John Wathen's First Maryland Home

John Wathen's First Maryland Home

John Wathen, ancestor of the Wathens of Southern Maryland, first came to the shores of America in 1670 as an indentured servant to Hugh Thomas. As detailed in The Wathens of Southern Maryland: Their Geneology & History, we know that John was as carpenter, and he built at least one home for a neighbor in Charles County during this time of indentured servitude. After completing his service to Mr. Thomas, John Wathen moved to St. Mary's County, Maryland.

I've long wondered where John Wathen spent his three years as an indentured servant. Where was the Charles County property of Hugh Thomas, where John Wathen presumably resided? I was unfortunately not able to uncover this detail before publishing the first edition of The Wathens of Southern Maryland, but have recently discovered it on the Friends of Rich Hill website. As it turns out, part of Hugh Thomas' property is currently owned by the Charles County government and is marked by a Maryland Roadside Historical Marker (though the sign is about neither Hugh Thomas nor John Wathen).

In April of 1666, Hugh Thomas, an immigrant to Southern Maryland from Wales, received a patent for 600 acres called "Rich Hill" in Charles County. There is little reason to doubt that Hugh Thomas and his family lived at Rich Hill in 1670, when John Wathen began his time of indentured servitude. Rich Hill changed owners several times over the next two centuries, until it was eventually owned by Colonel Samuel Cox, who would give Rich Hill wider historical prominence.

You may not have heard of Colonel Cox, but you've probably heard of the event to which he is connected: On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot and killed President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. Booth fled south into Charles County on horseback with his accomplice, David Herold. They first went to the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, where Booth received treatment for his leg, which had been broken during their escape. Booth and Herold then traveled through Zekiah Swamp to Rich Hill, the home of Col. Samuel Cox, a well-known Confederate sympathizer. Cox welcomed Booth and Herold into his home in the early hours of April 16, Easter Sunday, then began to make arrangements for the two fugitives to cross the Potomac River.

The Rich Hill farm house that John Wilkes Booth visited in 1865 is still standing today, preserved as a historical landmark by Charles County and the Friends of Rich Hill. That house was not yet standing, however, when Hugh Thomas owned the land in the seventeenth century. I imagine that Hugh Thomas, John Wathen, and other residents of Rich Hill in the 1670s lived in more rustic early colonial dwellings that faded from the landscape long ago.

If you'd like to walk a portion of the property that John Wathen lived on when he first arrived as an indentured servant to the United States, take a drive to Rich Hill in Bel Alton, Maryland! Although it undoubtedly looked different 350 years ago, the historic property still preserves a sense of antiquity, providing contact with an important part of Wathen family history.

I'll certainly be including the detail in my upcoming book Wathen’s Adventure: The Genealogy and History of John Wathen of Southern Maryland and in future editions of The Wathens of Southern Maryland!

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