Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Curious About Some Georges

In the process of discovering that someone thought my mother-in-law's ancestor, John Gordon, was son of a man in colonial Maryland named George Gordon, I stumbled upon yet another set of articles on this man. This time, not only was successful merchant George Gordon fingered as the first sheriff of the brand new Frederick County, but he was also labeled as the possible namesake of what has become a quaint village enclave in current-day Washington, D.C., called Georgetown.

I'm not entirely sold on this theory, but let's reconstruct the story—and meet up with a few other Georges in the process. First of all, George Gordon was apparently a successful businessman and landowner in several counties in colonial Maryland. Much of his business was centered in a place called Prince George's County, created in 1696 and named after Queen Anne's husband, Prince George of Denmark.

There, at the end of 1734, our George Gordon bought some property, called at the time by the unflattering moniker, "Knave's Disappointment." The parcel included one hundred acres, and apparently was next to property owned by another George, named George Beall. The land owned by both of these Georges apparently was enviably situated, being on the shores of the Potomac River, just before the fall line at the farthest point reachable inland by ocean-going vessels.

George Gordon made good use of this coveted position, building an inspection house upon some land already in use as a tobacco trading post. Other businesses quickly grew up around his business, transforming the location into a thriving port in colonial Maryland.

A few years later—in 1748, to be exact—the provincial Maryland government thought it best to carve portions out of Prince George's County to create the new county of Frederick, where successful businessman George Gordon was promptly named its first sheriff. However, not long after that, someone in government cast a lustful eye on the prospering port area, and by 1751, the provincial legislature in Maryland authorized an offer that couldn't be refused: the purchase of sixty acres from the two Georges. Thus, the immovable specter of eminent domain saw to it that the deed was done.

Despite howls of protest from the other George—Beall wrote a note of protest over being forced to accept his share of the £280 offered as price for the land (not to mention, the two lots each of the Georges were to select for themselves, over and above the sale price mandated)—apparently, both men accepted the offer that could not be refused, and moved on with their lives.

The land, laid out in plans for a town, eventually was called George Town. Because the town's survey was completed in 1752, during the reign of King George II, it had subsequently been presumed that Georgetown was named in his honor. However, oddly enough, another thought had been circulated—at least it was noted, over one hundred years ago—that perhaps the community was given its name in honor of some other Georges. According to a 1901 government publication by physicist and District historian William Tindall,
The general supposition is that the town was named in honor of George II, then the reigning sovereign of Great Britain, but it is also contended that it was named as a compliment to the two Georges from whom the site was obtained.

Could the lovely Georgetown indeed have been the namesake—at least partially—of my mother-in-law's fifth great-grandfather? Someone had once mentioned that possibility to me, but back then, I had dismissed it immediately from mind. It seemed like one of those family fables which get blown far beyond reality. I never even considered it to be more than hearsay until I recently found the idea drawn up in a post online by a fellow Gordon researcher at Memoir: Tales of Our Past, and thanks also to discovering the Corinne Hanna Diller article published years ago by the Maryland Genealogical Society.

Whether Georgetown owes its name to a king, a queen's consort, or two unfortunate Georges who learned they just couldn't fight "city hall," one thing is certain: I'll never think about that place quite the same, from this point onward. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jacqui,

    A bit like you, I've been researching Gordon ancestors of an "in-law" - my daughter-in-law. I can trace back to John Gordon, husband of Mary Duke, and I can trace back from George Gordon of Maryland, to his ancestors here in Scotland. I've read Ms Dillers well-researched article about George Gordon, but I'm struggling to find the evidence that John Gordon, the son of George Gordon, is the John Gordon who married Mary Duke. Are you able to point me in the right direction, or provide any clues?
    Thanks and best regards,


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