I am a huge fanatic of American History and I love being only twenty minutes away from one of the most beautiful and supposedly haunted historic homes in Maryland; Hampton Mansion in Towson Maryland.
I’ve visited Hampton Mansion dozens of times and toured the Main House, the farm-house, dozens of outbuildings and the grounds. If you are a fan of historic homes like me, then I definitely recommend you put Hampton on your to do list.
I have never experienced or saw anything paranormal happen on any of my visits there but I would like to get access to the Main House at night, perhaps spend the night alone and see what happens.
The Beginnings 1695-1760
First I will give you some background about Hampton Mansion from the book: Hampton National Historic Site by Lynne Daskin Hastings.
Hampton’s history begins fifty years prior to its ownership by the Ridgely family. Unlike many 18th century American historic houses, the Mansion does not sit on land originally patented by the people who built it. Rather, it stands as a symbol of achievement for one family over several generations.
The Mansion at Hampton, constructed between 1783 and 1790, occupies a tract of land granted to Colonel Henry Darnall (c.1645-1711), who immigrated to Maryland from Hertsfordshire, England. The 1500-acre parcel, named “Northampton”, was surveyed for Colonel Darnall in 1695 and was only a small part of the vast acreage he owned.
Darnall was related to Lord Baltimore, acting as the proprietor’s primary agent in Maryland for many years.
Upon Henry Darnall’s death in 1711, the “Northampton” property was inherited by his daughter, Ann Hill (1680-1749). Mrs. Hill and her sons, Henry and Clement Hill, sold the “Northampton” tract, 1500 acres “more or less” together with houses, outhouses, tobacco houses, barns, stables, gardens, and orchards to Colonel Charles Ridgely on April 2, 1745, in consideration of 600 pounds sterling.
Colonel Ridgely had begun purchasing Baltimore County lands in 1726, but it was “Northampton” that became the centerpiece of the Ridgely family patrimony.
The name “Hampton” did not originate with the Ridgely’s They also acquired “Oakhampton” (200 acres) and “Hampton Court” (100 acres), names chosen by previous owners because of family connections or ties in England.
Colonel Charles Ridgely (c.1702-1772), called “Charles the Merchant”, was a third generation American, the son of “Charles Ridgely the Planter” and Deborah Dorsey. “Charles the Planter” (?-1705) was a younger son, born to Robert Ridgely and Martha ____ of St. Inigoes Creek in St. Mary’s County.
Robert Ridgely (?-1681), a barrister, may have emigrated from England around 1634, although few early passenger lists of ships leaving there for the province of Maryland survive.
By 1666, however, he was Clerk of the Maryland Council and later, among other offices held, he was Deputy Secretary of the Province and acting Attorney General.
As he prospered, Robert Ridgely acquired considerable asset. An inventory of his possessions included several buildings on the home property, plus furnishings such as eleven beds, bedsteads, and accompanying furniture, a parlour clock, a collection of books, 230 pounds of pewter, some silver, and a watch.
“Charles the Planter” is the most obscure of the Ridgely ancestors. Little is known about him except that when he died, his debts almost equaled the value of his estate.
His son, Colonel Charles Ridgely, was more successful. By 1750, he owned more than 800 acres of land in Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties, moving his interests as a plantation owner, planter and merchant toward the developing commercial center of the estate.
From 1751-1754, he also served in the Maryland Legislature of Baltimore County.
C.1721, Colonel Ridgely married first Rachel Howard (d.1750), a daughter of John Howard and Mary Warfield of Anne Arundel County.
They had five children who grew to adulthood: two sons, John and Charles; and three daughter, Pleasance Goodwin, Achsah Holliday Carnar Charmier, and Rachel Lux. Colonel Ridgely married second Lydia Warfield Stringer by whom he had no children.
The Development of the Family Fortunes 1761-1790
In 1760, Colonel Ridgely gained control of 100 acres situated just north of “Northampton” for the purpose of establishing an ironworks. The Northampton Furnace and Forges were organized in 1761 and put into blast in 1762.
The company was a three-way partnership between Colonel Charles Ridgely and his sons, John and Charles. The tenth ironworks established in Maryland, the Northampton Company took advantage of the easily mined deposits of iron ore in the area.
Bar and pig iron had become a staple export of the Chesapeake region with both of the local government and the British Crown encouraging this industry through tax incentives and other benefits. Large quantities of wood, limestone, and water power, as well as the ore itself, were essential to production.
To provide the raw materials necessary to support the furnace, the Ridgley’s continued to acquire large tracts of land.
To help them sustain their share of the ironworks, Colonel Ridgely conveyed parts of his property to his sons.
In November 1760, he deeded some 2000 acres of land, including a major portion of “Northampton” and parts of “Hampton Court”, “Oakhampton,” and “Stone’s Adventure,” to his younger son, Captain Charles Ridgely. Captain Ridgely, also known as “Charles the Mariner” or “Charles the Builder,” soon undertook responsibility for managing the ironworks.
As a younger son, Captain Ridgely (1733-1790) had gone to sea by about 1755. It is believed that he was employed first as a supercargo on one of his father’s ships, in charge of the commercial aspects.
He later assumed command of the ship “Baltimore Town,” bound from London to Maryland and Virginia. The purpose of the voyage was typical of its time – exchange of finished goods from England for tobacco, raw materials such as bar iron or pig iron, and agricultural products from the colonies.
Ridgely commanded several vessels over a period of years, from whence his title of “Captain” derived.
In 1760, Captain Charles Ridgely married Rebecca Dorsey (1739-1812), the daughter of Caleb Dorsey and Priscilla Hill. Caleb Dorsey was a prominent and wealthy ironmaster and the owner of “Belmont” in Anne Arundel County.
In 1763, Captain Ridgely had retired from the sea. Although he remained an active agent for British merchants in the colonies, he also pursued other commercial interests including general merchandising business in Baltimore begun in 1765, and the operation of several mills, quarries, plantations, and at least one large orchard, in addition to his obligations to the Northampton Company.
The Revolutionary War era brought many changes to the Ridgely fortunes. In the 1760s, trade problems between British and colonial merchants escalated. Likewise, by the end of that decade, Captain Ridgely’s relations with British traders deteriorated because of conflict regarding credit, fees, and the payment of bills.
British import duties and the Stamp Act led to non-importation agreements among the colonists and eventually to war.
Although British trade was cut off from 1775 until 1783, Ridgely merchandising interests regained momentum once the War ended.
After the Revolution, Baltimore, hardly more than a village when the ironworks was established, would become one of the leading economic and commercial centers in America.
In 1771, Captain Charles Ridgely’s brother John died. Captain Charles purchased John’s one-third share in the Northampton ironworks from the estate executors.
Colonel Charles Ridgely died in 1772, leaving the final one-third share to his three daughters, under the trusteeship of his son-in-law Darby Lux. Captain Charles Ridgely, however, maintained control over the entire operation.
Iron making was a difficult and labor-intensive procedure involving many levels of workers. Artisans and tradesmen worked in proximity to convict laborers, and during the War, British prisoners. Slaves conducted the heavy, simple tasks, but were also trained for the various aspects of processing the iron.
Many indentured servants, including joiners, other tradesmen and laborers, bound themselves to Captain Ridgely until their passage fee to America could be paid back. Families, even children, often worked together. Conditions were unenviable and indications of the usual diet show a rationing chiefly of corn, pork, herring, and flour.
Colonial iron experts equaled about three-and-one-half tons in 1718. By 1761, the year the Northampton Company was established, exports had reached 2500 tons of pig iron and 600 tons of bar iron, shipped to England as ballast.
The Revolutionary War created an expanding market for iron products and the Northampton operation provided camp kettles, round shot varying in size from two pounds to eighteen pounds, and cannon, also in various sizes. The Northampton ironworks produced guns “allowed, by the best judges, to be equal in quality to any yet made on the continent, and as the best workmen are now employed, and ready at the Furnace, they shall be as neat,” according to an advertisement in the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, July 1781.
The Building of Hampton Mansion 1783-1790
With the combination of business of acumen, forceful personality and a continuing personal involvement in all aspects of his business enterprises, Captain Charles Ridgely parlayed a modest inheritance into a large, self-made fortune, and agricultural/industrial/commercial conglomerate.
By the time of his death, he owned more than 24,000 acres of land. His expanding affluence and position allowed him to emulate the life of the “country gentleman” represented by the early aristocratic Maryland families, if not in a lifer of ease, certainly in the symbols of his accomplishment.
Captain Ridgely’s most enduring testimony of his own performance was the construction of “Hampton Hall,” the nucleus of his empire. The culminating expression of his acquired wealth, his “house in the forrest” was begun in August of 1783.
Like many Marylanders of his generation, Captain Charles Ridgely enjoyed building residences. He had a house constructed in Baltimore Town and another on Patapsco Neck. He also owned several properties, including “Sportsman’s Hall,” where he and his wife lived when they were first married.
An ambitious undertaking, the five-part Georgian style “Hampton Hall” became one of the most extraordinary country residences in America. Captain Charles Ridgely supervised every phase of construction, and just as closely scrutinized its cost.
For example, he allowed the cupola, or “doom” as he referred to it, to be constructed in 1787 only so long as the price did not exceed the original estimate agreed upon in 1783.
The work on the Mansion progressed for seven years with labor by slaves, indentured servants and free craftsmen.
The family, who had other houses at North Point and in town, may have spent some time in the Lower House or farmhouse at Hampton to oversee the construction and to be close to the ironworks.
In a journal, Rebecca Ridgely, the Captain’s wife, indicates that she moved to the “Large new dwelling” in December of 1788, although existing records document that the interior of the house was not finished until 1790. Perhaps the family used one wing or only a portion of the main block prior to completion.
One traditional story relates that when Hampton was ready to receive guests, Captain Charles Ridgely held a spirited party to his friends with wine, songs, and card games. At the same time, Rebecca Ridgely held a prayer meeting in another part of the house. Rebecca, an ardent convert to Methodism in the 1770s, stated that she was “Born again a Child of God.”
The Ridgely’s contributed handsomely to the Methodist cause and in 1776 provided, rent free, a house and farm on the Hampton estate for the “first preacher of Methodism in America,” the Reverend Robert Strawbridge.
Tragically, Captain Charles Ridgely died in 1790 at the age of 56, not living long enough to enjoy fully the ultimate fruits of his labor. In his will he requested that a family burial ground be established at his dwelling place and that he be buried there.
Captain Ridgely’s nephew, Charles Carnan, organized an elaborate funeral, hoping “to see the largest number there, that ever was at any Funeral in the County,” and arranged for the family cemetery at Hampton.
Because he and his wife Rebecca had no children, Captain Ridgely’ will, dated April 7, 1786, stipulated:
I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife Rebecca Ridgely during her natural life the dwelling house wherein I now reside together with Eight Acres of Land thereto Adjoining for a Garden with as many of the outhouses as she may think necessary for her Convenience or if she should prefer the new house I am now building I leave it at her option to Choose the same and I so also direct that Charles Ridgely Carnan my nephew and his heirs do and shall provide for my said dear wife a stable sufficient to contain Six horses and the keep in constant Repair, etc.
Rebecca Ridgely decided not to remain in the large new house, and on January 17, 1791, she reached an agreement with Charles Carnan which exchanged Hampton Hall and all her interests therein for 244–¼ acres at “Dimite’s Delight,” a carriage house and stable, a house on Howard’s Hill, and other provisions.
The house Rebecca went to live in became known as “Auburn.” Although it burned on November 6, 1849, and was rebuilt in altered form, Auburn still stands today on the Towson State University campus.
Due to the financial burdens of maintaining such a large estate, the last heir of the Ridgely family to live in Hampton Mansion, John Ridgely Jr. (1882-1959), had no other choice but to sell it to the Avalon Foundation.
The Ridgely family owned this grand mansion until 1948, when the Avalon Foundation bought Hampton House, who then in turn eventually gave it to the federal government. Because of Hampton House’s outstanding architectural merit, mansion and 60 acres are designated a national historic site in 1948. John Ridgely Jr. and his wife continued to live at Hampton, residing in the farmhouse. The mansion was opened for tours for the first time.
In 1979, The National Park Service took over administration of the mansion and its surviving 60 acres.
Haunted Tales of Hampton Mansion – Truth or Fiction?
I found this story from The Towson Patch:
These days, talk of ghosts and supernatural events has been relegated to the fringes of society. Say the word “paranormal” and most people clam up. That made it challenging, initially, to unearth information about the ghost stories related to the Hampton mansion.
The National Park Service, which now manages the mansion, remains mum on the topic. When park ranger Angela Roberts-Burton was asked what she knew about the historic landmark being haunted, she abruptly responded: “We don’t discuss it at all.”
That wasn’t always the case. In the 1970s, Preservation Maryland oversaw the mansion and guides gave ghost tours there. Later, the gift shop sold a book titled The Ghosts of Hampton, containing stories collected by local author Anne Van Ness Merriam.
A worn copy of the book, stuffed in a manila folder along with a dozen or so articles about paranormal activity in Maryland, is archived at the Baltimore County Office of Planning. The front of the book contains this message to readers: “The following tales were told to Mrs. Merriam by descendants of Captain Charles Ridgely…”
“Of course, it’s all malarkey,” said John McGrain, a retired Baltimore County historian, referring to the stories of Hampton mansion ghost sightings, including that of Priscilla Ridgely, the family’s matriarch; Cygnet Swann, the golden-haired daughter of Governor Swann; and Tom, a long-term butler at the mansion.
Some would disagree.
Consider Bruce Bytnar. The retired park ranger, who worked primarily at Fort McHenry during the early part of his career but occasionally was called to duty at the Hampton mansion, wrote the book A Park Ranger’s Life: Thirty-two Years Protecting Our National Parks. In it is a hair-raising account of a night he spent at the Hampton mansion.
Bytnar had been called on more than one occasion to investigate reports of supernatural activities and ghost sightings at the Hampton House. But it wasn’t until he stayed in the house overnight that Bytnar had his own ghost story to tell.
In 1977, Bytnar and a fellow park ranger were assigned to watch guard at the Hampton mansion during a two-week historic needlepoint exhibit. They slept in a room on the mansion’s third floor. The room next to theirs contained a row of wooden pegs, on which were hung dozens of horse harnesses that the Ridgely family had used for racehorses.
In the book, Bytnar recounts the following experience: “We had just lain down to attempt to sleep when I heard what sounded like footsteps entering the room next to ours…there was a sound as if someone had taken their hand and run it down the wall of horse harnesses, causing them to swing on the pegs. This was followed by footsteps exiting the room…”
Bytnar goes on to tell how he and the other ranger leapt out of bed and into the hallway, to find several of the harnesses swaying on their pegs. Minutes later, in the great hall of the mansion, a large grandfather clock dating back to the early 1800s began to chime.
Bytnar had been told that the clock hadn’t worked in over a hundred years. Not surprisingly, Bytnar and his partner chose to spend the remainder of the night in their park service pickup truck.
Attempts to contact the retired park ranger, who now lives in Southwest Virginia, went unanswered. I did, however, catch up with Ed Okonowicz, a retired professor at the University of Delaware who’s written several books on ghosts.
Although unfamiliar with Bytnar’s book and the experiences he addresses in it, Okonowicz wrote The Big Book of Maryland Ghost Stories. He says that about 80 percent of the information in his book came from interviews with people who claim to have had supernatural sightings.
Asked if he believes in ghosts, Okonowicz paused before responding: “I think there are strange events that take place,” he said, adding, “I’m interested in ghost stories as they relate to historical events.”
Another common story is that of a haunted chandelier that can be heard crashing in the house, signaling the imminent death of one of the home’s residents. When one goes to check, no chandelier has fallen.
Another is of the ghost of Priscilla Ridgely roaming the mansion in a gown, which can be heard sweeping across the floor. And perhaps most disturbing is the story of a sick young girl named Cygnet Swann who died in the 1800s shortly after dreaming that a man with a scythe was chasing her through a wheat field, shouting that he was going to kill her one way or another.
Is the Hampton estate haunted? I can’t say for certain, but I do recommend you go there and find out for yourself. Don’t forget to make a donation while you are there, I always do.
Here is a link to a short You Tube video of Historic Hampton Mansion. Have a look.