Thomas Huggins (1748–1788), of Head of Elk, Maryland

Thomas Huggins was the fourth son of John Huggins (d.1756) and Lettice Kennedy (1718–1797), of Glenarb, parish of Aghaloo, county Tyrone. [Source 1] Thomas' father was the second John Huggins to occupy Glenarb townland; the family had been there since 1718, perhaps earlier. [2] John Huggins died when Thomas was just eight-years-old. Nine children were suddenly left to his mother's sole guardianship, six of them under the age of ten. His eldest brother, John jun., was still in his teens and, when he reached the age of majority, would administer the land and financial interests of the family, with his mother.

Thomas' extended family included the Kennedys of Gortnaglush, in the parish of Donaghmore—where his uncle William was the minister of Carland Presbyterian; the Marshalls of Glenkeen and Blackwatertown—who had been residents of the parish of Aghaloo since the late 17th century; and, the Stevensons of Stewartstown—who were related to the Castle-Stewarts.

Our first sighting of Thomas, in the written record, is on the 30th July 1762, when Lord Charlemont renewed the lease for the land at Glenarb for a period of thirty-one years. In that lease, Thomas' was one of the three lives given to define the term of the lease—at the time, he was fourteen years of age. [3]

Sometime before the Revolutionary War, Thomas Huggins emigrated to Maryland. In May 1772, his brother, John—just prior to his (that is, John's) marriage to Jean Thompson—purchased the leaseholds in three sizeable parcels of property from his mother, for the consideration of £950. This agreement stipulated that no Let or Interruption should occur to his mother, Lettice, or to his siblings, Gilbert, Elizabeth, and Ann, presumably because they were still residents of the home in Glenarb. Absent from this list is our subject, Thomas Huggins, and thus we may safely conclude that he had departed Ireland for the Colonies by this date. By 1772, Thomas had attained twenty-four years of age. A lingering question remains, however, whether he left Glenarb not only with the family's good wishes, but also endowed, with a sufficient, however modest, fortune to make good his new life across the sea.

By the following snippets of information, it appears that Thomas was, indeed, present in Cecil County, Maryland, as early as 1772:

  • Administration account of Mary Cluck, 4 December 1772, 3 May 1773. Creditors: [included] Thomas Huggins ... [4]
  • From Inhabitants of Cecil County, Maryland, 1649–1774 (Peden), names gleaned from the Account of Mr Thomas RUSSELL at Northeast Forge, 1764-1774 included: In 1773 ..., Thomas HUGGINS,...  (The actual ledger covers the period from October 1764 to October 1782.) [5]

Cecil County's first permanent settlement by Europeans dated to 1658. Head of Elk was situated exactly where the name implies: at the head of the Elk River, whch is a tidal tributary of Chesapeake Bay. The Scots-Irish had been making tracks for this county since 1714—families by the names of Alexander, Gillespie, Wallace, and others. Presbyterian churches had been established at Head of Christiana (bef.1708) and The Rock (1720), and in 1741, a congregation was organized at Head of Elk. [6]

Between 1774 and 1776, the freemen of the counties in Maryland met in a series of conventions—appointing representatives to attend state conventions in Annapolis; encouraging farmers to increase their production of live stock, flax, and hemp; and, recommending voluntary subscriptions to fund the organization of armed militia. By the end of 1775, the convention balloted for officers of the militia, with the result that Thomas Huggins was appointed Quarter Master of the Elk Battalion, under Colonel Charles Rumsey and Lieut.-Colonel Henry Hollingsworth. [6,7] Originally intended for home protection and defence, the militia were deployed to complement the Continental Army after the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the 4th July 1776.

Though Head of Elk, and the surrounding county of Cæcil, were spared the worst of the conflagrations of the American Revolutionary War, the Head of Elk—because it stood "directly upon the route between the northern and southern colonies"—played a crucial role throughout the drive towards independence from Britain. [6] This small, and sparsely populated, enclave at the northern reach of Chesapeake Bay served as a rendezvous point for the transport by water, of troops, provisions, artillery, ordnance, horses, and wagons, to the ever changing theatres of war—not to mention the safe conveyance of the casualties of that conflict—the sick, invalided, and weak men—and then overland, to their final destinations.

The Quarter Master General's department—for which Thomas Huggins was QM at Head of Elk—handled all of these requirements and, in addition, procured salted meats and fish (which were difficult to obtain for the duration), meal, cattle, and forage for both cattle and horses. The Quarter Master had also to arrange for vessels to run up and down the Bay, and he was charged with the safe conduct of Letters transmitted through the Head of Elk between George Washington and his Generals—equally, the destruction of any letters, as directed by Washington, which Huggins was obliged to do on at least one occasion, should particular circumstances dictate. [8] At some point, Thomas Huggins was appointed Assistant Deputy Commissary of Purchases. [9]

The summer of '77 proved to be the most turbulent for the people of Head of Elk and Cæcil County. General Howe, commanding the British forces, had determined on taking Philadelphia; and, to do so, he planned to sail from New York with about 15,000 men, on three hundred ships, up the Chesapeake and land at or near the Head of Elk. Howe set sail on the 23rd August, and the next day, Washington hastened 11,000 troops towards Wilmington, from which point he directed that the considerable stores of grain, salt, and other provisions be removed from Head of Elk to places of greater safety. By the 25th, between 1500 and 2000 British started to land at Court-house point, about six miles below the Head of Elk. The Pennsylvania and Delaware militia pressed forward to rescue the stores, and managed to recover a small portion. By the 27th, however, though delayed in their progress by stormy weather, the British had taken hold of the larger portion of these precious commodities. [6,10]

map seat of war kitchin 1777

Seat of War in the Environs of Philadelphia.
Source: Kitchin, Thomas (d.1784), drawn for the London Magazine, 1777.
Printed for R. Baldwin (London).
Note: The Head of Elk was situated where Hollingsworth is shown,
at the head of the Elk River (lower left-hand corner).

Click on map to view in new window.

While the bulk of the British force was instructed to cross the Elk River into Bohemia Manor, two brigades of British light infantry marched alongside Elk Creek up to the Head of Elk. While the British held the town, the main body  remained encamped on a plain near Court-house Point for several days. For miles around, the people had taken great pains to conceal their live stock and horses, and to remove themselves and such portable items of value as they could. During their sojourn in the area, the British appear not to have exacted tolls upon the persons of Cæcil county, but destroyed a great deal of property, and removed all of the public records. [6,10]

From Wilmington, Washington issued orders to Colonel Mordicai Gist to remove to George Town on the Sassafras river, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, or

  elsewhere on the East Side of Chesapeak Bay, ...
  to harrass and annoy the Enemys [sic] right flank
  and the parties they may send out, either while
  they remain there, or in any march they may attempt
  towards Philadelphia or into the Country. [10]

Washington directed Gist particularly to extend his care

  to the Cattle, Horses and stock of all kinds,
  lying contiguous to the Enemy and within such a
  distance, that there may be a probability of
  their falling into their hands. These must be
  driven out of their reach, and all Waggons and
  Carts removed that might facilitate the movement
  of their Baggage and Stores. ... You will speak
  to the Quarter Masters and Commissaries of
  Provisions and Forage and agree with them upon a
  mode by which you may be supplied with such
  necessaries, as you may have occasion for, in the
  line of their respective Departments. [10] 

On the 3rd September, the Maryland and Delaware militia engaged the British in severe skirmishes near Cooch's bridge and Iron Hill. While the British proceeded to destroy more property, Washington instructed Brigadier General Rodney to keep scouts and patrols out to watch their movements and to "check any parties that the Enemy may send out to collect Horses, Cattle or Forage." [6,10]. By the 6th September, the British had fallen out of sight. [10] Within days, the two sides were locked in the battle of Brandywine Creek, just outside Wilmington—where General Howe's troops drove the main body of the Continental Army back towards Philadelphia. [11]

During the remainder of the war, through October 1781, few other depradations occurred in the Head of Elk and Cæcil county, though salt and sugar continued in short supply, and a devaluation of the currency restricted purchases of other provisions. The local inhabitants made do, relying on their spinning wheels and looms to produce clothing for their own use and to market the surplus in neighbouring counties. [6]

However, the Quarter Masters had still to procure provisions to supply the war effort, even while supplies became increasingly more scarce and expensive. During the particularly severe winter of 1777/78, the soldiers suffered from starvation and exposure, and when provisions and pay were not forthcoming, men began to desert their posts. At the same time, with the new government still in the experimental stages, some of the citizenry fell into the practice of smuggling, and a general lawlessness prevailed in many parts. [6]

It was in this context that George Washington wrote the following plaintive letter to Henry Hollingsworth who was then Deputy Quarter Master General, having returned home to Head of Elk after the battle of Brandywine:

    To Henry Hollingsworth Esquire.
    Sir: I am under the painful necessity of informing
  you that the Situation of the Army is most critical
  and alarming for want & Provision, especially of the
  meal kind. The Troops have not had Supplies of the
  latter for four days and many of them have been longer
  without. I have sent Captn Lee to forward from the
  Head of Elk and Dover, all the Provisions, that may be
  at either of those places, as expeditiously as possible,
  and I must entreat you, Sir, to give all the assistance,
  in your power, to promote this very important and
  interesting work.
    I am, Sir, Your most Obedt Servt:
    G Washington.
    Valley Forge  16th Feby 1778.
  P.S. I need not mention to you the Delicacy of this
  Subject and the propriety of Secrecy. [6]

In fact, George Washington had recently received two complaints about the Quarter Master stationed at the Head of Elk:

  • 1778-01-26: Brigadier General William Smallwood, who had been contending with requests for passes and desertions by officers and rank and file, wrote:

    ... they pretend it’s the want of Cloaths & Provision, that prompts them to take these Steps, but it’s practised by such who have received and are the best Clad, & upon the whole they have been well served with Provision (I believe better than the grand Army) they were stinted 5 Days owing to Mr Huggins’s inattention, who has really in many Instances been tardy, & subjected me to take upon me his Duty, otherways they must have suffered, during the five Days they were only stint’d for Meat, & I went in Person & acquainted them with the Reason, & saw they had plenty of Bread & some Rum, & no Desertion happened during that Time, nor for some Days after. [12]

  • 1778-02-05: George Read, President, State of Delaware Assembly, was attempting to move the State Legislature towards filling up a Battalion by draft versus recruitment efforts. The supply of clothing was impeded by several factors: many stocks of sheep were lost by the plunder of the British; the previous year's flax crop failed; and, the property rights to the cargo of cloths and spirits, rescued from a deserted schooner, were in dispute, General Smallwood declining to settle it without direction from Washington himself. Read wrote Washington that he knew

    ... how much his [General Smallwood's] time is taken up with supplying the defect of duty in others, particularly in the Commissary of Purchases Department, of which I believe he has great reason to Complain as well as the Inhabitants of New Castle and Chester Counties, the person I particularly allude to is a Mr Huggins, whose Credit among the Graziers was very low long before General Smallwood came to Wilmington; his Certificates, his Mode of pay, may be purchased at a considerable discount, this is such a discouragement that a great part of the Supplies lately are got by Stealth or Force——and it is the more so as a Mr McGarmont [assistant deputy commissary of purchases] in the Neighbouring County of Kent, acting in the same line, pays regularly for the like Articles within his district. The number of our Graziers will be greatly diminished in the ensuing Season as well from the Situation of many of our feeding Grounds, on the Shore of the Delaware, as the irregular Conduct of the purchasing Commissary and his Agents. [13]

On the 21st February 1778, General Smallwood wrote to assure Washington of his (Smallwood's) efforts to procure provisions without touching the stores at Dover or the Head of Elk. However,

    The Troops at this Post [Wilmington] have suffered many
  Times extremely, & I am apprehensive, & indeed I can forsee
  they will be reduced to the same distress the Army above
  have suffered, for the Country by these supplies which will
  be forwarded above, will be much exhausted, & leave me
  destitute of the Resources from which the Support of the
  Troops has been drawn, for I have had no other Supplies for
  the Troops here than what I’ve had brought in by Parties
  and out of the Prizes & Cattle intercepted on the way to
  Phila. except 27 head from Maryland, & scarce that Number
  in the whole from Mr Huggins, who was to have supplied us
  ——there is no dependence in this Man, I have repeatedly
  complaind of, & sent for & remonstated to him, about the
  Sufferings of the Troops & his inactivity & inattention,
  but it’s all in vain, & I am sensible if we have no other
  dependance than on him, the worst consequences may be
  dreaded——here is one Capt. Rumford an Active obliging Man,
  who has acted in that Line before, who I believe wou’d
  supply well, if he was appointed to act & supplied with
  Cash, ... [14]

... to which Washington responded, on the 25th:

    I am sorry to find that you are under inconveniences
  with respect to provisions, and seem to apprehend that
  bad consequences may result from the supplies we are
  drawing from below for the use of this Army. This is the
  result of an irresistible necessity, and such as, under
  the present circumstances of Affairs, cannot be avoided.
  I have been obliged to exert every nerve to keep the
  Troops here together, and I trust you will spare no pains
  in your power to accomodate those with you. I should hope
  sufficient supplies may be drawn for them from the Country
  below, and from the adjacent Counties in Maryland, notwith-
  standing what we are getting. The conduct of Mr Huggins
  has been much complained of——Colo. Blaine who is about
  Wilmington or the Head of Elk had been spoken to about
  him——I wish you to represent to him his conduct again,
  and get him removed——If he neglects to do it, you will
  appoint Captn Rumford to act in that line, and I’ll
  direct Colo. Blaine to supply him with money. I approve
  your seizing Canby’s Flour, as I have not the smallest
  doubt from your information, but it was designed for the
  Enemy. You will keep an account of the quantity, and also
  of the quality. [10]

How General Smallwood or Colonel Blaine handled this affair is not known, but the threat of punishment by court martial, and the embarrassment which must follow, may well have been made. It is curious that Johnston, in his History of Cecil County, states that it was Henry Hollingsworth who "not only purchased supplies of all kinds for the use of the army when in the field, but was frequently called upon to provide supplies for large detachments of troops that passed through the county," without a mention of Huggins' name. [6]

Thomas Huggins appears to have retained his post, as evidenced by a requisition made on the 19th May by John Chaloner, Assistant Commissary General of Purchases, to him, at the Head of Elk, and to Robert McGarmant, at Dover, Delaware, to

  ... procure a sufficient quantity of Indian meal for the
  support of a Very Considerable number of Troops whilst
  under innoculation in Camp. You must therefore on Rect
  of this purchase 2,000 Bushells of Indian Corn, one half
  of which send to Camp immediately in the ear & the residue
  have manufactured into meal & forward with all expedition.
    The troops about to be Innoculated are Recruits who cannot
  be capable of service untill recovered & as the General is
  desirous of having the Army early in the field much depends
  on this Article being provided in time, all business whatever
  must give way to this and you must hold yourself accountable
  for the want of the Necessary supply should it not arrive in
  time. [15]

Whatever the difficulties seem to have resolved by the 19th May, when General Smallwood wrote the following to Washington:

    Agreeable to your orders I sent Capt. Norwood to obtain
  a List of the Stores at the head of Elk, who returned this
  Evening with the Inclosed Lists from Hollingsworth, Rodolph
  & Huggins who could give no Acct of the Stores in the
  Peninsula below and at Charles Town, but Colo. Hollingsworth
  informs Capt. Norwood there were near as much more at those
  Stages & that he daily expected Several Vessell Loads at Elk,
  Charles Town &c. I recommended in the Strongest Terms their
  forwarding the Removal with all possible dispatch, and have
  had Mr Wade Somedays out in procuring and forwarding Waggons
  to expedite their Removal to effect which and to cover and
  Escort the Stores whilst they are at these Stages, be assured
  no Exertions of mine shall be wanting. [16]

On the 25th, Thomas Huggins forwarded a lengthy and detailed list of the provisions under his care—comprising 9,065 barrels of flour, 1,537 barrels bread, 14 barrels beef, 120 barrels Indian meal, 15 tons cod fish, 43 hogsheads rum, 2,000 gallons whisky, and lard, stored at the Head of Elk and Charlestown. [10] Just days before, Colonel Blaine had written to Henry Hollingsworth and Thomas Huggins, invoking the name of George Washington to ensure compliance with orders. [17]

Scarcity of provisions, and the problems associated with their protection, payment, timely delivery, and safe conveyance, continued to dog Hollingsworth and Huggins during the remainder of the war. This marshalling of resources reached a fever pitch during Washington's drive, in September 1781, to bring "a very considerable detachment from the American Army, with the whole of the French troops, immediately to Virginia." Washington appealed to Governor Lee, of Maryland, for his aid and assistance in the arrangment for water craft at the Head of Elk—through the agency of the Hon. Robert Morris, Esq.—in order to transport the Army with their artillery, baggage, stores, &c., with particular attention to flour, rum, and salt meat, a quantity of forage for the cattle, and one month's pay in specie for the detachment under Washington's command, by the 8th September. [10]

During a period of several days, Washington's headquarters were at the Head of Elk. He bemoaned the "want of a sufficient number of Transports to carry our whole force and apparatus from this place at once." Not until the 23rd September could Washington say that the vessels were debarking from the Head of Elk and, still, he found himself "embarrassed for want of Provisions and sufficient means of transportation, but by superior exertions, I hope to surmount these difficulties and find myself soon before the Enemy's Works at York and Gloucester." [10]

Somehow, these endeavours managed to be enough. This enormous coordination of men, supplies, and effort—including the conveyance of the Continental Army and the French forces southwards through the Head of Elk—culminated in the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia, only a few weeks later, on the 19th October 1781.

The war may have concluded happily for the Americans, and though no battles or skirmishes were fought within the borders of Cecil county after 1777, the relative peace of the district had been disturbed by other hazards of war. These had the immediate effect of intensifying the turmoil borne by the already harrassed inhabitants, and of altering the social fabric and political landscape of the county in the longer term. Three examples, discussed briefly below, include the prosecution of pacificists, the confiscation of properties belonging to Loyalists, and the incurrence by the Continental Congress of massive amounts of debt in order to prosecute the revolutionary war.

In December 1778, fifty-five persons—Quakers (of the Society of Friends), whose pacific principles "forbade them to engage in hostilities"—were tried under a court-martial for refusing to perform military duties:

    In order that they might be tried and punished for
  this, a court-martial was convened at the Head of Elk,
  on the 7th of December, 1778, at which were present,
  Colonel Stephen Hyland, lieutenant-colonel Elihu Hall
  (of Elisha), and Major Baruch Williams, the latter
  gentleman being at that time clerk of the county court.
  The records of this court-martial show that fifty-five
  persons were convicted of refusing to attend at the
  Head of Elk on the 23d of the preceding May, at which
  time they had been called into actual service by
  Charles Rumsey, the lieutenant of the county, at the
  request of the governor. The court imposed fines upon
  them, ranging from £20 to £35 each, and sentenced each
  of them to two months' imprisonment. [6]

Only several months before, the Quakers had cheerfully given over their meeting-house as a temporary hospital, and undertaken the nursing of the sick and wounded soldiers entrusted to their care. [6]

As another example of the hazards of war, in 1776, Congress had enacted the Confiscation Act, which permitted not only the the seizure of property belonging to Loyalists, but state governments to order the execution of the owners. [18] In Cecil county, the two most conspicuous instances of the application of this Act involved John Roberts and Robert Alexander. [6]

In the first instance, John Roberts was one of the principal owners of the Elk Forge Company, and he stood accused of treason:

  He was a member of the Society of Friends, and like
  some of his brethren in Pennsylvania, adhered to the
  royalists. He was accused of persuading people to
  enlist in the royal army, and was captured while on
  his way to the Head of Elk to "communicate information
  to a certain Mr. Galloway who had gone over to the
  enemy." During a part or all of the time that the
  British army occupied the city of Philadelphia, he
  resided there and showed much kindness to many of
  those who were politically opposed to him. He was the
  father of nine children and of a highly respectable
  family who made every exertion to save him, notwith-
  standing which he was hanged at Philadelphia,
  November 4th, 1778. [6]

In the second case, when General Howe sailed up the Chesapeake and landed at Court-house Point in 1777, Robert Alexander—a prominent inhabitant of the county, with aristocratic connections—had prepared a feast for the British. On going down to the Elk River to welcome them, the Americans fell upon Alexander's house and partook of the feast in the stead of the British party. Robert Alexander boarded one of the ships in the river, and was never seen again in Cecil county. He left behind a wife, Isabella, and several children. All of Robert Alexander's considerable land holdings were confiscated, and either sold to other proprietors or purchased on behalf of the Head of Elk. Eleven years later saw Mr. Alexander acting as agent for other Tories in the state of Maryland, prosecuting claims for compensation from the British government for losses suffered by their properties having been confiscated. [6] Eventually, Robert Alexander left the United States, dying in November 1805, at his apartment in Norfolk Street, in London, England. [19]

Finally, there were the economic casualties of the war. Since money (that is, hard cash in the form of coinage) had begun to run short, the Continental Congress had been issuing bills of credit in order to finance the war. [6] These bills of credit, and the printing of paper money, known as Continental dollars, were intended to provide a medium for financial exchange where specie was unavailable. However, bills of credit were substantially non-backed financial paper—that is, promises to pay the face value of the bills at a future date, that were not backed by collateral in the form of tangible assets or premium receivables, such as future taxes—which the new government was not yet collecting. Today, we refer to such instruments as junk bonds. As food and other provisions became increasingly scarce, the cost of these items was driven up not only by the laws of supply and demand, but by the devalued bills of credit and paper money in circulation. By the end of 1776, the value of a Continental dollar had fallen to 66% of the value of a specie  dollar [20] ... and the value of both forms of financial paper continued to fall for the next twenty years, when the government enacted banking legislation, by which time the bills were nearly worthless.

In May 1781, Congress passed legislation which made the properties, which had been confiscated from Loyalists, available "for the redemption of bills of credit or paper money, which it was found necessary to issue to defray the expense of carrying on the war." Congress needed money, in whatever form, and in the absence of other tangible assets, elected to back the next issuance (emission) of bills of credit with the value of the confiscated properties. In Cecil county, "John Dockery Thompson, Henry Hollingsworth, Thomas Hughes [Huggins?], Benjamin Brevard, and John Leach Knight were appointed to superintend the issuing of bills in this county." Thus, as in the example cited below, nine men of Cecil county exchanged the sums indicated for parcels of confiscated property at values equal to twice the value of the sum given.

  October 23 [1781]. Red Book No. 30. Letter 45.
  We do hereby become subscribers of the sums affixed to our
  names, on the scheme for an emission, in pursuance of the act
  for the emission of bills of credit not exceeding two hundred
  thousand pounds, on the security of double the value in lands,
  to defray the expences of the present campaign.
   [Format: Subscribers' Names; Real Estate in Lands; House]
    Joseph Gilpin; all his Real Estate; £100
    Sam'l Thomas; Part Triple Union; £200
    H. Hollingsworth; all His Real Estate; £500
    David Smith; Part of Susquehannah manor; £100
    Sam'l Gilpin; Part of a tract of Land call'd Coxes Park; £100
    Samuel Maffith; pt Vanbibber forest; £100
    Stephen Hyland; his Real Estate; £100
    Thos. Huggins
; his real Estate; £150
    Da'd Ricketts; Real Estate; £100 [21]

As with any war, many men grasped the main chance to convert opportunities into mercantile and financial success. If they were backed by sufficient wealth, or were sufficiently canny to manage the considerable risk that went along with the purchase of non-backed government financial paper, the rewards could be substantial. However, by their nature, speculative investments leave at least as many victims in their wake. As government issued paper became progressively more devalued—that is, Congress could not redeem the bills of credit at anything near their face value—many good men found themselves land rich, but cash poor, overextended on debt, and consequently financially embarrassed in the years following the revolutionary war.

See also:

          Since the toils and the hazards of War's at an end,
          the pleasures of Love should succeed 'em,
          the fair should present what the Senators send,
          and compleat what they've decreed 'em

          With Dances and Songs,
          with Tambours and Flutes,
          let the Maids show their Joy as they meet 'em;
          with Cimbals and Harps,
          with Viols and Lutes
          let the Husbands and true Lovers greet 'em

          —Henry Purcell, 1690.

After the war, the people of Cecil county began to attend to civic matters. Their first task was to select a county seat for the administraton of justice. Accordingly, on the 25th February 1782, a majority of votes was cast in favour of Charlestown. Even with the formation of a new commission of the peace, a spirit of lawlessness and disorganization operated for a number of years.

Though it still consisted only of a few straggling houses, the village of Head of Elk pressed forward, beginning in October 1782, when

  Clement Holliday and Nathaniel Ramsay, commissioners
  [were] appointed to take charge and dispose of confiscated
  property, laid out that part of the town of Elkton east
  of the Hollow, upon land before described as belonging
  to Robert Alexander, and in October, 1782, sold the
  building lots at public sale. About £6,000 were realized
  from the sale of Alexander's property.
... Joseph Gilpin, Tobias Rudulph, Henry Hollingsworth,
  and Thomas Huggins purchased the lot upon which the
  Court-house stands for the use of the town, being
  authorized by the inhabitants, who had invested them
  with power to do so, and also to hold the lot in trust
  for the purpose of erecting on it a market-house or
  court-house, the town commissioners agreeing to build
  the former within three years after the sale. [6]

A Cecil county tax roll from 1783 provides a census substitute, if only by listing the heads of household who were liable to pay property taxes. The holdings of Joseph Gilpin, the Alexanders who remained in the county, the Hollingsworths, and the Rumseys were substantial, on the order of hundreds, even thousands, of acres, while the two properties belonging to Thomas Huggins—three 1/2 acre lots, and a one-acre parcel—were very modest by comparison. [22]

On the 26th February 1785, Messrs. Joseph Gilpin, Tobias Rudulph, Zebulon Hollingsworth, Henry Hollingsworth, Daniel Robinson, Jonathan Booth, Thomas Huggins, John Barnaby, George Wallace, John Thomas Ricketts, Jacob Hollingsworth, Henry Robinson and Empson Bird subscribed sums for the erection of a house of Public worship in the village of Elk. In spite of their best efforts, the building was not erected, owing, according to Johnston (1881), to the "unpopularity of the clergy of the Episcopal church, and the fact that Methodism prevailed to some extent in the surrounding country." [6]

A movement was afoot to remove the county seat from Charlestown; and, though the inhabitants of Charlestown did everything in their power to prevent it, in January 1786 the state of Maryland threw its legislative weight behind the establishment of the seat of justice to the Head of Elk. The act included the following clause with respect to the appointment of Commissioners:

    Be it enacted, by the general assembly of Maryland, That
  Messieurs Joseph Gilpin, Tobias Rudulph, senior, Zebulon
  Hollingsworth, Joseph Baxter and Edward Oldham, or the major
  part of them, be, and are hereby appointed commissioners to
  execute and perform the several trusts and powers reposed in,
  and required of them by this act, and be and are hereby
  authorised and empowered to treat and agree with undertakers
  or workmen to build and finish a court-house and public prison,
  with a good yard, and other conveniencies thereto, on that
  lot of ground at the Head of Elk which was purchased from
  Clement Hollyday and Nathaniel Ramsey, commissioners for the
  sale of confiscated property, as by deed of trust to Messieurs
  Joseph Gilpin, Tobias Rudulph, Henry Hollingsworth and Thomas
, for the use and benefit of the inhabitants of Elk-town
  and Cæcil county, bearing date the first day of September, one
  thousand seven hundred and eighty-three, will more fully appear,
  and which deed is hereby declared to be valid and good in law
  for the use and purposes therein mentioned, any defect in said
  deed to the contrary notwithstanding. [23]

Finally, in May 1787, "the Legislature passed an act incorporating the town under the name of ELKTON," though it was known as Elktown for a few years. [6,24] The Act contained certain language to protect the interests of those persons who had purchased confiscated British property, including Henry Hollingsworth who had set aside an acre of land for a school-house or house of worship, and naming "Joseph Gilpin, Joseph Couden, Jonathan Booth, Tobias Rudulph, senior, Zebulon Hollingsworth, Thomas Huggins and Daniel Robinson, and their successors chosen annually by the housekeepers of the town called Head of Elk." [24]

In the wake of the recession that ruled the post-war economy, the progress of the growth of the town of Elkton would prove slow. Nearly twenty years later, one Isaac Weld, an English traveller, wrote the following observations after a journey through Elkton:

    Twenty-one miles from Wilmington is a dirty, stragling [sic]
  place called Elkton, consisting of ninety indifferent
  habitations, erected without any regard to uniformity. In
  this neighborhood are some log-houses,* answering the following
  description: The sides are composed of rough logs of trees,
  placed horizontally upon each other in such a manner that the
  ends of the logs rest alternately in notches on those of the
  adjoining side. The interstices are filled up with clay and the
  roof is formed of boards or small pieces of wood called
  shingles. *most of the old, substantial brick buildings
  having been erected before the Revolution
. [6]

village of log huts

Source: The Pictorial History of the American Revolution (pg. 269).
New York: Robert Sears, 1845.

See alsoEmergence of the town of Elkton, 1781–1788.

Thomas Huggins' wife, Nichola, had died sometime before 1784, leaving their young son in Thomas' care. Then, in June 1788, Thomas himself died—he was just forty years of age. The written record leaves no clue as to the cause of death for either. In the case of Nichola, puerperal (childbed) fever has to be suspected; in Thomas', the male Huggins line had already begun to show a marked tendency to sudden death in early middle age, probably from heart disease; or malaria might well have carried them both off.

In September 1781, Claude Blanchard, Commissary of the French auxiliary army, had remarked in his journal, the prevalence of fever at the Head of Elk, "doubtless caused by the swamps in the vicinity." [6,25] Malaria prevailed in the hot, humid climate of the American South, from Georgia to Maryland. While the predations of the female Anophles quadrimaculatus mosquito had worked to the Americans' advantage, by "daily diminishing" the ranks of Lord Cornwall's troops in Virginia, [26] the ravages of the disease cut both ways, sickening the French auxiliary army, to a man, in 1782, [27] and taking no prisoners from the local populace, either.

Whatever the cause of his demise, the probate of Thomas Huggins' estate reveals interesting aspects of Thomas' business and financial dealings. Apparently, Thomas had taken steps towards surrendering "all his property in order to avail himself of an act of assembly lately passed in the State entitled an Act respecting Insolvent Debtors." The trustees of the estate were Robert Oliver, William Barroll, and William Matthews, [28] the latter of whom was appointed guardian of Thomas' son.

The trustees placed two advertisements in June and August editions of The Pennsylvania Gazette: the first, to sell the house and lot, "with improvements," in the town of Elkton; and the second, to put up for public sale, a Merchant Mill lying about four or miles outside Elkton, on the property of Thomas' business partner, William Kilgore, and, in addition, several lots in Elkton. [29] After the disposition of this real estate, the current money available for distribution to the creditors of Thomas Huggins amounted to £357 4 shillings 5-1/2 pence.

The most crippling of Thomas' financial burdens was a debt of £488, probably incurred for the Merchant Mill mentioned above, of which amount William Matthews and William Barroll agreed to a partial claim of £267 5 shillings 11 pence. The remainder of the estate was disbursed towards the payment of registrar's fees, and the maintenance of Thomas' farm and other properties, pending the sales thereof.

The legal proceedings which ensued in the Orphans' Court of Cæcil County, governing the guardianship of Thomas' and Nicholas' young son, are also very interesting, not only for tracing the early years of this child's life, but also for clues about the connections that Thomas Huggins had made during his lifetime.—for which, see the biographical sketch for Samuel Carson Huggins (c.1780–1850).

See also the blog articleA thorn in George Washington's revolutionary side.


  1. Registry of Deeds, Ireland. Huggins to Huggins. Memorial no. 290-482-193815, dated 27 November 1772. Copy on microfilm at the PRONI, Belfast, ref. MIC/311/237, memorial no. 193815 (accessed 2003-11). Extract by Alison Kilpatrick.
  2. Marshall, John J. Vestry Book of the Parish of Aghalow (Caledon, County Tyrone). Dungannon: The Tyrone Printing Co., Ltd., 1935. Re: John Huggins, of Glenarb, in entry recorded in the 14th April 1718 Vestry Minutes for the parish church in Caledon. Extracts transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick.
  3. Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Belfast. Lord Charlemont to Huggins. PRONI ref. D2433/A/45/1 & /2, dated 30 July 1762 (accessed 2003-11). Transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick.
  4. Skinner, V.L., Jr. Abstracts of the Inventories of the Prerogative Court of Maryland, 1772–1774. Westminster, Maryland, 1988.
  5. Peden, Henry C. Inhabitants of Cecil County, Maryland, 1649–1774. Westminster, Maryland: WillowBend Books, 1999. Citing Maryland Historical Society, Manuscripts Division, MS. 1117, Box 1.
  6. Johnston, George. History of Cecil County, Maryland. Elkton: published by the author, 1881.
  7. Peden, Henry C. Revolutionary Patriots of Cecil County, Maryland. Reprinted by Heritage Books (2006).
  8. United States Government. "To M. General the Marquis de la Fayette, Virginia, from G. Washington, New Port" (8th March 1781). George Washington Papers, 1741–1799. Library of Congress. Online at (accessed 2015-12-09 to -17). Synopsis and extracts by Alison Kilpatrick.
  9. Fitzpatrick, John C. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799. Vol. X, November 4, 1777 – February 28, 1778. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. (pg. 512)
  10. United States Government.The George Washington Papers, 1741–1799: Time Line: The American Revolution. Library of Congress. Online at (accessed 2015-12-17).
  11. Taylor, Quintard, Jr. "United States History: Timeline: War of Independence." Seattle: University of Washington, Department of History. Online at (accessed 2015-12-22).
  12. United States Government, National Archives. "To George Washington from Brigadier General William Smallwood, 21 February 1778." Founders Online. National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), in cooperation with The University of Virginia Press. Online at (accessed 2015-12-16).
  13. Ibid. "To George Washington from George Read, 5 February 1778."
  14. Ibid. "To George Washington from Brigadier General William Smallwood, 21 February 1778."
  15. Ibid. "Chaloner, the assistant commissary general of purchases with the army at Valley Forge, to Thomas Huggins at Head of Elk, Md., and Robert McGarmant, at Dover, Del., 27 March 1778."
  16. Ibid. "To George Washington from Brigadier General William Smallwood, 19-20 May 1778."
  17. Carp, E. Wayne. To Starve the Army at Pleasure: Continental Army Administration and American Political Culture, 1775-1783. Chapel Hill, and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1984 ( footnote, pg. 261). Citing the papers of Ephraim Blaine (1741-1804).
  18. Russell, David Lee. The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2000 (pg. 310).
  19. State of Maryland. "Robert Alexander (1740-1805)." Biographical Series. Archives of Maryland. Online at (accessed 2015-12-22).
  20. Trask, H.A. Scott. "Inflation and the American Revolution." Austrian Economics, Freedom, and Peace. Mises Institute, Auburn, Alabama. Online at (accessed 2015-12-22).
  21. State of Maryland. "October 23 [1781], Red Book No. 30, Letter 45." Laws of Maryland, 1785-1791. Vol. 47, pg. 533. Baltimore: Maryland State Archives. Online at (accessed 2015-12-16).
  22. State of Maryland. "Maryland Indexes (Assessment of 1783, Index) 1783, Cecil County." Maryland State Archives ref. MSA S 1437. Laws of Maryland, 1785-1791. Vol. 47, pg. 533. Baltimore: Maryland State Archives. Online at (accessed 2015-12-16).
  23. State of Maryland. "1786, Chap. XX: An Act for the removal of the seat of justice from Charles-town to the Head of Elk, in Cæcil county." Laws of Maryland, 1785-1791. Vol. 204, pp. 159-60. Baltimore: Maryland State Archives. Online at (accessed 2015-12-16).
  24. State of Maryland. "24th May 1787, Chap. XXXI: An Act to remove the market-house at the Head of Elk, and establish the same, and for the advancement and regulation of the said town." Laws of Maryland, 1785-1791. Vol. 204, pp. 227ff. Baltimore: Maryland State Archives. Online at (accessed 2015-12-16).
  25. Duane, William, trans., and Thomas Balch, ed. The Journal of Claude Blanchard, Commissary of the French Auxiliary Army sent to the United States during the American Revolution. Albany, NY: J. Munsell, 1876 (pg. 172).
  26. McNeill, J.R. "Malarial mosquitoes helped defeat British in battle that ended Revolutionary War." The Washington Post. Online (accessed 2015-12-22).
  27. Stevens, John Austin, ed. "The Return of the French." Magazine of American History. Vol. VII (July 1881), No. 1 (pg. 6). New York and Chicago: A.S. Barnes & Company.
  28. State of Maryland. "Thomas Huggins. CE. Insolvent estate of Huggins." Chancery Court (Chancery Papers) 1713-1853 S512. Recorded (Insolvency Record) 2, p. 47. Accession No.: 17,898-2677A MSA S512-3-2748. Location: 1/36/2. Annapolis, Maryland: Maryland State Archives. Copies purchased and transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick, 2006-01-18.
  29. The Pennsylvania Gazette, issues from June and August, 1789. Available online at (accessed 2015-12-18, by subscription). Transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick.

If you have a family history connection to a Huggins family from the county of Tyrone—or if you have information to add to the biographical sketches presented here—please consider getting in touch via the contact page.

This page was published on the 23rd December 2015, and edited subsequently on the 25th December, to provide a link to the biographical sketch for Samuel Carson Huggins, and on the 8th January 2016, to provide a link to the blog article).

Return to Huggins of Glenarb, parish of Aghaloo index page.
Return to Biographical sketches, outlines, and timelines index page.

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"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."—Lesley Poles Hartley (1895–1972), The Go-Between (1953).

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