This outline briefly describes what we currently know and do not know about the history of the site now known as Maxwell Hall. The periods were chosen to spark thought and discussion about how to understand and interpret Maxwell Hall in a broader historic context—and move beyond the concept of history as a succession of landowners.
Names of people known to have
lived on the property, 1768-2008.
Where the Rivers Bend: First People, 10,000-8,000 BCE – European Encounter
The history of human habitation in the area goes back at least 10,000 years. Little is currently known about the presence of Native People on Maxwell Hall’s original 486 acres. Work at nearby Serenity Farm, however, is instructive and suggestive. The potential for learning more about Native people will come from Piscataway/Conoy people whose ancestors lived in the region and from current scholarship.
English Colonization, 1608-1760s
We know little about what was happening around the area now known as Maxwell Hall as Europeans began colonizing the Chesapeake. John Smith’s journeys around the Chesapeake are well documented, as is Maryland colonial history. Maxwell Seat was, according to a 1768 patent, once part of the Manor of Calverton. The amount of scholarship on early Maryland has exploded since the 1970s. So, the history of Charles County and Maryland in this period is much more ‘knowable’ than it ever was before.
Maxwell’s Seat: Plantation in a Slave Society, 1768-1865
George Maxwell, a fourth generation Marylander and Charles County transplant, acquired the 487-acre site in 1768. For nearly a century afterwards, it was owned and operated as a plantation by white families who enslaved African and African American men, women, and children. We know a modest amount about the white families—Maxwells (1768-1792), Adams (1792-1812), Keeches (1812-1847), Mortons (1847-1876), and the War of 1812-era in particular. We know little about the enslaved people, the plantation’s layout, daily life, and how it functioned in the wider world and so on.
Maxwell Hall: Tenant Farm, 1865-1967
Maxwell Hall remained the property of Morton family members for another century following the abolition of slavery. The owners, from Catherine (Morton) Adams (1876-1897) to James and Gertrude Bowling (1898-1967), rented out the property to tenant farm families. We know little about this period, other than some names of possible tenant farm families (Moreland and Stonestreet).
Maxwell Hall as Speculative Real Estate, 1967-1980
Much reduced now to its current 22 acres, Maxwell Hall is acquired by investors with an interest in developing the property for housing (Joseph Goldstein and Star Enterprise, Ltd, 1967-1979 and Maxwell Hall Joint Ventures, 1979-1980). Attempts to do so failed, setting up its return to a family interested in preserving it. During this time, it should be noted, Maxwell Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places (1974).
Preserving Maxwell Hall, 1980-2007
We know a great deal about this period thanks to Peter Swann whose parents, Edwin O. and Marion (Bobby) Swann, bought the property determined to preserve the neglected, dilapidated house, barns, outbuildings, and grounds. Without the Swann’s, there would be no Maxwell Hall to interpret and enjoy.
In the Public Trust, 2007-date
Charles County government acquired Maxwell Hall in 2007 and has been its steward ever since. Interest in the historic site rose during the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, in particular the 2014 commemoration of the British march on Washington. The involvement of the Daughters of 1812, the Hughesville Garden Club and founding in 2018 of the Friends of Maxwell Hall brought new energy and commitment to preservation, interpretation, and public engagement. There is much yet to learn and understand about the history of this place and the people who lived and worked here.