Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Col. John Tilghman (b. 1785 - d. 1866)
MSA SC 5496-37789
Property Owner, Queen Anne's County, Maryland


    John Tilghman was born on March 8, 1785 to Judge James Tilghman and his wife Elizabeth Johns. He married Ann Tilghman, with whom he had three children: Matthew Ward (b. circa 1817), James, and Lloyd (b. circa 1823).1 His second wife, Anna Catherine Tilghman, was a cousin of his deceased first wife. Anna Catherine bore him another three children: John Henry, Mary Elizabeth, and Ann Catherine.2

    In 1811, he bought over 450 acres of land from Peregrine Tilghman in Queen Anne's County, including parts of the tracts called Cheshire and Tilghman's Recovery. Tilghman lived in or near Poplar Grove, north of Corsica Creek. He owned property on the south side of the creek and later appeared on J.G. Stong's 1866 map of Queen Anne's County.3

    The Poplar Grove Collection of papers includes many of John Tilghman's papers, including receipts and letters. Several 1838 letters from the attorney and judge Ezekial Forman Chambers suggest that Tilghman not only conducted business with Chambers, but had also formed a friendship.Numerous other business correspondances in the collection reflect Tilghman's experience as a slave holder. Series 13 contains lists of slaves' names, receipts for related purchases, and sales of individuals within the region. 

    However, the most fascinating documents recount Tilghman's ambitious experiment with renting slaves to plantations in Louisiana and Mississippi. Beginning as early as 1830, he began to send enslaved blacks from the Eastern Shore through his southern agent, Spencer M. Grayson, a resident of Natchez, MS.5 Grayson had extreme difficulty negotiating costs and provisions with the local plantation owners, Samuel Clement being the one most commonly referred to. Tilghman receives letters from both men, where they air their respective grievances about the other man, including Grayson labeling his rival " a scoundrel".6 For his part, Clement claimed that " Jerry came to my plantation begging me to keep him ... for he could not nor want not stay with Mr Grayson."7 This was undoubtedly a stressful arrangement for John Tilghman, who could do little to settle these local squabbles from his Maryland residence. The last piece of correspondance with Grayson came in 1835, after which Tilghman only rented slaves to planters in adjacent communities. 

    Shortly after the presumed end of his operations in Mississippi, Tilghman nearly lost a slave to flight. In December of 1836, William Reed attempted to escape from the Eastern Shore to Baltimore. However, he was caught and identified there, only to be returned to his owner less than a week later.8 According to the Census, Colonel Tilghman owned at least nineteen slaves in his Queen Anne's property in 1840.9 The total number was likely much higher considering that an 1848 property list, including his Talbot County holdings, recorded over 50 African-Americans by name.10 

    In 1849, a free black named London Gould, also a resident of Centreville, was imprisoned for helping one of these individuals, Harriet Turner, to run away.11 Reports claimed that at least one other slave, from another owner, had fled with the young woman. A Baltimore Sun article, written on October 26 1849, specifically sited Turner's recent escape. Local slave holders expressed great anxiety from experiencing a wave of escapes, claiming that "if something is not done, there will be but few slaves remaining on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in a few years."12 This perception is likely what led to the vigorous prosecution of Gould, who was sentenced to five years and eight months for his alleged role. For her actions, Turner was captured and alleged to have been sold out of the state, likely to the deep South. In fact, the pardon record states that John Tilghman recommended and intended to execute this punishment himself, whereas the sheriff would typically handle such matters.13 There is no record of the actual transaction. 

    There is little other documented evidence of any other African-Americans fleeing from Tilghman throughout the more than forty years that he was a slave holder. However, members of the wealthy, white planter class often attempted to resolve these issues privately, without resorting to the newspaper advertisements that many aggrieved owners utilized. The aforementioned Poplar Grove Collection attests to such a network, in which associates like Thomas Emory and Henry Hollyday discussed potential leads from Delaware to New Jersey.14 Unfortunately, Colonel Tilghman is largely absent from these correspondances. He was, however, part of an 1846 meeting in Centreville, which had the purpose of addressing the increasing escape of slaves. Tilghman was selected as president of this body that also included Hollyday and many other prominent local slaveholders. Members were apparently appointed to investigate specific instances of flight, but the outcome of these efforts is not described in the record.15 Though John Tilghman would continue to hold slaves in the area through the 1850's, he made several sales that caused the numbers to dwindle.16

    Tilghman wrote his will on September 18, 1860, and passed away by November of 1866.17 He bequeathed most of the remaining slaves to his children. His daughter and son-in-law, Ann Catherine and James T. Earle, received the slave Beckey and her children Jane, Tom, and William, as well as Catherine (Fanny's daughter). Matthew Ward was willed the slaves Dan, Frederick, Stephen, and Nell (and her child, not named), along with the children John and Wesley (Eliza's son). James received the slaves Ned, Nancy (Priscilla's daughter), Henrietta (Eliza's daughter), Rachel and her children, and Mary (Clara's daughter) and Mary's daughter Georgeanna. Finally, Lloyd inherited the following slaves: Tilghman's cook, Eliza, and her children Emeline and Charles, also the Harriet's children Irvin and Charles, Priscilla's son Tom, Fanny's son Adam, as well as the slaves Caroline and William Henry.18 These various transactions would have been at least partially disrupted by the state-wide abolition of slavery in November of 1864.  

Footnotes -

1.     QUEEN ANNE'S COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Marriage Licenses) [MSA T1702-1]. John Tilghman and Ann Tilghman, March 12, 1818.
1.     QUEEN ANNE'S COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Wills) Liber STH 1, Folio 384 [MSA CM869-14]. John Tilghman, November 27, 1866.
1.     U.S. Census Record (Census Bureau, MD) for John Tilghman, 1850, Queen Anne's County, Centreville, Page 190, Line 6 [MSA SM61-144, SCM    1500-1].
1.     Bruce Harrison, The Family Forest Descendants of Lady Joan Beaufort (Kamuela, HI: Millisecond Publishing Company, Inc., 2005) 733, 962-963.

2.     Ibid, Will/Harrison;
2.     George Adolphus Hanson, Old Kent: The Eastern Shore of Maryland (Baltimore, MD: John P. Des Forges, 1876) 234, 241.
2.     Stephen Frederick Tillman, Tilghman-Tillman family, 1225-1945 (Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Brothers, Inc., 1946) 43.

3.     J.G. Strong Map, Queen Anne's County, District 3, 1866. 

4.    "V. I. P. Sighting." 21 October 2009. The Poplar Grove Project. 

5.    James Wood Poplar Grove Collection, Series 13, pp. 170-190.

6.     Ibid, p. 184. 

7.    Ibid, p. 180.

8.     BALTIMORE CITY AND COUNTY JAIL (Runaway Docket), 1836 - 1850, #124 - "William Reed". 

9.    U.S. Census Record (Census Bureau, MD) for John Tilghman, 1840, Queen Anne's County, Centreville, Page 71, Line 3 [MSA SM61-115, SCM 4723-2].

10.  Poplar Grove, p. 386.

11.   "Sentenced," Baltimore Sun 16 November 1849: 1.

12.   "Wholesale Absconding of Slaves from Maryland." Baltimore Sun 26 October 1849. 

13.  SECRETARY OF STATE (Pardon Record) [MSA S1108-2], Harriet Turner, November 3, 1849, Page 66.

14.  Poplar Grove, Series 13. 

15. Frederick Emory. History of Queen Anne's County, Maryland. Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society, 1950. p. 475.

16. QUEEN ANNE'S COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Land Records, Grantee Index, Microfilm), 1, 1852-1884.


18. Ibid. 

Researched and Written by David Armenti, 2011.

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