So the 275th anniversary of Frederick is upon us, however after this year of 2020, it’s hard to get excited about anything outside an end to Covid-19 and political squabbling. Frederick Town, as it was originally named, was established in 1745 by lawyer and land speculator Daniel Dulany of Annapolis. That year, property lots were surveyed here, east of Catoctin Mountain, in the Monocacy Valley. The exact setting was Dulany’s parcel named Tasker’s Chance located in the extreme backwoods of Prince Georges County.
For one reason or another, an arbitrary date of September 10th somehow arose as Frederick’s official founding date, but the origin/source of this particular day is somewhat unknown. The origin likely lies in a long lost “day planner” of either Mr. Dulany, or his hired surveyor, Thomas Cresap—the latter quite an interesting story himself! Regardless, three years later in 1748, Mr. Dulany would petition the Maryland General Assembly in establishing a brand, new county. He succeeded and Frederick County was carved out of the existing Prince George’s County, and Dulany’s planned community of Frederick Town would grow in stature as a new county seat.
“The town of Frederick was laid out on Tasker’s Chance in September, 1745, on both sides of Carroll Creek.”
The quotation above comes from page 24 of a book I consider myself lucky to have in my collection. I’m not alone, as many are fortunate enough to own, or possess, a copy of one of the best reference publications and resources of our local history. Simply titled: History of Frederick County Maryland, this two-volume work was originally published in 1910 by the L.R. Titsworth & Co. and consists of 1,635 pages written by two special gentlemen: T. J. C. Williams and Folger McKinsey.
Judge Thomas John Chew Williams (1851-1929) was a newspaper editor, historian and prominent citizen of Washington County, who had capped a career in law, politics and newspaper work, with 19 years of service on the Juvenile Court bench of Baltimore. Although not buried here in Frederick’s Mount Olivet, but instead at St. Mark's Episcopal Church at Lappans (Washington County), Mr. Williams was quite familiar with many already buried here within Mount Olivet, and countless more eventually destined to reside here when their time would come.
Judge Williams, son of the Rev. Henry Williams of the Protestant Episcopal Church, was born in Calvert County in 1851. At the age of 19, he was admitted to the bar and went to Hagerstown to practice in 1872. While in the law office of William T. Hamilton, then a United States Senator, Mr. Williams became interested in politics, and this association would lead him into the newspaper field. He soon became part owner of the Hagerstown Mail in 1874 at the age of 23. He remained at the Mail until 1891 when editorials attracted attention which led to an engagement as editorial writer on the Baltimore Sun. His first appointment to the juvenile court bench followed in 1910.
Aside from his conspicuous work in the town newspaper field in Hagerstown and Baltimore, Judge Williams was the author of a history of Washington County in 1906. This would lead to his follow-up act in tackling of our county's history. To assist him in this endeavor, he would turn to one of the greatest newspapermen in our state’s history, a native of Elkton, Maryland named Folger McKinsey. McKinsey was best known by his pseudonym, the Bentztown Bard—a nod to valuable time spent in Frederick during his storied career.
Though well-loved and remembered in many Maryland homes, McKinsey (1866-1950) really made a name for himself here where he was editor of The Frederick News daily and weekly editions. He earned his pen name by regularly writing poems for the local publications, usually “tongue in cheek” entries dealing with current and past events. While here in Frederick, he lived primarily on South Market Street, but is thought to have resided first in the area known as “Bentztown,” the vicinity of Bentz Street’s intersection with West Patrick Street. He rapidly became involved in the community, and is particularly credited for reinvigorating a stagnant effort to have a suitable memorial erected over the grave of Francis Scott Key here. Success in this undertaking was achieved in 1898, and McKinsey’s daughter was captured by photographers on the dedication day in early August.
McKinsey eventually took his talents to a larger stage when he moved on to The Baltimore Sun where he was a features reporter and columnist. “The Bentztown Bard” provided readers with countless reflections on small-town life across Maryland from the mountains to shore. In addition, Folger McKinsey was an active debater, a skill that served him well as a friend of “The Sage of Baltimore,” H.L. Mencken of The Baltimore Sun, and a member of Mencken’s Saturday Night Club. He would remain in the employ of The Sun for 42 years, and lived out a gilded life at his 500-acre farm with six miles of waterfront on the Magothy River in Anne Arundel County. A nearby elementary school bears his name.
Around 1907, McKinsey was approached by T. J. C. Williams to help write History of Frederick County, Maryland in two volumes. The second volume included biographies on leading members of the Frederick community. The inclusion of a family-oriented biography was a common practice and added incentive, used at the time to help sell the main history textbook (Volume 1) to subscribers. Many of these bio recipients are buried here in Mount Olivet, and it’s no wonder that I regularly call on volume 2 for help with my weekly “Stories in Stone” blog.
I first became aware of this two-volume masterpiece back in 1993 when I worked for Frederick Cablevision/GS Communications. I had recently begun work on a video documentary about Frederick City for its 250th anniversary commemoration. The project was completed in time for the official celebration date on September 10th, 1995. Williams and McKinsey’s history would prove a true Godsend to me, as I based the 10-hour documentary on its chronological telling of our rich story up through 1910. I then had to cover the next 85 years on my own with various other sources!
I began the documentary with a quote by T.J.C. Williams’ included in his introduction to the work. I thought it fitting to have my big boss, George B. Delaplaine, another newspaper professional and local history aficionado, perform the read. The passage goes as follows:
“The history of Frederick County is not merely a local history. It is a history of men and events of national importance and events.”
Mr. Delaplaine’s uncle, the Hon. Edward S. Delaplaine, was tasked with writing the introduction for the re-publication of History of Frederick County in 1967—incidentally, the year I was born. Judge Delaplaine (1893-1989), a true local historian of Frederick and a pioneer and promoter of heritage tourism, had this to say in that reprint edition:
“The History of Frederick County is a lasting memorial to Thomas J. C. Williams. For more than half a century it has been used as a reference work by thousands of people—by historians and genealogists, by teachers and students, and persons in all walks of life who have desired to find information about early members of their families.
Thomas J. C. Williams performed a valuable service in preserving information about a host of Marylanders, yet his own career had been almost forgotten. The story of his life—how the poor boy from the tobacco plantation toiled as public school teacher, as lawyer, as editor and publisher, as historian, as public servant, as churchman, and as Juvenile Judge, until he became a friend and confidant of publishers, prelates, senators, governors, and presidents—this is the story of a fine American.”
Judge Delaplaine is buried here in Mount Olivet and will definitely be chronicled by me one day in this blog. However, today, I just want to connect dots to a lesser known person, forgotten to the past, in an effort to show the true value of Williams’ and McKinsey’s work. I could give countless examples of how it influenced my work as I reflect back on the 25th anniversary of my Frederick Town documentary. Ironically, it was that same Delaplaine family that gave me the opportunity to make historical documentaries, thereby pushing me into the incredible field of public history in the first place. I guess when I think about it, I’m also nearing the fourth anniversary for this “Stories in Stone” blog, which originally began a year earlier as my HSP History Blog on my HistoryShark.com website. As a matter of fact, one of my first blogs was on Frederick founder Daniel Dulany.
When we traditionally think of the word biography, imagery of grade school is usually conjured up. It appeared as an early vocabulary word in language arts and English classes, and usually morphed into a written project assignment in which students had to write about someone’s life. And then there was social studies or history class assignments requiring us to read biographies of interesting people in history and retain fascinating facts and anecdotes about their lives.
The past week has certainly been a sentimental one for me, likely why I have school on my mind, especially high school. My son, Eddie, began his freshman year at my alma mater of Gov. Thomas Johnson High School. Among his classes this semester are Freshman English and AP History. I can’t believe that 35 years have passed since my high school graduation in 1985. While I’m at it, I find it necessary to thank all my former teachers, but especially the two most influential in my everyday professional life in presenting public history. One was Terry Hershey, my 10th and 12th grade AP English history instructor, who taught me how to write position papers, debate and overcome a fear of public speaking. The other was Mike Bunitsky, my 10th grade and 12th grade AP History teacher who had such a unique lecture and teaching style that not only made history fun, but certainly made it come alive for me and my classmates.
Well, in writing this week’s piece, I decided to randomly choose one of the biographical subjects featured in Williams’ and McKinsey’s Volume II of History of Frederick County. I blindly opened the book and pointed to a name on the page. The recipient was a gentleman named John William Molesworth (b. 1848), who also appeared with a picture attached to his bio.
I was familiar with the surname, but certainly not this gentleman. Before going any further, this choice had to pass one important test—Is he buried in Mount Olivet? In checking the Mount Olivet grave database, I found the answer to be yes.
I went back and read Mr. Moleworth’s biography, before making a quick pilgrimage to his gravesite. Here is how the author(s) depicted Mr. Molesworth:
John William Molesworth, well-known in Urbana district, is owner of the “Sunnyside” farm, situated near Ijamsville. He was born on a farm in New Market district, Frederick County, July 1, 1848, and is a son of Thomas and Mary Ann Darby (Kane) Molesworth.
The first of the name to locate in Maryland were three brothers, natives of England, who settled in Woodville district, Frederick County.
Samuel Molesworth, one of the three brothers, was the grandfather of John W. Molesworth. He was married to a Miss West, and went to farming in Woodville district. The farm on which he lived is in possession of his descendants. He was a Methodist in his religious beliefs. He was the father of five children: Joseph, Thomas, William, George and Matthew.
Thomas Molesworth, son of Samuel Molesworth, was born on the family farm in Woodville district, Frederick County, in 1818. He farmed all his life in New Market district, living three miles east of New Market. For thirty-four years, however, he made his home on a rented farm, situated two miles northeast of New Market. He died at Monrovia about 1900. Mr. Molesworth was married to Mary Ann Darby Kane, of New Market. She died in 1897, aged seventy-three years. He was an adherent to the Democratic Party. They were both members of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Their children were as follows: Thomas, deceased, married Drusilla Browning; Susan, the wife of Charles Lowe, of Monrovia; Samuel, of Baltimore County, MD., married to a Ms. Daffin; John William, whose name heads this sketch; Margaret, deceased, was married to Robert Thompson; James, of Howard County, MD., married a Miss Appleby; and Eldridge, died aged twenty-one years.
John William Molesworth, son of Thomas and Mary Ann Darby (Kane) Molesworth, acquired his education in the schools of his native county. He was reared as farmers’ boys usually are, being employed in various duties on the home place. When he was twenty-four years old he left home and turned his attention to railroading, becoming a fireman on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, with a run between Baltimore and Martinsburg. In 1877, he gave up his railroad position and began to farm the Dietrich place in New Market district, where he remained for a period of sixteen years.
In 1893, he bought “Sunnyside,” a farm of 290 acres. Since coming into his possession, the value of the property has been greatly enhanced by numerous improvements. He built a forty-five foot addition to the barn and a porch around the dwelling, besides erecting other buildings. His home was built over a hundred years ago, and is one of the best in Frederick County. He has just installed a new hot water system for heating his house. Mr. Molesworth is one of the most prosperous and successful agriculturalists of Urbana district. He is the owner of another farm in that district, on the Georgetown Pike, containing 207 3-4 acres of cleared land, and having on it a sixteen room house, good barn and other buildings. For many years he has been engaged in the dairy business, and his place is sanitary in every respect. He has a fine herd of Holstein cattle, and for twenty-five years has not missed taking cream to the train. He is also a director in the First Bank of Monrovia.
In politics, Mr. Molesworth has always supported the candidates of the Democratic Party. He is connected with the Methodist Episcopal Church in Ijamsville. The Molesworths are known for their large stature. Samuel, the grandfather, weighed 210 pounds. Mr. Molesworth is six feet five inches in height and weighs 275 pounds. His brothers are also large men. Thomas weighed 290 pounds; Samuel was six feet, three and a half inches and weighed 235 pounds. Mr. Molesworth has five daughters, whose aggregate weight is 800 pounds. One of his sons is fifteen years old, stands six feet, three inches and weighs 193 1-2 pounds.
Mr. Molesworth was married January 20, 1875, to Margaret Reinhart, daughter of Andrew and Maria (plain) Reinhart, of New Market district, the former living at the age of eighty-nine years and the latter deceased. Mrs. Molesworth is a Methodist. She bore the following named children: Florida Virginia, the wife of H. L. Davis, of Urbana district; Margaret earl, married to Morgan Cecil, of Frederick; Minnie R., the wife of Harry Andrew, of Middleburg, MD.; Mary Thomas, is unmarried; John; and Roger Wright.
The old John W. Molesworth farm is located at the northeast corner of the intersection with MD route 80 (Fingerboard Road) and Prices Distillery Road. St. Ignatius Catholic Church can be found here on the corner today. The old Molesworth homestead and manor house (pictured below) is the centerpiece of a popular bed & breakfast/event destination known as the Fingerboard Country Inn. Operated by Dawn Gordon, the inn is located northeast of St. Ignatius with access off Whiskey Road.
Talk about some interesting and unexpected life details? Well, that’s what you can come to expect with the bios found in Williams and McKinsey. This is true gold for a family researcher or historian who comes upon an ancestor chronicling of this kind.
One additional connection I found lies in the fact that John's son, Roger Wright Molesworth (1898-1964) is one of 600 World War I veterans we have in Mount Olivet. A few years ago, we created a memorial page for him on our sister-site MountOlivetVets.com.
Our subject, John William Molesworth, died on January 3rd, 1912, just two years after History of Frederick County was originally published. He would be buried in Area OO/Lot 28.
Thanks again T. J. C. Williams and Folger McKinsey. From the perspective of a judge and a poet, those who know nothing of our past history of Frederick and Frederick County, will usually experience a fitting “poetic justice” if given the opportunity to read your two-volume set.
Oh, and by the way, Happy Birthday to the City of Frederick......and many, many more! As a final tribute, I leave you with an address and poem delivered by Folger McKinsey upon a speaking engagement here in Frederick in 1911.