Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

James Parsley (c. 1785-1834)
MSA SC 3520-15892


Born c. 1785. Married Margaret Anderson (1782-1879) in 1808; Known Children: Elizabeth Parsley (b. 1814), David Parsley (b. 1818), George Parsley (b. 1820), Margaret Parsley (b. 1823). Died between 1831 and 1834. 

James Parsley was the first Constable of Brookeville, MD. He was appointed shortly after the creation of the position in 1813, and served at least until 1816.

Parsley married Margaret Anderson in Montgomery County, Maryland in 1808.1 By 1823, the couple had five children, all under the age of ten.2 Parsley was a shoemaker by trade, and began selling his products to the residents of Brookeville as early as 1807.3 In 1813, the Maryland legislature created the position of Constable of Brookeville, and Parsley was appointed by the Levy Court of Montgomery County to be the first to fill the position.4

In this capacity, his responsibilities were primarily to enforce the judgments of the local Justice of the Peace. Although the extent to which Parsley acted professionally is unknown, the position of constable could entail forceful or violent action. The constable was to extract fines and debts due to the court, arrest those people committed by a justice and deliver them to a jail, capture runaway slaves, and quell the "tumultuous" assembly of free blacks.5 In addition, should the constable discover slaves at such assemblies, he was "authorized and required, to whip every such slave, at his discretion, not exceeding thirty-nine lashes."6 Under the direction of the local justices, constables also had the responsibility to take away children, forcibly, from "any pauper or vagrant, or...lazy, indolent and worthless free negroes" for the purpose of apprenticing those children to a tradesman.7 

Parsley occupied the post of Constable until at least 1816.8 An example of his professional duties occurred in that year, when, he served ten days assisting the trial of the State of Maryland v. Polly Hodges, for which he was compensated ten dollars. He owned one lot and house in Brookeville, and had significantly less personal property than his neighbors.9 However, Parsley must have had either some means, or a generous benefactor, because constables were required to put up a sizable bond of eight hundred dollars upon taking office.10 

In 1820, there were at least twelve members of his household, including himself and his wife.11 The census also notes that one person in the household was engaged in manufacturing, so it seems plausible that Parsley was somehow connected to Brookeville's many mill operations. He continued to live in Brookeville for the next ten years. Parsley was recorded in the 1831 tax assessment; however, by 1834, his house was in the custody of his heirs, indicating that he had died in the interim.12 Parsley was not well off financially and had a negligible amount of personal property that dropped considerably close to the end of his life. His wife, Margaret, continued to live in the same house until her death in 1879.13

Jackson Gilman-Forlini, DAR Research Fellow, 2012.


  1. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Marriage Licenses) 1798-1839, License issued to James Parsley and Margaret Anderson, September 28, 1808, CR 8920 [MSA CM724-1]. 
  2. Third Census of the United States, 1810, Population Schedule, Montgomery County, Maryland, p. 923. 
  3. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Mary Farquhar Green Collection) Account book of Gerard Brooke, 1811 purchase of shoes from "Parsley" [MSA SC 566-1-98, 00/09/06/06].
  4. MONTGOMERY COUNTY LEVY COURT (Levy List) 1813, "Constables appointed for the year 1813," MdHR 15448 [MSA C1132-4, 01/18/14/024]. 
  5. William Kilty, Thomas Harris, John N. Watkins (eds). The Laws of Maryland from the End of the Year 1799, with a Full Index, Volume VII, Index: "Constables," (Annapolis: J. Green, 1820). Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 192, p. 2444. 
  6. State Laws of 1806, Chapter 81, Section 3. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 192, p. 692.
  7. State Laws of 1808, Chapter 54, Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 192, p. 843. 
  8. MONTGOMERY COUNTY LEVY COURT (Levy List) 1816, "Constables appointed for the year 1816," MdHR 15,450 [MSA C1132-6, 01/18/14/024]. 
  9. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE TAX (Assessment Record), 1813 Tax Assessment (District 4), MdHR 20,115-3-1 [MSA C1110-3, 01/18/14/019]. 
  10. State Laws of 1809, Chapter 177, Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 192, p. 1028. 
  11. Fourth Census of the United States,1820, Population Schedule, Montgomery County, District 4, Maryland, p. 538.
  12. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE TAX (Assessment Record), 1831 and 1834 Tax Assessments (District 5), MdHR 20,115-4-1 [MSA C1110-4, 01/18/14/020]. 
  13. G.M. Hopkins. Atlas of Fifteen Miles Around Washington, Including the county of Montgomery, Maryland. (Philadelphia, PA: F. Bourquin, 1878), p. 68. 

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