Barnes Compton

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Barnes Compton
Barnes Compton.jpg
Barnes Compton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Maryland's 5th congressional district
In office
1885; election to 51st United States Congress in 1889 successfully contested by Sydney E. Mudd; regained seat in 1891 – 1895
Preceded by Hart Benton Holton; Sydney Mudd from 1889 to 1891
Succeeded by Charles Edward Coffin

Barnes Compton (16 November 1830 – 2 December 1898) was a planter and politician, born in Port Tobacco, Charles County, Maryland and orphaned as a child.[1] In 1851, Compton took control of his numerous estates, becoming wealthy and the second largest slaveholder in Maryland.[1] He was elected as a state representative before the Civil War and as speaker of the state house.

After the war, Compton continued to be active in Democratic Party politics. He was appointed as Maryland State Treasurer, serving more than a decade, from 1872-1885.[1][2] He was repeatedly elected to the US House of Representatives from the fifth congressional district of Maryland (serving 1884–1894, although unseated in 1889 for one term by a House Committee as a result of its ruling of voter fraud and intimidation in the 1888 election.)[3]

Compton served in many leadership roles for public welfare and educational institutions, on the board of trustees for Charlotte Hall Academy, the School Commission of Charles County, and the Maryland Insane Asylum. In addition, he led private institutions, and was director of Citizens Savings Bank in Laurel, Maryland.

Early life[edit]

Barnes Compton was born on November 16, 1830, in Port Tobacco, Charles County, the son of William Penn Compton (June 2, 1796 [4] - JAN 6 1838[5] ) and Mary Key (Barnes) Compton (b. 1804 St. Mary's Co., MD -d. 17 JUL 1834, Charles Co., MD[5][6])[1] (his mother is often listed incorrectly as Mary Clarissa Barnes.) Both parents were descended from leading families in both Charles and St. Mary's counties in Maryland.[1] (On his mother's side, the boy Compton was descended from politician Philip Key, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 1779 to 1790, who was a maternal great-grandfather.)[7]

Born into wealth on his family's plantation, Barnes Compton was the only child and orphaned when young. His mother died when he was three, and five years later in 1838, his father died.[1] His maternal grandfather John Barnes became guardian of Compton. After Barnes died in 1843, Compton at age 13 was sole heir to both the Compton and Barnes' estates.[1] These totaled eight properties that provided an income of over $5300 per annum by the time Barnes came of age.[1] In 1851 at age 21, when he took possession of his inheritance, Compton became the second largest slaveholder in Charles County.[1]

After his grandfather's death, the young Compton saw his family members bicker over guardianship and inheritance as they struggled to represent him. Two months after his grandfather died, Compton petitioned the Orphans Court of Charles County for guardianship to pass to his maternal uncle, Richard Barnes, rather than to his paternal uncle Wilson P. Compton. At age 14, Barnes Compton testified that he had

"since his earliest infancy been in constant association with Richard Barnes and become attached to him, while to his other relations who have applied for his Guardianship [he was] a comparative stranger ... and he could hardly think that thus applying they can be activated by any regard for the interests of the petitioner."[1]

Richard Barnes was a judge in the Orphans Court.[8] With his wife Mary, Richard Barnes raised three children of their own and took in at least five others, many near the young Compton's age. When the court overruled Barnes Compton’s plea and granted guardianship to Wilson Compton, the boy fought against the ruling. His case was dismissed by the Maryland Court of Appeals.[1]

Compton moved with his appointed guardian Wilson Compton and his family to Rosemary Lawn, a plantation Barnes inherited from his mother, located in the Hill Top District of Charles County. It was described later by the historic preservation part of the US Department of the Interior by the following:

"The Rosemary Lawn farm complex is unquestionably one of Charles County's most significant nineteenth and early twentieth century historic properties, regardless of whether it is viewed in a historic agricultural or historic architectural context."[9][10]

In addition to the boy, Wilson Compton, his wife and son William Compton, and mother Elizabeth (Penn) Compton (Barnes' paternal grandmother) resided at Compton's Rosemary Lawn estate.[1] The guardian Wilson Compton worked to improve his nephew's properties. Over the next five years, he frequently petitioned the Orphans Court for permission to use part of Compton's income to that end.[1] The additional properties owned by Barnes Compton were: Muncasters, Hill Top, Green Wood Farm, Rog's Cold, and Chimney House in Port Tobacco; and another plantation in Charles County large enough to have two separate houses for tenant farmers.[1]

Wilson Compton also worked to protect his nephew's inheritance through court actions. He filed a caveat against the will of John Barnes, ward Compton's maternal grandfather, declaring that non compos menti (mental incompetence) negated John Barnes' last testament and that all property should pass to Compton, his grandson. John Barnes did leave almost his entire estate to Barnes Compton, excepting $500 to William C. Barnes and the value of two slaves who were manumitted, thus taking them out of the property of the estate.

During these years, the young Compton was educated and groomed as a Southern gentleman. At age fourteen, he entered Charlotte Hall Military Academy.[1][11] He boarded there for the next four years, returning in summers to Rosemary Lawn. His uncle gave him an allowance for clothes and spending money each year, from which the youth also bought a horse.[1] In December 1847 the court awarded $700 annually for the young man's education at Princeton College, New Jersey. While there, he distinguished himself as junior orator in the American Whig Society for the year 1850. He graduated with a B.A. in 1851.[6][12]

After college, Compton returned to Charles County to take over his inheritance.[1] Wilson Compton's improvement of his estate paid off. Between 1847 and 1851, the income from the Compton properties more than doubled.[1]

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1858 the young Compton married Margaret Holliday Sothoron of St. Mary's County, Maryland, daughter of planter John Henry Sothoron and his wife. Their wedding was said to have been a

"…grand affair with twelve groomsmen and as many bridesmaids."[1]

After honeymooning inear Niagara Falls in New York, the couple likely moved into Rosemary Lawn.[1]

Wilson Compton and his family moved to the "Loch Leven" plantation, inherited by Barnes Compton from his father. In 1857 Compton and Wilson each bought a share of the house there. After the war in 1871, Compton sold his interest to his cousin William Compton, Wilson's son. When William Compton went bankrupt a couple of years later during the major recession, his interest was sold at public auction to Henry Neale.[1]

Barnes and Margaret settled into married life as wealthy planters. In 1860 they lived at the property known as "Hill Top," near Welcome, Maryland, with their one-year-old daughter Mary. They held 105 slaves at that plantation,[1] likely most worked as field laborers.

Entry into politics[edit]

Though Compton enjoyed life as a planter, he wanted the excitement of politics. He ran for the state legislature in 1855 on the last Whig Party ticket, but was defeated by five votes.[1]

In 1859 Compton was elected to the House of Delegates on a Democratic Party ticket. The 1861 session was held at Frederick, Maryland instead of Annapolis for war-related reasons. Compton never reached the assembly. Along the way, he learned that a number of legislative members suspected of Confederate sympathies had been arrested by Federal authorities when they arrived at Frederick.

He escaped across the Potomac River into Virginia, where he stayed until his term expired. At that time, Compton returned home and lived without interference. In 1865, he was arrested and briefly imprisoned at the Old Capital in Washington on suspicion of aiding and abetting John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The information proved false and Compton was released without charge after four days.

Post-war political activities[edit]

Though Compton was elected to the Maryland state senate in 1866,[13] the constitutional convention of 1867 forced another election. Compton was elected and once at the senate, elected president of the senate. He was elected president of the state senate again from 1870 to 1872.[13]

That year he was appointed by a Democratic governor as state treasurer, a position he held until 1885. In 1874 Compton also served as state tobacco inspector. In 1877 he became a board member for the newly established State Hospital for the Insane, which had been newly established by the Reconstruction legislature.[13] In 1879 he was appointed as treasurer of that hospital.[13]

Board of Public Works[edit]

As state treasurer, Compton officially sat on the Board of Public Works with the governor and the comptroller of the treasury. The Board of Public Works was established in the 1864 Constitution to "[supervise] all Public Works in which the State may be interested as stockholder or creditor…and recommend such legislation as they shall deem necessary and requisite to promote or protect the interests of the State in the said Public Works."

In the 1870s, following Democrats regaining power in the state legislature, the Board undertook a major construction program involving large sums of money, for new improvements as well as major repair projects to state facilities. In addition, it oversaw the purchase and sale of stocks in the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company. Construction projects included the House of Correction (later known as the State Penitentiary, now closed) at Jessup, Anne Arundel County, and the State Normal School, for training of teachers. The latter developed as Towson University. In addition, the board directed construction of a new State Tobacco Warehouse, and repairs to the State House in Annapolis.

Accusations of corruption related to House of Correction contract[edit]

On June 26 and June 28, 1875, the Baltimore American newspaper published an anonymous letter to the editor and a follow-up article reporting that the Board of Public Works, as overseers of construction of the new House of Correction in Jessup, had mismanaged the process or were guilty of political corruption.

The June 26 letter to the editor, signed Anti-Monopoly, criticized the poor choice of land for the Jessup facility, as it had neither clay nor lumber, both necessary for construction of the planned buildings. It criticized the Board's allowing the chosen site to be purchased first by a "prominent Republican from Anne Arundel County" for $12,000. When the state Trustees purchased the land, they paid $13,000, giving the other man a quick profit. Land records revealed that the two purchases both occurred on December 3, 1874. Passage of the transaction through a middleman who had also held political office, seem planned rather than coincidental.

The follow-up article noted that Henry E. Loane, Democratic delegate from Baltimore City in 1874 and 1876, received the contract for building the House of Correction. Another person was reported to have underbid him by several thousand dollars, but was rejected by the Board. The paper reported that the lower bidder was apparently hired as the project superintendent, at a salary of $2500. Either way, there was appearance of party favoritism and conflict of interest. The paper noted, "In these days of 'rings' and 'ringmasters,' a coincidence like this is certain to provoke comment."[14]

The newspaper reported that trustee George William Brown of the state Board had intended to submit a proposal for the building contract, but on May 13, 1875, the Board rejected Brown & Co. because it had failed to present the names of all in the firm. In addition, it did not substantiate a bond with the bid. Two other companies, J.H. Horton & Co. and Thomas Binyion & Co., also failed in this requirement, and Codling & Loane was awarded the contract.

On July 17, 1875, the following members of the Board of Public Works: Governor James Black Groome, Treasurer Barnes Compton, and Comptroller Levin Woolford, individually filed suits of libel against Charles C. and Albert K. Fulton, proprietors of the Baltimore American, claiming $20,000 each in damages.

The case was settled in open court on February 17, 1876. The Hagerstown Mail chastised the Board for failing to be open to public criticism, a requirement of American officeholders. A day after the court settlement, the Baltimore Sun reported that the Board of Public Works was expected to petition the legislature for an extra $200,000 over the $250,000 appropriation in order to complete the House of Correction as planned. Though optimistic at staying on budget in 1876, Comptroller Woolford's 1877 Annual Report recognized that nearly the whole of the budget had been spent, and "a considerable sum will be necessary to furnish the building and provide heat, water and light, so as to fit the institution for the reception of prisoners." That considerable sum was expected to total $25,000 in 1878 and another $86,000 in 1879.[citation needed]

Compton and his associates on the Board encountered additional financial controversies in subsequent years.

Repairing the State House[edit]

On March 30, 1876, Governor Groome signed an appropriation for $32,000 for repairs and improvements to the State House. After a year of delays, while the Board of Public Works focused on the House of Correction and State Normal School, they instructed George A. Frederick, architect for repairs to the State House, to contract with various builders to begin work in April 1877. Compton and the Board re-commissioned Frederick to supervise the project. Once work began, Frederick and the Board quickly realized that the building was in much worse condition than was first understood, and would require a new roof and other major repairs. In addition, as the building had to be stripped to address these major needed repairs, it needed to be replastered and painted. As Groome testified on behalf of the Board of Public Works, the Board believed that the thoroughly renovated building also needed to have new furniture. "We could have finished in a plain, simple and Quaker-like way", he said, "But…if we did the work slovenly and in a plain manner, we did not think we would be justified in exceeding the appropriation."[citation needed]

The budget for the project of $32,000 quickly more than tripled to $111,388.29. In 1878 the House of Delegates appointed a Select Committee to investigate the State House project. The Select Committee placed blame for the overruns on the architect George Frederick. They said that while the government officials were not to blame for failing to realize the magnitude of the repairs needed, Frederick should have been more knowledgeable and not bid the project so low, as the unexpected is common in major building renovations. In addition, the Committee questioned the fee structure that gave Frederick a 5% commission for the project, implying that he added costs to raise his compensation. The state government eventually paid the full costs of the contractors and suppliers, but it never paid Frederick for working on the State House.[citation needed]

US Congress[edit]

Elected in 1884 to the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland's 5th District, Compton resigned as State Treasurer in 1885 to take his seat. He was elected consecutively through 1892.

Compton was part of a group of powerful Democrats thought to comprise a "ring" who controlled Maryland politics. He was friends with US Senator Arthur P. Gorman, considered the leader of this group. During the 1888 election, the Evening Capital bemoaned the fact that the "ring" prevented any other Democrat from running against Compton for the nomination. The only recourse for “anti-ring” Democrats was to vote for a Republican candidate, who generally did not win in the late 19th century. (As Maryland had become essentially a one-party state, Democratic primary elections were the deciding competitive races.)

In 1889, Compton unexpectedly lost the 5th District seat to challenger Republican Sydney E. Mudd. Mudd had contested the results of the 1888 election, claiming that he had been deprived of votes, as election officials rejected qualified voters. In addition, he said Democrats' impersonating U.S. Deputy Marshals had intimidated black voters from voting in Anne Arundel County. The Congressional House Committee investigating contested elections ruled in favor of Mudd and seated him. Compton won the seat back at the next election in 1890.

A biracial Republican coalition did take the governor's office and other positions in 1896, serving the term until 1900.[15]

Party office and national appointments[edit]

Compton took an active role in both state and national affairs. In 1890 he accepted the chairmanship of the Maryland Democratic State Central Committee.[16] In 1892 he was chairman of Maryland's delegation to the Democratic National Convention.

In 1894 President Grover Cleveland appointed Compton as Naval Officer of the Port of Baltimore.[17] He resigned as chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee.

Beyond politics[edit]

In addition to his political career, Compton taught practical agriculture at Maryland Agricultural College. He sat on the board of trustees for Charlotte Hall Academy, the School Commission of Charles County, and the Maryland Insane Asylum.

In addition to such public roles, in 1890 Compton was appointed as director of the Citizens National Bank of Laurel, Maryland, a position he held until his death.[1][18] In 1898 he was made president of the Guarantee Building and Loan Association of Baltimore.

Unable to keep their plantation economically productive after emancipation and the end of forced labor, Compton sold Rosemary Lawn in 1872. There was an agricultural decline in Maryland at the time. The couple moved to Baltimore with their two daughters; they had four sons during their next several years in the city. In 1880 the family resettled permanently in Laurel, Prince George's County.

As adults, three of the sons worked in the booming railroad industry. John Henry Compton became an assistant treasurer of the B&O Railroad. Key Compton was an agent of the Bay Line at Norfolk, Virginia. The youngest son Barnes Compton attended the Maryland Agricultural College, where he played as an end on the school's first official football team.[19] He became a clerk of the B&O Railroad. The third son, William Penn Compton, graduated from Georgetown University and practiced as a physician in Washington, D.C.

The elder Compton suffered from heart trouble and became more ill in November 1898. On December 2, he died of a stroke. He was buried in Baltimore's Loudon Park Cemetery. His widow Margaret Compton was an invalid when her husband died but lived until June 12, 1900. She willed her furniture, stocks and bonds, personal savings, her house on Washington Avenue in Laurel, and the farm "Lochlevlin" (Loch Leven) to their six children: Mary Barnes, Elizabeth S. Reese, John Henry Sothoron, Key, William Penn, and Barnes Compton.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x "Barnes Compton (1830-1898) Extended Biography". Annapolis, Maryland: Archives of Maryland (Biographical Series). 2008. MSA SC 3520-1545. 
  2. ^ "MARYLAND'S LEGISLATORS.". The Washington Post. January 8, 1880. 
  3. ^ "PERSONAL INTELLIGENCE.". The New York Times. November 13, 1884. 
  4. ^ bass, Joesephine. "". Ans. Retrieved March 10, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Sothoron, Haddox. "Sothoron and Related Families - a Genealogical Pursuit". Retrieved March 11, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b "Barnes Compton at deaths door". Baltimore American. December 2, 1898. p. 11. 
  7. ^ "Barnes Compton: State No. 179, National No. 1179, ancestor Philip Key", Members' Application Papers, Sons of the American Revolution in the State of Maryland, Langsdale Library Special Collections, University of Baltimore, accessed 17 Mar 2010
  8. ^ Browne, William Hand (1901). Archives of Maryland, Volume 21. Maryland: Maryland Historical Society. p. 242. 
  9. ^ Rosemary Lawn Historic Site Survey CH105. Charles County Maryland: Maryland Historic Trush. 
  10. ^ "Maryland Historical Trust". Rosemary Lawn, Charles County. Maryland Historical Trust. 2008-06-08. 
  11. ^ "CENTENARY OF A MARYLAND SCHOOL.: Charlotte Hall, in St. Mary's County, One Hundred Years Old.". The Washington Post. Jan 2, 1897. 
  12. ^ "DEATH OF BARNES COMPTON '51". Daily Princetonian. 3 December 1898. 
  13. ^ a b c d Herringshaw, Thomas William (1901). Herringshaw's Encyclopedia of American Biography of the Nineteenth Century. American publishers' Association. p. 240. 
  14. ^ Baltimore American, 28 Jun 1875
  15. ^ STEPHEN TUCK, "Democratization and the Disfranchisement of African Americans in the US South during the Late 19th Century" (pdf), Spring 2013, reading for "Challenges of Democratization", by Brandon Kendhammer, Ohio University
  16. ^ "CHAIRMAN BARNES COMPTON.: Some Opposition to His Selection, Lead by Mr. Buchanan Sehley.". The Washington Post. July 16, 1890. 
  17. ^ "IMPORTANT NOMINATIONS.: The Maryland Delegation Happy Over Yesterday's Appointments.". The Washington Post. April 13, 1894. 
  18. ^ "CONGRESSMAN COMPTON HURT.: The Member from Maryland Thrown from a Carriage at Laurel.". The Washington Post. March 22, 1894. 
  19. ^ Morris Allison Bealle, Kings of American Football: The University of Maryland, 1890–1952, p. 15, Columbia Publishing Co., 1952.

Further reading[edit]

  • "Barnes Compton", Biographical Profiles of the Treasurers of the Eastern Shore, 1775-1843, Treasurers of the Western Shore, 1775-1852, and State Treasurers, 1852-1988. Annapolis: Treasury Department, 1988. p. 16.
  • "Compton, Barnes", The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. Vol. X. New York: James T. White & Company, 1900. p. 386.
  • "Compton, Hon. Barnes," The Biographical Cyclopedia of Representatives of Maryland and District of Columbia. Baltimore: National Biographical Publishing Co., 1879. pp. 39–40.
  • Essary, Frederick. Maryland in National Politics: From Charles Carroll to Albert C. Ritchie. Baltimore: John Murphy Company, 1932. pp. 275–276.
  • "Hon. Barnes Compton", Genealogy and Biography of Leading Families of the City of Baltimore and Baltimore County, Maryland, New York: Chapman Publishing Company, 1897. pp. 1016–17.
  • "Local Men Shape the Nation", The Maryland Independent, Waldorf, MD, 5 June 1985, p. C1.
  • Michael, W.H. and Francis M. Cox. "Fifth District, Maryland." Fifty-Third Congress [Extraordinary Session] Official Congressional Directory for the Use of the United States Congress. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1893. p. 52.
  • Radoff, Morris L. The State House at Annapolis. Annapolis: The Hall of Records Commission, 1972.
  • Rogers Williams, John. "Junior Orators", Academic Honors in Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey: C.S. Robinson & Co. University Press, 1902, p. 53.
  • Rowell, Chester H. "Mudd vs. Compton." A Historical and Legal Digest of all the Contested Elections in the House of Representatives of the United States from the First to the Fifty-Sixth Congress, 1789-1901. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1901.
  • Wilner, Alan M. The Maryland Board of Public Works: A History, Annapolis, MD: Maryland Hall of Records Commission, 1984.
  • Winchester, Paul. Men of Maryland Since the Civil War: Sketches of United State Senator Arthur Pue Gorman and His Contemporaries and Successors and Their Connection with Public Affairs. Vol. 1. Baltimore, Maryland County Press Syndicate, 1923. pp. 86–89.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Christopher C. Cox
President of the Maryland State Senate
Succeeded by
Henry Snyder
Preceded by
John W. Davis
Treasurer of Maryland
Succeeded by
John S. Gittings
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Hart B. Holton
Representative of the Fifth Congressional District of Maryland
Succeeded by
Sydney Emanuel Mudd I
Preceded by
Sydney Emanuel Mudd I
Representative of the Fifth Congressional District of Maryland
Succeeded by
Charles E. Coffin