History comes alive – right here, right now! – Sisters of Fortune: America’s Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad, by Jehanne Wake
I’m not sure why, but it’s taken this book to jolt me into full awareness of the rich history that surrounds us here in central Maryland. For one thing, Doughoregan Manor, where the Caton sisters passed much of their childhood, is about ten minutes away from my front door. I actually tried to drive past it yesterday, only to be greeted by a large and unambiguous “No Trespassing” sign. Descendants of the original owners still live there. They have no desire for gawking tourists to be staring in their windows. Oh, but I did so want to gawk….
The Caton sisters – Marianne, Bess, Emily, and Louisa – were the granddaughters of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence and the last to die – at the age of 95 in 1832. Aside from being a fascinating story in an of itself, the unfolding tale of the lives of these four women and their illustrious grandsire sheds a vivid light on late 18th and early 19th century social and political life, not only here in Maryland but also in Great Britain, Ireland, and France.
These four women made their mark on the era in which they lived. Three of them – Marianne, Louisa, and Bess – made their way to England and married into the titled aristocracy. Only Emily remained at home in Maryland, marrying John MacTavish, British consul to the state of Maryland, and inhabiting various estates owned by her large and very wealthy family.
Thus juicy volume is filled with fascinating stories about the Caton and Carroll families. Many other famous individuals of the period put in an appearance. My particular favorite is the Duke of Wellington, who fell in love with Marianne Caton at a time when both were married to others.
Wellington had this portrait painted specially for Marianne. In her turn, she had her portrait done, also by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and gave it as a gift to the Duke. That’s it, above, adorning the cover of the book.
For several weeks now I’ve been researching the dwelling places of the Carroll and Caton families in this area. I’ve already mentioned Doughoregan Manor – the unspellable and unpronounceable ancestral home of the Carroll family. (The name is of Irish Gaelic derivation.):
Then there is the Charles Carroll House in Annapolis. Home to Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832), it was built by his father Charles Carroll the Squire (1702-1782). According to Jehanne Wake, all four of the Caton sisters were probably born here. (The first Charles Carroll, called the Settler, lives from 1660 or 1661 to 1720. He it was who originally emigrated to this country from Ireland in 1688. Got all that? I hope so; you never know, there might be a quiz….)
The building of Brooklandwood Plantation was begun in 1793. This dwelling was conceived as an escape from the oppressive heat and humidity of Baltimore. (Good luck with that, say I, as I sit here in air conditioned comfort and stare balefully at the sweltering out of doors. As of this writing, the temperature is 72, degrees, actually a relief from the recent string of ninety-degree plus days. But the humidity stands at 92 per cent. And the time is well before noon.)
Brooklandwood’s current location is Brooklandville, in Baltimore County. It is now part of St. Paul’s School, an independent day school.
“Whe-ew-ew–by George this is a Toaster,” exclaimed an English diplomat, unaccustomed to the temperature. “A pint of American summer would thaw all Europe in ten minutes.”
Sisters of Fortune, p. 19
Completed in 1808, the Homewood Estate was intended by Charles Carroll of Carrollton as a wedding gift for his son Charles Carroll Jr. It is currently the Homewood Museum, located on the campus of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Then, there is Folly Quarter Manor and Equestrian Estate:
This magnificent manor house, with its lush grounds and other amenities, was in the news late last year when it came for sale. From the Baltimore Sun’s write-up of Folly Quarter Manor:
Maryland lays claim to an abundant share of American history, much of it preserved in our homes and the very land on which they stand. In few places is that more evident than in Ellicott City’s Folly Quarter Manor and Equestrian Estate, a piece of our nation’s past on the market for $7 million.
The asking price includes a magnificently appointed 8,000-square-foot stone manor house, an 1,800-square-foot guest house, a caretaker’s cottage, a 10-stall horse barn, pool, tennis courts and gardens to rival any English manor.
But there is more. This incomparable equestrian estate, sitting on 47 acres of rolling hills and prime Howard County pastureland with its own pond and trout stream, possesses something even more rare — a pedigree traced from a prominent 18th-century landholder to a Founding Father, a newspaper mogul and an industrialist-turned-racetrack tycoon.
Be sure not to miss the slide show at the head of this article.
As with Doughoregan, Folly Quarter is practically around the corner from where I live. Although the Manor House is private property, I intend to drive by and see if it is visible from the road.
[8/13/2015- Pat has provided the following correction/clarification:
Folly Quarter Manor and Equestrian Estate’ was built in 1936 by the owner of Pimlico, on land once owned by Charles Carroll. It is not the ‘Folly Quarter’ manor built by Emily Caton McTavish in 1832, which is now part of the Shrine of Saint Anthony.
I haven’t mentioned the St. Anthony Shrine, but it also is very local to me, and well worth a visit.]
And speaking of Doughoregan – which I can now spell, praise be! – I was about to give up on finding out anything more about the place’s current status when my research, which has become somewhat obsessive in recent days, yielded an interesting nugget. An active business and farming operation exists on the Manor’s grounds. It’s called Carroll Farm-To-Table. They raise, cattle, pigs, and chickens, and they state on their web site that they adhere to the agricultural practices of their forebears: ‘no hormones, antibiotics or other artificial additives that change the quality and taste. We like to call it “Traditional Taste”.’
Here’s an article about Carroll Farm-To-Table that appeared in Howard Magazine this past May. How I managed to miss this, I don’t know. Or I may have seen it and not read it closely enough to realize that it was Doughoregan Manor that was being written about. (This magazine is delivered gratis to the house.)
A lovely old stone house on the corner of Frederick Road and Manor Lane is currently available for rent. You can just about take it in before being turned away by the No Trespassing sign: . I do not know whether this property is part of the older estate.
An article about Doughoregan on the site Waymarking notes that “…the Carroll family zealously guards their privacy.”
Jehanne Wake, who is British, came by her interest in the Caton sisters while she was researching the subject of the relationship of early nineteenth century women to money and investing. While digging into the archives of ING Barings Bank in 2001, she came across a letter from an ‘E. Caton:’
It was extraordinary. Her voice was so vivid and beguiling, so intelligent and authoritative–on the subject of investments and speculations, no less.
Turns out that among their several virtues and talents, the sisters were dab hands at playing the markets in the early 1800s. Also, keep in mind that they were among the first to travel to the “Old World” and secure husbands of high status. (Having each been widowed and then remarried, Marianne and Louisa actually did this twice.) Bess held on to her unmarried status longer than any of her sisters, finally accepting a proposal from George Baron Stafford in 1836, by which time she was already in her mid forties. Unlike some of the marriages of the “dollar princesses” later in the 19th and early 20th centuries, these unions possessed, at least to some degree, genuine affection on both sides.
This is an extremely complex and many-layered story. I have barely touched on its particulars. I need to apologize for any errors in this post. I welcome additions and/or corrections from those more knowledgeable than myself. Above all, I’d like to express my deep admiration for the prodigious research undertaken by Jehanne Wake in the service of this story. This book is a triumph of history vividly retold and brought to life. We Marylanders especially should be grateful. (And I am especially grateful to Pat of AAUW Readers for suggesting this title for our book discussion group.)