A Place Called Wye House
Jul 20, 2012 05:07PM ● Published by Anonymous
One can easily imagine a time when horse-drawn carriages rumbled along deep-rutted roads carrying bewigged ladies and gentlemen to this southern plantation house sprawled out across the rolling lawn. Waiting to greet them to his home of comfort and elegance was Edward Lloyd.
Leading his guests through the four-columned Palladian portico, he ushered them inside. With a rustle of their silk skirts, the ladies swept into the long center hall and marveled at the spacious light-filled rooms.
Today visitors step into an historic treasure when entering this property that has sheltered 11 generations of the Lloyd family. Welcome to Wye House.
Meeting Mary Tilghman
Mary Carmichael Tilghman sits in an easy chair and greets a visitor. At 93-years-old, she’s still charming and knowledgeable. She no longer lives in the mansion, but in an adjacent brick dwelling known as the Captain’s House.
“It’s older than the main house,” she says. “It’s attributed to being the detached kitchen for an early Edward Lloyd.” This home is commonly thought to be part of a vanished larger dwelling.
As she recounts the family’s impressive history, she says, “Nine Edward Lloyds have lived here.” Edward I first settled in Virginia, and served in the House of Burgesses. After feuding with the Royalist governor, the staunch Puritan Lloyd and his followers received a land grant in Maryland. Lloyd then founded the town of Providence near what later became Annapolis.This didn’t turn out to be providential for Lloyd and the settlement failed. Ever resourceful, he bought 3,000 acres on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and built his house.
It was Edward Lloyd IV (1744–1796,) who built the home standing today, around 1792. The Chase-Lloyd House served as his Annapolis town house.
“Wye was a five-part house when he built it,” says Mrs. Tilghman. “Although some say it burned down, that’s not true, but it’s now comprised of seven parts. It’s a treasure of a house.”
Built in late Georgian–early Federal style, it’s also the most intact 18th century historic property on the Eastern Shore. Consisting of a gable-front central block, it’s enhanced by two wings, each connected by a one-story hyphen. Two one-story end units complete the structure.
The main block’s interior includes two parlors, a formal dining room, and an office. The formal north parlor is filled mainly with its original furniture and portraits of long-ago lives, while a screened porch on the rear of the house overlooks the gardens and invites one to sit and relax.
“It’s the most complicated house to take care of with lots of stairs,” says Mrs.Tilghman. Comfortably ensconced in the Captain’s House, she’s glad her son Richard and his family live in the main house. “Now I can relax,” she says.
In the 18th century, much of the home’s furniture was shipped from England, via the Wye River behind the property. “We relied on England to send us most supplies—from gloves to garden implements, and they’d take a year to arrive.”
By the beginning of the 19th century when the house belonged to Maryland Governor Edward Lloyd V (1779–1834), Americans were supplying most of their own needs.
The famous Orangery, the oldest 18th-century greenhouse in North America, was part of that self-sufficient spirit. Here, Lloyd V grew oranges, lemons, and exotic plants. He also installed a billiard table on its second floor, where gentlemen could gather to enjoy a bit of rowdiness.
Yet Lloyd V was all business when it came to running his many farms, which totaled 42,000 non-contiguous acres. Wye House Farm functioned as a small village. About 160 enslaved workers not only toiled in the wheat fields, they operated shoemaking, cooper, weaving, and smith shops. They also ran a saw mill and tended to the livestock.
Perhaps Lloyd didn’t notice a small slave child named Frederick Bailey (Douglass) whose grandmother walked him 12 miles to the farm where he stayed for about 18 months. Here, he slept in a kitchen closet of the Captain’s House where his owner, Aaron Anthony, lived as overseer. Today, the great Abolitionist’s statue stands proudly at the Talbot County Courthouse.
After slavery was abolished, tenant farmers began managing the Lloyd farms. “My mother remembers a festive day each December when they butchered 200 hogs, which soon became slabs of hanging bacon, smoked ham and ground-up sausage,”Mrs. Tilghman recalls.
Today the property consists of 1,300 acres managed by two tenant farmers. “It’s nice we have all this land, but we really don’t need this much. Maintaining the property is an expensive proposition,” she says. She inherited the estate in 1993 from her mother’s sister. “It was a process of elimination and I was it.”
That’s changed lately. The widowed great-grandmother of five says, “We don’t only raise crops, we raise children.” Meanwhile, intermingled generations of famous Eastern Shore families rest serenely in the family cemetery.
Dr. Mark Leone Digs Into the Past
There’s more activity at the Long Green, a mile-long area that stretches from the old overseer’s cottage to the Wye River. This area is being unearthed by anthropology professor, Dr. Mark Leone and his student group of the University of Maryland’s “Archaeology in Annapolis Project.” Aided by computer technology, they’re digging deep into the clay to bring some fascinating historical finds to light.
“Over the course of seven summers, we’ve focused on the Long Green and dug up about 100,000 artifacts. We’ve found pottery shards from dishes, foundations of slave cabins, and West African religious remnants. Below these, we’ve discovered artifacts dating back to the time of Christ,” says Leone.
The team’s second focus has been on the Orangery where they’re conducting pollen studies of the plants on which Lloyd V experimented with.
“He and his enslaved Africans, created a Southern culture that revolved around food,” remarks Leone. “This included his experiments in scientific farming methods. Although wheat was his major crop, he also grew a mix of tropical plants, native food plants, and native medicinal and utilitarian plants.”
In essence he created an outdoor laboratory comprised of the greenhouse, the gardens, and the fields.
Leone has worked closely with African-Americans from nearby Unionville and Copperville—some of whom are descendents of the enslaved workers at Wye House Farm and who are interested in discovering their heritage.
One of his assistants, doctoral student Amanda Tang says, “The uniqueness of the ties these descendant families had to those who lived at Wye is probably the most valuable and rewarding part of our work.”
“We also have close ties to the Tilghmans’ who have helped fund us in so many ways and have made the vast number of historical documents regarding their family available to us.”
It was Mary Tilghman who helped find a set of 1850’s cookbooks, which Tang used in her research focusing on regional foods common to both European and African Americans.
“Our goal is to create a picture of culture that the people of African and European descent have made together,” Leone remarks. “We’re trying to recreate a comprehensive and accurate social history.”
He mentions Mrs. Tilghman. “She’s a great lady who isn’t afraid of history.”
“It was a whole culture I wasn’t even aware of,” says Mrs. Tilghman, now an honorary member of the Frederick Douglass Honor Society. The improved relationship between both communities is “the biggest change I’ve seen.”
Photographs by Tony J. Lewis