Charles Ridgely of Hampton (1760-1829)
MSA SC 3520-1446
The following biography is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis: The Hall of Records Commission, 1970), 70-73.
"CHARLES RIDGELY OF HAMPTON, undoubtedly the richest man to be elected Governor of Maryland, and known until 1790 as Charles Ridgely Carnan, was born in Baltimore County on December 6, 1760, the son of John and Achsah (Ridgely) Carnan. Not too much is known of his early life except that his father died in 1762, his uncle, Captain Charles Ridgely, took an interest in Charles and he received his education at home. He did not take an active part in the Revolutionary War, presumably because of his youth.
"As Charles Ridgely Carnan, he had married Priscilla, the daughter of Caleb Dorsey, Jr., of 'Belmont' on October 17, 1782, the youngest sister of his uncle's wife. They had three sons and eight daughters.
"Captain Charles Ridgely, in the meantime, had organized the Northampton Iron Works and had developed a vast estate in Baltimore County. Shortly before his death in 1790, he had completed 'Hampton,' the great post-Revolutionary War mansion whose beautiful formal gardens, grandeur, and social elegance, would later bring it into national prominence. As he had no children, he left his estate and iron works to his nephew with the stipulation that he assume the name of Charles Ridgely and that he apply to the General Assembly 'for a law enabling [him] . . . to bear the name of Ridgely forever here after and if [he] . . should refuse to take . . the name of Ridgely' then he would forfeit the devises and bequests made to him.1 In the same year, the General Assembly enacted the necessary legislation, so that from then on, Charles Ridgely Carnan became known as Charles Ridgely. It was this legacy which enabled him to enter politics, so he began his political career by representing Baltimore County in the House of Delegates, serving in that body between 1790 and 1795. In the following year he was chosen a Senator. 'As a Senator or Delegate, justly appreciating the merits and demerits of the human character, he always avoided visionary schemes and dangerous experiments.'2
[p. 72] "In 1794, Ridgely was commissioned a brigadier general in the militia. He held that position for several years, resigning when the militia was reorganized.
"From 1801 until 1815, Ridgely devoted his attention to the management of his farms and his iron works. In December of that year, he was elected governor succeeding Levin Winder, narrowly defeating former governor Robert Bowie who was attempting a political comeback.
"Ridgely devoted his administration to the development of internal improvements. The unpopular war with Great Britain ended and the treaty of peace signed, so the Legislature devoted its attention to the needs of the State. Accordingly, it chartered bridge and turnpike companies to help meet the need for better communications between all sections. It appropriated ground for the erection of a Battle Monument in Baltimore, aided education, and chartered manufacturing and insurance companies, so that 'during his administration, the State enjoyed its greatest period of prosperity.'3
"In his message of December 4, 1816, the governor announced that he had authorized the State to cede Fort McHenry and Fort Washington, both of which had played a part in the War of 1812, to the national government. In the same message, he asked the Legislature to take steps 'for liquidating, at an early day, the state's claim against the general government for the expenses occurred by the late war.'4 For that purpose, he requested the appointment of an agent, and although the Legislature did grant his request, the State recovered only a portion of what it had expended for its defense during the British invasion.
"In 1816 the Legislature passed an act which provided for the education of 'poor children in Kent, Talbot, Cecil, Anne Arundel and Montgomery Counties.' Lamenting that 'the want of an efficient and well digested system of county schools, calculated to diffuse the advantages of education throughout the State, has long been felt and sincerely regretted by every friend to morality and good government,' the act authorized the levy courts to appoint trustees in each election district to carry out the proposal.5 Although sections dealing with Anne Arundel and Montgomery Counties were later repealed, the act was an important one in Maryland's educational history.
"A second act of the same year created the Commissioners of the School Fund. The act's preamble recited that 'an act to incorporate a company to make a turnpike road leading to Cumberland, and for the extension of the charters of the several banks in the city of Baltimore,' had established a fund for the establishment of free schools throughout the state. As the act also directed the equal division of the funds among the counties, the legislature felt the money would be 'most likely permanently to secure the means of education.'6
[p. 73] "Agitation to secure the better reapportionment of the General Assembly began during Ridgely's term of office. Although this problem would not be satisfactorily settled for another twenty years, this discontent revealed the growing population changes occurring within the State. It also paved the way for the downfall of the Federalist Party in Maryland.
"Ridgely was re-elected in 1817 and 1818, retiring to Hampton after his final term had ended on January 8, 1819. There he devoted his attention to his farm and his iron works. In 1824, he suffered a paralytic attack from which he never fully recovered. Two later attacks caused his death on July 17, 1829. He was buried in the Ridgely family vault at Hampton. Niles commented that 'from an early age, possessed of a princely estate, few individuals, perhaps ever more enjoyed what are called the good things of this life and abused them so little. He emancipated all his numerous slaves who had not reached the age of 45.'7 The Maryland Gazette described him as an aristocrat. 'The splendors with which he entertained, his plate and his equipage, was adapted to his fortune as well as to his disposition, while they procured him the admiration of all, they were never made use of to wound the feelings of any.'8
"At his death, his holdings amounted to about 10,000 acres of land in Baltimore County. He owned over three hundred slaves together with a library of about one hundred and seventy-five volumes, silverplate valued at over $2,300 and a total estate of nearly $150,000."9
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