|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Maryland's 5th congressional district
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) Born in Port Tobacco, Charles County Maryland was a wealthy planter who became a politician at the state level before the Civil War. He was appointed as Maryland State Treasurer, serving 1872-1885. He was elected to the US House of Representatives from the fifth congressional district of Maryland (1884–1894, excepting one term). Orphaned when young, at age 21 in 1851 he took control of numerous estates and became the second largest slaveholder in Maryland.
Barnes Compton was born on November 16, 1830, in Port Tobacco, Charles County, the son of William Penn Compton (June 2, 1796  - JAN 6 1838 ) and Mary Key (Barnes) Compton (b. 1804 St. Mary's Co., MD d. 17 JUL 1834 Charles Co., MD) mother often listed incorrectly as Mary Clarissa Barnes. Both parents had strong connections to the history of southern Maryland and its leading families in both Charles and St. Mary's counties in Maryland. (Barnes Compton was able to trace his ancestry to politician Philip Key, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 1779 to 1790, who was a maternal great-grandfather.).
Born into wealth on his family's plantation, Barnes Compton was orphaned when young. His mother died when he was three, and five years later he lost his father. His maternal grandfather John Barnes became guardian of Compton, the only child of the marriage. After Barnes died in 1843, Compton at age 13 was sole heir to both the Compton and Barnes' estates. These totaled eight properties that provided an income of over $5300 per annum by the time Barnes came of age. When he took possession of his inheritance in 1851, he became the second largest slaveholder in Charles County.
The young Compton saw family members bicker over guardianship and inheritance. 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."
Richard Barnes was a judge in the Orphans Court. With his wife Mary, the couple 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.
Compton moved with his appointed guardian Wilson Compton and his family to Rosemary Lawn, a plantation inherited from Barnes' mother in the Hill Top District, Charles County considered by the US Department of the Interior:
"The Rosemary Lawn farm complex is unquestionably one of Charles County's mast significant nineteenth and early twentieth century historic properties, regardless of whether it is viewed in a historic agricultural or historic architectural context."
Along with his uncle, aunt and cousin, his paternal grandmother Elizabeth Penn Compton resided on Compton's estate. Wilson immediately set to improving his nephew's properties. Over the next five years, he frequently petitioned the Orphans Court for permission to use part of Compton's income for supplies and contractors to that end. The additional properties owned by Compton were: Rosemary Lawn, 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 tenants.
The elder Wilson Compton further protected his nephew's inheritance in court actions. He filed a caveat against John Barnes' will on behalf of ward Compton, declaring that non compos menti (mental incompetence) negated John Barnes' last testament and that all property should pass to Compton. In fact, his will left almost the entire estate to his grandson 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.
After disputing the grandfather's will, Wilson Compton turned to Compton's inheritance from his mother. A pecuniary legacy of $3000 from Samuel Bond to his grandniece, Mary Barnes Compton, was placed in the hands of John Barnes, executor of Samuel Bond and guardian of his daughter. In 1845 Wilson Compton filed in the Court of Chancery for this legacy to pass to his ward Compton. The defendants claimed that the late William P. Compton, Mary's husband, had already spent the money. The Chancery Court ruled that Compton was entitled to relief, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the decree ("Compton v. Barnes", 4 Gill, 55) (Crain vs. Barnes, 1845; Barnes vs. Crain, 1849).
While his uncle waged legal battles, the young Compton was groomed as a Southern gentleman. At age fourteen, he entered Charlotte Hall Military Academy. 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 he also bought a horse. In December 1847 the court awarded $700 annually for the young man's education at Princeton College, New Jersey. Compton graduated from Princeton with an bachelors of arts degree in 1851.
Compton returned to Charles County to take over his inheritance. Wilson Compton's improvement of his estate paid off. Between 1847 and 1851, the income from the Compton properties more than doubled.
Marriage and family
In 1858 the young Compton married Margaret Holliday Sothoron of St. Mary's County, daughter of planter John Henry Sothoron. Their wedding was said to have been a
"…grand affair with twelve groomsmen and as many bridesmaids."
Wilson Compton and his family moved to the Loch Leven estate. Compton and Wilson each bought a share of the latter house in 1857. In 1871 Compton sold his interest to his cousin William Compton. When William Compton went bankrupt, his interest was sold at public auction to Henry Neale.
Barnes and Margaret settled into married life as wealthy planters. In 1860 they lived in Hill Top near Welcome, Maryland, with their one-year-old daughter Mary. They held 105 slaves at that estate, most of whom worked as field laborers.
Entrance into politics
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. He learned that a number of legislative members suspected of Confederate sympathies had been arrested by Federal authorities on reaching Frederick.
Compton turned around and escaped across the Potomac into Virginia, where he stayed until his term expired. He 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.
Though Compton was elected to the Maryland state senate in 1866, the constitutional convention of 1867 forced another election. He was elected president of the senate. He was elected president of the state senate again from 1870 to 1872. That year he was appointed as state treasurer, a position he held until 1885. In 1874 he also served as state tobacco inspector. In 1877 he became a board member for the State Hospital for the Insane. In 1879 became treasurer of the State Hospital for the Insane.
As state treasurer, Compton sat on the Board of Public Works with the governor and the comptroller of the treasury. Maryland's Board of Public Works was created by 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." As such, the Board in the 1870s oversaw the purchase and sale of stocks in the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company, the construction of the House of Correction and State Normal School (the late State Penitentiary at Jessup, Anne Arundel County, and present Towson University), the construction of a new State Tobacco Warehouse, and repairs to the State House in Annapolis.
House of Correction corruption
On July 17, 1875 the individual members of the Board of Public Works—Governor James Black Groome, Treasurer Barnes Compton, and Comptroller Levin Woolford—filed suits of libel against Charles C. and Albert K. Fulton, proprietors of the Baltimore American, claiming $20,000 each in damages. The conflict originated over a letter to the editor and follow-up article published in the American on June 26 and June 28, 1875. Both charged the overseers of the new House of Correction in Jessup with mismanagement at best, political corruption at worst.
The June 26 letter to the editor, signed Anti-Monopoly, criticized the poor choice of land without clay or lumber, both of which were needed to construct the new buildings. It criticized the Board's allowing the chosen site to first pass to a "prominent Republican from Anne Arundel County" for $12,000. When the state Trustees purchased the land, they paid $13,000. Land records revealed that the two purchases both occurred on December 3, 1874. Passage 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. It appeared the lower bidder was given the project superintendent's position, at a salary of $2500. Either way, some type of party favoritism seemed present. "In these days of 'rings' and 'ringmasters,' a coincidence like this is certain to provoke comment."
Trustee George William Brown 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, leaving Codling & Loane with the contract. Perhaps one of these was the lower bidders mentioned in the American article who became employed as superintendent.
After the officials filed their suits against the Fultons, 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 agreement, 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 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.
Compton and his associates on the Board encountered new financial controversies in subsequent years.
Repairing the State House
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. Once the building was stripped to address needed repairs, it needed to be replastered and painted. As Groome testified on behalf of the Board of Public Works, having redone the entire building, the Board chose 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."
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 until the building was torn apart, Frederick should not have put in such a low bid. The Committee questioned both the Board and Frederick on the 5% commission for the project, implying that he added costs to raise his compensation. The government begrudgingly paid the contractors and suppliers, but it never paid Frederick for working on the State House.
Compton resigned as State Treasurer in 1885 to take his seat in the US Congress. He won the 1884 election for the U.S. House of Representatives for Maryland's 5th District. He was elected consecutively until the contested election over so called "free silver" issue of 1889. Compton being a Bourbon Democrat supported a gold only standard. He retook his seat after one year and held it until 1894.
Compton took an active role in both national and state affairs. In 1890 he accepted the chairmanship of the Maryland Democratic State Central Committee. 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. To serve there, he resigned as chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee.
Compton's elections to national office were more contentious than his actions in the United States Congress. His friendship and association with Senator Arthur P. Gorman placed Compton within the perceived "ring" of Democrats who controlled Maryland politics. By that time, the Democrats had taken control of the state legislature.
In addition, along with other southern states, they passed legislation reducing black voter rolls and the ability of blacks to vote. Racial segregation in public places was made law. During the 1888 election, the Evening Capital bemoaned the fact that the "ring" prevented any other Democrat from running against Compton for the nomination (because white Democrats dominated the state, Democratic primary elections were the deciding ones). Instead, "anti-ring" Democrats were forced to vote for a Republican candidate, who had no chance of winning.
In 1889, Compton unexpectedly lost the 5th District seat to Republican Sydney E. Mudd. Mudd claimed that he had been deprived of votes as election officials rejected qualified voters. In addition, he said Democrats' impersonating U.S. Deputy Marshals intimidated black voters from voting in Anne Arundel County. The committee investigating voter fraud ruled in favor of Mudd. Nonetheless, Compton won the seat back the next year in 1890.
Outside of 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 1890 he had been appointed director of the Citizens National Bank of Laurel, Maryland, a position he held until his death. In 1898 he was made president of the Guarantee Building and Loan Association of Baltimore.
Unable to maintain their plantation after emancipation during a time of labor shifts and agricultural decline, the Comptons sold Rosemary Lawn in 1872. They moved to Baltimore with their two daughters and soon to be four sons. They settled permanently in Laurel, Prince George's County, in 1880.
As adults, sons John Henry and Barnes Compton became assistant treasurer and clerk of the B&O Railroad, respectively; Key Compton was an agent of the Bay Line at Norfolk, Virginia; and William Penn Compton, a graduate of Georgetown University, became a physician in Washington, D.C.
The elder Compton had persistent heart trouble, falling more ill in November 1898. On December 2 Barnes died of a stroke. He was buried in Baltimore's Loudon Park Cemetery. Margaret Compton was an invalid when her husband died, but she 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, John Henry Sothoron, Key, William Penn, Elizabeth S. Reese, and Barnes Compton.
- Barnes Compton (1830-1898). Maryland state achives: Archives of Maryland (Biographical Series). 2008. MSA SC 3520-1545.
- "MARYLAND'S LEGISLATORS.". The Washington Post. January 8, 1880.
- "PERSONAL INTELLIGENCE.". The New York Times. November 13, 1884.
- bass, Joesephine. "http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~mysouthernfamily/". Ans. Anscestry.com. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
- Sothoron, Haddox. "Sothoron and Related Families - a Genealogical Pursuit". Retrieved March 11, 2013.
- "Barnes Compton at deaths door". Baltimore American. December 2, 1898. p. 11.
- "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
- Browne, William Hand (1901). Archives of Maryland, Volume 21. Maryland: Maryland Historical Society. p. 242.
- Rosemary Lawn Historic Site Survey CH105. Charles County Maryland: Maryland Historic Trush.
- "Maryland Historical Trust". Rosemary Lawn, Charles County. Maryland Historical Trust. 2008-06-08.
- The Maryland Code, Public General Laws, 1888. 1888. pp. vol 39 page 39.
- "CENTENARY OF A MARYLAND SCHOOL.: Charlotte Hall, in St. Mary's County, One Hundred Years Old.". The Washington Post. Jan 2, 1897.
- "DEATH OF BARNES COMPTON '51". Daily Princetonian. 3 December 1898.
- Herringshaw, Thomas William (1901). Herringshaw's Encyclopedia of American Biography of the Nineteenth Century. American publishers' Association. p. 240.
- Baltimore American, 28 Jun 1875
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- "BOURBON CONSULTATIONS; PREPARING FOR THE MEETING OF THE NATIONAL COMMITTEE.". The New York Times. 13 July 1880.
- "CHAIRMAN BARNES COMPTON.: Some Opposition to His Selection, Lead by Mr. Buchanan Sehley.". The Washington Post. July 16, 1890.
- "IMPORTANT NOMINATIONS.: The Maryland Delegation Happy Over Yesterday's Appointments.". The Washington Post. April 13, 1894.
- "CONGRESSMAN COMPTON HURT.: The Member from Maryland Thrown from a Carriage at Laurel.". The Washington Post. March 22, 1894.
- Morris Allison Bealle, Kings of American Football: The University of Maryland, 1890–1952, p. 15, Columbia Publishing Co., 1952.
- Maryland State Archives. Barnes Compton Biography.
- "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.
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- 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.
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- 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.
Christopher C. Cox
|President of the Maryland State Senate
John W. Davis
|Treasurer of Maryland
John S. Gittings
|United States House of Representatives|
Hart B. Holton
|Representative of the Fifth Congressional District of Maryland
Sydney Emanuel Mudd I
Sydney Emanuel Mudd I
|Representative of the Fifth Congressional District of Maryland
Charles E. Coffin