old information about it at that time, with this photo.

Handsell or Webb home Viena, MD

Handsell, also known as the Webb House, is a historic home located at Vienna, Dorchester County, Maryland. It is a late-18th-century Georgian-style manor house. It is a ​1 1⁄2-story brick structure over an English basement. The main facade is five bays wide and has a central entrance containing a double door flanked by windows. Handsell bears the name of a 1665 land grant, which has been in the Webb family since 1892. Handsell was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. (Source: Wikipedia)

The following is all from the link I recently discovered!!

The Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance welcomes you to the 

Restore Handsell Project

The Old Brick House (in 2003)

The NHPA was formed in 2005 to purchase and restore one of Dorchester County, Maryland’s most interesting and intriguing historic structures, an old ivy-covered brick building located in the middle of what is known as “the Indiantown”.  After just a little bit of research, we knew we were on to something BIG.  As the layers of the story unfolded, through research in archives, deeds, Wills and historic family letters, a better yet not fully complete story emerged of Native people, licensed Indian traders, English settlers, British attacks, merchant activity and structural devastation.  Much of the Handsell story is STILL a mystery, but it seems each day brings a little more light to this amazing, yet previously unknown saga of the Steele family’s mark on the Eastern Shore.

Handsell House Feb. 2019

The “old brick house” at Chicone, known as Handsell, located in the Indiantown north of Vienna, Dorchester County, Maryland, was purchased by the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance with a Preservation Easement from the Maryland Historic Trust.  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008, the site will be used to interpret the native American contact period with the English, the slave and later African American story and the life of all those who lived at Handsell.

There was a big to-do in October 2019, but I only discovered this link in November 2019. Just my luck!

The History of Handsell House

Handsell, an architecturally significant brick 18th century structure derives its name from the original land grant laid out for the Proprietary in 1665.  This land is historically and irrevocably linked to the early Native Americans of the Nanticoke and Chicone tribes.  Located on the Nanticoke River and Chicone Creek north of Vienna, Dorchester County, the house which stands today was built on a Native American Chicone Village site.  This site was established as an Indian Reservation by the state of Maryland in 1720, but in 1768 the Maryland legislature passed a bill authorizing the purchase of all remaining rights to Chicone Indian lands from the Nanticoke Indians.  (Ref: Eastern Shore Indians of Maryland and Virginia, by Helen C. Rountree and Thomas E. Davidson, p. 159). 

     The first patent was awarded to Thomas Taylor, at Chicone who formerly was a licensed “Indian trader” and then a high ranking military officer who was usually the person sent by the proprietor to deal with the Nanticoke “Emperor” during this period.  On July 13, 1665 he received a land grant called “Handsell” for 700 acres which encompassed the main Native American residential sites within the Chicone town lands. It is likely these were friendly patents held by Taylor to protect the “Indian towns” from other Englishmen.  During the late 17th century, Taylor was an influential county justice who often served Maryland’s provincial government as an envoy to the Nanticokes and was also the nominal landlord of the Nanticoke paramount chief since he was the owner of record for the land grant that included the site of the Nanticoke Fort at Chicone. (Ref: Eastern Shore Indians of Maryland and Virginia, by Helen C. Rountree and Thomas E. Davidson, p. 146).  Taylor served in many capacities including sheriff of Dorchester County 1675-77 and 1685.

On January 24, 1673 Quaker Leader George Fox visited the Indiantown on the Nanticoke River (Chicone Village) where the Emperor dwelt.  The interpreter mentioned here was most likely Thomas Taylor.   Here is an excerpt from his Journal:
“The twenty-fourth (Jan. 24, 1673) we went by water ten miles to the Indian town where this emperor dwelt; whom I had acquainted before with my coming, and desired to get their kings and councils together. In the morning the emperor came himself, and had me to the town; where they were generally come together, their speaker and other officers being with them, and the old empress sat among them.  They sat very grave and sober, and were all very attentive, beyond many called Christians.  I had some with me that could interpret to them. We had a very good meeting with them, and of considerable service it was; for it gave them a good esteem of truth and Friends; blessed be the Lord!”    —–A Journal of George Fox.  Philadelphia:  1831, p. 141.

In 1693, ownership of Handsell was transferred to a Christopher Nutter, an “Indian trader” who since 1670 was the interpreter for the region.  However, the Natives Americans felt the English were getting too close to their village and surrounding lands, exerting too much influence on the tribe.  In 1721 a serious conflict arose between the English and the Native Americans after Nutter’s heirs sold their land to a John Rider, who almost immediately tried to seize the 700 acres of Handsell, including the site of the Nanticoke Fort. The son of the Nanticoke emperor was among the inhabitants of the village.  Because of the ill feelings caused by the English settlers who deprived them of the land on which they had once lived and hunted, the Native Americans complained that on the very banks of the Nanticoke River some of the colonists were building their houses.  The Maryland government sided with the Native Americans and ordered John Rider off the reservation.  But by 1742 only a few Nanticokes remained on their land.

In 1753 Chicone was made a proprietary manor making the reservation the property of Lord Baltimore. By 1768 the Maryland legislature passed a bill authorizing the purchase of all remaining rights to “Chicone Indian lands” from the Nanticoke Native Americans.  In 1770 the land was deeded back to the heirs of John Rider, by then deceased.  Henry Steele and his wife Ann Billings (grand-daughter of John Rider) were deeded 484 acres of the southern half of the Handsell tract, this portion bordered by the Chicone Creek and Nanticoke River, the exact site of the Native American village.  According to Dorchester County history, Henry Steele built a “large and pretentious home on his property north of Vienna”.  It is likely that Handsell is that house and that the part of the existing house is what remains of this large home.

In 1779-1781 British privateers raided and robbed homes along the waters of the Chesapeake Bay including “Weston”, the Nanticoke River home of Governor John Henry and the town of the Vienna.  It is possible that Handsell burned at about the same time as Weston or later in a house fire.   After archaeological and physical study of the house, it has been determined that the Handsell house standing today was a victim to a fire and a partial collapse.  Today it retains a brick fa├žade and east wall that is believed to date from the 18th c, but roof, chimney tops and interior woodwork that dates from the early 19th period, indicating it was rebuilt to a smaller scale after the fire.
Pictured here is Isaac Nevett Steele was the last of the Steele family to own Handsell. He sold it in 1837 to John Shehee, who rebuilt the house to what we see today.

Handsell remained in the Steele family until 1837 when it was sold to John Shehee. A dendrochronolgy study undertaken by the NHPA in 2010 on the pine frame members of the house revealed that this wood was cut during the winter of 1837-1838.  This indicates that John Shehee was responsible for the rebuild of the brick ruins of the original house to the present form.  Currently, more research is ongoing into the history of this family.  Shehee died in 1844 and his daughter and son-in-law, Milcah and Robert Rook remained at the house until it was sold.

In 1849, the trustee of his will sold Handsell to Jacob C. Wilson, who owned it until 1859 when it was sold to the Thompson family.  In 1892 the Thompsons sold Handsell to the Webb family who has owned the large farm in various family partnerships.  The Webb family corporation has continued to farm approximately 1400 acres of land surrounding Handsell house since that date.  The house was boarded up many years ago and has remained unoccupied for at least 60 years.

The house at Handsell with two acres and a right-of-way to the Chicone Creek were purchased by David and Carol Lewis from the Webb family, who realized the historical benefit in having the house restored.  The Webb family has also placed the entire 1,400 acres surrounding the house in Rural Legacy Conservation Easement.  Recognizing the long history of this rare property, the Lewis’ sold Handsell house in 2009 (with support from the Webb family) to the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to preserving Handsell house for future generations to study and explore the rich history of the land, the river and the people of this place.

Handsell is now listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places and filed with the Historic American Buildings Survey!!

In case you didn't have time to read all of this, or to go over to the link, I'll be including more about the site, as I can.  Sharing this bit of history (and some old photos) with Sepia Saturday.

They are honoring a woman I have no knowledge of, but perhaps should. So I hope someone posts info about her over there!

I'll have more next week about this historic property in Maryland which once belonged to my Webb ancestors.