Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Truman Stoddert (1790-1870)
MSA SC 3520-2184

Biography:

John Truman Stoddert was born October 1, 1790, at Smith Point, in Nanjemoy, Charles County, Maryland. He was the only child of William Truman Stoddert and his wife, Sally. John Truman Stoddert's paternal grandparents were John Truman Stoddert and Lucy Heabard Smallwood, daughter of Bayne Smallwood and sister of William Smallwood. Stoddert graduated from Princeton University in 1810, and was admitted to the bar after studying law at the Litchfield Law School. Stoddert married Elizabeth Gwynn on May 23, 1815, in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. The Stodderts had two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, and lived at Wicomico House on the estate of West Hatton in Charles County, Maryland. Stoddert served as an aide-de-campe to Maryland Militia general Philip Steuart during the War of 1812.

Stoddert's political career began when he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates following his military service. He represented Charles County 1815-1816, and again in 1820. In 1826, he served as a senate elector from Charles County. A Democrat, he went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 23rd Congress from 1833-1835. He came out of retirement in 1867 to participate in the state's constitutional convention.

America went to war with Britain in 1812. The following year British vessels of war began showing up in the Chesapeake Bay, placing a blockade on Maryland waterways. The British plundered homes and carried off slaves. Stoddert's two enslaved people, Primus Mitchell, twenty-five, and Harry Smith alias Shankland, twenty-two, escaped to the British. Primus and Harry escaped along with enslaved people from Benjamin T. Fendall, another Charles County resident. Like Fendall, John T. Stoddert also had property in Alexandria, Virginia, in addition to his property in Charles County. The enslaved workers from Alexandria, Virginia, escaped to the British vessels lying in the Potomac River. The Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814, ending the War of 1812, By the end of the war more than 700 enslaved people had escaped to the British. 

Following the war, Maryland property owners submitted claims to the U.S. Department of State seeking compensation for their losses to the British. A commission was established to handle the claims and decided that Maryland and Virginia claimants would be awarded $280 for each slave that fled to the British. While Stoddert was gathering information for his claim, more enslaved people escaped. In 1819, an enslaved man named Lawrence Fenwick escaped from his farm, and, in 1824, another enslaved man, Fielding Carter, did the same. In 1828, Stoddert was ready to file a petition for relief for the loss of Primus Mitchell and Harry Smith. Benjamin T. Fendall gave a deposition on behalf of Stoddert, supporting his claim.

John Truman Stoddert died on July 19, 1870 at his residence, Wicomico House, in Charles County, MD. He was buried in the Stoddert family burial ground.


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