Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Brice John Gassaway (c. 1755-1816)
MSA SC 3520-15893

Biography:

Born c. 1755 in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Married Dinah Warfield. Seven children; George Gassaway, Henry Gassaway, Ann Gassaway, Catherine Gassaway, Sarah Gassaway, Elizabeth Gassaway, and Mary Gassaway. Died in Brookeville, Montgomery County, Maryland in 1816.

Brice Gassaway was a farmer and surveyor in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, who served as a militia officer during the Revolutionary War. He spent the majority of his life in Anne Arundel County as a gentleman farmer, but later moved to the town of Brookeville in Montgomery County, Maryland, where he died in 1816 after being severely financially impaired by his two sons. 

Gassaway was descended from a long line of wealthy Anne Arundel County gentry. His great-grandfather, Colonel Nicholas Gassaway, arrived in Maryland in 1649, patenting land in Anne Arundel County shortly thereafter.1 Over the next several decades, the Gassaway family would come into possession of thousands of acres of land throughout what was then Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Frederick Counties (now including Howard and Montgomery Counties). The family also established close ties through marriage with the Warfields, who would play prominent roles in Revolutionary War, and would later produce Edwin Warfield, Governor of Maryland from 1904 to1908.2

During the Revolutionary War, Gassaway decided to enter into military service, much like several of his ancestors had done before him. On February 28, 1778, he signed the Oath of Allegiance before Judge Thomas Worthington of Nicholas in Anne Arundel County. In March of 1779, he was commissioned as a First Lieutenant of the Elk Ridge Battalion of Militia. In 1780, he was promoted to the rank of Captain.3 While Gassaway was serving in the Elk Ridge Battalion, he did not see very much actual military action against the British. Rather, the only time that the movements of his battalion were reported, they were tasked with heading to downtown Baltimore and guarding a large quantity of salt that was meant for the use of the Continental Army, and with moving the salt rations if the British were to invade Baltimore.4  

Upon the end of the Revolutionary War, Gassaway returned home to his 500 acre property situated on the western edge of central Anne Arundel County, adjacent to Montgomery County. It was here that Gassaway and his wife, Dinah, raised seven children, the oldest of which were their two sons George and Henry Gassaway.5 Although it is not clear what particular crops were grown on Gassaway's property, he did own several slaves, as many as seven or more by 1800.6 In addition to farming, Gassaway also performed several public works projects on a local level. In 1803, he aided in the surveying of his brother in law Dr. Charles Alexander Warfield's property, who was one of the leaders of the burning of the Peggy Stewart, as well as one of the founders of the College of Medicine of Maryland (now known as the University of Maryland School of Medicine).7 In 1805, a Maryland state law was enacted which designated Gassaway, along with several other Anne Arundel County residents, as commissioners tasked with raising money for, surveying, laying out, and opening a road and bridge that would lead from a mill on the Patuxent River to the main road which connected Rockville to Baltimore.8

In addition to his land holdings in Anne Arundel County, Gassaway also owned several pieces of property in Baltimore County, including a 600 acre property which he purchased from his brother Charles Gassaway.9 Gassaway's extended family also owned large tracts of land in Baltimore county known as "Gassaway's Ridge" and "Gassaway's Addition."10

During his time in Anne Arundel County, Gassaway seemed to have somewhat close ties with some of the most prominent families in Maryland at the time, including the Ridgelys and the Carrolls. In October of 1800, Gassaway captured a stray horse which had made its way onto his property, which he in turn presented as a gift to Henry Ridgely.11 Gassaway also acted as a co-signer on a loan between Charles Carroll of Carrollton and George Snell in 1788. Though this does not explicitly correlate to any sort of friendship between Gassaway and Carroll, it is significant that Carroll would trust Gassaway enough to allow him to act as security on a loan.12 In fact, Gassaway acted either as a co-signer, a creditor, or as security for a variety of transactions with people from all levels of Maryland society.13

As adults, both of Gassaway's sons drove themselves into debt, a problem which would ultimately lead to great losses within their family. In 1809, Brice took out a loan from Alexander Fridge and William Morris totaling $8,000 that was intended for his sons, who were merchants in Baltimore at the time. In order to complete the loan process, Brice put his home and two parcels of land, "Partnership" and "Snowden's Second Addition to his Manor," up as collateral. George and Henry were expected to make payments of $1,000 every six months in order to repay the loan. 

Unfortunately, it appears that Brice's two sons were unable to keep up with the loan payments. Three years later, on April 13, 1812, Brice was forced to surrender his home and much of his land to Fridge and Morris. George and Henry had lost a large portion of their family's estate through the failure of their business dealings.14 

Less than one month later, having lost the majority of his land holdings, but not all of his liquid assets, Brice bought three lots for $850 in the town of Brookeville, located in nearby Montgomery County, and relocated his remaining family, including his troublesome sons who had caused the forced relocation.15 Shortly after the Gassaway family moved to Brookeville, Brice apparently became a distributor of "Paul's Patent Columbia Oil." The oil was described as a cure-all for a variety of different ailments, including whooping cough, rheumatism, consumption, and a variety of aches and pains.16 Local tradition holds that George Gassaway was running the store on the corner of High and Market Streets in the town by 1814, which may indicate that he had placed his father's name on yet another one of his business plans.17

It appears that throughout his life, Gassaway was a very devout Christian. In 1792, Gassaway, along with James Warfield, John Alder, Zachariah Roberts, Anthony Mabit, Samuel Rogers and others of the "sect called Baptists," bought a single acre of land in Anne Arundel County with the explicit intent of constructing a Baptist church on the grounds.18 However, it is unclear as to whether or not this church was ever constructed. The fact that Gassaway was a Baptist would most likely have cast him as somewhat of an outlier in Brookeville, a town in which the vast majority of residents were Quakers. The Quaker faith dictates that its members should lead a life of pacifism, and that they should not own slaves. Gassaway led a life which was quite contrary to these notions, having fought in the Revolutionary War, as well as having owned a number of slaves throughout his lifetime.19

Brice Gassaway remained in Brookeville until his death in 1816. It seems that although Brice had experienced a great loss at the hands of his sons, he still embraced George as an integral member of the Gassaway family, having appointed George as the executor of his Will.20 Although he did lose a large portion of his land holdings, Brice did not die a penniless man. After selling a significant portion of Brice's personal property, collecting debts owed to the estate, and paying various debts that the estate was accountable for, George Gassaway reported his father's final personal property holdings to be $2,287.91, which was a significant amount of money at the time.21 Brice Gassaway died "beloved by all, an active Christian."22 

Kyle Bacon, DAR Research Fellow, 2012.

Notes:

  1. LAND OFFICE (Certificates, Patented, AA) 1668, 70 acre lot in Anne Arundel County known as "The Addition" [MSA S1189-373B, 1/25/1/57].
  2. Warfield, J.D. The Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties. (Baltimore: Kohn and Pollock, 1905), p. 381-387.
  3. ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY COURT (Oaths of Fidelity) 03/1778 [MSA C121-1, 1/1/14/19]; Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, April 1, 1778 through October 26, 1779. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 21, p. 333; Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1779-1780. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 43, p. 209; Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1781-1784. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 48, p. 265; Warfield, J.D. The Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, p. 384-385.
  4. Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, April 1, 1778 through October 26, 1779. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 21, p. 398; Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 21, p. 408.
  5. Warfield, Founders, p. 384-385.
  6. "Two Hundred Dollars Reward," Maryland Herald October 31st, 1804. Volume VIII, Issue 401, p. 4.; ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY COURT (Land Records) Manumission of Isaac Bellows, March 5, 1789, NH, Liber 4, p. 211. [MSA CE 76-32]; April 16, 1793, NH, Liber 6, p. 645. Gassaway's deposition regarding Isaac Bellow's purchase of a female slave [MSA CE 76-34]; September 16, 1796, NH, Liber 8, p. 292. Bill of Sale, Thomas Gassaway to Brice Gassaway, a male slave [MSA CE 76-36]; 1800 United States Federal Census, Anne Arundel, Maryland. Roll 9, p. 88, Image 53; 1810 United States Federal Census, Anne Arundel, Maryland. Roll 14, p. 104.
  7. ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY COURT (Land Records) November 15, 1803, NH, Liber 12, p. 187. Deposition of Brice Gassaway regarding the surveying of Dr. Charles Alexander Warfield's property [MSA CE 76-40]; Warfield, pp. 444-445; Holland, Celia M. Old Homes and Families of Howard County, Maryland (Lancaster, PA: Wickersham Printing Co., 1987), p. 176.
  8. Laws of 1805, Chapter 70. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 607, p. 49; Laws of 1808, Chapter 118. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 597, p. 58
  9. BALTIMORE COUNTY COURT (Land Records) September 27, 1811, WG, Liber 115, p. 71. Deed, Charles Gassaway to Brice John Gassaway, tract of land in Baltimore County [MSA CE 66-165].
  10. BALTIMORE COUNTY COURT (Miscellaneous Plats) 1807 [MSA C2042-56, B5/09/01/000]. Land dispute involving Brice John Gassaway. It is not certain whether Brice owned any part of these parcels, but he did act as the plaintiff in the case against the heirs of James Gittings in which these parcels were the matter at hand.
  11. ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY COURT (Land Records) October 3, 1800, NH, Liber 10, p. 392. Bill of Sale for a stray horse, Brice John Gassaway to Henry Ridgely [MSA CE 76-38].
  12. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) December 10, 1788, Liber D, p. 153. Deed, Charles Carroll of Carrollton to George Snell, Brice John Gassaway acting as a cosigner on a loan [MSA CE 148-4].
  13. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) September 10, 1812, Liber Q, p. 80. Bill of Sale, Joseph Thomas to Brice John Gassaway, debt of $56 owed by Joseph Thomas to Brice John Gassaway [MSA CE 148-17].
  14. ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY COURT (Land Records) December 14, 1809, NH, Liber 15, p. 506. Loan of $8,000 from Fridge and Morris to Brice John Gassaway for the use of his sons, George and Henry [MSA CE 76-43]; April 13, 1812, WSG, Liber 1, p. 455. Deed, Brice John Gassaway to Alexander Nisbet, surrendering of land due to loan default [MSA CE 76-45].
  15. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) May 29, 1812, Liber P, p. 619. Deed, Samuel Leeke to Brice John Gassaway, lots 44-46 in Brookeville [MSA CE 148-16].
  16. "Paul's Patent Columbia Oil," Poulson's American Daily Advertiser, August 15th, 1812, p. 4.
  17. See plat of Brookeville, likely copy of original by Richard Thomas, c. 1800 [MSA SC 6023-1-2]; MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) June 28, 1816, Liber T, pp. 101-102. Deed, George Thompson to George Gassaway, lot 47 in Brookeville, Maryland [MSA CE 148-21].
  18. ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY COURT (Land Records) September 17, 1792, NH, Liber 6, p. 366. Deed, Rezin Hammond to Brice John Gassaway and Others, one acre of land for the purpose of constructing a Baptist church [MSA CE 76-34].
  19. It should be noted that Gassaway was not the only Brookeville resident to have fought in the Revolutionary war or own slaves; in fact, Brookeville founder Richard Thomas Jr. was a Revolutionary War soldier and slave owner.
  20. MONTGOMERY COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Estate Record) 1816, Liber I , pp. 460 (March 5, 1816), 505-507 (May 4, 1816), 562-565 (May 21, 1816) [MSA C1138-11, 1/17/8/10]; August 5, 1817, Liber K, pp. 508-509 [MSA C1138-12, 1/17/8/11].
  21. MONTGOMERY COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Estate Record) May 5, 1818, Liber L, pp. 491-492 [MSA C1138-13, 1/17/8/12].
  22. Warfield, p. 384.
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