An American Family History

Major's Choice in Harford County

also called Poplar Grove
was Baltimore (now Harford) County, Maryland
on Bynum Run near Bel Air
at the Land of Nodd

Lush forests in Colonial America allowed settlers to build wooden homes.

On November 10, 1695, a grant of 553 acres called Major's Choice was made to Major James Maxwell.

In 1701 Robert Burgin left the 140 acres of Major's Choice in Baltimore County that he bought from Colonel John Thomas to his heirs.

In January, 1707, John Burbram rented Major's Choice in Baltimore County from Colonel James Maxwell for 4 years.

James Maxwell left Major's Choice to his son Ashael in 1727.

When Ashael died, Major's Choice went to his sister, Anne Maxwell Matthews.

In 1741-1747 Jasper Hall rented 140 acres of Major's Choice from Jacob Morris.

In 1744, Major's Choice was surveyed for James Maxwell Matthews. Major's Choice now included 280 acres on Binam's Branch, plus 250 acres of vacant land for a total of 530 acres.

James Maxwell Matthews left it to his sister, Rebecca Matthews Henderson who married Phillip Henderson.

Calvert County Maryland was originally part of Charles County. It was settled about 1650. It was called Patuxent County between 1654 and 1658.

The first European settlements in Maryland were made in 1634 when English settlers created a permanent colony.

Major's Coice in Anne Arundel

It was common for bequests to include wearing apparel.

In 1658, the proprietary government refused to recognize Thomas Marsh's right to Majors Choice, because of his rebellion. It was on the dividing line between Anne Arundel and Calvert Counties.

Thomas Marsh assigned a hundred acres on the Chesapeake to Edward Dorsey and Thomas Manning. Manning's petition for title to the land, recorded that it was taken up by Thomas Marsh,

In 1684 Thomas Sterling left 500 acres of Major's Choice in Calvert County to his son Thomas.

Before 1700 Colonel Edward Dorsey of Anne Arundel County moved to Major's Choice. John Dorsey acquired his brother's interest in Major's Choice.

In 1707 Sterling's holdings in Calvert County were sold to pay the mortgage.

In 1723, Thomas Ricketts of Anne Arundel County, mortaged 35 acres of Major's Choice in Prince George's County to Charles Carroll.

In 1725 Thomas Ricketts sold 35 acres to the Visitors.


Estate inventories give us a glance into the home life of Colonial Americans.



from The Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, Maryland by Joshua Dorsey Warfield

Thomas Marsh
This first Commissioner of Anne Arundel, coming up from Virginia with William Durand, he surveyed lands, first upon Herring Creek, but later became a merchant of the Severn.
He was an active member in every movement of the early settlers. Having become prominent in the Severn contest, the proprietary government, in 1658, refused to recognize his right to lands.

His tract known as Majors Choice, became historic as a long disputed line dividing the Counties of Anne Arundel and Calvert. He assigned a hundred acres upon the Chesapeake to Edward Dorsey and Thomas Manning. The latter in his petition for a title to the land, recorded that it was taken up by Thomas Marsh, who, on account of his rebellion, was unable to secure title to the same.

Thomas Marsh assigned, also, to William Ayres, a tract upon Herring Creek.
Removing to Kent Island he was made captain of Militia.

In his will of 1679, he named his wife Jane, daughter of John Clements; his son Thomas, and daughters Sarah and Mary.


Stirling, Thomas, Calvert Co., 24th Jan., 1684;
27th June, 1685.
. . .to son Thomas and hrs., sd. land at death of his mother, and 500 A., Major's Choice, 550 A., Stirling's Chance, and 40 A. (unnamed) at 16 yrs. of age. . .


from Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly,

March, 1707-November, 1710

An Act impowring Trustees to Sell Severall Parcells of Land late the Estate and Inheritance of Thomas Stirling deceased for Redemption of a mortgage made by him to John Hyde of London Merchant for the benefitt of Christian Stirling a minor.

Whereas Thomas Stirling late of Calvert County deceased the fourteenth Day of January in the yeare of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and foure [1704] for the Consideration of three hundred thirty four pounds four shillings and five pence sterling did Grant bargain and Sell or otherwise make over and Confirme unto John Hyde of London Merchant and his heirs and assignes for Ever A Certaine Tract of Land lyeing in Calvert County Called or known by the name of Major Choice Containeing five hundred acres more or Less togeather with four negroes or Slaves Called by the names of Tom Cesar Jenny and Pathena. To hold to him the said John Hyde his heires Executors administrators and assignes for Ever


from Maryland Calendar of Wills by Jane Baldwin Cotton, Roberta Bolling Henry

Burgin, Robert, Balto. Co., 15th May, 1701;
31st Qct., 1701.
To eld. son John and hrs., % of 140 A., Major's Choice bought from Col. Jno. Thomas.
To son Robert and hrs., residue of Major's Choice.
To wife Margaret, extx., and 2 sons afsd., personal estate equally.
Test: Jno. Thomas, Mary Ruxton, Wm. Demet. 11. 149.


from Maryland Historical Magazine, Volume 16 edited by William Hand Browne, Louis Henry Dielman

In January, 1707, one John Burbram and wife contracted with Colonel James Maxwell

to dwell and reside upon a plantation in the Forrest to the said James Maxwell belonging called Majors Choice

for four years and to pay rent for the privilege. (Baltimore County Court Proceedings, Liber I. S. No. B., 1708-1705, March Court, 1711, James Maxwell versus John Burbram.) This tract lies on Bynams Run very near Bel Air. This was one of the earliest plantations in the forest.


from Prince George's Land Records 1717-1726 - Liber I - folio 473 • Indenture, 25 Mar 1723; enrolled 28 Aug 1723
From: Thomas Ricketts, planter of Anne Arundel County
To: Charles Carroll of the City of Annapolis, Gentleman
For £80 a tract of 180 acres called Ryley's Discovery surveyed for Hugh Ryley around 10 Jul 1700;
also 35 acres called Major's Choice surveyed for Col. Ninian Beall around 1 Aug 1686
/s/ Thomas Ricketts
Wit: Charles Walker (mark), Van Swearingen, Ana Tillman (mark)
Thomas Ricketts acknowledged deed before Edmond Benson and Charles Hammond; Jos. Beale, Clerk of Anne Arundel County, certified Benson and Hammond 13 Jun 1723


Will of James Maxwell, Gent., Baltimore Co., Maryland,
4 Jan 1727-8 Mar 1727.
To: younger son James & heirs plantation on Watertons Creek incl. plantation seated by elder son James;
son Asahell & heirs land bought of Moses Groome, 27 ac bought of Robert Cuchin, Major's Choice at the land of Nodd;
dau Ann & heirs, 500 ac Yapp at head of Sassafras.
Wit: Middlemore, Roberts, Hastwell, Smart.
Not signed. (6:64)

A gentleman had no title, but descended from an aristocratic family, was of the landed gentry, and had a coat of arms.

from Assembly Proceedings, May 24-June 24, 1749

And it likewise appears unto your Committee, that the said [Jasper] Hall, at the Time of making the last Distress, and for some Time before, had Right to a certain Tract of Land, called Major's Choice, in the same County [Baltimore], containing one hundred and forty Acres, the yearly Rent whereof amounting to five Shillings and seven Pence half-penny per Annum; which, from 1741 to 1747, the Time of making the Distress, would have been thirty three Shillings and nine Pence Sterling.

Your Committee take Leave to observe, that the latter Distress was made on different Premisses, and that altho' the said Jasper Hall had a Right to the aforesaid Land called Major's Choice, that it was not then, nor hath been yet legally conveyed to him, the Fee Simple [a form of freehold ownership] remaining in a certain Jacob Morris.

American colonists continued to use British monetary units, namely the pound, shilling and pence for which £1 (or li) equalled 20s and 1s equalled 12d. In 1792 the dollar was established as the basic unit of currency.

from Maryland Historical Magazine, Winter 1964

. . .The seven men appointed by the Act of 1725 as visitors for the school in Prince George's county were the Hon. Charles Calvert, Esq. Governor, the Reverend Jacob Henderson, Robert Tyler, Colonel Joseph Belt, Thomas Gantt, George Noble, and Colonel John Bradford. . .

On March 15, 1725, the visitors bought from Thomas Ricketts 215 acres of land, being parts of two adjoining tracts, 180 acres of Reyly's Discovery and 35 acres of Major's Choice. The first named tract was known also as Ryley's (Riley's) Discovery or First Part of Ryly's Discovery; the second named tract had been laid out for Ninian Beall in 1687 by the name of The Major's Lott and Thomas Ricketts had received title to it by that name, but in deeding it to the visitors he seems to have ? alteration in its name. This land lies on the north side of a branch about a half mile north of St. Barnabas church in Queen Anne parish. Just why the visitors purchased a tract of 215 acres instead of 100 acres, as required by law, is a matter of conjecture. Ricketts was living in Anne Arundel county; he had already disposed of some of his land in Prince George's county, so perhaps was anxious to sell the remainder and offered it to the visitors at a good price.

Several years later Thomas Ricketts brought suit against the visitors claiming that they had promised to pay one hundred twenty pounds sterling for the land, but had paid only one hundred sixteen pounds eight shillings of that amount and still owed him three pounds twelve shillings. The matter was referred by the court to three arbitrators who declared in favor of Ricketts and awarded him the three pounds twelve shillings sterling money plus 356 pounds of tobacco for costs of the suit.

The visitors sued by Thomas Ricketts in 1729 were Rev. Jacob Henderson, Robert Tyler, Joseph Belt, Ralph Crabb, Thomas Gantt, George Noble and Edward Sprigg. . .

Personal property can be called personalty (personality), goods, chattels, articles, or movable property. It includes both animate or inanimate property.

from Maryland Historical Trust Inventory Form

Major's Choice

On November 10, 1695, a grant of 553 acres called Major's Choice was made to Major James Maxwell. In 1695, this land was part of Baltimore County, which included present-day Harford and Cecil Counties and Baltimore City. It is unlikely that Maxwell ever resided on this property, as absentee ownerships of large tracts of land was common at this time. The beginning point of this first survey was described as "standing on a ridge," "beginning at a bounded poplar." The "bounded poplar" is the point at which surveys of adjoining tracts began and ended for the next hundred years.

The land remained in the Maxwell/Matthews family for nearly 100 years, passing from generation to generation. Genealogical research indicates that Major James Maxwell had a daughter who married a Matthews and had a son named James Maxwell Matthews. (The following generation also named a son James Maxwell Matthews.) The land was also divided during these years.

In 1744, a re-survey of Major's Choice was made for James Maxwell Matthews by his Lordship's Land Office. This re-survey was patented on March 5, 1744, and recorded in deed books on March 18, 1746. Major's Choice now included 280 acres on "Binam's Branch," plus 250 acres of vacant land for a total of 530 acres. The deed contained a plat of a retangular-shaped property, which included the western and souther part of the current Southampton Farm property. James Maxwell Matthew died on March 7, 1764.

The land was apparently inherited by a son also named James Maxwell Matthews. The younger Matthews appears on the Bush River Lower Hundred of 1774 and 1776 (age 40 in 1776). James Matthews is listed as owning Major's Choice in 1783.


from An Architectural History of Harford County, Maryland
. . .It might, therefore be surprising to learn that the builder of the handsome stone house [Major's Choice (Poplar Grove)] was a Scotsman. (Perhaps he loved two countries.) Shortly before the Revolution, Phillip Henderson, who had earned a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh, married Rebecca Matthew, sister and heiress of James Maxwell Matthews.

Rebecca had received the 600 acre tract Major's Choice from her brother [Ashael Maxwell], who, in turn, had received it from his uncle, James Maxwell of the Gunpowder Neck.

Dr. Henderson served in the Maryland militia during the Revolution and shortly after Yorktown started work on this clean-lined stone dwelling. He finished it in 1787, according to a datestone in the northwest wall, and in 1798 was taxed on 500 acres, twelve slaves, and a 33 x 30 2-story stone house. . .


from Maryland Historical Trust Inventory Form

Poplar Grove

The tract on which Poplar Grove Farm is located dates from 1600, when the British Crown granted to one James Maxwell a 600-acre tract called Major's Choice. It was passed down to James Maxwell Matthews in 1700, who held it util his death in 1760. The tract then went to Rebecca Matthews, who married Dr. Phillip Henderson. He was active in the Revolutionary War, serving in Captain Carville Hall's First Company of Harford troops in 1775. Henderson built the present house in 1787, and the stone outbuildings before that. With his death in 1812, the farm went to Thomas Henderson and then to James McCormack, father of J. Lawrence McCormack. The McCormacks owned the farm from the 1820's until 1929, and were credited with the introduction of Guernsey cattle to Harford County. The 1878 Martenent Map shows the owner of the house to be James McCormack. Since 1929, the owner of the farm has been Orly G. Reedy, and this is the last operating farm to be encompassed within the Bel Air town limits.

Maryland was established with religious freedom for Catholics. The colonial economy was based on tobacco cultivated by Africans who had been enslaved.

from Genealogical and Memorial Encyclopedia of the State of Maryland

Colonel Edward Dorsey, son of Edward Dorsey, the American ancestor, came to Maryland before 1664. He is doubtless the Edward Dorsey brought over by Robert Bullen in 1661; but whether this was his first trip across the sea is not known. He was a Justice for the County of Anne Arundel in 1679, again in 1686, and again in 1689; was styled "Captain in 1686, "Major" in 1687; commissioned Major of Horse, of Anne Arundel county, September 4, 1689; Major of Anne Arundel county, October 9, 1694; was commissioned Associate Commissioner in Chancery, October 17, 1694; Burgess of Anne Arundel county in 1694, again in 1695, 1696, 1697, and for Baltimore county, 1701-1705. He was Commissioner, also Judge of High Court of Chancery, March 2, 1695-96; and was styled "Colonel" in 1702; was one of the committee in 1694 to lay out town lots and a common for Annapolis, Trustee of King William and Mary School in 1696, and a Commissioner for the erection of St. Anne's Church, Annapolis. The first session of the Legislature in Annapolis was held at the house of Major Edward Dorsey, commencing February 28, 1694-95.

Prior to 1700, and after his marriage to his second wife, Margaret Larkin, Colonel Edward Dorsey removed from Annapolis to Major's Choice, west of Waterloo, and north of the Old Brick Church. Colonel Dorsey's sons by Sarah Wyatt, his first wife, were located near him upon Long Beach and Major's Choice."

Colonel Dorsey owned landed estates not only in Anne Arundel county, but also in Baltimore county. Colonel Edward Dorsey died at Major's Choice (now Howard county), in 1705. His will is dated October 26, 1704, and was proved December 31, 1705.

Children by first wife, Sarah (Wyatt) Dorsey:
1. Edward, died young.
2. Samuel, married Jane Dorsey.
3. Joshua,
4. John, born 1688; married, April 8, 1708, Honor Elder.
5. Nicholas, died 1718; married, December 20, 1709, Frances Hughes.
6. Benjamin, living in 1715.
7. Hannah, married Samuel Howard.
8. Sarah, married John Petticord.

Children by second wife, Margaret (Larkin) Dorsey:
9. Larkin.
10. Charles.
11. Francis, died 1749; married Elizabeth .
12. Edward.
13. Ann, married John Hammond.

The widow, Margaret (Larkin) Dorsey, married (second) John Israel, formerly of London, England.

Joshua Dorsey, son of Colonel Edward and Sarah (Wyatt) Dorsey, was born in 1686, and died November 28, 1747. He inherited from his father by his will, Barnes Folly and part of Long Reach. He acquired the interest of his brother, Samuel, in Major's Choice, Howard county [??], and afterward resided there.

On June 10, 1734, Joshua and his brother, John, patented 632 acres under the name of Brother's Partnership, and on November 23, 1747, a deed was executed, dividing the same. Joshua Dorsey was a Justice of Baltimore county, 1712-14, and Captain of Militia, 1742.

He married, May 16, 1711, Anne Ridgely, daughter of Henry and Katharine (Greenberry) Ridgely, at Christ Church, Queen Caroline Parish, Anne Arundel county, Maryland. His will was dated November, 1747, and proved February 6, 1748.

Children of Captain Joshua and Anne (Ridgely) Dorsey:
1. Henry, born November 8, 1712; married Elizabeth Worthington.
2. Philemon, of whom later.
3. Rachael, born July 6, 1717; married John Warfield.
4. Elizabeth, born November 6, 1720.
5. Joshua, born March 6, 1723; died unmarried.
6. Nicholas, born June 2, 1725; married Elizabeth Worthington .
7. Catharine, born December 21, 1727, died April 20, 1746.
8. Anne, born October 15, 1730. 9. Sarah, born May 27, 1733.
10. Charles, born November 11, 1736.

In 1688, during the Glorious Revolution, the Protestant king and queen,William and Mary, took the English throne from Catholic King James II. The bloodless revolution profoundly impacted the American colonies.


from The Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, Maryland by Joshua Dorsey Warfield

Major Edward Dorsey married, first, Sarah, daughter of Nicholas Wyatt, the pioneer surveyor of the Severn, who had come up from Virginia with his wife, Damaris, and her daughter, Mary, afterward the wife of Major John Welsh. She was the half-sister of Sarah (Wyatt) Dorsey. Upon the death of Nicholas Wyatt, in 1673, he left a will made in 1671, in which Mrs. Wyatt was made executrix.

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©Roberta Tuller 2020
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